The Living Torah is a weekly publication distributed in and around North West London. Written by members of Hasmonean High School's Sixth Form programme - we aim to bring you divrei torah for your Shabbat table each and everyweek.

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Thursday, 21 January 2010

Omniscience and Divine Providence

“In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month in the evening shall you eat matzot,until the twenty-first day of the month in the evening’ - For Ivrit: (12:18)

Although in the Haggadah we say that we eat matzah on Pesach because Bnei Yisrael left Egypt in such haste that their dough did not have a chance to rise, the fact is that on the first day of Nissan, Hashem instructed that matzah be eaten on Pesach.

Just what is the significance of matzah that made it relevant to Pesach even before Yitziat Mitzrayim? Furthermore, normally, the Halacha is that if a small piece of non-kosher food is accidentally mixed into a batch of kosher food, if the ratio of kosher to non-kosher is greater than 60:1, the food is kosher. This is not so in regard to chametz. A miniscule fragment of chametz that falls into a vat of thousands of gallons renders the entire vat prohibited. What is there about the prohibition of chametz that makes it more stringent than other forbidden foods.

The Bnei Yissaschar provides an answer. Matzah and chametz symbolize two opposite attitudes. In the baking of matzah, there is someone in control, manipulating the matzah from the moment water is added to the flour until it is baked. Nothing happens to it spontaneously. With chametz, on the other hand, the dough is set aside for a period of time and allowed to rise by itself. The dough undergoes a significant change spontaneously, without anyone making it happen.

Judaism believes that nothing in the world happens of itself. At every moment, Hashem is in control of the world. Except for decisions on moral and ethical behaviour, for which a person has freedom of choice, everything else is ordained by Hashem. Laws of nature are principles by which Hashem manages the world. Why things happen the way they do is beyond our ability to understand, because we cannot fathom the Divine wisdom. But we must know that nothing, even the smallest occurrence that is not a matter of free will, is controlled by Hashem.

A person can be enslaved to his own drives as well as a taskmaster. Ironically, someone who thinks he has control of his fate is not truly free. He is driven to acts that are futile, because whatever is destined to be will be. This attitude is particularly evident in Yechezkel (11:3) where the people said “the city is a cauldron and we are the meat”, a metaphor insinuating a total lack of Divine intervention in worldly events.

The Chofetz Chaim gave a parable of person who was travelling by train, and was pushing against the wall of the compartment. When questioned he explained that ‘he was trying to make the train go faster’. His act is as futile as that of the person who tries to earn more money by working longer hours. A person can be truly free only if he is free of the drives that dominate him.

Matzah, therefore, is the bread of freedom because it represents total control by its maker, with nothing occurring on its own. The message of matzah is that nothing in the world occurs unless Hashem decrees it. “A person’s earnings are decreed on Rosh Hashanah” (Bava Basra 10a). If a person really believes this, he will not be enslaved by an insatiable drive to make more.

In celebrating our freedom from enslavement, which includes being a slave to one’s drives, we eat matzah. Even the tiniest morsel of chametz, which symbolizes spontaneous happenings, is forbidden. To believe that there is anything, however miniscule it may be, that is beyond the control of Hashem is antithetical to true freedom.

One might ask, if matzah represents Hashgacha Pratis (Divine Providence), why are we not required to eat matzah all year round? Why is chametz permitted at all?

The answer is that once we have reinforced our faith in Hashgacha Pratis by eating matzah on Pesach, we have been given guidelines on how to protect ourselves from the concept of spontaneity, symbolized by matzah.

The Torah states that meal-offerings on the Mizbeach were not permitted to be chametz. There are two exceptions to this rule: the offering of Shtei Halechem (two loaves of chametz) on Shavout and the ten loaves of chametz which accompanied the Korban Todah, the thankfulness offering.

On Shavuot, which commemorates the giving of the Torah when we rededicate ourselves to its study and observance, the offering is one of chametz. If we study Torah diligently and observe the Mitzvot, we can avoid the error of spontaneity. Similarly, if we cultivate the middah of gratitude and thank Hashem for everything, we are attesting that everything comes from Him. This allows us to eat chametz all year round and not to forget the important principle of the matzah of Pesach.


בכל מקום עיני ה
שאול ובדון נגד ה

“the eyes of Hashem are in every place”

and “the grave and decay are manifest to Hashem”.

Shabbat Shalom.

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