By: William Jackson
Well, we just came out of the Passover (Pesach) week. We’ve been eating matzah for seven days now. We may not know everything about matzah; but the one thing we know is that its a pretty important thing to do for Passover. In Exodus 12:8-20 alone, YHVH commands us to eat matzah (unleaven bread), up to 5 times! And not just once; but for a whole week (Exodus 13:6-7, Leviticus 23:6, Numbers 28:17). Wow, what is it’s significance? There are many theories floating around out there. Here, we will discuss some of them, and we’ll determine our findings based on HaShem’s word as to which ones fit or don’t.
Many of us have heard that the leaven or hametz (yeast), is symbolic of sin. Some say it’s pride. From a figurative stand point this makes sense. We all know that yeast causes dough to raise or “puff-up“, just like pride. Another analogy is that you don’t need very much yeast to affect a batch of dough, just like a little bit of sin can ruin an otherwise righteous life. Although all these are good reasons to associate sin with yeast, this is not specifically stated in Torah. These are concepts that are actually found in the New Testament. We find the idea about yeast being sin in Matthew 16:5-12 ; Mark 8:15 ; Luke 12:1-12. Actually, in Luke 12:1, the Christian Messiah clearly states that hametz (leaven) is hypocrisy.
One theory is that removing all the leaven could have been for reasons of health. In those days, they used a piece of dough from the previous batch to make the bread for that day, and did so repeatedly. The fermented portion of dough had a bacteria. Over time this bacteria could become harmful. So, it was good to remove all leaven and start all over at least once a year (1). We see other ritualistic things in Torah that have a health benefit; The anointing oil (2) and clean/unclean animals (Leviticus 11), are a couple of examples. Avoiding an unhealthy batch of dough could have been a good reason to remove leaven, but it’s not confirmed in HaShem’s word.
Firstly, we see other places in the Torah where it talks about unleaven bread. It is used for the grain offering (Leviticus 2:4-5), and thanksgiving sacrifice (Leviticus 7:12). The purpose of a grain offering was to worship God and acknowledge His provision (3).
In Leviticus 1-2:13 the grain offering took place after the animal sacrifice. The animal sacrifice atoned for sin (4). If we go back to the first Passover night, we find that the lamb is first slaughtered, then it is eaten, and then matzah is eaten with it (Exodus 12:6-8). This seems to mirror Leviticus. Additionally, in Exodus 12:27 HaShem states that “It is the sacrifice of Adonai’s Pesach [Passover].” So, maybe the Passover night gave a foreshadowing of Leviticus where a sin (animal) sacrifice was given and then a grain offering (Leviticus 1 – 2:13). One to atone for sin and the other for gratitude towards Adonai.
But why do we eat matzah for one week? If we go back in time we would find that the Israelites journeyed during the week of Passover. Seven days after the animal sacrifice in Egypt the Israelites arrived at Sukkot about 100 miles away (5). After they left Sukkot, the Israelites would then experience the miraculous crossing of the Red Sea (Exodus 13:18-14:22). But, during this week they must have reflected. They contemplated, on their journey, the oppression of Egypt and how YHVH rescued them from it all. Remember, being on foot daily they could only eat unleaven bread. All the events leading to Pesach (Passover), resonated with them as they consumed their matzah.
Exodus 12:39 says it all, “They baked matzah loaves from the dough they had brought out of Egypt, since it was unleavened; because they had been driven out of Egypt without time to prepare supplies for themselves.” To the Israelites, Egypt was the world, with both it’s tyranny and security. And now they were to separate themselves from it. As we avoid leaven during the week of Passover, we can’t help but notice how predominate it is in our diet. Breaking from a worldly routine and reflecting on how HaShem brought us out of Egypt is not only a worthy reflection, it is commanded. Now we can be ready to go through our Red Sea with His help.