By Rabbi Yaakov Green
This week all over the world, Jews make ready their homes, cleaning and cooking, polishing and scrubbing, getting ready to celebrate the night of all nights — Layl HaSeder. However, this year the first night of Pesach directly flows from the ending of Shabbat. Putting aside the myriad chametz-related challenges this creates, how can this Shabbat further elucidate our understanding of holiday of Passover?
We have only begun the book of Vayikra, Leviticus, which focuses its attention on the laws and varieties of sacrifices. To the modern reader, these laws and details may read as dry and impractical; however, deep truths and philosophies lay open for exploration. In this week’s portion of Tzav, one sacrifice described is that of the Todah, the thanksgiving offering. These laws describe someone who, having survived an ordeal, offers an expression of gratitude to Hashem. The sacrifice must be consumed by the donor and his or her guests, accompanied by 40 loaves: some of which must be challah, leavened bread, and others which must be matzo, unleavened.
This combination is rife with symbolism and symmetry to the Shabbat we are about to celebrate, one in which we will begin with challah, and at the end of the night we will switch to our matzo. Another fascinating symmetry is pointed out by the Sfas Emmes, the Gerrer Rebbe Rabbi Yehuda Leib Alter z”l. He begins by teaching us that over this Pesach, chametz, leavened products, represent our yetzer harah — our inclination to do anything other than G-d’s will. Therefore, thematically over this holiday, we are declaring to ourselves, our families, and to our creator that we feel so connected to G-d that we want nothing to do with any evil inclinations; we want to experience only closeness. We abstain from any distraction to that goal.
But the experience doesn’t end there. During Passover, Jews will also begin the biblically required counting of the days of the Omer, seven full weeks that culminate with the next major festival of Shavuot. Chassidic and kabbalistic teachings show that each day that is counted correlates to a different facet of the human condition; each day we focus on a different aspect of ourselves that we can correct, that we can polish and scrub in the service of G-d.
At the end of this deep spiritual cleaning and scrubbing we do daily for 49 days, we reach Shavuot. This festival has a unique sacrifice offered only once a year, and that is particularly important to the symmetry we have been analyzing. On this day, Korban Shtei HaLechem was offered, a sacrifice of two loaves of leavened bread. What began as a process of cleaning out any hint or trace of chametz from our lives culminates in a celebration of chametz literally being held up by the priests in the holy Temple in service to the Almighty.
The Sfas Emmes explains that after spending time working on ourselves during the period of Passover through Shavuot, that we are able to consecrate every little facet of ourselves in service to our Creator, even our evil inclination — even the chametz in our lives. It can all serve a higher purpose.
Perhaps this sheds light on the Todah/thanksgiving offering mentioned in this week’s Torah portion. Both bread and matzo must be present when we celebrate deliverance from a particular and personal challenge. We must celebrate our gratitude with our whole selves. Every aspect can be used to show our appreciation to G-d.
Within all the difficulty and loss that we have endured this past year, we find we still offer our thanks to G-d. This weekend, let us all express our gratitude to Hashem with the challah of Shabbat and then the matzo of Pesach. May all aspects of ourselves feel closer and closer to our creator and may we all have a Passover filled with health, happiness and gratitude.
Rabbi Yaakov Green is the head of school of Akiba Yavneh Academy and a member of the Rabbinic Association of Greater Dallas.