Friday, April 18, 2008

WHY THE YEAST? WHY THE CHOMETZ? WHY THE JEWS?

by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

Dedicated in memory of my father, Israel J. Melman, ob"m, on his birthday, April 18.

Am Yisrael, the People of Israel, is a catalyst for blessing for all the nations of the world. Indeed, this is a fulfillment of the Abrahamic blessing that "all the nations will be blessed through you." Israel, in a sense, now becomes the yeast for the whole world. As yeast is the catalyst in baking, so too is Israel that transforming agent of change which has the awesome capability of uplifting all of humanity. On Passover, the Jewish people go on a holy mission to eradicate all the chametz, any food which has risen, particularly through the agency of se'or, yeast.

Just as yeast is among the least of the ingredients, so too is Israel the least populous of the nations. Just as yeast is less than tasty when eaten as a meal in itself, so too does Israel shine less when consumed solely in a self-absorbed disinterest with the fate of humanity. Conversely, as role models for tzedaka, culture, agriculture, education, science, the arts and humanities, leadership roles in progressive movements for social justice, equality and better working conditions for all, Israel's light shines brightly. We are not perfect, but we are trying.

Now we undertand on the deepest level why we totally eradicate any presence of chametz on Passover, the holiday marking our new status finally as a nation among the other nations of the world. The special zero-tolerance status for yeast on Passover now makes sense. The very energy expended in our total obsession with its eradication is only meant to underline and call attention to the "yeast" status of the Jewish people vis a vis its relationship to humanity.

By calling attention to yeast/leaven so explicitly, the Torah wants us to understand on our national birthday our special "yeast role" in the universe. In all other areas of kashruth a miniscule amount of a forbidden substance is"tolerated" if it exists in a certain miniscule percentage in relation to the permitted ingredients (usually a 1/60 ratio). Not so with yeast on Passover. It has the status of "assur bemashehoo," i.e., it is forbidden "in any amount" (shulchan aruch: siman taf mem zayin, se'eef dalet).

Israel, in its status as exemplar of liberation from Egyptian oppression, bondage and servitude, becomes on a symbolic level at least, the inspiration for all humanity to aspire to freedom from every type of oppression. Our Exodus is the model for all future exodi. Our salvation is the model for all future salvations, as is likewise our redemption in the land of Israel a precursor and model for ultimate world redemption- if only we and our leaders believe it ourselves and if only the world were to lift its veil of hatred and open its eyes.

And that is why at the seder itself, after all the cleaning and preparation has been made, that we break the middle matzah. Because we are the intermediaries between heaven and humanity. We are the priestly intermediaries sharing G*d's light with the world, even as it resists the light.

By the special status and attention which the Torah pays to actual, real, live yeast in the Exodus narrative and to its accompanying rites of memory and reenactment, so too should we therefore be cognizant of the people of Israel's symbolic and yet very real status as yeast/catalysts in the rising pungent ferment that is humanity. The more we consciously incorporate Judaism into our lives, the sooner we help elevate all humanity, including ourselves, to achieve the end stage of glorious redemption and peace, and thereby fulfill our true destiny as an "am segula," as a Catalyst Nation. Be Jewish. It's a segula for world redemption!

Shabbat Shalom. Good Shabbos.
© 2000 - 2008 by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

These words of Torah are written in honor of the memory of my beloved father, Israel J. Melman, obm, Yisrael Yehoshua ben Harav Yaakov Hakohen Melman, z"l.

Dedications are available.

Sefer Chabibi stands for CHidushei Baruch Binyamin ben Yisrael Yehoshua.

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About Me

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I played violin with Reb Shlomo and studied under him for over nine years at hundreds of concerts and learnings. Shlomo wanted to give me smicha before he passed. Deepest influences: My father,obm, who was a great scientist and human being, and my grandfather, obm, who was a great Torah scholar who was a musmach of the Mir Yeshiva and taught in Slobodka in Russia before WW1, and was also personal friends with the Chafetz Chaim and came to America in 1914. He knew the Talmud by heart! You could stick a pin in a word and he could tell you what word was on the other side! And my mother, Esther bat Baruch, z"l, who was a scholar of classical Hebrew and Tanach and who gave me a love for the language. And her mother, Anna (Sucher) Deutsch, who was born in Horodenka, spoke six languages, and shared her aged wisdom and eternal sweetness with me. I studied at Brandeis, Hebrew College, Pardes as well as seven years at The Metivta/ITJ earning my Advanced Semicha (yoreh yoreh)under Rav Halivni. What's truly amazing is that Shlomo and Rav Halivni each received semicha from Rav Hutner! But my deepest influences of them all are my sweetest sweetest girls who have taught me the most!