The Deeper Meaning of Chometz and Matzah

The meaning of chometz and matzah is deeper than you might think.

The Torah tells us “You shall guard the matzos”(1), to prevent them from becoming chometz. The word “matzos” in that verse is spelled the same way the word “mitzvos” is spelled. Explain the Rabbis of the Talmud, “Rav Yashaya said, Read it also as if it says ‘You shall guard the mitzvos (Commandments). Just as you may not let the matzos turn into chometz (by waiting too long to bake them), don’t let a mitzvah (Commandment) turn into chometz. Rather, if a mitzvah comes your way, don’t let it become chometz’.(2)

In other words, don’t delay doing the mitzvah. Hasten to do it with love and joy, and do it as soon as possible. We see this from our Forefather Abraham. When Hashem told him to raise his son as a raised offering, and even though he thought he would have to kill his son he got up early in the morning(3) and hurried to fulfill Hashem’s command. Why? Because, says the Talmud, those who are eager to fulfill Hashem’s word do so at the earliest possible time. This characteristic trait is called Zrizus(4).

Chometz often alludes to sin. The Talmud tells us that Rabbi Alexandri would add this prayer at the end of Shemonah Esray: “Master of the multi verse! It is known and fully revealed to You that we really want to fulfill Your will. But what impedes us? “The yeast in the dough” and the pressure of the gentile overlords. May it be Your will that you save us from those.”(5)

What is the “yeast in the dough?” Rashi explains, “The Yetzer Hara (Evil Influence) in our hearts that turns us into chometz.”

The Rabbis explain that though yeast turns dough sour, it has the effect of making bread rise, and taste better. The Yetzer Hara does the same thing to us. It tries to make us sour, but it gives us the opportunity to rise and thus taste better. If we take the energy that the Yetzer Hara gives us, and turn it around and use it for doing good, we rise spiritually, and get closer to Hashem. Thus, we “taste better,” so to speak. This is the function of the Yetzer Hara, which Hashem created for that very purpose. By perverting (so to speak) the Yetzer Hara into good, or even by just ignoring its attempts to make us do bad, we rise. Thus, chometz is compared to the Yetzer Hara.

Says the Maharal(6), Chometz and Matzah alludes to this concept as well. Therefore, Chazal say “When a mitzvah comes your way don’t let it become chometz. This means that you should not let the “yeast in the dough,” that is, the Yetzer Hara, prevent you from doing the mitzvah. Moreover, a mitzvah is divine, and therefore transcends
time. However, corporeal things are subject to the demands of time. That’s why the term “don’t let it become
“chometz” is used, because the leavening process to become chometz takes time. Therefore, Chazal based it on the verse “You shall guard the matzos,” because matzos and mitzvos are both divine. Therefore, do not let time pass before doing the mitzvah you are supposed to do. And matzah as well, because when the Children of Israel left Egypt we left in an uplifted state above the concept of time, as explained [by the Maharal] elsewhere. This is why Hashem commanded us to eat matzah. [This possibly means that we were supposed to leave after 400 years of exile in Egypt, and instead Hashem took us out after only 210 years. In addition, we left in a tremendous hurry, without even time to let our dough rise. Moreover, Hashem catapulted each and every one of us into an elevated state, far beyond the demands of time and other mundane needs. This is perhaps also why we able to eat our matzah and maror for an entire month without running out.]

The Shelah(7) says that when you destroy the chometz before Pesach you should remember that chometz alludes to the Yetzer Hara, who is Satan, the yeast in the dough, and even the tiniest amount of chometz is forbidden. And therefore you are obligated by Halachah to search for it in every hole and crack on your property, to destroy it and to nullify it [and to relinquish any connection to it], as King David says, “Shun evil and do good” (Psalms 34:15). And thus purify yourself before the Holiday for which Hashem has chosen us.

And, finally, the Shelah(8) says that another allusion in the destruction of chometz is the fact that Hashem will, in the future, destroy the Yetzer Hara and eradicate it from the world, a hint of which is given in the verse “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit will I put within you, and I will take away the heart of stone out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh”(9). And as Rashi explains there, “A New Heart: An influence that has been renewed for the better.” [This will happen just before the World to Come
begins.] And in emulation of this, we are commanded to destroy our chometz on the day before Pesach.


1. Exodus 12:17
2. Mechilta, Bo, Parshah 9
3. Genesis 22:3
4. Babylonian Talmud, Pesachim 4a
5. Babylonian Talmud, Brachos 17a
6. Nesivos Olam 1, page 74, Nesiv HaTorah Chapter 17
7. Tractate Pesachim, Sefiras Ha’Omer 1:7
8. Meseches Pesachim, Perek Torah Or 13
9. Ezekiel 36:26

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *