Thursday, April 18, 2024

The Matzah of Faith and the Chametz of the Intellect


Reb Noson delves into the profound differences between Matzah and Chametz and why Chametz is strictly forbidden during the seven days of Pesach. Reb Noson elucidates a verse concerning the receiving of the Torah. The verse is when the Jews proclaimed, “Kol asher diber Hashem na’aseh v’nishma,” – “Everything that God has spoken, we will do and we will listen.” This renowned verse recounts the moment when Moshe asked the Jewish people if they were ready to receive the Torah, to establish a connection and covenant with God. The Jewish response, “na’aseh v’nishma,” signifies their commitment to first do and then understand. This declaration is praised highly in the Gemara and the Midrash, highlighting the Jewish people’s willingness to act before fully comprehending. 

Reb Noson poses a significant question: How can one act before understanding what needs to be done? The verse itself, however, holds the answer. “Kol asher diber Hashem,” whatever God commands us to do – whether observing Shabbat, wearing Tefillin, donning Tzitzit, or fasting on Yom Kippur, etc. – “na’aseh v’nishma,” we will do and then understand. Thus, the initial commitment is to perform the commandments, and then comes the understanding. Reb Noson further explains that while the Jews are praised for prioritizing action (“na’aseh”) over understanding (“nishma”), they already possess knowledge of what needs to be done (“Kol asher diber Hashem”). This begs the question: What does “v’nishma” truly entail if they already know what to do?

Reb Noson highlights the greatness of the Jewish people in their willingness to obey without questioning – a testament to their simple faith. Whatever Hashem commands, we accept without hesitation and seek understanding afterward. Reb Noson interprets the verse as follows: “Kol asher diber Hashem” – whatever Hashem commands, we will do upon hearing. After demonstrating our commitment through action, we will then seek to understand. This approach mirrors a child’s education. Initially, they are presented with facts: Creation, our patriarchs, Moshe, the Exodus, the Ten Plagues, Mount Sinai, entry into the Holy Land, and the Temple, etc.. The child accepts these teachings unquestioningly, as is natural. Similarly, Am Yisroel acts on faith, trusting that what they are instructed to do is correct, before seeking comprehension. This faith-driven commitment defines the Jewish people. We adhere to Hashem, the Torah, and the tzaddikim, obeying without question. Understanding comes later, after we have demonstrated our willingness to act.

Rebbe Nachman, in his Aleph-Bet book, Sefer HaMidot, expands on this notion in the context of repentance. He states that when a Jew seeks to serve Hashem, Hashem responds as if to the soul: “I understand your desire to connect with me and comprehend the Torah’s depth. Yet, I need assurance of your commitment. Therefore, initially, serve Mewith simple faith, without deep understanding. This period of faithful service will serve as proof of one’s dedication. Only then will the deeper truths of the Torah be revealed to you”.

Reb Noson beautifully articulates the essence of Am Yisrael – our willingness to act on faith before seeking understanding. This stands in stark contrast to skeptics, atheists, and intellectuals who prioritize comprehension over faith. They insist on understanding concepts fully before committing to observance, a mindset categorized by arrogance and skepticism. The Jewish approach, however, places emunah (faith) above da’at (knowledge). We absorb knowledge without fully grasping its depth, promptly integrating it into our faith. This approach embodies the greatness of Am Yisrael and lies at the heart of Pesach and Matzah.

Matzah represents a level of intellect beyond immediate comprehension, necessitating a leap of faith to connect with it. On Pesach, a profound light descends, symbolizing Divine revelation, which the Jewish people accept wholeheartedly with emunah. Rashi, quoting the sages, recounts the Jews’ departure from Egypt, emphasizing their unwavering trust in Moshe Rabbeinu’s directives. This trust stemmed from the overwhelming light of emunah shining upon them, prompting their unquestioning acceptance.

Chametz, symbolizing fermentation and also intellectual fermentation, represents a later stage, appropriate for Shavuot. The offering of Chametz loaves on Shavuot signifies the culmination of understanding, earned through the initial acceptance of emunah on Pesach. This progression from Matzah to Chametz mirrors the journey from faith to understanding, culminating in a deeper intellectual appreciation of Divine wisdom.

In contrast to the approach of the world, where understanding precedes faith, the Jewish perspective advocates for faith preceding understanding. Attempting to comprehend God and the Torah from a standpoint tainted by one’s past mistakes and impurities is futile. Instead, one should acknowledge their limitations and lack of clarity and embrace faith. Even individuals burdened by their shortcomings can gain understanding through faith, symbolized by the transition from Matzah to Chametz.

Pesach embodies this notion, where the Jewish people accept Divine revelation with unwavering faith. Matzah, often referred to as the bread of faith, symbolizes this reliance on faith alone for understanding. The period of Sefirat HaOmer follows, preparing us for Shavuot, where intellectual comprehension is granted with the assistance of faith.

On Pesach, the focus is on faith. While the Haggadah is studied and discussed extensively, it is crucial to infuse everything with faith. While explaining the Haggadah’s narrative, which we are obligated to do, especially for children, it’s essential to emphasize that our understanding is limited, and much remains beyond our grasp. This acknowledgment underscores the essence of the Haggadah and the Seder night – faith.

In Likutey Moharan lesson 24, Rebbe Nachman teaches that the ultimate purpose of knowledge is to recognize its limits – to understand how much we don’t know. This realization leads us to rely on faith. Pesach embodies this principle, as Rebbe Nachman further explains that Pesach’s sanctity is dependent on one’s joy on Purim. The joy we cultivate on Purim correlates directly with the depth of holiness and faith experienced on Pesach.

The light of faith that illuminates Pesach night is profoundly transformative, offering spiritual renewal and a fresh start to all who seek it. It rejuvenates even the weariest souls, empowering them to reconnect with Hashem at a deeper level.

May we all merit to bask in the radiance of Matzah – the light of faith, and the faith of intellect – and progress toward the ultimate goal of receiving the Torah on Shavuot. There, we can embrace the concept of Chametz, representing the maturation and development of our understanding.

As we celebrate, let us be liberated from atheistic and skeptical thoughts that hinder our connection to faith. Instead, may we all become people of unwavering faith. Amen. 

This article also appears on the BRI website:

For a video presentation of these concepts:


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Chag Sameach!

Meir Elkabas

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