Sunday, Aug 1, 2021

The Miraculous Delicious Shmurah Matzah

Our shmurah matzoh has brought about another Pesach miracle. The New York Times Sunday Review (April 17, 2016) has spoken respectfully about Orthodox – even Williamsburg-style Chassidishe – Judaism. What triggered this unprecedented moment of deference and admiration? A non-Orthodox Jewish chef and food expert discovers that shmurah matzoh actually tastes best when it has gone through the meticulous system of “rabbinical scrutiny” we have all known since childhood as shmirah.

Beginning with a front-page artistic rendering of a mashgiach checking the grain last July, the farmer, Klaas Martens, admitted that the rabbi was always correct when “he declared the harvest not kosher for Passover.” Though the farmer was “frustrated” by the loss, he “had come to respect the rabbi’s expertise” after many years watching him work. He noted that “[the rabbi] could walk the field tasting the kernels, to get the moisture he wanted, which I’ve come to learn is 13 to 14 percent. He knew how long to wait to get it. And by G-d, he always nailed it.”

In the end, the farmer admitted that “the rabbi knew more about farming than me.”

What a kiddush Hashem and what a lesson for us all, as we make our al achilas matzoh this Friday night, im yirtzeh Hashem. The farmer testified that he learned a lesson from the rabbi and the Jewish process leading to shmurah matzoh: “The requirement for close inspections of the spelt (that particular run was a spelt harvest),” Mr. Klaas marveled, “means I’m observing things that would otherwise go unnoticed. I apply it to other crops, not with the same vigilance but with… I don’t want to sound corny, but it’s mindfulness. Mindfulness is a part of all my work now, and it benefits just about everything I grow.”

We must immediately be reminded of the statement (see, for instance, Kedushas Chag HaPesach, page 151) that the linguistic difference between chometz and matzoh is but the tiny bit of ink separating the letter hey of matzoh from the letter ches of chometz. It’s certainly nice to hear a gentile farmer acknowledging the lesson of “mindfulness” he learned from the Torah restrictions on grain farming for Pesach, but we would do well to first remember what our own gedolim say about the eternal meaning of matzoh. We remember the clarion call of the Chasam Sofer (Teshuvos, Choshen Mishpat 196, hashmatos) to treat matzoh with the most profound reverence, because matzoh is the only de’Oraisa mitzvah to eat something left to us today. We sadly no longer have the Korban Pesach, kodshim, terumah or maasar sheini. All that is left is our kezayis of matzoh. This the farmer did not even know. In fact, the Radomsker Rebbe (Tiferes Shlomo, Pesach) teaches that the word “ba’erev” in the injunction to eat matzoh on Pesach eve also means “with sweetness,” for this mitzvah is so delectable and pleasant.

Although our worthy gourmet thinks that preparing a matzoh with the shmurah laws indicates “a higher understanding of deliciousness,” we know that the matzoh, in fact, transports us to ever higher levels of ruchniyus, spirituality.

In truth, not only is the eating of matzoh a de’Oraisa, a Biblical commandment, but according to many meforshim, even that mashgiach who was literally in the field was performing a mitzvah min haTorah (Pri Megodim 460:1). In fact, many Rishonim hold that guarding the matzoh must be done lishmah, for the express purpose of shmurah matzoh, not for any other purpose, including to produce better-tasting matzos (Rashi, Pesachim 40a). Some poskim (Sho’el Umeishiv 3:87) hold that shmurah matzoh actually needs an elevated and higher guardianship, called a shmirah meulah. An example of this was inadvertently mentioned in the Times article. The mashgiach in the piece “found signs of sprouting…in a handful of kernels.” That was when he invalidated the entire harvest, causing “a loss of several thousand dollars.” This reflects the poskim (see Maadanei Shmuel 108:7) who hold that while matzos from such grain can be used throughout Pesach, they cannot be used to fulfill one’s obligation at the Seder. Of course, for Dan Barber, the author, the most important issue was taste, whereas for us, it is the cosmic issue of yiras Hashem and the avoidance of even a hint of chometz at all costs.

When a Jew eats matzoh, the deliciousness is embedded more in the lessons than the rather sparse ingredients. Some of these lessons are as follows:

Matzoh is called lechem oni, the bread of poverty, but the roundness of the shmurah matzoh reminds us that the world itself reflects the cycle of life, whereby someone who is poor today can become rich tomorrow. In fact, the egg symbolizes the same cycle, since it can be a food for mourners, but it is also on our Seder plate as a reminder of changing fortunes in the world (Teshuvos Yehudah Yaaleh, Orach Chaim 157).

Even further from a preoccupation with taste and other aspects of olam hazeh, the matzoh reminds us of the importance of simplicity and humility. Just as the matzoh is simple and unassuming, the most basic of foods, so must we stand before Hashem adorned with the middah of anivus, modesty (Rav Tzadok Hakohein of Lublin, Haggadah, page 97). Rav Tzadok probes even deeper, teaching us that “Hashem praises us for our humility (see Chulin 89), since even when He grants us greatness, we remain humble.” Rav Tzadok reminds us that even as we achieve incredible levels of kedushah and lofty spiritual attainments, it is crucial for us, like Avrohom Avinu, Aharon Hakohein, Dovid Hamelech and many others who rose to unimaginable greatness but did not become arrogant, to emulate the lowly matzoh at the Seder and maintain our anivus.

The matzoh we eat at the Seder also carries a dual quality (Zohar Hakadosh) of mechla demehemnusa (the food of belief) and michla de’asvasa (food of healing). It is clear why matzoh is related to belief or faith, for we trusted in Hashem and went into the desert unprepared for the rigors of the wilderness. However, where does the Torah reveal that matzoh is a cure for our ills?

Rav Dovid Cohen (Birchas Yaavetz 4:274) suggests that the Torah mentions twice that Hashem is our Healer. Once, in regard to Yetzias Mitzrayim, the Torah states, “Any of the diseases that I placed in Egypt, I will not place upon you, for I am Hashem, your Healer” (Shemos 15:26). A little later (Shemos 23:25), the Torah elaborates, “You shall worship Hashem…and I shall remove illness from your midst.” Rav Cohen proves from a number of sources that once Hashem is accepted as our King, He promises parnassah and healing because that is, in fact, the role of the king.

Rav Chaim Friedlander (Haggadas Ponovezh, page 164) sees in the dual role of matzoh as the food of faith and the food that heals a guide to the correct road in life. In order to believe, man must be healthy in body and soul. Therefore, Hashem healed us and then brought us to complete belief in Him. When man realizes that his cure is totally from Hashem, he will realize that there is no “nature” or power other than Him and he will immediately be cured of his physical ills, even as he accepts the absolute monarchy of Hashem. However, once man has tasted the glorious matzoh, he must take a moment to contemplate the lesson and realize that it is Hashem who has been sustaining him and leading him all along.

The Ma’or Voshemesh (Parshas Bo) teaches that matzoh helps us eat only to serve Hashem in good health, not for our personal pleasure. The Tiferes Shlomo (Pesach, s.v. Balaylah Hahu) adds that since matzoh is the antithesis of chometz, which represents the yeitzer hara, it helps us serve Hashem in purity, with no ulterior motives or intentions. He writes further (Shabbos Hagadol) that the matzoh is so holy on the night of the Seder that it has the ability to sanctify the entire body when it enters. In fact, it is the healing (asvasa) that repairs the rift that sometimes occurs between body and soul, because we do not favor the soul over the body to the extent that we should. This concept is strengthened by the Gemara (Pesachim 35a), which stresses that matzoh may only be baked with ingredients that could possibly become chometz. This reminds us viscerally that we have the tools to serve Hashem or, G-d forbid, rebel against Him. It is the matzoh that ultimately brings us the kedushah we need to grow ever closer to Hashem throughout the rest of the year.

May everyone enjoy the matzoh the Torah way and may it bring us the refuos and spiritual madreigos we want and so desperately need.

Chag kosher vesomeiach to all.

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