Not unleavened bread alone

Not unleavened bread alone


Just imagine what would happen if the events of the Exodus occurred in our century. Moses would be on the cover of every magazine from AARP (“Changing Careers at Eighty”) to Business Week (“How to Succeed at Relocation Planning”), from Readers’ Digest (“The Ten Commandments — Condensed Version”) to Popular Mechanics (“Innovations in Marine Engineering”). Brian Williams, Katie Couric, and Piers Morgan would compete fiercely for the “get,” the first on-camera interview with the man everyone was talking about. Moses artifacts (real and fake) would appear on Ebay, and rumors about Moses’ youthful misadventures would circulate on the Internet. “Moses ben Amram” would consistently rank among the most popular searches on Google. There would be a Moses fan page on Facebook and a #Moses Twitter feed.

After all, today almost everybody wants his or her “15 minutes of fame.” It doesn’t matter how you get there, as long as you appear on television (think about the behavior of reality TV performers or the antics of some sports fans).

But things were different 3,600 years ago. So much so, that Moses is absent from the Haggada. The usual explanation is that the rabbis wanted to emphasize that it was God who redeemed us from Egypt, not any human being. But there is something more. The Torah tells us, “Never again did there arise in Israel a prophet like Moses — whom the Lord singled out, face to face.” (D’varim 34:10) The Torah also tells us, “Moses was a very humble man, more so than any other man on earth.” (Bemidbar 12:3) So it seems that Moses had every reason to claim celebrity status, but he didn’t — and this is reason for praise.

And why should Moses’ name be missing from the Haggada in particular? In preparation for Pesach, we remove hametz from our homes, offices, and cars. In fact, we don’t just remove it — we search it out, burn it, nullify it, obliterate it. Why? The simple reason is that the Torah prohibits the consumption or possession of hametz during Pesach. But there is also a symbolic reason. The rabbis interpreted the removal of hametz as a metaphor for the removal of the yetzer hara, the evil inclination. Philo of Alexandria, the Greek-Jewish philosopher, narrowed the focus to pride. “Just as leaven is banned because it is puffed up, so too must we guard against the self-righteousness that puffs us up with false pride.” The Kli Yakar, Rabbi Ephraim Solomon of Luntshitz, noted, “Leaven is a symbol of arrogance, pride, boasting, and pursuit of recognition.”

Pesach, Hag Ha’aviv, the Festival of Spring, is a time of rebirth and renewal. And this process of renewal requires the removal of spiritual hametz, false pride, unwarranted ego. Each of us should look to the example of Moshe Rabbeinu, Moses our Teacher, and remember: I am not the center of the world. It’s hard to be humble when you are surrounded by messages telling you that you could be the next “American Idol” — but you know what the Torah says about idolatry!

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