Bread on Passover
By Samuel Katzman
One of the strangest things in Jewish Law and tradition is Passover. The restriction on eating bread and products that have in them fermented grains is the center focus of this holiday. As is well known, all products that have even the smallest, most minute part of "chometz", (Hebrew for fermented grains) renders the entire food forbidden. In addition to this, silverware and dishes are either kashered or special dishware, which have been put aside, are used during the holiday.
Now to realize the gravity of this stringency, we may compare it with eating pork. As is well known, the Torah forbids the consumption of pork. What is the punishment for eating pig? During the times that the Jewish courts had power in Israel, a person who willingly ate pork was given lashes by the courts. After his punishment he sin was expiated and atoned for.
However, if a person were to willingly eat bread during Passover, his punishment was much more severe. His punishment as written in the Torah, was "koret", meaning his soul was cut off from its G-dly source. To reach forgiveness for this transgression and sin was much more difficult and required much soul searching.
The difference between these sins is more apparent when one realizes that bread is something that is not only permitted the rest of the year, but during the Sabbath and Festivals is mandatory. Pig on the other hand is never permitted except under life or death circumstances.
The question which has been asked by many is now very obvious to us, why is the penalty for eating bread so severe? After all, it is permitted all year!
The answer to that question gives us a tremendous insight to an important principle in Judaism. That is this: What causes something to be forbidden, the object or the command?
We are all familiar with the claims that kosher food is healthier. Is this the reason that the Torah has permitted certain foods and outlawed others? Who has not heard it mentioned that pig meat has problems of trichinosus a disease found in pigs? This is the reason that Jews do not eat pork. After all we were in the desert for forty years, no refrigeration, and, you know, pork is subject to rapid spoilage. Therefore, the Torah, which was given in the desert, forbade eating pig.
This reasoning has appealed to many people throughout the last two generations who lacked deep insights into the Jewish customs. However, Passover come to prove that this is not true. We see that the object itself is not forbidden because of some intrinsic interior problem. The food is forbidden because of the divine command. Passover shows that so clearly that it is a wonder upon those who claim that pig is forbidden due to it inherent and potentially health related problems.
This of course does not mean that Jewish law condones something that is unhealthy. There are many cases of foods becoming forbidden due to their potential health risk. But this is obviously not the case today with pork. We see that many of our non-Jewish neighbors eat pork and suffer no ill consequences.
Therefore the lesson to be learned here is that it is by divine decree that makes the food either permitted or forbidden. Now we can understand the enormity of the transgression of eating bread.
Bread is forbidden during Passover by divine decree since our ancestors did not partake of it. If some one eats bread during Passover, he cuts himself away not only from G-d by disobeying this divine decree, but he separates himself from the Jewish people and their national experience. Therefore, the punishment for disregarding the prohibition of eating bread is very grave.
May we all merit to abstain from "chometz" during Passover and strengthen our bond between ourselves and G-d in heaven and all of our Jewish brethren around the world.
from the March 1999 Passover Edition of the Jewish Magazine