Did you ever stop to think how it is that a food (i.e, chometz) that we partake of and enjoy all year round suddenly becomes forbidden to eat, forbidden to even benefit from, forbidden to exist in our homes and domains as ours, and forbidden for us to desire that it exist (even if it belongs to a non-Jew!)? (That last halacha is not so well-known—indeed, I fail to understand how kashrus agencies can allow a sale of chometz which is based on an open, obvious desire that the chometz be around after Pesach and the non-Jew not purchase it, such as bakeries’ frozen bread or pizza stores’ frozen pizza dough, who want to supply their customers immediately after Pesach, and do not want the non-Jew to actually buy it, even if paid for in full. But I digress.) And we are commanded to search it out and to destroy it! Nothing similar exists in the Torah, with the exception of avodah zara. And all for one week only!
On the esoteric level, we are told that chometz and se’or (sour dough which has become a leavening agent, although it itself is unfit to eat) represent the yetzer hora (see teshuvos Radvaz, 3:546; Kad Hakemach-Pesach; Abarbenel, Shmos 12:15). It represents puffed-up arrogance (Chinuch, mitzvah 117). It represents middas hadin (see Ramban Vayikra 23:17).
But on a basic pshat level, we read in the Torah, and say by the Seder when we are fulfilling the mitzvah of sipur Yetzi’as Mitzrayim, that lo hispik betzeikam lehachamitz—the Jews were chased out of Egypt, and had no time to tarry, to delay. And so they baked their dough before it had time to rise. And we commemorate Yetzi’as Mitzrayim by reliving that particular experience of lo hispik betzeikam.
On this night of asking questions, surely the following question must be asked: Granted that the Exodus itself is a worthy reason for the yom tov of Pesach. But why should such a seemingly trifle detail be the reason for one of the most severe prohibitions in the entire Torah? And result in no less than five direct mitzvos and prohibitions (i.e, not to eat; not to have; not to be seen; not to eat anything with chometz as an ingredient; to destroy)? And this is the name—and thus the essence—of the yom tov in the Torah—Chag Hamatzos! Because they were rushed out? And if they would have just plain… left?
This becomes more curious when you realize that this is precisely the entire difference between the coveted matzah and the despised chometz—the tarrying, the delaying in the baking process. We are exhorted, “U‘shemartem es hamatzos—Take care in your baking of the matzos,” meaning speed up the process, making sure there’s no chance for the dough to rise. Speediness and lack of delay once again take center stage.
And even more curious, this becomes the foundation for the general principle that one not tarry in doing a mitzvah—al tikrei matzos elah mitzvos—mitzvah haba’ah leyadchah al tachamitzenah. Chazal declare as an imperative that when there’s a mitzvah to do, there’s no time to be lost! Go do it—immediately! And this is extrapolated from our care and concern with matzos! This certainly leads us to suspect that what is at stake here is more than 18 minutes.
The sefer Mesilas Yesharim delineates for us the rungs we must climb in our search for to spiritual growth. Perhaps surprisingly, he says that the most basic rung we must climb and overcome in order to move further ahead is zerizus, quickness and alacrity, the polar opposite of laziness and inertia. [He notes there that his first two rungs, zehirus, caution not to violate Hashem’s will, and zerizus, alacrity to do the positive mitzvos and to grow, are one and the same.]
The Mesilas Yesharim actually identifies three different types of laziness: that we are physically lazy, too lazy to get up, too lazy to go out to that learning seder or to that shiur, or to go help that neighbor, or to say hello; the laziness to try new things, to follow up on that burst of inspiration that we feel, the desire to daven better, to be better, to commit, to be responsible for our growth; and finally, the laziness to learn, to study, to clarify, to ask questions and find out the answers. We’d much rather, lazily, assume that we know all the answers already.
Without shedding ourselves of this innate laziness, without developing the middah of zerizus, we will never grow; we will never get past where we are presently holding, and we will inevitably slip and fall prey to all the excuses our yetzer hora is capable of convincing us of.
We know how we react when there is something looming in our lives about which we feel absolutely must occur, that it is unthinkable that it not happen. We have cleared all errands in days previous, we make sure that we filled up the car with gas the day before and go to sleep early the night before, we set two alarm clocks, we wake up early we check the traffic patterns every ten minutes, we go…
Well, is our spiritual growth any different? What is ultimately our purpose in this world? Do we clear away all obstacles, and practice zerizus, or do we sit back and get trapped by the 1,001 excuses that the Mesilas Yesharim himself describes to us?
We became avdei HaShem at yetzi’as Mitzrayim. It came about through a miraculous display of zerizus to leave the place of being avdei Par’oh, being rushed out of Mitzrayim. We remember that, and thus dedicate ourselves as avdei Hashem, by eating and exclusively having the symbol of that zerizus—matzah! And by totally destroying into oblivion its laziness, tarrying, counterpart—chametz.
And we thus extrapolate to all the mitzvos—do not delay! Don’t push off! Act now upon your inspiration, set in motion now the rungs for climbing that ladder! Make that game plan for growth now, and implement it immediately! Do not chas v’shalom let the chometz set in! No more chometz; only matzoh!