“It shall not be seen by you.”
We have learned over the last few weeks as we dig deeper into Tractate Pesachim that the preferred way to get rid of leaven is to load everything up into a big pit and burn it during the sixth hour of Passover Eve. We also learned that we could scatter the crumbs to the wind or throw them into the sea. There was a suggestion that they could be thrown into the murky waters of the dead sea, although I think that referred to the impermissible benefit derived from the leaven, rather than the leaven itself. And certainly, it is not advisable to discard of bread in the Dead Sea. Can you imagine floating in the dead sea with a slice by your feet?
I am not a religious Jew and I have never gone through the ritual of ridding my home of leaven ahead of Passover. I have a box of matza sitting on my shelf that must be past its due date, if there is such a thing, because I think it will last forever. I recently found out that I am pre-diabetic and should cut down on my intake of carbs which formulate the bulk of my diet, so I am wondering if I should go through the ritual of ridding myself of all leaven. If I replace all the banana bread and muffins in my refrigerator with that old box matza, will my blood sugar improve?
Lots of trouble is created for the Rabbis by those of us who do not destroy all leaven ahead of Passover. They spend today’s reading discussing whether leftover leaven can be eaten after the holiday is over, and its complicated. The first matter at hand is to distinguish between “seeing” and “eating.” We are told that the prohibition against seeing leaven according to Rabbi Yehuda refers to seeing your own leaven or that of another Jew. But it is perfectly alright to lay your eyes on leaven owned by a non-Jew. We are told that the same applies to eating leftover leaven after Passover; one may not eat his own leftover leavened bread but may partake of that belonging to others.
Rava supports this way of thinking with the following phrase from Exodus: “It shall not be seen.” The Gemara further parses this by stating that “it shall not be seen by you” to mean that one may not see, or by extension eat, his own leftover leaven. By extension, one may see or eat leaven belonging to others, and the concept of “otherness” refers to non-Jews. We are also told that “it shall not be seen by you” should be understood from the positive perspective of what can be permitted, rather than prohibited.
But of course, as we have seen time and time again, if we leave too early, we will miss the rest of the story, because the Talmud rarely follows a linear narrative. Despite his earlier support of the positive viewpoint, Rava adds some complexity to the discussion by stating that according to Rabbi Yehuda one would be flogged for violating Torah law if he eats any leftover leaven, regardless of who owns it.
We are reminded that if one eats leaven on Passover, as is the case with other transgressions, such as not fasting on Yom Kippur, he is liable to be punished with “karet”, which is the spiritual death penalty “at the hand of Heaven.” But the Rabbis, in their generosity of spirit, only assign punishment for the most severe transgression, and do not pile on sentences for lesser ones. In other words, if I eat more than one muffin on Passover, I am only sentenced to a spiritual death once. I am still unclear, given how many times I have transgressed in my life, if a new sentence is passed down each Passover when I tire of matza and give in to eating something forbidden.
The Rabbis further parse what is left of the leaven and return to the kitchen to examine the matter in more detail. This headache could have been avoided if someone just burned everything early on. We are told that if the leavened bread that is leftover is mixed with permitted food, the mixture might be permitted after Passover under certain conditions. The Rabbis are precise in their recipe: if the leaven is enough to enhance the flavor of the mixture, and is at least one part in sixty, and although there is some debate, it is generally prohibited. If the amount of leaven is so minute that the flavor of the overall mixture is unchanged, then it is generally permitted after the holiday of Passover has concluded.
I try to find some overall meaning in each day’s reading, but today I am left with an empty hole in the text. There is so much pain and suffering in the world as the coronavirus continues to ravage, and despite the hope of a vaccine, there is a harsh winter ahead. It is very cold and dreary in New York City, with the snow from earlier in the week already gray and slushy.
The world is weeping while the Rabbis are debating among themselves on mixtures of leaven and there must have been just as much pain and suffering during their time. I will keep digging, but today it is hard to find a lot of meaning in the text and from my own perspective, I am failing to see why it matters when the world is burning.