This week’s alumni Dvar Torah is by Leora Balinsky
כָּל־הַמִּנְחָ֗ה אֲשֶׁ֤ר תַּקְרִ֙יבוּ֙ לַה’ לֹ֥א תֵעָשֶׂ֖ה חָמֵ֑ץ
כִּ֤י כָל־שְׂאֹר֙ וְכָל־דְּבַ֔שׁ לֹֽא־תַקְטִ֧ירוּ מִמֶּ֛נּוּ אִשֶּׁ֖ה לַה’׃
No meal offering that you offer to the LORD shall be made with leaven,
for no leaven or honey may be turned into smoke as an offering by fire to the LORD.
Why can’t menachot contain Chametz, and why can’t leaven or honey can be part of the ketoret?
There are two fundamentally different approaches to answering these questions.
One path is to label using leaven and honey in sacrifices as ‘goyish’. This is the approach of the Rambam:
“Inasmuch as the idolaters offered only leavened bread and made many offerings of sweet things and seasoned their sacrifices with honey, as is generally recognized in the books that I have mentioned to you, and thus no salt was to be found in any of their offerings, He, may He be exalted, forbade offering up any leaven or any honey and commanded that salt always be offered” (Moreh Nevuchim, 3: 46, Pines translation).
This approach views the prohibition as contingent. It is not something essential about Seor and Dvash that makes them impermissible, but rather their use by others that render them unfit for the altar. According to this approach, in a parallel universe in which idolaters had not offered leavened and sweetened sacrifices to their gods, there would be no ban on such sacrifices for Bnei Yisrael.
Another path, taken by many mefarshim, attempts to identify essential characteristics of these products that explanation their exclusion. For example: Hametz and Dvash may represent the completion of a product and the stymieing of further growth. Leavened bread has risen and undergone chemical processes that completely change it, and once the bread has risen, it will soon begin to rot. Date honey comes from fruit that has already ripened. Bee honey is used to preserve that which is already dead, with a PH of 3-4.5, which is far too acidic for almost every organism to survive. The Gemara recounts the story of Herod preserving the body of a slavegirl who took her own life rather than being forced to marry him in honey for seven years.
The Kli Yakar as cited in the Iturei Torah takes Chametz and Dvash to represent two unsavory elements in a Jew: pride and a desire for material pleasures:
חמץ ושאור הם סמל הגאוה, ההתנשאות, ההתנפחות ורדיפת הכבוד;דבש הוא סמל של מתיקות והנאה גופנית.
שני אלה פסולים בקדשי שמים, והעוסק בתורה ובמצוות מתוך פנויות אלו – הרי זו תורה ועבודה שלא לשמה.
אולם לעולם יעסוק אדם בתורה ובמצוות אף-על-פי שלא לשמה, שמתוך שלא לשמה בא לשמה (פסחים נ)
וזה שאמרה תורה: “קרבן ראשית תקריבו אותם” –
רק בראשית עבודתך את ה’ תוכל לעבוד גם מתוך פניות הללו,
אולם עליך להתאמץ לעקור אותן מלבך כדי שתגיע לתורה ולעבודה לשמה
Chametz and leaven are symbols of pride, arrogance, self-aggrandizement and the pursuit of being honored; honey is the symbol of sweetness and physical pleasure.
These two are invalid for things made holy to Heaven, and one who engages with Torah and mitzvot out of these tendencies – their Torah and service are not lishmah.
However, “a person should nevertheless engage in Torah and mitzvot even though not lishmah, since out of not-lishmah comes lishmah” (Pesachim 50).
This is what the Torah means by saying in the next verse: “As an initial sacrifice you may bring them” –
only at the outset of your service of Hashem can you serve even out of these tendencies,
but you must try to become strong and uproot them from your heart so that you can reach Torah and service lishmah.
Chametz and Dvash, for the Kli Yakar, are symbols for two possible motivations for doing mitzvot, both of which are not considered at all Lishma. However, Chametz and Dvash are incorporated into קרבן ראשית as the korban shtei halechem and the bikkurim. According to the Kli Yakar, this is because this occasion is the beginning of the harvest, and given the principle of mitokh shelo lishma ba lishma, the Torah teaches us that it is incumbent upon individuals to rid themselves of their external motivations and learn to do mitzvot with proper intentions.
A beraita in the Yerushalmi supports the Kli Yakar’s claim:
תני בר קפרא:
הפטמין שבירושלים היו אומרים:
אילו היה נותן לתוכה מעט דבש לא היה כל העולם כולו יכול לעמוד בריחה
Bar Kappara taught:
The spicemakers in Jerusalem would say:
If a little honey were put into the ketoret – the whole world would not be able to stand its aroma
The Korban Ha’edah clarifies that the smell would be so good that it would be overwhelming. If Dvash were to be offered, its overwhelmingly pleasant aroma would be too enticing and distract from the actual mitzvah.
Rabbi S.R. Hirsch similarly views Seor and Dvash as impediments to ideal Avodat Hashem. Chametz represents complete freedom, which he extends to political independence:
“Seor and Chametz are the signs of independence and being one’s own master…”
In Rav Hirsch’s scheme, Dvash then represents the possession of land:
“Dvash, Metikat Pri, ‘the sweetness of fruit’ is that product of the land which quite specially clearly expresses the value of possessing land. It is that which Nature furnishes finished and ready for Man’s immediate consumption and enjoyment, so that fruit is well fitted to represent the possession of land”.
Rav Hirsch explains that both of these elements- political independence and the possession of land- are ends, and the means to achieve them are mitzvot. We cannot offer these elements as part of our mitzvah observance, because mitzvah observance, according to Rav Hirsch, is the condition for their kiyum.
We have seen two approaches to understanding the exclusion of Seor and Dvash from the korban process: That it is the way of idol worshippers, and that the essential natures of Seor and Dvash clash with the meaning of korbanot. By combining these two approaches, we can develop a distinctly Jewish way of being makriv korbanot and being an Eved Hashem. This way includes seeing the potential for growth, which Hametz and Dvash lack. It entails acting lishma. And it also involves knowing that ultimately, God is our master and the only master of anything in the world. There ought to be room in our lives as Jews for moments of experiencing satisfaction and independence. Those moments are built into our calendar as we proudly present the first fruits of our labor. Still, this parsha teaches us that they must not become the focal point of our Avodat Hashem- they have no place on the mizbeach.
On Pesach, my father told me when I was telling him about this Dvar Torah, our homes become the mizbeach, we all become kohanim, and thus we cannot have any Chametz at all. Given the mefarshim above, this makes sense. We experience intimacy with God as we relive our journey from being slaves of Egyptians to being Avdei Hashem, wandering the wilderness. In such a scenario, we remind ourselves of our dependence on God and the journey upon which we are embarking.
May we be zokheh to experience the moments of satisfaction and completeness that result from a life centered around Avodat Hashem Lishma.
Leora Balinsky (SBM ‘16) is in her third year at Barnard College where she studies Philosophy.