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Sabbath Week: Time Out For Passover

Sabbath Week: Time Out For Passover

Candlelighting, Readings:
Candles: 6:56 p.m. (Fri.); 6:59 p.m. (Mon.);
7:59 p.m. (Tue.)
Torah reading: Leviticus 6:1-8:36
Haftarah: Malachi 3:4-3:24
Shabbat ends: 7:55 p.m.
Chametz: eat before 10:55 a.m.; burn before 11:57 a.m. (Mon.)


Passover should really begin with the advent of the Jewish month of Nissan. Numerous commentators, such as the Rashbam, note that Rosh Chodesh Nissan, the first of Nissan, actually marks the beginning of the redemption from Egypt.

In fact the Haggadah itself contemplates that perhaps the retelling of the Exodus should begin not on our seder date but on the first day of Nissan.

It was on that day, the first of Nissan, that God gave the very first mitzvah to the Jewish people, of sanctifying the New Moon each month. From that day onward, it became the responsibility of the Jewish people to determine when each new month begins and thereby take control of when the holy days occur.

Rabbi Yitzhak Mirsky, author of “Hegyonei Halacha,” comments that this day marks the true deliverance from Egypt. Once the Children of Israel gained control over their own time, the real transition from slavery to freedom has begun.

Rabbi Shmuel Goldin in his “Unlocking the Torah Text,” points out that it’s not an accident that the first mitzvah our forefathers received focuses on time and we actually have two Rosh HaShanahs, two beginnings of the year. One in Tishrei, and one in Nissan.

The Rosh HaShanah in Tishrei is a universal holiday while the one in Nissan is a uniquely Jewish one commemorating our national birth as a people and our taking control of time.

The Borsch Belt comedians always poke fun that Jewish holidays either come late or early but never on time. It seems with Passover that no matter when the holiday is scheduled to commence, we begin celebrating some aspects, many hours before it actually begins.

The halacha is very strict that we stop eating chametz before noon, prior to the first seder. All other holidays and Shabbos begin at sunset, the start of the new day for us. Why is Pesach different, with the ban on chometz starting in the late morning?

Rabbi Yitzhok Meir Goodman, author of “And There Was Light,” discovered in the 1916 edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica that the Egyptians were the first to discover modern bread baking techniques, having perfected the art of bread making using wheat, spelt, barley and oats, four of five grains that Jewish law states produces the possibility of chometz. By Torah law, rice flour or potato starch, for example, can’t become chametz. Thus it seems our chometz prohibitions are directly related to the grains the Egyptians used to bake bread. From the Torah we also see how the Egyptians venerated bread by not eating it with the Hebrews.

But why do we stop eating or owning chametz before noon before Passover even begins? And why does the Torah declare war on chometz, with so many restrictions of not even owning it and subjecting those who eat it to being cut off from the Jewish community, a rather harsh treatment that would logically be a minor sin?

Rabbi Goodman points out that there are many ways we could commemorate the Exodus, yet Hashem chose the ban on chometz to teach us that despite Egypt being in the vanguard of culture and civilization, it was also in the forefront of brutally enslaving and killing our people and being the first to invent a systematic persecution of the Jews. To this, Rabbi Goodman writes, “Refine your ethics, not your menus. We can live without your great discovery as long as we wish… That week, it will be treated like an abomination, like your other gods. And that is why we will not use chometz on our altars as a meal offering.”

Furthermore, we start the ban on chometz at the beginning of the Egyptian day, which the Meirii writes, begins, at the arrival of the Egyptian sun god, in the center of the day which happens before noon.

We purposely start off not eating chometz on the Egyptian calendar and time, at the beginning of the Egyptian anniversary when the exodus began and we end the prohibition on Jewish time — on the 21st of Nissan, with the Torah stressing “ba-erev,” in the evening.

We start Pesach on Egyptian time; we end it as free people based on Jewish time. Chometz teaches us the value of time. The Maharal notes that since it takes time for dough to rise and for it to bake into bread, the bread is “enslaved” to time. Unlike matzah where the quicker it’s made the better, it’s only a minute (past 18 minutes to be exact) that separates chometz from matzah, between life and death, and between holiness and the profane. We have to

Time is determined by the Jewish people. We are not the subjects of time, but time is subject to us. Many people seek to pass the time, basically they “pass over” time, making time their master. Passover is the time to declare that we are indeed the masters of time. n

Rabbi Zev Brenner, president and CEO of Talkline Communications Network, and host of its flagship program “Talkline with Zev Brenner,” is founder of the daily 9:15 minyan at Congregation Hechal Moshe (The Vorhand Shul) in Manhattan.



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