Let’s talk chametz.
Chametz (חמץ) is one of two reasons we don’t eat bread during Passover. There’s a couple of reasons for eating unleavened bread given in the Torah, but beyond eating Matzah there is also this thing called chametz If it were just bread there wouldn’t be all these other prohibitions on food during Passover.
I’m not going to go all technical about the laws of Pesach or chametz — there’s plenty of other sites you can find that on. Personally, what I love is how Passover practices so closely align the spiritual and the physical. So let’s do a little more thinking about the symbolism of chametz and why it’s so important.
The simplest definition of chametz is food made from five different grains that has been allow to ferment. Generally these grains are defined as wheat, barley, oat, spelt or rye. I have found a couple of articles that point out that spelt, rye and oats didn’t grow in biblical Israel — so they really can’t be what the Torah intended. But we are a people who build and build on tradition, so these grains may have been substituted for Middle Eastern grains during the Diaspora. But I digress….
What I find interesting here is the correlation between chametz and the “hamotzei” prayer over bread. Two food types have special blessings, wine and bread. With wine we say, “the fruit of the vine,” but there are lots of foods that grow on vines that we don’t use that prayer for: only grape wine and sometimes juice. The other special food is leavened bread.
What do these two things have in common? Divine Intervention.
Both foods are created through a partnership between G!d(dess) and humanity that goes way beyond basic cooking. If you’ve ever tried to bake bread or make wine, you totally know this to be true. There is magick — Divine Essence made manifest — in the act of fermentation. Why Jews picked these two types of fermentation to acknowledge — who knows?
Even the letters that make up the word chametz are a clue: חמץ. The letter Chet (ח) is the first letter of the word Chaya — life! The form of the letter chet, according to Inner.org, means: “The union of God’s immanence, transcendence, and the Jewish People.” So let’s look at the second letter, the Mem (מ). Here we have the letter that begins “mayim” — water. Inner.org puts it very poetically by saying, it “symbolizes the fountain of the Divine Wisdom.” Lastly we have the Tsadi Sofit (ץ). Inner.org mostly deals with the Tzadik in its regular, not final form — I found this to be quite revelant, “the consciousness of Atzilut uniting with the source of wisdom and descending to teach Creation.” Chametz is a substance that transforms and creates new life (ח) through contact to water (מ) and connects G!d(dess) and humanity.
This brings me to chametz and why we don’t eat it during Passover. During Passover we fast. Not like the fast of Yom Kippur or other fasting holidays. We fast, we refrain from creating or ingesting food that can only be created through this incredible partnership. We remove all traces of the Divine catalyst from our homes so we are sure it is not infected from the twelve plagues as we relive them each year. We break the final chains from slavery by insisting on self-reliance for a week and eating only foods that can be crafted without this Divine catalyst.
So this Passover, look at that Matzah differently. Look at the rules around clearing out the chametz differently. When Pesach ends and you take the first bite of delicious bread — or first sip of beer — think about it. Say the blessing. Know that this is evidence of G!d(dess) working in our world.
Ketzirah is a Kohenet, Celebrant, and Artist. She works with individuals and groups to explore, discover, and create meaningful rituals and ritual artwork to mark moments in life.