Sunday, October 7, 2012

Un-leavened or Leavened: Matzo and Burnt Pizza

I’ve been thinking about “leavened” and “Unleavened” bread most of today, since a friend who is not Christian asked about a passage I jokingly passed on to him after he burned some pizza in the oven.  I related the law of the grain offering in Leviticus, as a soothing aroma to God, and then kidded him that his offering wouldn’t be accepted because of the leaven. Well his question back to me in an email was about whether matzo would be OK.

 So I began to meditate on this idea of Matzo,  or  מַצָּה Matstsah, as some would say “the bread of affliction” eaten at Passover/ Pasch, leaven, and the grain offering of Torah.

You can watch a video about matzo it here:

Interesting enough, Gesenius’s Lexicon in Blue-Letter states that the word “Matstsah” transliterates as”… what is sweet; i.e. un-fermented bread.”   The normally eaten bread from Ancient Egypt was leavened by a sour-dough starter and made from barley, or emmer wheat, which would have taken hours to cause the dense, low-gluten bread to rise at all, and which would have had a sour taste.  But from references to dipping grain or bread in vinegar, that would have been a pleasant taste at the time.

But what was difficult for me to understand is why the grain offering to God would have been un-leavened, for if Matzo was the bread of affliction, to remind the Jew’s of God’s deliverance from Egypt, why would you offer that to God?  A cut and dried “well because leaven equals sin” just wasn’t quite answering this for me.   So I went to the closest old source I could find, the Targums of the Pentateuch

This is from Leviticus 2:4-11 (or so…Targums are not numbered like our Bibles)
And when thou wilt offer the oblation of a mincha [grain offering] of that which is baked in the oven, it shall be cakes of flour, unleavened and mixed with oil, and wafers unleavened, which are anointed with oil… And if thy oblation of a mincha be from the pan, it shall be of flour mingled with oil, unleavened shall it be. He shall break it in pieces, and pour oil thereupon. It is a mincha… And if thy oblation be a mincha from the gridiron, it shall be made of flour broiled with oil... And the priest shall separate from the mincha a memorial of praise, and burn it at the altar, an oblation to be accepted with grace before the Lord...But no mincha which thou offerest to the Lord shalt thou make with leaven; for neither leaven nor honey mayest thou offer as an oblation before the Lord.

Well first leaven, now honey? So I dug around a bit more on the Internet, and I think I found the most plausible explanation from an article by Douglas Aronin, titled “A Rosh Hashana Reflection” here:

Aronin writes:
The Jewish people were commanded to distinguish themselves from those nations by not offering to God those substances that pagans most frequently offered to their idols.
The distinction that the Torah is commanding us to make between Israel and the pagan nations of antiquity is not merely an aesthetic or symbolic one. Rather, that distinction goes to the heart of what distinguishes Judaism from pagan nations.  Pagans brought honey and leavened bread to their altars as part of what was essentially an effort to bribe their gods. They believed that by offering delicious food to their gods, they could earn their gratitude and thus obtain from them whatever favors they were seeking.

The Torah commands us to stay far away from that pagan attitude. Our service of God, whether by offerings when the Temple stood or by prayer today, are not bribes that will earn God's gratitude and favor. Rather, they are symbolic acts through which we deepen our understanding of our utter dependence on God and further our life's work of seeking to come closer to Him. Introducing into the divine service any element that might create confusion on that point -- that might suggest that God needs our offerings and prayers for His pleasure -- is prohibited.

Although there are analogies in the Old Testament and New Testament that equate “leaven” to sin, because we all realize that “a little leaven, leaven’s the whole lump,” when it comes to the Torah, and offerings, the idea originally seems to be another separation of the “Children of Israel” from the cultures around them; for them not to think they could bribe the Lord God. This idea tends to get lost in translation, and we forget that God does not need anything, and to never lose sight that we give offerings out of gratitude to God, not to try and influence Him.

Burnt offering pizza
So I’ll have to tell my friend that no, you cannot bribe God with a pizza burnt offering, even if made from scratch and ultra thin crust!

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