Humble vs. Worthless

Thursday, 23 March, 2023 - 2:56 pm

One of themes of Passover is the is the symbolic difference between Matzah and Chametz. The rising or leavening of Chametz signifies arrogance, whereas the unleavened state of Matzah represents humility. This is a fundamental idea in Jewish spirituality. Arrogance is the root of much, if not all, of what goes wrong with humanity. Recognizing this truth, and seeking to remedy it, is the beginning of getting things right.

According to Jewish law, Matzah can only be made from these five grains; wheat, barley, oats, rye, and spelt. The common denominator between them is that they have the potential to rise. It would seem that if humility was such an integral component of Judaism, it would make more sense to make the Matzah from a grain that cannot rise, such as rice or the like. Why make Matzah from one of the five, leaving yourself vulnerable to the potential of arrogance, when you can avoid it altogether by using a different grain?

The explanation is that there is a difference between humility and a lowly self-concept. A grain that cannot rise at all, would represent a lowly self-concept. A person with a lowly self-concept cannot accomplish anything. One needs to have an accurate sense of one’s worth, coupled with the humility that it is all a gift from G-d, to be utilized in the proper manner.

The Baal Shem Tov argues that false humility (a lowly self-concept) is a catalyst for sin. Such a person reckons that they are worthless anyway, so why would they invest effort into doing the right thing and being a good person. Inevitably this leads a person down the slippery slope of harmful behavior.

So, we need the Matzah to keep our arrogance in check. But humility does not mean viewing yourself as a doormat upon which all can trod. It means finding that healthy balance and appropriate self-concept.

Speaking of Matzah, if you know of a Jewish household in New Orleans that would appreciate a package of Shmurah Matzah for the Seder, please let us know. We are in process of delivering packages of Matzah around town. If you would like to get involved in this effort, by volunteering or supporting, please get in touch. It is our hope that the thousands of Jewish households receive Shmurah Matzah for the Seder this year.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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