What Does The Mincha Offering Teach Us About Passover?
What Does The Mincha Offering Teach Us About Passover?
Rabbi David Fohrman
Founder and Lead Scholar
We learn in Tzav that one is not allowed to mix Chametz with the sacrificial Mincha offering. But what does the Mincha offering have to do with Chametz? Or by extension, Passover? Join Imu and Rivky as they re-examine the offering text and learn the deeper meaning behind Chametz — a symbol of over-processing and separation from the creator — and never think of the Mincha offering, and Chametz, the same way again.
Imu Shalev: Hello and welcome to another very special episode of Parsha Lab. I am Imu Shalev.
Rivky Stern: And I'm Rivky Stern.
Imu Shalev: What? Who's that? Rivky Stern is our executive producer. She's always here at Parsha Lab. You don't usually hear from her, but this week Rabbi Fohrman cannot be with us so we are joined by the incredibly talented and ever brilliant Rivky Stern. Rivky, welcome.
Rivky Stern: I think I do. Yes. In Parshat Tzav we learn all about the laws of a bunch of different types of offerings.
Imu Shalev: We also hear about the ritual induction of the priests. We actually heard about that, the preparation for it, way back in Parshat Tetzaveh, but now the actual induction ceremony of the priests is beginning and the offerings involved in their induction is happening now. And the end of this parsha, they are going to stay in the Tabernacle for seven days and emerge on the eighth day.
That's why next week's parsha is aptly named Sh'mini, the eighth day, with that incredible ritual induction of the entire Tabernacle that we talked about before where the fire of God comes down and the people behold God's glory and they sing, vayaronu. They sing together. It's an incredible, incredible portion of text that happens in next week's parsha, but this week's parsha kind of leads up to.
So Rivky, what should we talk about this week in Parshat Tzav?
Rivky Stern: I'm following your lead, Imu.
A Closer Look at the Mincha Offering and Chametz
Imu Shalev: Okay. Well here's something interesting that I noticed when I was looking at the parsha to prepare for this great podcast. Right here in Leviticus Chapter 6, Verses 7 through 11, it's talking about the torat haminchah, the instructions of the meal offering. This was a flour offering. There's some really interesting instructions here that really pop out at us while all of us are kind of in the throes of Pesach preparation, the Passover preparation. Here's what's interesting.
Out here in Verse 9, we're told to eat the mincha as matzah. It needed to be baked as matzah. "Matzot tei'achel b'makom kadosh" it should be eaten in a holy place as a matzah. And we're told in the very next verse "lo tei'afeh chametz", you got to make sure that it is not chametz. It is not baked with leaven. So Rivky, I thought that this was really interesting to point out that there is matzah and chametz in our parsha of all parshiyot. That was interesting thing Number 1, but put the coincidence aside.
What question pops out at you when you hear about how the priests, in the general service of the Tabernacle, need to be making sure to be eating matzah and not having chametz?
Rivky Stern: So Imu, I think my first instinct is to ask why that would be? Why would it be that something that we associate with Passover, which is not eating chametz and making sure to eat matzah would be associated with the mincha, but with an offering at all? Why would that be something that would be connected? Why would it come up in Parshat Tzav?
Imu Shalev: Okay, good. So you went directly to Passover. Explain to me why it would make sense if it were a Passover offering.
Why No Chametz on Passover – or for the Mincha Offering?
Rivky Stern: Well on Passover we are given the commandments not to eat chametz and to eat matzah specifically to remember what happened the night of the Exodus. The night of the Exodus, we were in a rush, the Torah tells us, and because we were in a rush, the bread did not rise and therefore we ate these cracker-like things, matzah, instead of eating chametz, which is regular, fluffy, doughy bread.
Imu Shalev: Okay. You want to take us to a particular verse?
Rivky Stern: Yeah. Let's go to Exodus Chapter 12 and then let's go down to Verse 39. "Vayofu et habatzek asher hotzi'u miMitzrayim u'got matzot ki lo chametz" and they baked this unleavened bread of the dough that they took out of Egypt, or it was matzot, "ki lo chametz" it was not chametz "ki gorshu miMitzrayim" because they were thrust, they were pushed out of Egypt "v'lo yachlu l'hitmamei'ah" and they could not tarry "v'gam tzeidah lo asu lahem" and they hadn't prepared for themselves anything in advance, any provisions.
This verse, sort of, explicitly sets up a contrast between matzah and chametz almost like they're opposites. That they couldn't eat chametz, they couldn't eat bread, so instead they ate matzah. They ate these crackers, this unleavened bread.
Imu Shalev: Great. There are a couple of questions. If the reason why we desist from chametz and the reason why we eat matzah is because we left Egypt really, really quickly and the dough didn't have time to rise and because of the miraculous nature of that haste, we really appreciate God and so we choose to celebrate that haste through which we were saved by eating matzah and getting rid of lazy bread, of slow bread, of chametz, it makes sense. I have some explanation as to why I keep Passover and matzah. But it doesn't really make sense in Tzav. It doesn't really make sense when we're discussing the laws of the mincha sacrifice, why the priests would have to eat matzah? Why would we be celebrating leaving Egypt really quickly? That's the basic question.
Rivky Stern: Right. And actually this is interesting because my suspicion is that matzah and chametz have to be bigger than just the Exodus, than just Yetzi'at Mitzrayim. It's not just that we eat matzah and desist from chametz to remember the Exodus. It has to be that these two things, matzah and chametz, sort of symbolize something bigger. And I think that that's going to get to our fundamental answer of why we do not eat them as part of the mincha offering.
Imu Shalev: Yeah. Let's make the question a big stronger as we are wont to do. So I want to take you to Exodus 23, Verse 18. Here in Exodus 23, we're just getting a bunch of general laws. This is in Parshat Mishpatim. There's plenty of laws here and one of the laws here is "lo tizbach al chametz dam zivchi" make sure that when you sacrifice any sacrifices, please I don't want any chametz in my Tabernacle. So there's a rule, this isn't just about the mincha, this is just rules in general for the Tabernacle, that God doesn't want chametz in the Tabernacle.
So the question we can ask is it's just an extension of our other question, which is it's not just the mincha, it seems as if God is celebrating Passover year round in the Tabernacle. He does not want any chametz in the Tabernacle. The question is why?
What Does Chametz Signify on Passover?
Imu Shalev: What I want to do is push at the myth a little bit is that reason why we bake matzah and the reason why we desist from chametz, its opposite, is to remember that night that we left really, really quickly. I want to ask you a question, Rivky. You talked a couple of time about the coupling of matzah and the opposite command of not eating chametz. Let me ask you a question. If God had said, I took you out of Egypt really quickly so I want you to eat matzah as a commemoration and He never gave the commandment that said and I also want you to desist from all chametz, would you have had a problem with that? Would you have had any questions?
Rivky Stern: No. I don't think it would have made a difference. It kind of actually, intuitively, makes more sense that way. Right? You have your normal life. You have the regular things that you do, but now you add this special commandment for Passover that you're remembering the Exodus by also eating matzah. The way on any other holiday, you commemorate it by adding something. You don't take away, but instead you add something. You don't destroy your house on Sukkot, but you sit in a sukkah. So you would add in the matzah without taking away the chametz from your regular life.
Imu Shalev: Exactly. If the point of matzah is a symbol to remember that we left quickly, why is there an opposite? It's almost like it's offensive to the matzah if you were to eat chametz because it was not fast. Why does a symbol have an opposite? Let me make it a little bit more clear or sharper the question. There are other symbolic foods we eat on Passover, like bitter herbs.
Rivky Stern: Right, I was having the exact same thought. I was thinking about in the Four Questions, one of the things we say is we ask about vegetables and about bitter herbs. And in the Four Questions it's very clear. We don't take away other vegetables. We eat other vegetables as normal, but we add in one thing. What do we add? We add bitter herbs.
Imu Shalev: Right. We don't get rid of sweet cucumbers. We don't get rid of cilantro, although some of us may wish that we get rid of cilantro on Passover. We eat bitter herbs and there's no offensive vegetable to us. There's no vegetable that we have to really, really get rid of.
By the way, the implications of this are huge. Right? Entire Passover program industries exist because of how seriously we take this law to get rid of chametz and it doesn't feel like the answer of we left Egypt really quickly is compelling enough to explain why we don't eat chametz.
Let's make this question even stronger. I want to take you just a few verses above in Exodus 12:8. For some context, what's happening here is this is before Israel flees Egypt. They're still in Egypt and they're getting the commands of the Passover offering that they're going to do before the final plague. They're told "v'achlu et habasar balaylah hazeh" make sure to eat this sacrifice, the meat of this sacrifice, this night "tzli eish" roasted "u'matzot al m'rorim yochluhu" do me a favor, eat this with matzah. I don't understand. Matzah only becomes significant after they flee Egypt and the dough doesn't have time to rise. So then why is God telling them to eat the Passover offering with matzah? You hear the question?
Rivky Stern: Yeah, absolutely. If the reason we're eating matzah is to commemorate the night we left Egypt, well the Passover offering happened before we left Egypt. So why is matzah already a thing if it wasn't commemorating the haste with which we had to leave Egypt? Good question, Imu.
The Connection Between Passover and Chametz
Imu Shalev: Before we get to the answer, I'll just say personally, for me, this is a question that has plagued me many a Passover because it always felt kind of suspicious to me. The Number 1 way in which we celebrate Passover, maybe Number 2 if you count the Haggadah and the Seder night which is a really, really beautiful commandment, is about chametz. It feels like for someone who wants to dial into the meaningful or spiritual significance of the commandments and why we do what we do, Passover just feels hard. It feels difficult to not really understand this whole chametz business. It just doesn't feel compelling enough to be the opposite of a ritual about how we left Egypt really quickly.
There are a lot of answers. There are Maharalian answers and kabbalistic answers about the spiritual destructiveness of things that take a lot of time. So while I value alacrity and zeal as much as the next guy, I think that that answer is actually, it's a deeper answer of something that's a little more p'shat (simple meaning) based, something that is maybe more readily apparent in the text and something that is a more common theme throughout the Chumash.
Rivky, in order to get out an answer, I want to take you back to Exodus 23, to Parshat Mishpatim where we hear about the very first time that there's no chametz allowed not in a Passover context. This is the first time where we're told that you can't have chametz in the Temple. I want to read two verses with you and look for context clues. Let's see if we can get some sort of context that will help us understand why does God have a problem with chametz? If He's not keeping Passover in the Tabernacle all year round, what other reason could He have for prohibiting chametz? Let's read these verses and see if the context will help us understand.
"Lo tizbach al chametz dam zivchi" make sure not to bring chametz along with the blood of my offerings "lo yalin cheilev chagi ad boker" make sure not to leave over the fats of the holiday offering until the morning. It's got to be fully consumed. "Reishit bikurei admatcha tavi beit Hashem Elokecha" you must bring the first fruits to the House of God. The first fruits that you grow should be brought to Me, the bikurim. "Lo t'vashel g'di bachaleiv imo" by the way, please make sure not to cook a kid in its mother's milk.
Rivky Stern: That is a rather odd assortment of commandments in just two verses.
Imu Shalev: It is. So what do these things have in common, if anything? What pops out at you? How would you make sense of this random collection of laws? No chametz in the Temple, make sure not to leave the fat from the offering over until the morning, bring bikurim and don't eat milk and meat together.
Rivky Stern: So I definitely don't have an instinct for how the four connect. My first thought is about bikurim though. Bikurim is, I think, a really interesting commandment, and one that Rabbi Fohrman has done a lot of work about, specifically speaking about the value of bikurim.
Bikurim is meant to sort of be a reminder for us. It is very easy for me, as a farmer, I've done a lot of work. I've raised these crops. I've taken care of them. I've grown this food and I'm so proud of myself to sort of look around and say yeah, I did this. Congratulations me and kind of give myself a pat on the back. Bikurim is meant to sort of be a reminder to me, that farmer, saying not so fast. Yes, you did this. You should be proud of yourself. But don't forget, God is the one who gave you these tools. God is the one who enabled this for you and even while you are excited about these fruit, recognize God and bring Him those choicest, first fruits.
Imu Shalev: So let's focus on that verse, Verse 19 which is bikurim and "lo t'vashel g'di bachaleiv imo", don't cook a kid in its mother's milk. I think what you said about bikurim is a really great place to start. It's almost like there's a spiritual danger of being a farmer. When you're a farmer, there's amazing creativity that you can do. You can literally cultivate new life, these amazing vegetables or fruits, and there's a spiritual danger to that great creativity. That spiritual danger is that you might forget that there is a Creator above you.
What's the way in which the Torah tells us to bridge that spiritual danger and channel that creativity that could otherwise be harmful, into something incredible and brings you closer to God? The beautiful ritual of bikurim. You simply take the first fruits that you've grown and labored over and you bring it to the Tabernacle. You testify before God that you understand that this comes from Him.
Rivky Stern: It's funny. There's actually a lot of overlap here with Passover because one of the parts of Maggid that we say at the seder as part of our Haggadah is the speech that the farmer gives when he brings bikurim. The farmer gives this speech that starts with "Arami oved avi" and goes all the way down giving the chain of history acknowledging that he remembers that he is not the person who did this on his own. That there is a long line of people and God that brought him to this moment where he is even able to bring these bikurim. We talk about that on Passover at the Hagaddah.
Imu Shalev: Yes, that's definitely true and there are many Passover connections between bikurim. That one which you discussed of "Arami oved avi," the actual text that you are supposed to say according to the Torah in Devarim when you give bikurim. Which is by the way, the text that we read at the seder, the hagaddah, the core text that we read in the hagaddah comes from that declaration of bikurim describing how we left Egypt because apparently we're supposed to recognize that we left Egypt whenever we give bikurim. But also the word bechor (firstborn) Right? Bikurim is bechor. It's the actual bechor. Passover is the bechor holiday. You can check out some of our other videos on Aleph Beta and on YouTube actually that discuss this bechor theme. The very first time we're told to bring the first of our animals is in the context of the tenth plague and the Passover offering.
Rivky Stern: So Imu, I think actually building on that, I'm now seeing a little bit of maybe how it connects to the next commandment in that verse which was do not cook a kid in its mother's milk. We talked about bikurim as a way of recognizing the Creator, of us bringing these fruits to recognize that we are not the source of everything that we've created. And in the same way, I think, there are overlapping connections to do not cook a kid in its mother's milk. When we abstain from mixing together a child and its mother, especially with the milk, which is actually what sustains and nourishes that kid, we too recognize, sort of, this respect for creators. This recognition of creators. I think that the connection there, I don't exactly know how to articulate it, but I think that there's a lot of overlap in this shared theme.
Imu Shalev: This was a video Rabbi Fohrman did for R'eeh on the meaning of why we might be prohibited from cooking milk and meat together. There Rabbi Fohrman argued that this verse is actually, it's hyperbole. The prohibition of not cooking a kid in its mother's milk is obvious. Right? It's an awful thing to do. It just feels so obviously awful to us to say like oh, here is this baby. It would taste delicious in its mother's milk. That's awful. It's horrible. This is a mother and a child. How could you do that?
Rabbi Fohrman argues that the rabbis read this verse and understand it as hyperbole, as a general blanket prohibition of cooking milk and meat together in general. It's basically saying milk is something a parent gives to its child to nourish it and for you to be so insensitive to where your food comes from, to treat milk as merely as an ingredient so much so that you would mix it with an animal itself and cook it together. This animal that you're consuming and the milk that you're consuming and just say yeah, there's no difference; they're both ingredients to me. To not recognize the relationship between milk and the animals it provides for is immoral and the Torah prohibits that.
Let's actually now, now that we've clarified maybe the meaning behind those two different commandments, can you tell us what would you see, Rivky, as the connection between bikurim and the prohibition of milk and meat.
Rivky Stern: So I think that to a certain extent what they're really both trying to say is recognizing and respecting that relationship between creator and created. Or if we want to use that language, it's really recognizing source. It's recognizing where I came from, where my accomplishments came from and it's recognizing where this animal came from. This animal came from its parents and respecting that source.
Imu Shalev: Excellent. So both of these ideas are about recognition of source and about the ills that could happen to you spiritually if you, as a farmer, or you as a consumer of meat or dairy products, can fall prey to if you don't recognize the Creator that lives above us. You can be an over consumer. You can eat your fruits and ignore God. Or you can corrupt this relationship between parent and child among animals and treat them as ingredients. So these laws are there to remind us of who we are in the order of things and understand that we are little creators and that there's a big Creator above us. It makes sense?
Rivky Stern: Yeah. Not only does it make sense, it gives me a framework with which to continue to approach these because now I'm looking at "lo tizbach al chametz dam zivchi" do not offer together with my sacrifice, actually the language is the blood of my sacrifice, with the chametz, with this leavened bread. And that makes me think that that's also about recognizing this relationship between creator and created, recognizing source, because the visceral, sort of, strong language of sacrifices being tied to blood feels also very much about this natural, created language and God is saying don't mix that with chametz. I'm not exactly sure what that is, but chametz seems to be some sort of more elevated or more processed food. There's something there. I'm not sure.
Imu Shalev: I think you're onto something. I knew where I was going when I started here, but I never thought about reading that verse and reading the word blood. But I think you're probably right. What jumps out at me and I think what you're starting to say is what we offer on the alter isn't the best chefs come together and they sous vide something incredible for God together with some garlic and some arugula. What we do is we bring the animal in its most raw form. The blood is the essence of animal. The Torah actually says "hadam hi hanefesh" the blood is the soul. The blood is the essence of a being. The Torah is sort of saying don't mix that with chametz.
I think there's a little bit of historical context here that's important in order to understand this. Let's pretend chametz is not referring to leavening specifically but to actual leavened bread, which is baked. And I'll get to the context in a second. If it's referring to bread that is baked as compared to blood then those two things couldn't be more opposite.
Rivky Stern: Yeah. I mean blood feels like such visceral, intense language. We associate blood with life. We associate blood with our own bodies as opposed to something like bread which feels much more removed. You take the wheat and you crush it and you kill it. It's much more complex.
Imu Shalev: So just for those of you who are not bread makers, when we eat bread or sour dough specifically, it's something that is highly processed. It's really at its core form, if you were bringing this on the alter in its blood-like form, what you would be bringing is grass. Wheat. Wheat is basically a grass. We take that and we kill that wheat. We dry it. We cut it. We leave it out in the fields to dry it again. Then we crush it and then we give it water, as if to give it new life, and then we bake it, kill it again with more heat. That's how humans baked bread for thousands of years. But there was a culture that invented a new way to further process the bread, to take the processed flour and add with water. They would do something interesting to make it rise. They would expose it to yeast and they would let it sit. And the people who invented that, the culture that invented that and there's some historical debate, but many think it is. Go ahead, Rivky.
Rivky Stern: Egypt. I remember actually my eleventh grade chumash teacher telling us that and it really blew my mind.
Imu Shalev: Right, the Egyptians invented chametz. I believe what they did is they first invented beer, which is liquid bread, through the fermentation process. And they were able to bake bread and sourdough, which means that most people when they baked, they were baking matzah. And the Egyptians learnt this technique and it was a very rich technique. It was something that made you feel – first of all, it made the bread taste differently. It made the bread literally rise. It was almost like you were breathing life into the bread. They said the Egyptian priests were the ones who held the secrets for how to do this. It eventually spread among the masses as well.
But in that context what chametz represents is again, this could possibly trigger mankind's spiritual danger and mankind's spiritual challenge. Here we are in an age of iPhones and it's kind of hard to relate to that, but back in the times of the Torah, it seems like this was a major technological innovation that was really part of making Egypt not only the most powerful nation in the world, but also the most god-like. If you look back at Egypt and who Egypt was in Bereishit, Egypt were the bread makers and they were the bread basket of the ancient world.
It's interesting, also, what were the Israelites doing as slaves for the Egyptians?
Rivky Stern: Yeah. Very cool. They were building storehouses for the grain which was going to lead to bread.
Imu Shalev: Exactly. They weren't building any pyramids. Pyramids were round. They were building storehouses for grain. I think that in the context of these other commandments in Verses 18 and 19 here in Exodus 23, we see possibly a major reason for the spiritual ills of chametz, of over processing our food, and the dangers of that.
The Link Between Passover, Chametz and the Mincha Offering
Imu Shalev: I think though, God doesn't have a problem with us eating chametz all year round, in the same way that God doesn't have a problem with us being farmers all year round. But there is a recognition process that we need to go through and almost like a cleanse that we need to go through once a year on Passover where we get rid of all the chametz, where we strip down bread in its most basic form without us breathing new life into it and keep it as close as it possibly can to its grass-like form and we use it to recognize God during that time period.
But it would also mean that God's not keeping Passover all year round in the Tabernacle. In the Tabernacle specifically, which is God's home, that's not really appropriate for you to bring man's best over creations. The Tabernacle is a place for us to recognize God, the raw materials, the basics. Most of the grain offerings in the Tabernacle were simply flour, flour mixed together with oil. In the Tabernacle here the mincha is baked into matzah. It can't be anything more than that. That would be inappropriate.
Rivky Stern: It's interesting also because we think of the Tabernacle as the physical place in which we, humans, can have that direct relationship with God and then the equivalent is also the holidays, including obviously Passover, as being the place in time where we can have this intimate relationship with God. So this idea of the Tabernacle and its relationship with creation and over creation and holidays and its relationship with creation and over creation and the relationship that we have with God in both of these. I don't know. I think there's also something there also that makes me think.
Imu Shalev: There's so much more to do. There are some questions we left a little bit unanswered. There's why we're given the command of matzah before we had to leave.
Rivky Stern: Right. There's also the missing commandment. Why do we not leave the fat over all night until the morning?
Imu Shalev: Yes. However, I think we have enough in the theory for you guys to do some of the homework on your own.
I actually think one of the coolest implications is it gives you a new understanding of the process of omer where you're literally waving the grass itself, you're waving the barley around, and the process we take over the s'firat ha'omer (counting of the omer) of the return to the two loaves of chametz. The Torah actually says this is the time where you bring these sh'tei halechem (the two breads) that you specifically had to bake the bread as chametz and you bring them on Shavuot as part of the sh'tei halechem offering.
So there is this journey that we take from matzah and no chametz all the way to these loaves of bread of chametz that you would take to the Temple. They weren't offered, but you were allowed to take them right outside the Temple and brought before God.
There's a lot of really cool stuff to explore. I hope you enjoyed. I hope this was fun for everybody. I hope it makes everybody's Vayikra and Tzav more meaningful and I hope that it helps enliven your Passover prep and your seder table discussions. Please make sure to share this podcast with friends. It actually really, really helps us. So if you're driving, pull over and send this to someone that you think will enjoy it.
Rivky Stern: And while you're pulled over, rate us five stars in the iTunes store. It also makes a huge difference.
Imu Shalev: And by the way, there's so much great Passover material that we have on the site. So please, if you're missing Rabbi Fohrman, go to alephbeta.org and check out the incredible, incredible new Passover course Rabbi Fohrman has just put out and the many wonderful Passover courses that we have up. I know you will not regret it.