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Tikkun: Bread and Wine on Pesach

Isaiah Cox and Ze-ev Hall Bread is the gold standard against which all other chometz is measured. Bread is also the food which requires the greatest amount of human interaction – bread, like money, does not grow on trees. Wheat must be sown on plowed earth, it must be weeded, tended, and then harvested. The grains must then be separated and milled, the resulting flour aged. Only then can water be added, and bread baked. Wine has a similar role for human intervention. Grape vines are carefully grown and tended, then crushed, separated, and wine is made. As with bread, the active agent in wine is yeast, allowed to work over time. But wine and bread are given opposite treatment on Pesach – one is welcomed and the other is banned. The reason wine and bread are treated so differently on Pesach has everything to do with what the Torah tells us about the origins and first uses of bread and wine. It all has to do with the human role in the making of bread and wine1 and our obligation to repair the consequences of early actions. We have tikkun for both bread and wine. There is a series of medrashim that tells us that, counter to popular aphorism, bread did once grow on trees. Medrash Rabbah quotes Rabbi Nehemiah, who posited that the blessing made over bread (‘Blessed are You ... who brings forth bread from the earth,’) refers to the fact that G-d brought bread forth from the earth in the past.” And Rabbi Z’ira posits Eden was so perfect that it contained “bread trees as large as the cedars of Lebanon.”2 Bread was not meant to be a collaborative product. It was given as a finished product, like any other fruit. Wheat, on the other hand, is identified by Rabbi Yehudah as the forbidden fruit, the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. What can we make of a place where the bread grows on trees, and wheat is a forbidden fruit? It is a place without technology, without any need for the laborious steps needed to go from wheat to bread (tilling, sowing, reaping, sorting, threshing, winnowing, grinding, mixing, kneading, and baking). Who would bother with all that if bread already grows on trees? And what is the most destructive force in any utopia? Man himself. Adam could see wheat, and he could see bread growing from a tree, and it was always meant as a thought exercise: the wheat and bread provided an example of what Adam could


Bread and wine are both emblematic of Torah’s role in the world. Torah represents delayed gratification, moderation of explosive forces, the making of beautiful things through controlled and civilized human behaviour. Both wine and bread take time and patience to make, the moderation and control of the ingredients, such as the yeast, which are prone to running out of control and ruining the product. It is quintessentially human, not animal, to dedicate our time and ingenuity to creating a superior foodstuff – just as it is quintessentially Jewish to dedicate our time and ingenuity to apply the Torah to our lives.
© Isaiah Cox 2007 2 April 2007

"What kind of tree did Adam and Eve eat of? Wheat, according to Rabbi Meir." He explained that bread made of wheat symbolizes wisdom.. "R. Samuel put the following question to R. Ze'era: "How can you say it was a grain wheat? "Nevertheless it was so," R. Ze'era replied. R. Samuel argued: "But scripture speaks of a tree." R. Ze'era replied, "In the garden of Eden stalks of wheat were like trees, for they grew to the height of cedars of Lebanon."

discover and achieve if he applied his intellect.3 The Tree of Knowledge may even have been meant to inspire Adam to greater intellectual and spiritual achievement. The word “taam” means taste and sensation. But taam also means logic and reason. To acquire the true taam of the wheat, the logic and process of how wheat becomes bread, Adam was meant to derive knowledge the hard way, by working his mind. But Adam wants knowledge, and he wants it the easy way. He wants to know how bread can come from wheat, and by personal experience. Certainly the first to provide support for the adage, “be careful what you wish for, you just may get it,” Adam short circuits the process, satisfying his craving by eating the wheat off of the tree. 4 Adam gets knowledge, the easy way. And he gets bread the hard way. Adam wanted bread, and he shall have it. No longer will it grow on trees, there for the plucking. Hashem tells him, “By the sweat of your brow shall you eat bread.” No longer was Adam encouraged to use his head to discern knowledge; from now on, we are sweating from our heads from physical exertion to earn bread.5 Be careful what you wish for, indeed! Pesach provides an opportunity for reparation, tikkun, of Adam’s initial act. On Pesach we are barred from eating chometz, which is

understood as bread. But chometz is not, according to Halacha, defined solely by its appearance. It is not even defined by the combination of flour, water and yeast. Chometz is any mixture of flour and water that is left for a minimum amount of time. Man makes flour from grain, and he provides the mixing. But this does not, in itself, make chometz. If man never stops working the flour and water, kneading it incessantly, it does not become chometz. The clock only starts when man stops kneading. In other words, Chometz is what happens when man stands aside and lets nature finish the job. G-d alone provides the crowing distinction of bread: its chometz. “By the sweat of your brow shall you eat bread.” Nobody disputes that this is a curse. But to those who seek to go above and beyond the call of duty, it can also be read as a commandment. When we try to serve G-d with all our hearts and souls, we follow his injunction to make bread without relying on Gd’s part in making bread: the leavening. When we make matzo, we are deliberately cutting Gd out of the process, treating his instructions to Adam as an encouragement to us. This understanding allows us to answer two major riddles within the Torah: 1: Why is chometz forbidden on Pesach? and 2: Why is chometz forbidden to be anywhere near the altar in the Beis Hamikdosh at any time? The answers to both these are the same: offerings to Hashem must be at the highest possible level.6 When we make an offering to G-d, it needs to come from us, not from Hashem. And we should play our part in that offering with the highest level of devotion, by seeking to follow even the barest hints of commandments. If we are zealous in following

Wheat symbolizes wisdom: "a baby does not know to call for its father and mother until it experiences the taste of wheat." (Talmud Bavli Brachos 40a) 4 An alternative is that the forbidden fruit was actually bread itself. In which case, Adam is still guilty of short-cutting the process, though in a slightly different manner. 5 Midrash tell that wheat once grew as high as a palm tree, but after the man sinned, it was punished by having its height reduced. Our sages also promise that in the days to come (Talmud Bavli Ketubot 111b), wheat will return to its original height. It will become "as the palm tree" and its kernels will be like the "kidneys of the great bull".
© Isaiah Cox 2007 2 April 2007

The Thanksgiving Offering is bread, but it is not brought to the altar; it is therefore not meant as a gift to G-d, but is instead consumed by people.

G-d's words, then we deny chometz on the altar, the place of ultimate service to Hashem.7 And the connection to Pesach is even more straightforward. Pesach is a new beginning, commemorating the birth of the Jewish Nation. Beginnings are important, and fragile. In any new relationship it is critical to start out on the right foot, to go the extra mile to show one’s willingness to be accommodating. So Pesach is the perfect time to repair the damage of Adam’s decision, in the beginning of the human relationship with Hashem, to ignore Gd’s will, and eat the wheat. This time around, we are not going to make the same mistake Adam made by not listening to G-d. And if G-d wants us to eat bread by the sweat of our brow, then we will eat bread that we make only by the sweat of our brow, and not by letting it rise.8 We will redefine bread, as eaten by G-d’s people, to be bread that is made strictly

according to Hashem’s edict. And so we eat matzo.9 In keeping with Pesach being a time for new beginnings that repair the damage caused by the errors of our forefathers, the four cups of wine we are commanded to drink on Pesach are also an opportunity for tikkun. Adam’s curse was the first time bread is mentioned in the Torah. The first time wine is mentioned was with Noach. There is an extremely vivid and illuminating Medrash on Noach’s use of wine which is central to understanding wine’s role in our world: When Noah took to planting, Satan came and stood before him and said to him: "What are you planting?" Said he: "A vineyard." Said Satan to him: "What is its nature?" Said he: "Its fruits are sweet, whether moist or dry, and one makes from them wine which brings joy to the heart." Said Satan to Noah: "Do you desire that we should plant it together, you and I?" Said Noah: "Yes." What did Satan do? He brought a lamb and slaughtered it over the vine; then he brought a lion, and slaughtered it over it; then he brought a monkey, and slaughtered it over it; then he brought a swine, and slaughtered it over it; and he watered the vine with their blood. Thus he alluded to Noah: When a person drinks one cup, he is like a lamb,

The same pasuk in Vayikra that bars chometz also forbids the offering of fruit or fruit honey on the mizbeach. After Adam’s expulsion from Gan Eden, the very next communication between man and G-d is with the offerings of Cain and Hevel – and Cain offers fruit to Hashem. Hashem rejects Cain’s offering, and it is hardly coincidental that we are directly commanded in Vaykira to not offer fruits on the Mizbeach. The absence of chometz and fruit on the mizbeach directly recalls, and repairs, the sins of Adam and Cain respectively. 8 We can add to this the idea expressed by Menachem Leibtag that bread is the quintessential Egyptian food (historians tell us that in addition to Egypt being the largest producer of grain in the ancient world, the Egyptians were the first to consistently make bread, and also the first to make ovens for baking bread), and so the commandment to rid ourselves of chometz is a way of separating ourselves as a nation from the dominant culture, just as eating the paschal lamb was a profoundly un-Egyptian act. Egypt was the breadbasket of the ancient world, so in making ourselves G-d’s people as distinct from all other nations, we reject bread. See
© Isaiah Cox 2007 2 April 2007

The Zohar tells us that Matzo is the bread of faith, an act of self-transcendence. Unlike the popular understanding that “faith” means that we should follow G-d even when he gives us laws that make no apparent sense, we could look at this another way: matzo is the bread of faith because we only make matzo in seeking to fulfill G-d’s decree to Adam. This is an act of service to G-d, transcending the self.

modest and meek. When he drinks two cups, he becomes mighty as a lion and begins to speak with pride, saying, "Who compares with me!" As soon as he drinks three or four cups he becomes a monkey, dancing and frolicking and profaning his mouth, and knowing not what he does. When he becomes drunk, he becomes a pig, dirtied by mud and wallowing in filth.10 Without plumbing the depths of this midrash (or indeed, of wine itself), several key things need to be mentioned. First off, this midrash speaks of the first time wine is mentioned in the Torah, and makes the point that wine was not initially meant to be a corrupting influence. G-d did not make it that way, even though Noach chose to act otherwise. And most importantly, Satan (to be understood as Noach’s yetzer horah) sacrificed four animals over the vine, representing four cups of wine.11 On Pesach, we are commanded to drink at least four cups of wine, as a tikkun for Noach’s four cups. Instead of Noach’s private and embarrassing drunkenness that leads to the worst kinds of sins, we specifically and meticulously drink our four cups of wine in the presence of others, celebrating the deliverance of the Jewish people from Egypt. Noach was delivered from an apocalypse into a new world, just as the Jewish people were delivered from Egypt and born as a new nation. By treating wine as a key component in the service of Hashem we show that an intoxicating and potent beverage can and should be used for an entirely pure and elevating experience. Noach deferred to his yetzer horah when he involved alcohol, allowing the wine to lower him,
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instead of the other way around. But on Pesach, we do not shy away from the experience of wine, and we do not act in any way like monkeys or pigs; we act as G-d’s people honouring their creator. Noach used wine after the flood as a way to escape from reality. His world had been destroyed, countless lives lost. It is clear that Noach is not ready to work constructively and move forward. He used wine as a tool to try to find joy in the fruit of the vine, to leave reality. On Pesach we do something quite different. Instead of using wine to escape reality, we drink wine on Pesach to help us connect to, and relive, the pivotal moments of our shared history. Wine helps us experience, anew, the events surrounding the Jewish exodus from Egypt. Wine is used to make things more real, not less. The contrasts between wine and bread are of course, well understood. But for our purposes, a few of them stand out. For starters, while chometz is banned on the altar, wine is regularly used. One reason why this may be so is that the altar is the nexus of where man meets G-d. When we serve G-d on his altar, we seek to do things the way G-d intended. While chometz was originally not meant to be a collaboration between man and G-d (and so cannot be brought), wine was always meant as a collaborative effort. Though wine has frequently been a corrupting influence, it has retained its power, when used properly, to elevate the physical into the spiritual realm. Any material with such potent properties is inherently volatile, capable of tremendous good as well as the basest evil.12

Midrash Tanchuma 58 Man has made something tumah – and in so doing, created the link between tumah (which represents a connection to death) and wine. Noach’s act enabled wine to be used in the service of idols.
© Isaiah Cox 2007 2 April 2007

Liquids lack a shape of their own; they take on the form of the vessel in which they are placed. Wine can be easily shifted or manipulated, and retains all of its potency.

And so we have all of the specific halachas dealing with keeping wine suitable for sacramental purposes and for consumption by Jews. Wine that has not been guarded properly is as unwelcome on the mizbeach as chometz, because wine which has been used improperly is the wine corrupted by Satan. Indeed, of all the festivals, only regarding Pesach are we told it is meritorious to be particular, machmir, on our wine. Why? Because only on Pesach are we doing a tikkun for the corrupting acts of Noach, only on Pesach can we correct Noach’s error of inviting Satan to assist him.13 While chometz is only formed if man leaves the dough alone for a certain amount of time, wine also requires time without any human interference. On Pesach, the matzo is made with as little time for Hashem’s role as possible, while the wine requires full fermentation and G-d’s influence. The wine is a necessary partnership with Hashem, a collaborative effort that was intended since the vine was created. As such, on Pesach it remains a collaborative effort, with no diminution of Gd’s role. It is preferable not to have mevushal wine on Pesach. Mevushal wine is, by definition, no longer suitable of being used for idol worship. It is therefore a poorer form of wine, inherently lacking some of its spiritual power.14 If we are drinking wine as a tikkun for Noach, it is best to use wine that has the capability to be turned, to be used for evil. Tikkun, like teshuvah is best achieved by mastering temptation, not by removing it in the first place. We drink the same four cups as did Noach, but we resist the temptation to invite Satan in (either to corrupt

the drink or to corrupt our behavior) and we instead conduct our seder with holiness and gravitas and full of praise of Hashem. This suggests another answer for why we cover the bread when we make a bracha over yayin. There is a common suggestion that the bread will be “embarrassed” by the wine being blessed before it, because according to halacha, bread should come first. Embarrassment is caused by failure. There is no shame in the wine going first – unless by rights the bread should come first. And here we have it: the bread was created to be a pure food, made solely by G-d. As a result of Adam’s act, however, the wheat is debased – it goes from a tree to a grass, and it changes from a noncollaborative food to a collaborative one. It is no longer made as G-d originally intended – unlike the wine.15 So we cover the challah when we make Kiddush, to be sensitive to the failure of bread – and the reflected failure of mankind that caused bread’s demotion in the first place. Shabbos is not the time to dwell on our own failings. Bread and wine are the single most important foods in Judaism. Yet on Pesach we are forbidden from eating one, and commanded to drink the other. On Pesach, the way we treat bread and wine are a tikkun for the original corruption of bread and wine by the first fathers of the world: Adam and Noach. By re-enacting the birthing events of mankind in a festival marking the birthing events of the Jewish People, but in an appropriate way, we demonstrate that we are worthy of the Torah, the reason the world was created.

And thus, we are barred from having non-Jews at the Seder, and we are required to guard our wine against any impurities. 14 Boiling wine is also the only way to kill the yeast off entirely, rendering the wine inert and immune from refermentation,
© Isaiah Cox 2007 2 April 2007


Which is why wine trumps bread when it comes to blessings, both before and after hamotzi.