Rabbi Shlomo Riskin writes “just as the same grains can produce either hametz or matzah, the very etymology of the words is almost identical: hmtz/חמץ and mtzh/מצה. The only difference is the soft or hard ‘h.’ Moreover, matzot and mitzvot are spelled exactly the same way in Hebrew–מצות.”
When looking at these words, I ask how we can reframe our spiritual hametz into mitzvah. How can we transform something that is cluttering or blocking us into something that pushes us forward, a mitzvah for this season of possibility and growth?
Rabbi Marc-Alain Ouaknin also has a beautiful Hebrew reference to create this awareness. “The Hebrew word for guest is ‘oray-ah/אורח.’ We can also read the word as ‘or’ and ‘ray-ah’ meaning light and fragrance. To share bread (matzah) is to open one’s house to the light and fragrance of life. By welcoming another person, one becomes oneself, welcomed by the other, welcomed by light and fragrance.”
As the changing spring light brightens these days of Nisan and the fragrance of flowers increases, we clean, declutter, plan and prepare. Moving from hametz to mitzvah requires reflection and change. There’s a transformation that happens for dough to become hametz, and a transformation that happens when our matzah becomes a mitzvah. Change, even if we know will lead to positive growth, can be hard and I am often reluctant to change. It’s easier to stick to our baseline, to what we know. I try and think about how I can move beyond my baseline to more challenging mitzvot.
For your seder, consider discussing the practical implications of this transition fromhametz to matzah to mitzvah. Are there arenas in your life where you can carry out a new mitzvah, perhaps a more challenging mitzvah?
Judy Geller-Marlowe is a language lover, student of Jewish texts, and a retired ESL teacher. She is an adjunct professor at NYU and currently mentors aspiring language instructors.