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Beware the Leaven of the Pharisees

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Beware the Leaven of the Pharisees

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Beware the Leaven of the Pharisees

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Would you recognize this "leavening" if you saw it today?

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You know when you go through the New Testament, especially the gospels, the period of Christ’s life that led up to the great Passover and his personal sacrifice, there are a tremendous number of places that you can draw from and build upon something that relates to the Days of Unleavened Bread. Probably the greatest, I mean outside of the Passover Season itself, is Christ’s discussion with the group, the multitude, and with his own disciples about “I am the bread of life.” and the tremendous struggle that that was for people to grasp and for people to understand what he was talking about, offending many of his disciples who left and never came back. They didn’t hang around long enough to be there at the Passover and come to grasp and understand what he was talking about when he said you have to eat my flesh and drink my blood. I would say that’s probably the greatest Passover and Days of Unleavened Bread metaphors that precede that Passover.

There’s another one that’s smaller in size, but it has an equally sharp focus. I’d like you to go back to Luke 12 and I’ll build the second split around what I consider the second most focused piece of instruction regarding the attitude, the spirit, and the heart that goes along with the Days of Unleavened Bread and the Passover Season. In Luke 12, Jesus Christ in talking with his disciples in the ongoing training session that they went through for three years, made the following comment:

Luke 12:1 Luke 12:1In the mean time, when there were gathered together an innumerable multitude of people, so that they stepped one on another, he began to say to his disciples first of all, Beware you of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.
American King James Version×
– In the meantime, when an innumerable multitude of people had gathered together so that they trampled one another, he began to say to his disciples first of all, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees which is hypocrisy.”

Now here is one of the great locations Passover-oriented Days of Unleavened Bread-oriented scriptures that deal with leavening. Here he says to his disciples first and then to others later, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees” and he identifies what it is which is hypocrisy. Now hypocrisy is a common word to all of us. We know what it is. We know the word. We could probably all give illustrations of what it looks like. In the day and time in which Jesus Christ was speaking, hypocrisy has a somewhat different meaning, oh I should say its origin. It’s meaning was the same, but its origin was rooted in the Greek theatrical world.

We’ve all seen the universal symbols of theatre, the two masks – the one with a smile, the other with a frown; comedy –tragedy. These have become in the world of theatre the universal symbols of the theatrical arts. In the time of the Greeks, masks were literally worn when an actor came out unlike acting today or acting in the modern world. When an actor came out, he literally wore a mask. And the mask was so designed and engineered so that it had voice enhancement qualities. I know in terms of theatre, performing arts, anything that is comparable today. For those of you who are “old timers” in the audience, you can go back to the days of songsters like Rudy Vallee back in the twenties and thirties when they did use a megaphone for singing. And so the old cheerleaders horn, Rudy Vallee had a small one of those and I’m sure there were other singers, I simply remember him personally from seeing photos, illustrations, and film footage where he used a small megaphone for voice enhancement. Well the Greek theatrical arts they were build into the masks themselves, so not only did you not see the face of the actor, but you also didn’t really hear their real voice. These actors, using both a mask and voice enhancement, were called hypocrites. This was the proper technical name for the art and, of course, as entomology goes, then it evolved and worked its way down to the fact that anyone who is masking the true face, masking the true voice then became known as a hypocrite.

Jesus Christ here in Luke 12 says “I want you to watch out for the leaven of the Pharisees which is hypocrisy.” It’s interesting that the Greek word for hypocrite, which almost is spelled the same, is found only in the synoptic gospels. In other words you are only going to find it in Matthew, Mark, and Luke and the term is used only by Jesus Christ himself. Nowhere else and no one else in the New Testament used that specific word – hypocrite.

Now there are levels of hypocrisy as seen from Christ’s perspective. I’d like you to go back to the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus Christ literally began his instruction of his disciples. Here’s orientation – very first class, your opportunity to get your first instruction from Christ on what life is all about. You know, you and I know this area backward and forward and yet here is where Jesus Christ introduced his disciples to hypocrisy

Matthew 6:1 Matthew 6:1Take heed that you do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise you have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.
American King James Version×
– Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men to be seen by them, otherwise you have no reward from your father in heaven. Therefore when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets that they may have glory from men. Assuredly I say to you, they have their reward. But when you do charitable deeds, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing that your charitable deeds may be in secret and your Father who sees in secret will himself reward you openly.

First instruction on hypocrisy. Christ gave three instructions on hypocrisy at the very first instructional meeting with his disciples. He said “All right I’ve told you about giving offerings. Now let me talk to you about how to pray>”

V 5 – 15 And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synogogue and standing in the corner of the streets that they may be seen by men. Assuredly I say to you, they have their reward.

He goes on then to instruct them how to pray and, including in that particular instruction, also a sample, or model prayer. After telling them how to give offerings and how to pray, he also said let me talk to you about fasting. And so in VS 16, as he had in both the previous cases, he began with the example that he found personally detestable.

V 16 – Moreover when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites with a sad countenance, for they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly I say to you, they have their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head, wash you face so that you do not appear to be fasting, but to your father who is in the secret place and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.

At the very beginning of the ministry of Jesus Christ, he acquainted his disciples with hypocrisy. You know, what’s interesting.?. I look at a group of people right here who have all absorbed the teaching. The elementary teaching of Jesus Christ given to his disciples in the sermon on the mount has been absorbed by the Church of God and by its culture and, frankly, its been absorbed by people far wider and far broader than just ourselves. And by that I mean this: I don’t see any ostentatiousness when I see offerings taken up on the Holy Days.. I wouldn’t know and neither would the person passing the basket, who is giving giving $100 from the person who was giving $1000 and that’s the way it should be. That’s what Christ was trying to get across. No one needs to know what you are putting in that basket. No one needs to know by your manner or the look on your face. They don’t need to know what you gave. God needs to know what you gave. That’s as far as it needs to go. You have a model on every Holy Day of how to do it right just by looking at the environment.

Prayer, same way. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a Church of God member stand on a street corner and pray unless there were a special event on a street corner where we were all gathered. We’ll have a dedication sometimes of a new building and somebody may stand in a public place, maybe in front of the building, and they may pray. But that’s a different ball game. But for someone to unilaterally say, “I’m in downtown Cincinnati; it’s rush hour; let me find a busy corner and let me show them how it’s done.” No, again elementary.

In over 40 years attending Day of Atonement, I can never remember seeing a person who was uncombed, unwashed, in other words somebody who looked absolutely physically miserable because they had worked on making their countenance look that way. Some of us have bad hair days, but that’s a different ball game. And some of us when fasting do become ill. That’s unavoidable so sometimes someone comes and the morning cup of coffee wasn’t there and the migraine is in its place, but I mean deliberately saying, “Now today’s grooming is mess it up, don’t shave and do something that let’s people know that I didn’t take a bath today. No. The elementary teaching that Jesus Christ gave to his disciples has been well understood and well-absorbed. It’s a part of our culture. This is elementary. This is 101.

Now let’s go to grad school. Let’s go clear out on the other end of the spectrum. To do that, we need to go to MT 22 because hypocrisy has many faces and they range from the most obvious and patent to the most subtle and virtually indiscernible. Now he was able to construct his own classroom in the sermon on the mount. As we go through Matthew, Mark, and Luke, we also see that the disciples provide living examples which he could then say to his disciples, “All right. Here’s what has happened.” And you know the very nature in which Matthew, Mark, and Luke wrote these books tells us that editorially, they have seen it. It is the author who is capturing the essence and so these men, Matthew, Mark, and Luke are saying, “You know what? I saw it. I grasped it. I understood it.” Their editorially comments note that.

Mt 22:15 – This was one of his classic conflicts with the leadership of the day.

Vs 15 – Then the Pharisees went and plotted how they might entangle him in his talk.

So there was motive. How can we trip him up.

Vs 16 – And they said to them, they are disciples with the Herodians

So it was tag team. There was a Pharisaical delegation and a Herodian delegation and they said let’s see if we can work him.

Vs 16 – Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God and truth, nor do you care about anyone for you do not regard the person of men.

You know, I’d like to have been there and heard the tone of voice because sometimes it’s a dead give-away the minute you hear the voice. There’s only so much syrup you can put in the voice before you say this is not genuine. But let’s just say they kept a straight face and they said this in a way that appeared sincere.

Vs 17 – Tell us therefore what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?

Now you know that’s a damned if you do and damned if you don’t question because the Jews hated the Roman occupation and to say you should pay taxes would not endear you to the Jewish population. The Romans were in control and that tax was mandatory and to say, “No, you don’t pay that tax.” was treason and so this was a lose-lose proposition. Jesus perceived their wickedness. Again, Jesus’ ability for insight was such that I don’t know how quickly he perceived it, but Matthew said he could see through them. And so the first part of his answer had nothing to do with taxes. The first part of his answer was:

Vs 18 – Why do you test me, you hypocrites?

In other words, why have you set me up?

Vs 19 – Show me the tax money. And so they brought him a denarius. And he said to them, “Whose image and inscription is this?” And he showed them the coin. And they said to him, “Caesar’s.” And he said to them, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.”

Now, you just saw a sophisticated exercise in the practice of hypocrisy. This was I have a motive. I have intentions to do something and here is the set-up. And Jesus Christ said, “Don’t do that to me. Why do you come in that spirit and in that attitude?” This incident, of course, as you can see by the context, is case specific. The accusations of hypocrisy relate to the actions that were going on at that particular time. But it’s still instructional. It is ungodly to set someone up is what Christ’s instructions are showing for the purpose of malice. If they had genuinely wanted to know, it would have made a completely different context for discussion. But they didn’t genuinely want to know. They were asking the question maliciously to hurt, to injure. Now, this is the most sophisticated end. So we’ve gone from Mt 6, the elementary that we’ve all grasped – that one we’ve got down pat. We’ve gone all the way to the other side to the most sophisticated.

All right, let’s put this on the shelf for the moment and let’s walk over to another domain and let me come back to the question that I asked you: What is the leaven of the Pharisees? Now so far, we’ve given an answer. We’ve said the leaven of the Pharisees is hypocrisy. But there’s more than one answer to the question. Turn to Mt 16. If this were an exam session and we were in a classroom giving an exam and the question had been asked, “What is the leaven of the Pharisees?” and you had put down, It is hypocrisy, you would have had the answer right. But if you had put down something else, you could also have been right. Mt 16 will demonstrate that.

Mt 16:1 – Then the Pharisees and Sadducees came and testing him (so again, we’ve got a set-up) asked that he would show them a sign from heaven.

Vs 2 – And he answered and said to them when it is evening you say it will be fair weather for the sky is red

Vs 3 - And in the morning it will be foul weather today because the sky is red and threatening. Hypocrites, you know how to discern the face of the sky but you cannot discern the signs of the times/

Vs4 – A wicked and adulterous generation seeks after a sign and no sign shall be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. And he left them and departed.

So they ended their discussion. He said, “You’re setting me up and I’m not going to take the bait.” And he turned around and he left. Now the disciples are watching. They are observers. The learning of the disciples was both by being taught and by observing the actions and this was one of those cases where there watching Christ and they are looking him over and they’re making their own deductions.

Vs 5 – And when the disciples had come to the other side, they had forgotten to take bread.

Understand the setting. The setting of the time was Christ’s feeding of the 4000. The event with the Pharisees asking him for a sign followed the miracle of feeding a multitude of 4000 people. So fresh on the disciples’ minds, because it had just happened, was the feeding of this phenomenal group of people with seven loaves and a fish. So when the disciples had come to the other side, they had forgotten to take bread.

Vs 6 – Then Jesus said to them, Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

You know, it’s amazing how a guilty conscience works.

Vs7 – They reasoned among themselves saying, it is because we have not taken any bread.

In other words, Ah, we forgot to buy groceries. You know, this was a traveling entourage and somebody had to be a quartermaster. We look at their lives and we don’t realize that when a group that size travels, somebody has to be the quartermaster. He has to be sure that provisions are there, that food is there because they are on the move. So you go to a village and you take care of the supplies and somebody’s conscience was stabbed, “Oh no. We forgot to buy food.”

Vs 8 – And Jesus when he perceived this, he said O ye of little faith. Why do you reason among yourselves because you brought no bread?

Vs 9 - You don’t understand or remember the five loaves and the five thousand and how many baskets you took up?

Vs10 – Nor the seven loaves of the 4000 and how many large baskets you took up?

Vs 11 – How is it that you do not understand that I did not speak to you concerning bread, but you should beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.

Look, put your guilty conscience aside. I fed all these people. You were there when I fed them. You didn’t buy groceries. That really is not a problem. I was talking to you, not about bread, but I wanted you to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.

Now considering what we’ve looked at so far, Mt 22 being case specific, you could deduce at this point in time if we stopped at verse 11 where he said

Don’t you understand that I’m not talking about bread but I’m telling you to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees that they would have said, “Oh, yeah. He’s talking about hypocrisy.” If you guessed that, you’d be wrong. Vs 12 gives the answer.

Vs 12 – Then they understood. He did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

There was more than one leaven. There was more than one Pharisaical leaven. One was an attitude that that particular group of people carried with them which was hypocritical. The other one was a teaching base, a doctrinal base. And in this particular case, they perceived the other one.

So it’s interesting to note as we walk toward the Passover, as they walked toward the Passover, and we look at leaven and we look at more than one thing as being, in this case, the leaven of the Pharisees. One being an attitude, the other being a teaching.

At this point it helps to have a brief, extremely brief, but a description of Phariseeism. We can literally touch only the very surface of the issue since the attitude that produced the heart of a Pharisee had its origin probably in the period when Judah lost its statehood and was taken into captivity by the Babylonians, struggled through that 70 years of limbo and then began to rebuild under Ezra and Nehemiah. So this period of time where all their structures fell down – the temple was destroyed, the temple processes were destroyed, the sacrifice and administration of the Levites, all of that came to an end when Nebuchadnezzar came in and brought down Jerusalem. And so how do you maintain your continuity? How do you maintain your identity? How do you maintain some sense of order? In a sense that springing from that time period and growing gradually toward the days of Christ was a system that, by the time we reached the days of Christ is described as the Pharisees, their manner, their system, their way. Phariseeism sprang from a grassroots movement that chose to work outside the ordained structure of the Old Testament. Well, you could say, understandably. The temple isn’t functioning. The system isn’t functioning. The Levites are not functioning. So somebody has to pick up the ball and run with it. As they did that, they developed a system that once the temple was restored and the system was restored, I guess the better way to say it is that they didn’t want to relinquish the position so you had two systems functioning simultaneously. Once the temple was restored and the Levites came back into action, you had a system that went all the way back to the law. How do you validate yourself? How do you maintain credential? You maintain credential by the teachings of your scholars, by the teachings of your wise men and their commentaries, their interpretations and their readings of the law then become standards upon which to base actions, conduct, and instruction.

Now that is the briefest, you’ll have to pardon the brevity of it, description of what took place between the destruction of Jerusalem and the time of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ, as he came on the scene, saw a well-developed system and that system always referred back as its justifications to the tradition, or the teaching, or the instruction of the elders. It’s sobering to note that the position held by the Pharisees is recognized as being perpetuated by the system of rabbis and synagogues that carried down through the ages literally to our very day today. You could say the rabbinical system of today is the current generation of a system that goes all the way back through this entire string. When the temple was destroyed by Titus and his armies, Judaism moved up to the sea of Tiberius or the sea of Galilee, depending on how it was said in the Tiberius area. The schools resumed in much the same way as they had had to following the Babylonian destruction. It is important to understand that modern rabbinical teaching is the most current variant of that particular school.

Now let’s go to Mk 7. Because I’ve given you from Matthew 6 and also Matthew 22, the Biblical evidence of Jesus Christ labeling certain actions as hypocritical and, therefore, leavened. I don’t know of any better place in the entirety of the gospels, or the Bible for that matter, to go than Mk 7 to demonstrate the other side of the coin and that is to show the doctrinal side of the leavening of the Pharisees. This is one of those cases where the Pharisees caught the disciples eating without having gone through the necessary rituals. So they were sitting down and eating, but they had not gone through the ritual cleansings.

Mk 7:1-3 – The the Pharisees and some of the scribes came together to him, having come from Jerusalem. And when they saw some of his disciples eat bread with defile, that is with unwashed hands, they found fault For the Pharisees (This is part of Mark’s commentary. He wants you to understand the system.) and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands in a special way holding the tradition of the elders.

So somewhere in the system, the elders had dictated this must be done before you sit down to eat. I remember the first time I traveled into Jordan and I learned the traditions of the elders of the Arabic world and that was when you ate, one hand goes behind you. You eat with the other hand. The one behind you never comes out to the table. As an occidental, I’m saying, “What difference does it make which hand I eat with?” And then you find the tradition of the elders. You find if a very rude and agrarian culture. The necessitates of life were taken care of with the hand behind your back and I’ll leave to your imagination what all they were. Therefore that hand never went on the table. Okay. I understand. I don’t know where the elders of the Pharisees and the rationale for coming up with theirs. It was instructional sitting in Amman finding out where that part of the world came up with their traditions. Makes perfect sense; I understand.

Vs 4-6 – When they come from the marketplace, they do not eat if they do not wash. And there are many other things which they have received and hold, like the washing of cups, pitchers, copper vessels and couches. Then the Pharisees asked him Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashed hands? And he said to them, Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites as it is written.

Now, here we have Pharisees. Here we have hypocrisy, but how are they connected? This time it doesn’t have to do with attitude. This time it has to do with teaching. Here’s the problem:

Vs 6 – This people honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. As a result in vain they worship me (Why?) teaching as doctrine the commandments of men.

Now you know, it is not improper to have subsidiary instruction from men that augments or supplements or helps explain the Bible, but Christ is saying we aren’t augmenting or supplementing, we’re reversing.

Vs 6 -8– In vain they worship me teaching as doctrine the commandments of men for laying aside the commandments of God

He sees these in juxtaposition, not as one helps you understand the other or one helps you do the other, but one actually conflicts with the other.

Vs 8-9 – For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pitchers and cups and many other such things you do. And he said to them, all too well you reject the commandment of God that you may keep your tradition

You know, I think sometimes we can go to far in giving the Pharisees a bum rap. Christ was not arguing with their technical nature or their fastidiousness. He was arguing when God’s law is here and your traditions are there and they are in conflict one with the other, you will say I’ll keep my tradition before I keep the commandment and he says that is hypocrisy. Here is a case where he literally combines the hypocrisy and the doctrine into one. He said, “You hypocrites.” And he goes on, if I may place words in Mark’s mouth, “You hypocrites. Your doctrine is what you are doing in a hypocritical nature.

If you look up the word Pharisee, it means a separated one; someone who is special, who is not contaminated by the masses. They set themselves up as holier than the community, holier than the people around them, better and more righteous than those surrounding them and it was for this reason Christ said they were hypocritical. When you claim to be holy, the only justification for holiness you have is my law, but when your traditions contradict my laws and you do your traditions first, I see that as hypocritical. I see your doctrines and hypocrisy, in this case, are literally synonymous.

Jesus Christ saved his double-barreled shotgun for the week before they killed him. If you want to see the longest single pointed barrage of accusations about hypocrisy, you have to go to Mt 23. Now I’m not going to take you through these, but let me tell you where they are: Vs 13,14,15, 23, 25, 27, 29. No wonder they killed him! The reason I’m not going to take you through them is there isn’t enough time. If you had a complete set of commentaries, the commentators really honestly don’t know the specifics of the charges. I can read them to you, you can read them to yourselves and we’ll both understand about the same amount after reading them. There were charges that were rooted in what was going on in that day and time and it is not always easy to find out what it was. He said for pretense you devour widow’s houses. Well, commentators will tell you what they think that means, but the honest truth is they don’t specifically know what that means so we simply have to look at several illustrations where we say that we know that Christ was totally upset with what you do and what you teach, but we don’t totally understand what it is in specific terms that you’ve done.

There’s an interesting illustration in the middle of that Mt 23 that we are all familiar with and I’ll make an allusion to it in just a moment.

This whole sermon came about, I told the churches in Portland and Hood River that you need to Bible study the newspaper. What is current, what is relevant, what is of the day, how can you be more relevant to an audience than to talk about what is current. And so on the third of April last year, there was a fairly sizeable article in THE OREGONIAN by an author named Jeffrey Weiss.

The footnotes stated he is a staff writer for the Dallas Morning News so this would have first appeared there in Texas and The Oregonian picked it up as a part of the Universal Press Syndicate and they printed it prior to Passover. So this was one the Pre-Passover news articles and Jeffrey Weiss, a Jewish gentlemen, Jewish author or reporter then wrote the following article: entitled: Simple Commandment – Much Interpretation

I won’t read the whole article to you because it is lengthy. This is the article. But I had never seen a more classic, modern demonstration as an overlay on the scriptures I’ve just read you in all the years I’ve been in the ministry and so I built a sermon around it for the churches in Portland.

Jeffery Weiss goes into the history of the Days of Unleavened Bread and he goes into the history of Passover for the non-Jewish reader and then he comes into modern times. In the process of doing so, he identifies the fact that he spends a reasonable about of time in this article interviewing and quoting Rabbi Yaak Horowitz who is the chief resident Rabbi at the Manischewitz Company so virtually all the matzos you see, I haven’t seen Manischewitz wine in I don’t know how long, but I’m sure they are still making it. And all the Manischewitz products. So he is interviewing the rabbi in residence at Manischewitz, which is the world’s biggest manufacturer of matxos. He’s building his article around it. You and I every year, if we look for instruction, it’s very short and very simple. You know the lengthiest description in the Old Testament of what leaven is and what we’re supposed to do about it takes about three verses.

Ex 12 where God is giving the Israelites instruction on how to keep their very first days of unleavened bread and when you look at Exodus 12 and you read the instruction on the unleavened aspect of the Days of Unleavened Bread, it’s really very, very brief. It’s Vs 15 and then it’s repeated in Vs 19-20.

Ex 12: 15, 19-20 – Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread. On the first day you shall remove leaven from your houses for whoever eats leavened bread from the first day to the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel. And there’s very little elaboration in verses 19 and 20. Seven days no leaven shall be found in your houses since whoever eats what is leavened that same person shall be cut off from the congregation of Israel whether he is a stranger or a native of the land. Ye shall eat nothing leavened; in all your habitations you shall eat unleavened bread.

Not a lot of instruction. Mr. Weiss as he begins his article talks about leavening and he makes a statement that puts a little flag up in regard to our sermon. This is a direct quote, “Thousands of years of rabbis have come up with long explanations for how to observe that seemingly simple commandment.” Okay. Now I read you the commandment. God gave you fundamentally one verse with a two-verse repeat. Mr. Weiss says, “Thousands of years of rabbis have come up with very long explanations on how to observe what really appears when you open your Bible to be a very simple command.”

He then takes you through a tour of the Manischewitz plant and he says a month before the days of unleavened bread, they shut the plant. They close it down. They literally dismantle the plant. They scrub it and sanitize if from front door to back door and all the machinery so that when they start rolling out Passover products, they are absolutely sparkling. You know, you look at a matzo and you wonder well why does the thing have to be built the way it’s built. The answer, a very simple answer, they are meticulously concerned about even the slightest contamination of the smallest individual spore of wild yeast. The grain is ground dry, which is not normally done so that there’s no moisture to begin a fermentation action. Water is not added to the flour until literally the last possible moment it can be added before baking begins so that a spore that may have floated in when somebody opened the door may not have fallen on the wet dough and have begun the process of fermentation. All those holes, those of you who are cooks know that you bake most of the stuff in your oven somewhere in the 300-degree range if you’re baking. Matzos are baked at 700 degrees. All those holes are there for good reasons. That matzo doesn’t stay in the baker very long. The holes are there so that intense heat can penetrate and go through every single part of that matzo to assure there is not any moisture whatsoever anywhere within that cracker, moisture being the catalyst that would allow the spore if there, to begin to work. And so he goes through this whole process and after going through the whole process, describing the nature in which it’s done, the way the dough is made, the way the water is added at the last minute, the heat of the oven, all of this to ensure absolute perfection of the product so that it complies with what we just read.

Then Mr. Weiss asks the rabbi another question: He said, “And how about many of the Manischewitz kosher for Passover processed mixes for cakes, cookies, and other goodies? One of the ingredients (so we’ve moved away from matzos and we’ve moved to all the other Passover goodies) is sodium carbonate, baking soda. Isn’t that a leavening agent?” Just so you know, this is quote, unquote. I’m adding no commentary. Continuing the quote, “It may look that way,” Rabbi Horrowitz said, “but appearances can deceive.” Now you figure that one out. I’ve got my box and there’s baking soda and I say, “Hmm, isn’t that leavening?” and Rabbi Horrowitz says, “Well, it looks that way, but appearances can be deceiving.” All right. If you catch me at McDonald’s during the Days of Unleavened Bread, I guess I can plead that it looks like a Big Mac, but appearances are deceiving.

Then Rabbi Horrowitz goes on to explain and as he explains it is déjà vu of Mark 7 and Matthew 22. The rabbis decided that matzo, once certified as kosher for Passover (Okay, this is the matzo. We went through that whole process we described, dry ground meal, water added to the meal at the very last minute, the whole thing slapped in a 700-degree oven, comes out the other side and we have kosher for Passover matzo.) can never be de-passoverized. Would someone like to show me in Exodus or Leviticus where they got that one?! You begin to understand traditions of the elders? Not even by later contact with leavening. I’ve got a matzo and I grind that matzo up and I’ve turned that thing into flour by grinding it. I add baking soda, once kosher, always kosher. It doesn’t matter what I put in there. It cannot be, in the words of the article and the rabbi, de-passoverized, not even by later contact with leavening. All the Manischewitz mixes start with Passover matzo meal that by definition can’t be ritually contaminated by the baking soda. This is the rabbi’s description. “Most people don’t understand that,” Rabbi Horrowitz said. I have to admit that I was, before I read the article, in that category and I’ve read the article several times and I’m still there. The article ends with this short paragraph,

“It’s not a question of what it looks like,” he said, “it’s a question of what the rabbis call it.”

Do you understand what Christ was saying in Mark 7? If you understand the combining of the two elements that he describes to his disciples is the leaven of the Pharisees. I have never seen a more candid, forthright, direct, and since this was in April of last year, seasonally appropriate piece of information to help me understand this very simple pre-Passover admonition from Jesus Christ to his disciples.

I hope you found it not only instructional simply from the educational standpoint, but I hope as all of us do who speak that you also allow that to be a part of your meditative process between now and the Days of Unleavened Bread to ask as we look at our spiritual leaven if there’s anything that we need to remove at this higher level, not just the crumbs in the car and the sweepings of the house, but the crumbs of the heart and the sweepings of the mind.

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