Exodus 12:15, “Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread. On the first day you shall remove leaven out of your houses, for if anyone eats what is leavened, from the first day until the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel.”
The word translated as “unleavened bread” is matzah (Strongs 4711) which is mentioned SEVEN times between Exodus 12:15 and this matching verse in Exodus 13:7 “Unleavened bread shall be eaten for seven days; no leavened bread shall be seen with you, and no leaven shall be seen with you in all your territory.” This chiasm also begins a thematic transition in Exodus 12 as the focus shifts from the meal of Pesach itself to the following seven days of Matzah. This distinction between Pesach and Matzah can be very confusing, as they are very closely related.
Pesach occurs at the very last moments of Aviv 14. The entire day is traditionally referred to as Pesach, but more specifically Pesach refers to the meal eaten at the end of the day. Even more accurately it describes the sacrificed lamb itself. The lamb is killed at some point during the day of the 14th, just as Messiah was killed that same afternoon, but it’s eaten as the sun is going down, just as Messiah’s body was put into the mouth of the earth that same evening.
Practically speaking, Aviv 14th is a day spent in preparation for the week of Matzah. The first and seventh days of this week-long event are considered “High Sabbaths”. (Ironically, this term isn’t used in the Torah, but is labeled as such in John 19:31, chosen specifically to describe the first day of Matza.) There are seven High Sabbaths per year, in addition to the weekly Sabbaths that occur uninterrupted every seven days. The weekly Sabbath is centered around the concept of rest, while High Sabbaths each have their own unique focus.
As I’ve covered ad nauseum in this very long series, the Pesach sacrifice and meal focus on two themes: Redemption and Protection. Prior to the meal we are slaves on death row. However, as we slay and then consume The Lamb, our identity changes to Impervious Israel! Just as the meal itself is eaten in haste, the transformation from slavery to freedom is hasty and transactional. One moment we were one person, the next we are someone else entirely. The meal essentially begins in the very last moments of Aviv 14, but by the time it’s over it’s actually Aviv 15–Matzah day one. (Hebrew days start and end at sundown).
Entering into Matzah shifts our attention from our Redemption and Protection a new theme: The churchy word, “Sanctification“. This is defined as “the process of being freed from sin or purified.” From Aviv 1, the night of the new moon, to Aviv 15, the night of the full moon, we’ve been in preparation mode, but starting with Matza day one we officially enter into the process. The process begins with this week of intense sanctification which then leads (without a break) into the continuing process of the seven additional weeks of the Feast of Shavuot (detailed here). We start this process with the focus on unleavened bread but Shavuot ends with two massive loaves of leavened bread. This begs the question…what does sanctification have to do with leaven?
Here’s the thing. Scripture rarely gives us a handy and self-contained guide to metaphor and symbolism. These meanings are supposed to be handed down from generation to generation. We are supposed to surround ourselves with brothers and sisters who share these values and symbols so they never are forgotten. The entire Torah is meant to be practiced within an intimate family of faith with no losses or bad intel slipping in. If you woke up with amnesia on a desert island with no context, no teacher, and no internet, it’s likely that your personal version of a bible-based life would be off a bit. When you finally rejoined society it would likely look hilarious to those practicing Torah together in community. I’m certain Judaism looks at those of us grafted in late-to-the-party in this exact way–often somewhere between adorable and heretical.
That being said, those of us who believe in Messiah and the writings of the New Testament have a HUGE advantage over even the most devout Jew without those truths. First of all, Messiah often sharply criticized the man-made traditions and false teachings of the scribes and leaders who had drifted away from the purity of the Torah instructions as written. Messiah commanded us to recalibrate our understanding and influences away from simply following tradition without prayerful study and serious meditation. Yeshua wasn’t picking on Jews or Judaism, it was the principle of simply trusting other human’s opinions and advice over the Word of God that is problematic. We are told not to rebel, but also to carefully scrutinize any spiritual influencer. This includes pastors, priests, even our own parents.
Here’s the admonition from Messiah himself: Matthew 23:8-10, “But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah.”
This spiritual influence is referred to as “leaven” several times by Messiah.
Matthew 16:11, “How is it that you fail to understand that I did not speak about bread?
Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Then they understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”
Mark 8:15, “And he cautioned them, saying, “Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” Here, Messiah expands the warning of bad influence beyond religious leaders to the political leaders of his time.
Although it’s not limited to this one sin, Messiah specifically names one type of poor influence in Luke 12:1, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.”
Leaven refers to the influence that starts small, subtle, and hidden, but soon enough spreads throughout our lives, our families lives, and entire communities. Lest we start to believe that leaven always equates to sin, Messiah sets us straight on that too.
Luke 13:20, “And again he said, “To what shall I compare the kingdom of God? It is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, until it was all leavened.”
Paul preaches the full message of Matzah perfectly:
1 Corinthians 5:7-9, “Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Messiah, our Pesach lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”
All that to say this: the process of Matzah week is when we begin to live our new lives, now defined by the identities we’ve officially now put on during Pesach. We begin to practice taking every thought captive, quickly discarding thoughts and behaviors that would be hypocritical to someone who (just the night before) identified completely with our perfect Messiah. Matzah is the time to begin (or strengthen) the habit of self-examination, and the resulting action of binding those lying ideas before they take root again or turn back into behaviors that don’t reflect our new identities. Matzah introduces us to the defining pattern of committed disciple of Messiah: Holding fast to every influence that is consistent with Holiness, and quickly discarding those influences that drag us back to being common or unclean.
Although Shavuot (Pentecost) gets all the glory for the “pouring out of the Holy Spirit”, Messiah actually breathes the Spirit onto His disciples during the week of Matzah! Not only do we have the Torah which commands us to celebrate this week of sanctification, not only do we have Messiah as the perfect example and our model, but we also have access to the Holy Spirit to remind us and guide us into all truth. It’s the Holy Spirit that fuels us to make these hard course corrections in order ensure that only KINGDOM LEAVEN influences us. The true sign of a Spirit-led believer (in my humble opinion) is not “speaking in tongues” or flashy attention-getting “signs”–it’s the love, joy, peace, happiness, patience, kindness, goodness, and self-control that ONLY comes through entering into this process of sanctification. It’s those first-fruits that begin to blossom during the week of Matzah and grow to maturity by the time of Shavuot.
So. What’s up then with the bread in my cupboard? In Hebrew culture (which you are also adopting as your own as you fully consume the Pesach) physical and tangible object-lessons are built in to the lifestyle.
All of the intangible heart-attitudes that all humans intrinsically know are right and true, manifest themselves in some sort of performance art in the life of a devoted Hebrew Israelite.
Therefore, before and during the week of Matzah, we marry that external leaven-purging process to reinforce the much more difficult process of the internal spiritual work.
Before supermarkets, bakeries, and convenient packaged yeast, most humans made their own bread. (Gasp!) For the simplest loaf of bread, such as a Hebrew slave in Egypt might make, they’d just mix water and flour together, and let it sit on the counter for a while. Eventually, natural particles in the air and chemical processes within the flour begin to ferment, creating little air-bubbles that cause the bread to rise. To hasten the rising process for the next loaf, a smart chef would simply keep a little piece of that now-leavened dough and add it to the next batch, and so-on.
In some cultures (let the reader understand) this bit of sour-dough literally gets passed on FOR GENERATIONS! Having a lump of great-grandma’s sourdough starter would be considered a prized possession connecting the kitchens of all of the mamas in that lineage of loaves. Romantic, yes. Hebraic, no. Our people re-start our loaves on or before Matza every single year. We say, “thanks, grandma” and toss her lump right right into the fire. As good as grandma’s bread might have been, the goal of a Hebrew during Matzah is to re-center our inheritance on the only One who is good, to the only source of our daily bread, and to the only influence we really want in our lives from this point forward. Seven weeks after Matzah, at Shavuot, our lives won’t look like flat-bread anymore. The Holy Spirit should have filled us to the point that we look like the largest and puffiest loaves of bread anyone has ever seen. We pray that our puffiness is not pride, but is true sustenance, good nutrition, and keeps hunger at bay.
What does this physical leaven-purge look like in real life? We go through the nooks and crannies of our homes, cars, garages, fridges and freezers looking for leavened bread and removing it. Some burn it, some stick it outside somewhere for the week, some bring it to a food bank. (Most probably just binge on it the week prior to Matzah.) Either way, the goal is to completely RESET our pantries in the same way we RESET our hearts and spirits during this same season.
We then spend the rest of the week realizing how much of our diet has actually been on auto-pilot. We are suddenly more aware how we take for granted the buns, cakes, and loaves–all of the daily bread that thoughtlessly and thanklessly goes into our mouths during the other 51 weeks of the year.
Through this ritualistic (yet very practical) fast, we are supposed to realize that auto-pilot is not supposed to be setting on the dashboard of a Hebrew.
Of course, only doing the ritual of vacuuming out the crumbs from the bottom of the car-seat means exactly ZERO. It’s no different than sacrificing a sin offering without actually repenting, or making a peace offering without first offering restitution to whomever you harmed. Every ritual from baptism to circumcision means nothing (or often worse than nothing) if you think that a ritual alone will be powerful enough to redeem you, sanctify you, or eventually save you. This is the trap of religious trappings.
It’s OK to ask the long list of questions about leaven, we all have them. Are baking powder, baking soda, and yeast all in the same category? What about frozen yeast, keep or throw out? Baking soda in toothpaste or deodorant? Keep or throw out? Wine and beer technically have some sort of yeast or leaven in there–Keep or throw out? All of these questions show our willingness to examine and understand and to obey. Obedience to the letter of the Law is always a great place to start, just make sure not to let the powerful Sprit of the Law get pushed to the side.
Only throwing out the Wonder-bread annually will do you far less good than throwing away lies you believe, once and for all.
You cannot escape your past. Leaven.
My happiness is conditional. Leaven.
I just can’t handle… Leaven.
I can’t live without… Leaven.
I need to change others to be happy… Leaven.
I can’t change because of… Leaven.
I’m not worthy or lovable… Leaven.
I need the approval of others… Leaven.
I’m the exception (to anything). Leaven.
I can do this one my own. Leaven.
Here’s the unleavened truth: In this life, we will have various levels of success with making this purge permanent. YHWH isn’t even a little surprised at that reality. Until our resurrection, we still live in the bodies our mothers produced; we still retain the memories and the scars of the lives we lived prior to Pesach. Paul never was able to remove that thorn in his side, whatever or whoever that was. YHWH scheduled Pesach and Matzah as annual events, and each and every year YHWH re-invites to re-make us more and more into the image of His son, until that process is finally made permanent In That Day. However, He won’t take the leaven from our hearts and homes that we aren’t willing to voluntarily throw way. That is the the real reason for the season.