Vayikra – Why we eat unleaven Bread

No meal offering, which you shall bring to the Lord, shall be made with leaven; for you shall burn no leaven, nor any honey, in any offering of the Lord made by fire: (Leviticus 2:11)

The question arises – what is the significance of leaven bread being forbidden at the altar? Why does the issue of leaven and unleaven appear so often in biblical texts? Why is eating unleaven bread a commandment during the seven days of Passover? Is it only because it is a symbol of the children of Israel leaving Egypt in a hurry? How is this related to the Festival of Shavuot (Festival of Weeks) the period when wheat is harvested from the land and two loaves (which are leaven) are offered at the temple on the 50th day and the story of Ruth and the coming of the Messiah?

Let us try to address these queries.


The first time that bread appears in the Bible is in Genesis 3:19 after Adam has eaten the fruit of the Tree of knowledge of good and evil and is driven out of the Garden of Eden and told by God:

And to Adam he said, because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree, of which I commanded you, saying, you shall not eat of it; cursed is the ground for your sake; in sorrow shall you eat of it all the days of your life: Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to you; and you shall eat the herb of the field: In the sweat of your face shall you eat bread, till you return to the ground; for out of it you were taken; for dust you are, and to dust shall you return: Genesis 3:17-19

Bread is not only the foundation and basis for our physical existence in this world and from which we derive our energy to exist, but due to Adam’s miscreance, it is something that we must work for in order to earn the right to possess it. The word for bread, lechem, לחם has the same root as war, melchama מלחמה for this very reason. War is based upon the desire to exist. Normally it is in order to conquer land in order to enhance our existence and often associated with the need to possess more than we have already. As discussed in the case of the butler and the baker (see hyperlink The Case of the Butler and the Baker, Joseph, Bread and Potiphar’s wife (Genesis 40:1-23), bread is associated with lust. Potiphar’s wife was driven by lust in her desire for Joseph and her desire to ‘possess’ him. And as is stated in Genesis:


And he left all that he had in Joseph’s hand; and he knew not ought he had except the bread that he did eat (Genesis 39:6).

Then when Potiphar’s wife tried to rape Joseph, Joseph said:

There is none greater in this house than I; neither hath he kept back anything from me but thee, because thou art his wife how then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God (Genesis 39:9).

In the two verses the same phraseology is used but in the second verse the word for bread is replaced by Potiphar’s wife.

Similarly, in the Case of the Butler and the Baker, the baker, who bakes the bread for Pharaoh is hung from a tree and the butler who serves wine to Pharaoh is restored to his post. As much as bread is necessary for sustenance, it is also the cause for violence and is associated with fire with which it is baked. Wine, on the other hand, which has a gematrical value is 70 (see hyperlink The Case of the Butler and the Baker, Joseph, Bread and Potiphar’s wife), raises the spirit of man to a higher level and brings us closer to 7th day in preparation for entering the 8th. For this reason, at the time of the blessing of the wine and the bread on the Sabbath, the wine is blessed first and the bread, which is considered inferior to wine is covered with a cloth until the blessing over the wine is complete.

It is also for this reason that Noah, in his first undertaking after the Flood, plants a vineyard to produce wine in order to raise his level of spiritual consciousness to allow him to become more close to God.

And Noah began to be a farmer, and he planted a vineyard: (Genesis 9:20)

But Noah became drunk

And he drank of the wine, and became drunk; and he lay uncovered inside his tent: (Genesis 9:21)

It is for the same reason that when we make the blessing upon the wine that we hold the cup with four fingers and the thumb in the 4+1 format, in order to remember the Act of Creation (See hyperlink Adam the mist, truth and the two trees) and to drink the wine in order to raise the spiritual consciousness and not in order to get drunk.

From the above it may be clear that bread is our source of sustenance and also associated with war. However it does not explain the significance of leaven and unleaven bread.

Leaven bread is produced with the addition of yeast, hametz in Hebrew, which is forbidden to bring as an offering to the altar. When yeast is added to the flour, the bread will rise and rise, and continue to rise ad infinitum without ceasing until it is stopped by fire in the baking process.

It symbolic of human development with all it creativeness and inventiveness and it is symbolic of phenomenal development in this world which goes on without ceasing to consider in which direction it is going, or for what reason. More important, it does not consider from whence it has come. God becomes forgotten. Unless the process of development is attached to the understanding of God, it will go awry and will result in absurd computer games and endless consumerism.

And he humbled you, and let you hunger, and fed you with manna, which you knew not, neither did your fathers know; that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord does man live: Deuteronomy 8:3

Unleaven bread is does not rise, does not develop. It is basic in its original form. Unleaven bread brings us back to, and reminds us of, our roots. It acknowledges the fundament of our existence and our dependence upon basic sustenance.

The due emphasis of unleaven bread, to be eaten for seven days during Passover, which is mentioned repetitively at the time of the Exodus, is to bring the Children of Israel back to their origins, to bring them away from the world of development of the Egyptians, to bring them back to God.

As discussed in the Parasha Bo, The Passover (see hyperlink Bo) the Hebrew words for Egypt (Mitzraim) and Canaan, have a gematrical ratio of 2:1: the world of multiplicity and the world of oneness. The Land of Canaan to which the children of Israel were going to is the world of oneness.

So when one partakes of unleaven bread, let it be done with the understanding and realisation of who we are and from where we came.


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