The Music of Halacha: Pesach: Stuff
The opposites do not wait for Pesach to begin. We will act out the contradiction of freedom and slavery on the seder night, but most of us have already begun playing out the theme of contradictions: We complain about all the cleaning we have to do for Pesach even though we also describe the joy of changing our homes over into Pesach houses. We even love to complain. I think it’s part of the joy of cleaning.
My favorite part of cleaning for Pesach is throwing stuff out into the trash. I look at all the barely used boxes of food and wonder why I ever bought them. With each thing that I toss I realize that I need less and fewer things every year. I measure part of my progress by how much less I have to throw away than I did the previous year.
I find Pesach to be a strong lesson in “Do I really need this?” I have far too many things and they seem like weights bound to my freedom of movement. When I consider how much would I keep if I had to move to a small apartment, I realize that I actually need very little. It’s similar to Matzah, which is just basic flour and water. We don’t even eat Matzah Ashira, “wealthy Matzah”, that has more than just water added to the flour.
Perhaps that is why the Children of Israel had to eat that first Pesach Offering with their belongings packed for a trip: They had to be able to take only what they really needed. They learned that possessions often tie us down and hold us back.
Perhaps this is the explanation of the custom of Ma’ot Chittim:
“There is a custom to purchase wheat to divide among the poor for Pesach. Anyone who dwells in a city for 12 months must contribute to this fund.” (Ramah) The Mishna Berurah comments: This is an ancient custom and is mentioned in the Jerusalem Talmud. (Bava Batra 1) The Magen Avraham rules that the community must provide wheat to any poor person who has lived in the city for twelve months. The Semak rules that we now only require that the poor person have lived in the city for 30 days. The Mishna Berurah quotes the Semak and says, “That although we are not required to provide enough flour for the entire Pesach to a poor person who has only lived in the city for 30 days, we are required to provide food for two meals each weekday and three meals for Shabbat. (See too Y”D 256)
The Mitzvah of Ma’ot Chittim, providing grain for Pesach Matzot is not part of the Mitzvah of charity. It is an entirely different obligation.
The Shulchan Aruch (O”C 460) describes how the Rosh would make a special effort to bake his own Matzot and would encourage others to do the same. There are those who understand the Mitzvah of Ma’ot Chittim as our obligation to provide poor people with the opportunity to bake their own Matzot.
The Gra explains this obligation based on the Talmud (Pesachim) that says, “Just as it is the way for a poor person that he heats up the oven and his wife prepares the dough, here too, the husband heats up the oven and his wife prepares the dough for the Matzah. They perform their tasks simultaneously because they are famished, and thus desire to bake and eat the bread as quickly as possible. (Ran)
Ma’ot Chittim is our way of “being poor” of possessions and allowing the “poor” to have all their food, not as charity, but in their hands so that they can be ready to pick up and move without all the burdens of too much stuff.
So, no more complaining about Pesach cleaning! Imagine that you are becoming increasingly free with each thing you can look at and say, “I don’t really need that.”