Chipazon, Chametz and Pesach: Controlled Chaos
As Superbowl Sunday is observed in a few days, let me begin by sharing something I have always found pretty amazing. I’m always impressed how a team on a sideline of a football game, can be so disciplined to know which 11 players enter the field for each down, and the order in which “special teams” charge the field without missing a beat is truly amazing. If a coach dispatches the wrong personnel, the other team can take advantage. You have 12 or more players on the field, you are penalized. It really takes a lot of practice and discipline I imagine.
Prior to the tenth and ultimate plague of killing the Egyptian first born, HASHEM appeared to Moshe and Aharon and, in addition to providing the first mitzvah given to the Children of Israel as a nation, namely, establishing a calendar, the procedures for the night of the exodus are detailed. Rashi explains that each Egyptian house likely experienced the death of multiple individuals. In one comment Rashi claims that the oldest individual present in the household was killed, in addition to those who are biologically first-born. In another comment, Rashi notes that the Egyptian women at that time were not monogamous and gave birth to multiple first-borns of various fathers. Others argue that first born females also perished (see response of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who cites a Midrash making this claim and suggesting female first-borns also fast the day prior to Pesach).
Among the list of events happening on the evening of the exodus, the Torah describes as follows:
"וְכָכָה֮ תֹּאכְל֣וּ אֹתוֹ֒ מָתְנֵיכֶ֣ם חֲגֻרִ֔ים נַֽעֲלֵיכֶם֙ בְּרַגְלֵיכֶ֔ם וּמַקֶּלְכֶ֖ם בְּיֶדְכֶ֑ם וַאֲכַלְתֶּ֤ם אֹתוֹ֙ בְּחִפָּז֔וֹן פֶּ֥סַח ה֖וּא לַה"' (שמות י"ב:י"א)
“This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly: it is a passover offering to the LORD” (Shmos 12:11).
What exactly does “chipazon” mean? The Sefaria translation above is “hurriedly.” That translation matches how many people understand this. The Jews were in a rush, didn’t have time for the dough to rise, and hence we eat matzah for a week.
Later on in the book of Devarim (16:3), the connection between matzah and haste is made clear.
"לֹא־תֹאכַ֤ל עָלָיו֙ חָמֵ֔ץ שִׁבְעַ֥ת יָמִ֛ים תֹּֽאכַל־עָלָ֥יו מַצּ֖וֹת לֶ֣חֶם עֹ֑נִי כִּ֣י בְחִפָּז֗וֹן יָצָ֙אתָ֙ מֵאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרַ֔יִם לְמַ֣עַן תִּזְכֹּר֔ אֶת־י֤וֹם צֵֽאתְךָ֙ מֵאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרַ֔יִם כֹּ֖ל יְמֵ֥י חַיֶּֽיךָ"
“You shall not eat anything leavened with it; for seven days thereafter you shall eat unleavened bread, bread of distress—for you departed from the land of Egypt hurriedly—so that you may remember the day of your departure from the land of Egypt as long as you live.”
Other key terms surrounding the Pesach experience reference haste. The term Pesach denotes the paschal sacrifice, and also connotes the name of the festival, means to skip or pass over, which references swiftness. A Midrash (Mechilta Bo, #7:44) proclaims that the rush was co-owned. The Egyptians were pushing the Children of Israel out, the Children of Israel sought to leave, and HASHEM also desired the Jews to leave the spiritual filth of Egypt, which was affecting them.
Furthermore, the term chametz itself, the leavened bread prohibited during Pesach, references timing. Leavning takes time. Unleavened means there was a lack of time. Rashi (Shmos 12:17) advances that the root “ch.m.tz.” revolves around the notion of immediacy. There is a Talmudic phrase, if a mitzvah (which has the same letters as matzah) presents itself before you, do not lose the opportunity to perform it. The term for the latter is “tachmitzenah,” sharing the root of Chametz.
Why is haste so important?
Maharal and Rav Kook understand the chipazon as an indication that the exodus was supernatural. (I saw this in an article by Rabbi Yosef Tzvi Rimon, from 5778). It’s amazing, if you think about it, that there was so much time to plan the exodus. HASHEM instructs Moshe and Aharon about the procedures for the night of the exodus on the first of the month, two weeks prior. They spent four days observing the sacrificial animal for any blemishes, which would render it unusable. As a matter of fact, this could have been planned years if not decades or centuries earlier. But it was meant to be chaotic. That was part of the plan. The Rambam (Guide to the Perplexed III chapter 46) explains that the laws governing the korban Pesach were also meant to create an atmosphere of haste and chipazon.
Rashi, however, slightly alters the seeming basic meaning of the term. He surveyed the root “ch.p.z.”within Tanach (Scriptures), and determined that the word does not just denote haste, but also a type of behala, which I would describe as a type of confusion, or balagan. We encounter the same root “b.h.l.” in Shmos 15:15, “Then the chieftains of Edom were confounded, trembling gripped the mighty of Moab.” [Incidentally I saw a post on social media that cited this verse as referring to this Sunday’s two Superbowl competitors: the “CHIEFtains” and the numerical equivalent of Moab is 49.] Rashi’s translation adds a new twist to how the Children of Israel experienced the exodus. It wasn’t merely a quick exit, but a harried and somewhat stressed departure. Rav Hirsch (Devarim 20:2) says the word means “speed without thinking.”
The night of the exodus was meant to be a balagan, an evening of chaos. Maybe that’s why the other name for the night for the exodus – at least its anniversary observed annually – is the night of the “seder.” Seder means order. Seder, from what we’ve seen, is antipodal, to other key words of the night: Chipazon, chametz and Pesach.
I don’t know about those of you reading this, but managed turmoil describes my home as we usher in Shabbos, Pesach and other holidays. The chaos is not a negative: it’s getting a lot of things done in a short amount of time. It’s managing work schedules, with making Shabbos, cleaning for Shabbos, bathing for Shabbos. The candles are lit and then serenity reigns. The chaos in a certain way heightens the placidity of Shabbos, why we are rushing.
But maybe the sages sought out controlled chaos. They wanted a balance, as they often do. The Seder/order would offset the drama. Within the Seder night experience, we also encounter a series of contradictions. The matzah, known as the bread of poor ingredients (lechem oni) is also known in the mystical tradition as the bread of redemption. The maror, which is clearly bitter, is mitigated by dunking it into the sweet charoses. While the latter is meant to resemble the texture of the bricks, which evokes servitude, it is composed of sweet ingredients.
In many areas of halacha, we find the rabbis using leniencies, even in the context of severe Biblical laws. King David wrote in Psalms, that we are to rejoice in trembling, two words that contradict one another. But Jews live in the word of the oxymoron. They don’t contradict: they complement.
The entire seder night is about seeing redemption and servitude simultaneously. So much of our national story revolves around Seder night, and so much of our collective narrative is about controlling and managing chaos.