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Parshas T'Tzaveh - Where There's Smoke There's No Fire        9 Adar I 5782

02/09/2022 03:22:42 PM


One of the benefits of having two Adars, an additional month before Pesach, is we have the benefit of having extra time before Pesach’s arrival. To some, that’s a good thing - we get to push off the cleaning, shopping, and preparing for another month. For others it’s a horror, it only means an additional month of shopping, cleaning, and worrying about Pesach. This can create stress on our shalom bayis (peace in the Home).  For my wife and me this extra month works out perfectly: she cleans for an extra month while I push it off for another month! It is amazing how year in and year out the routine and order of Pesach cleaning and readiness is the same. We go through the same frustrations, the same jokes, and the same last minute down to the wire preparations until… the finish line exclamation, “Phew we made it!” Next thing we know we are all sitting around together at the seder.

One could not imagine after all the cleaning, scrubbing, and checking that we or anyone would ever find chometz. Of course, it is possible, while cleaning, to find some chometz in places that one would never have thought chometz could possibly be found.. But what are the chances of finding chometz after such thorough cleaning and searching? Surely, someone might find a long-lost Cheerio which is less than an olive-size amount, and while it’s not great, it’s not the end of the holiday. But one would rarely if ever find a large amount of chometz on Pesach. Well, please don’t begin mistrusting the rabbi, but I believe it’s been three out of the last five years that we discovered large amounts of chometz on Pesach. The Halacha/law is that this chometz must be destroyed by burning.  Therefore, ever-so-often we have burning of the chometz before and, yes, even during Pesach.

The first time we found chometz was on Yom Tov itself. The Halachik procedure is to cover the chometz and burn it during Chol Hamoed. In fact, even if you discover chometz on the last day of Pesach, it needs to be burned and destroyed after Pesach. The reason you don’t even flush it down the toilet or throw it into the street is that at that moment on Yom Tov it is muktzeh; it cannot be moved.  Therefore, during Chol Hamoed, I lit a small fire and burned the cheerios we found. Three years ago, we found an entire untouched deli roll in the refrigerator! Thinking we were going to eat it the morning of erev Pesach, we stuck it in the corner of the door of the refrigerator and forgot about it. This experience taught me that it is quite difficult to burn an entire deli roll with a lighter or a few matches. Luckily, at that time I still had a large blow torch that was able to turn that deli roll into a charred brick. Last year I established a chazaka - a three time rule - and found a full loaf of white bread that had fallen behind the freezer. Unfortunately, I no longer had the large blow torch,so we proceeded to burn it in the backyard chimney/BBQ area. We were working furiously to rid the chometz/bread by burning all different sized pieces. I was concerned about the smoke billowing to the neighbors. It was at that moment that I came to this new understanding of fire and smoke. When the fire was burning and raging, there was very little smoke. However, as soon as the fire and flames died down, it began to smoke more and more. As we doused the bread with lighter fluid the flames came roaring back, and the clouds of smoke began to wane. Why is it that when there was fire there was no smoke and vice versa? What caused the smoke to rise when the flames die down? And…just what is smoke if there’s no fire?

 Well, introductory Science 101 tells us that when something burns hotly, it burns cleanly. When the flame dies down, there are remaining embers and residual heat which will continue smoldering. Without the heat of the flame there is incomplete combustion, resulting in smoke and soot. Smoke is a mixture of soot, carbon compounds, tar, aerosols, unburned fuel, and other components of incomplete combustion. In short, when a fire burns brightly, it efficiently combines oxygen with carbon, making carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide, and with hydrogen, forms water vapor.  If all the hydrocarbons and organic materials being burned are done cleanly, there is very little smoke.  However, when a flame is extinguished, there is still typically a lot of latent heat.  The process of burning is snuffed out which results in an incomplete transformation into water and carbon dioxide, leading to incomplete compounds which create soot. Of course, all of this is part of nature, and science, which, with regard to the process of burning, goes hand and hand with the Torah, as we will read this week.

In this week’s Parsha T’Tzaveh the Torah states in Shmos 30: "ועשית מזבח מקטר קטורת עצי שטים תעשה אותו"  “Make an altar to burn incense out of acacia wood.” The Midrash Tanchuma says that this verse needs to be thought through because there were two altars in the Temple. One altar was to bring Olah - offerings in the form of animals; the other altar was used to burn the spice incense. The Mizbeach HaOlah was located outside the courtyard while the Mizbach HaKetores was located inside the Heichal. Rebbi Shimon asks why was the Mizbach HaKetores, the altar inside, called a Mizbeiach? Did it have sacrificial animals upon it? The term "מזבח"  /Mizbeiach is derived from the word "זביחה"-  - slaughtering or sacrificing. Are these terms associated only with animals and not incense? The answer is that the incense  burnt nullified and stood up against many evil strengths. The Ketores burned the ‘Sitra Achair’   סִטְרָא אָחֳרָא,  ‘the other side’, as opposed to,סִטְרָא דִּקְדוּשָּׁה, sitra dikedusha, 'the side of holiness', so that it could no longer be a prosecutor against the Jewish people. It was equivalent to having been slaughtered on the altar. Therefore, the inner altar was also called an altar for slaughtering and burning up the evil of man’s actions.  

The Chometz on Pesach is considered the “other” kind of bread which is soured and evil. The only way to deal with it is to burn it. As the fire completely consumed and burned the bread, the smoke was the purity that remained. The smoke from the burnt chometz became a sweet smell because the proper action was taken. When the fire is finished doing its job, only the smoke remains. The ascending smoke is our assent offering to God: the fire is the sin, and the smoke is the atonement.  Fire and smoke represent the bad and the good that comes from destroying the bad; they do not co-exist. To the contrary, if we can burn up the bad and evil traits which challenge us all, then we can sacrifice on our own innermost altars, bringing the sweet smell of smoke to please Hashem.

Tue, August 16 2022 19 Av 5782