By Rabbi Avtzon 

The holiday of Pesach is upon us. By now we have all bought our Matzah for the Seder and cleaned our house of all the unleavened bread and yeast (known in Hebrew as Chametz). It is fascinating to note that the largest distributors of both — matzah and yeast — are Jewish companies that were founded in Cincinnati.

Everyone has seen, and probably tasted,  Manischewitz Matzah. The iconic rectangular boxes, with the crispy square machine-made Matzos, are a staple of every Kosher aisle in any supermarket. Here is the history of this iconic company:

The B. Manischewitz Company, LLC was founded by Rabbi Dov Behr Manischewitz, in 1888 In Cincinnati. By 1926, the Cuvier press club described it as the largest firm of matzo bakers in the world, and the first American exporter of the flatbread. In the 1930s, in order to produce their products all year round, the company created Tam-Tam crackers.

Their original product, the square matzo, revolutionized matzo-making, which until the family’s production process, used to consist of rolling the matzo and trimming the edges by hand. It was also considered quite revolutionary to make matzos by machine and created a Halachik firestorm.  The Cincinnati facility was eventually closed in 1958.
The first major yeast company in America was Fleischmann’s Yeast company. The story begins in 1868, when Charles and Maximilian Fleischmann (two Jewish brothers) left Austria-Hungary to make a better life in America. And for them, that meant making better bread. In an effort to make a better-rising bread like they had known in their homeland, the Fleischmann brothers partnered with American businessman James Gaff to build a yeast plant in Cincinnati, Ohio. It was there that the brothers produced and patented a compressed yeast cake that revolutionized home and commercial baking in the United States.

Now that we are familiar with the history of matzah and yeast in America, we should really ask the fundamental question: Why do we eat matzah on Pesach and why is yeast (and all leavened bread) forbidden? Granted that this is the will of Hashem, but what lesson is there for the Jewish people that are celebrating Pesach in 2023?

What’s the difference between matzah and chametz? They’re both made from flour and water, both baked in an oven, and both provide nourishment. But one stays flat and humble, while the other fills itself with hot air. That’s why matzah is a key ingredient for leaving your personal Egypt: As long as we are full of delusions of self-importance, there’s no way to break out and grow to a new level. Once we make ourselves small, we can fit through any bars and fly to the highest heights.

It’s interesting that the two Hebrew words, chametz and matzah, are spelled using almost identical letters, with one slight difference. Matzah is spelled mem-tzaddi-hei, while chametz is spelled chet-mem-tzaddi. The two letters which are different, hei and chet, are actually very similar in appearance; the only difference is that the left leg of the chet rises all the way to the top, while the hei’s leg remains low.

The humility which the Matzah represents infuses it with many special and spiritual powers. The great Kabbalistic and Chassidic masters teach us that the matzah — especially the original hand-made round matzos — is called “The Bread of Faith and the Bread of Healing.” When one eats matzah during the two nights of the Seder, they receive these unique benefits. That is why historically Jews went out on much self-sacrifice to obtain matzah for Pesach. It is the symbol of our freedom and our faith.

Ridding ourselves of our ego does not mean that we should lack self-esteem. We are told in the Torah that Moshe Rabbeinu was the most humble person that ever lived. While he was certainly aware of his abilities and accomplishments, he did not allow himself to become inflated and conceited. How so? He always told himself the following: If someone else would have received the abilities and opportunities that I did, they probably would have done better than me.  That is why the Torah was given on Mt. Sinai, the smallest mountain in the desert at the time. G-d Almighty was looking for a mountain — representing someone that has abilities and uses them productively — yet humble at the same time.

As we celebrate Pesach this year, and offer thanks once again for our freedom and our birth as a people, let us all pray for our true freedom: The revelation of our righteous redeemer, Amen!

Wishing you all a Kosher and Happy Pesach!