Why Unleavened Bread?
If there is one Passover food that can present a dining challenge, it would be matzoh, or unleavened bread. Though it really shines at breakfast when combined with eggs to make one of my wife’s favorites, fried matzoh, it makes a messy sandwich. The boards break easily, and she tells me it was no fun eating tuna salad or peanut butter on matzoh during Passover when she was growing up. Exactly why do Jewish people avoid leaven (yeast) for these eight days?
First, God commanded it. The Israelites were to eat the Passover lamb “with unleavened bread” (Ex.12:8). They also were to remove all leaven from their homes and eat unleavened bread for an additional seven days: “On the first day you shall remove leaven from your hous-es. For whoever eats leavened bread from the first day until the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel” (v. 15).
The Hebrew word for “leaven” is hametz. Observant Jewish people around the world literally remove all hametz from their premises. Some even will sell their baked goods to a Gentile friend and buy them back after the holiday.
Second, the Jewish people “came out of the land of Egypt in haste” (Dt. 16:3) and had no time to wait for their bread to rise. So the holiday commemorates the Exodus with unleavened bread.
However, another plausible reason why leaven is forbidden is because God often associates it with sin.
Jesus told His disciples, “Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees” (Mt. 16:6). The disciples did not immediately grasp that He was speaking of the religious leaders’ doctrine, which was characterized by sin and hypocrisy. Jesus later told the Pharisees, “For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves” (23:15).
Jesus wanted His followers to be different. He wanted them to be holy. Later in the New Testament, the apostle Paul (also Jewish) wrote to the church at Corinth: “Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?” (1 Cor. 5:6). A tiny package of yeast can produce two large loaves of bread. Leaven permeates the other ingredients, begins to ferment, and expands. Sin is similar. It begins small, like a little germ or infection, then grows bigger and bigger. In many cases, it can totally overtake an individual.
God required His people to eat unleavened bread for eight days to remind them that they were to be separate from the world. God had redeemed them from bondage in Egypt via the 10 plagues. Then He commanded Israel, “You shall be holy, for I the Lᴏʀᴅ your God am holy” (Lev. 19:2). He also told them, “I am the Lᴏʀᴅ, I do not change” (Mal. 3:6).
He is the same “yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb. 13:8) and still desires holiness from those who are called by His name.