Matzah and the #MeToo movement: Symbols of restraint - opinion

The Talmud long ago taught us: With sexual drives, it is difficult to stay in low gear.

MATZAH IS a sort of spiritual stoplight. (photo credit: ULVI SAFARI/UNSPLASH)
MATZAH IS a sort of spiritual stoplight.
(photo credit: ULVI SAFARI/UNSPLASH)
While we Jews certainly have a passion for food – virtually every Jewish holiday has a culinary component – the only biblically ordained food that we are required to eat in the course of the year is matzah.
This thin, cracker-like wafer, only slightly tastier than the box it comes in, is the eternal, iconic symbol of Passover, rightfully dubbed “the Festival of Matzot.” Not once but three times at the Seder, we are required to consume matzah in fairly large amounts.
The matzah has a dual significance. It is at once a symbol of slavery – the Haggadah calls it the “poor bread” that the Israelite slaves ate in their degraded condition – and yet it is also a symbol of freedom, representing the haste in which we loyally followed God’s decree to leave Egypt and enthusiastically headed into the wilderness on our way to the Promised Land.
The most puzzling aspect of the matzah is the Divine command to stop the dough from rising, even though we actually had more than enough time to complete the baking. After all, the directive to make matzot came on the first of Nisan, a full two weeks prior to Passover. Why, then, were we specifically told to halt the preparation of matzah in “mid-bake,” when we could have completed it at our leisure?
I suggest that God was training us, on this very first holiday of our nationhood, in an important lesson of discipline: self-restraint. Virtually every commandment in our entire Torah requires this vital trait: We must pause before eating, no matter how ravenously hungry we are, to say a blessing on our food and verify that it is kosher. We must stop many of our everyday activities at sunset on Friday and go into “Shabbat mode.” Six times a year we resist the natural desire to eat, and we fast for a day.
And in issues of a sexual nature, we have a plethora of halachic “road blocks” to prevent both men and women from crossing a redline and staining our moral character, perhaps permanently. Jewish law restricts us from numerous unions, including marrying two sisters – as well as numerous other close relatives – adultery, and incest. Despite the powerful temptation to satisfy our lust, the Torah bids us to hold back and restrain our raging hormones.
WHICH BRINGS us to the latest sexual “headline horrors” that shocked the country over the last weeks. First there was the case of Yarin Sherf, alleged to have raped a 13-year old girl – twice! – when the two of them were staying in a special quarantine hotel operated by the state’s welfare system. Sherf, well known on the soft-core pornographic TikTok site, admits to have had sex with the youngster, but says it was “consensual.” In response, the girl’s mother called Sherf “a beastly man, who has no control of his urges.”
And then, of course, there is the sordid saga of Yehuda Meshi-Zahav, the founder and former head of ZAKA, who is alleged to have committed numerous acts of moral turpitude (it seems we’re being “alleged” to death lately). An equal-opportunity abuser, Meshi-Zahav is said to have had illicit sex with men, women and children over at least the last 30 years, a pattern of deviant behavior that was an open secret in certain haredi circles yet shielded from the public. Once the darling of Israeli society, Meshi-Zahav – who turned from an organizer of anti-Zionist protests to a supporter of the state, who even lit a torch at the Independence Day celebration and was due to be given the sought-after Israel Prize – has made us all blink in astonishment: Is nothing sacred? Is there no one beyond suspicion?
And while these two outrages have succeeded in catching the public’s attention, innumerable such incidents are taking place every day – in the workplace, in schools, in the army – and becoming so commonplace that they are rarely reported.
The truth is, the Talmud long ago taught us, in three succinct words, that when it comes to sexual drives, it is extremely difficult to stay in low gear. “Ayn apitropos l’arayot,” taught the rabbis; “there is no absolute, guaranteed control over sexual desires.”
MATZAH, THEN, is a kind of spiritual stoplight designed to safeguard us, and the society in which we live, from runaway instinctual behavior. There is a time when we may proceed, a time when we must exercise caution, and a time when we must come to a full stop.
The restraint we were ordered to show as we departed Egypt – a country known for its excessive depravity – began when we were told by God to stay indoors at the killing of the firstborn, rather than wreak vengeance upon those who had enslaved and oppressed us. And it continued when we held back from letting our dough rise; the matzah we took with us on our journey was a kind of flag of obedience to a higher power, one that was determined we not fall victim to our own unbridled urges.
As we continue to wave that matzah flag each year, we ought to consciously commit ourselves to the struggle to maintain the moral high ground. Sadly, it seems more important now than ever. 
The writer is director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra’anana. [email protected]