Eighteen minutes. That is the difference between matzah and bread. From the moment the flour is mixed with water to the time this mixture is placed in the oven must be eighteen minutes or less. If it is longer the mixture is deemed bread. If less it is matzah.
Our tradition recognizes that leavening is a naturally occurring process. It happens any time flour is mixed with water. And so it is a minute that demarcates the difference between leavened and unleavened bread. One minute can make all the difference between kosher and not, between matzah and bread, between what is proper and what is not.
According to the rabbis the leavening agent of yeast symbolizes the yetzer hara, the evil inclination. The yetzer represents passion and drive, ambition and competition. Too much of any of these and our lives become ruled by lust and greed. Too little and we lack motivation. We require the yetzer hara, never in abundance, but always in the right measure and within the proper framework. With it in such measure, bounded by holiness, husbands and wives are pulled toward each other. With it as well the desire to succeed pushes us to create and invent.
Too much yeast and bread becomes sour (and wine becomes spoiled). And so the rabbis taught that the yetzer hara must be controlled and framed. On Passover we liberate ourselves from the souring effect of the yetzer hara. For one week we live without the effects of this leavening agent.
Eighteen minutes. That is the difference between matzah and bread. One minute is all the difference between kosher and not, right and wrong. It is only a matter of minutes. Nineteen minutes and the matzah is transformed into the ordinary bread of every week and every day. Eighteen minutes and it remains the kosher bread for this holiday of Passover.
One minute, one word, one action that as well is the difference between right and wrong. It is always a fine line. It is rarely if ever a matter of hours or days. In a brief moment we must choose between right and wrong. That minute is what defines our actions as kosher or not.
And that is the spiritual lesson of the matzah we eat at this evening’s Seder. It is never just about food!