The commandment to eat matzah on the holiday of Pesach is prefaced with the words: “U’shmartem es ha’matzos–And you shall guard the matzos.” Jewish tradition calls for keeping watch over the matzah from the time the wheat is taken to the mill to be ground into flour, and it is kept under careful supervision to ensure that it does not come into contact with water or any other moisture.
The grinding, packing, and transporting of the wheat from the mill to the bakery is done under the strictest supervision, to ensure that it does not come into contact with water, and all of the utensils used for processing the wheat must be clean and dry. Many Jews have carried this practice several steps further, guarding the grain in the fields before the wheat is harvested to ensure that they are not overripe or wet from rainfall. That can be a challenging task in areas where rain falls on a regular basis and historically, Jews were always in search of areas where rain is least likely to fall right before the wheat matures.
One of the leaders of the ancient Jewish community of Baghdad, Iraq, was Chacham Tzadkah Hutzin zt”l, who was born in 1876 (5636). He was a star disciple of the Ben Ish Chai, and he was also considered a “mohel mumcheh” – an expert mohel, who circumcised thousands of children without payment. He collected funds for the poor and needy and he would scour the community to determine who was lacking, in order to offer them financial assistance and support. In the weeks before Pesach, he would accompany a group of men out to the fields to pick the wheat and ensure that no moisture came in contact with what was to be baked in the Baghdad community’s matzos. He spent days out under the blazing sun and would not allow anyone to do any extra work for him. He insisted on picking the grains, carrying the piles and tying the bundles himself, which he then loaded onto the waiting donkeys for transport back to the city.
On one occasion, after all the back-breaking work was accomplished and the group was making its way back from the fields, someone noticed ominous rainclouds looming up ahead. “Look,” he shouted, “It looks like a storm is coming!” Indeed, the dark, cumulus puffs were quite uncharacteristic for that time of year, portending a rare, but violent, downpour of huge proportion. Everyone began to worry out loud about the packs of wheat they were transporting and how they might best protect them from the approaching storm. In deference to his stature, they turned to the chacham, Rav Tzadkah, and asked him what they should do.
Unhesitatingly, the Rav jumped down from the donkey he was riding on and lifted his head up to the heavens. Everyone followed his gaze, but Chacham Tzadkah was not looking at the clouds; instead he raised his voice and called out: “May it be Your will, Hashem our G-d and the G-d of our fathers...if it has been decreed in heaven that rain will fall, let it pour down in mighty gusts. Let the force of the showers and the wind fall with such force and penetration that even the saddles atop the donkeys should become soaked and saturated fully with rainwater!”
The people around him were stunned. What was the tzadik saying? Not only did he not pray that the clouds should hold off and not produce rain, he specifically requested that it should pour with tremendous force so that there was no chance to salvage any of the wheat they had worked so hard to till and collect for the upcoming holiday.
“Why?” they cried out in protest. “Why is the Chacham asking for rain and not for sun?”
As the clouds drew nearer and the winds began to pick up, Rav Tzadkah looked at the people around him and explained. “My friends, please listen to what I have to say. We worked hard to ensure that the grain is ‘guarded’ – protected and perfectly dry. Of course, nobody here wants the time we spent to go to waste. As such, if it rains for a short time, or even if it drizzles lightly, we will do whatever we can to try to cover and protect our bundles from any moisture. However, deep down, we all know that it will be almost impossible to fully protect all of it, and then we will begin searching for kulos – leniencies, excuses why we believe the wheat is still usable for the Pesach season.”
Rav Tzadkah continued his impassioned plea. “My friends, we don’t want leniencies, nor do we wish to make use of excuses. This is not what we spent the past few days working for. Therefore, I prayed to the Almighty that He should remove us from any doubt. If there is a decree that rain must fall, well then, let it fall in droves! Let it pour in such strong volume that everything, down to the donkey’s saddles, becomes soaked – and then we will know that this wheat cannot be used. Does this mean we will have to work hard again? Perhaps. But isn’t it worth it, knowing that we did not lower our standards and base ourselves on excuses to fulfill a mitzvah?”
As the tzadik was talking, no one seemed to realize that the sky had begun to brighten. By the time he finished his words, the ominous rainclouds were no more. The sun was shining brightly, and the wheat bundles remained as dry as ever!