As the Feast of Unleavened Bread comes to a close, there is something that we would do well to consider; what exactly is leaven? The typical answer is “a substance, typically yeast, that is added to dough to make it ferment and rise,” thus an additive that potentially causes change.
In the Torah we read concerning the Pesach/Unleavened Bread mo’edim, “You shall eat no leavened bread with it. Seven days you shall eat it with unleavened bread, the bread of affliction—for you came out of the land of Egypt in haste—that all the days of your life you may remember the day when you came out of the land of Egypt. No leaven shall be seen with you in all your territory for seven days, nor shall any of the flesh that you sacrifice on the evening of the first day remain all night until morning,” (Deuteronomy 16.3-4). A sister passage in the Apostolic Writings is from Shaul’s letter to the Corinthians, “Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Yeshua, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth,” (I Corinthians 5.7-8). It would then infer that leaven is something bad and to be avoided. Did not Yeshua teach his disciples to “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy,” (Luke 12.1). However, these are but analogies of what leaven can represent, all with a negative connotation – malice and evil, hypocrisy, or as in the Exodus, possibly something that would hold on back or detain one for a period of time.
But, does leaven have to have a negative connotation or understanding? Returning to the Torah we read, “You shall bring from your dwelling places two loaves of bread to be waved, made of two tenths of an ephah. They shall be of fine flour, and they shall be baked with leaven, as first fruits to the LORD,” (Leviticus 23.17). This passage describes an offering that will be made to the LORD fifty days after Pesach – Shavuot. As Pesach remembers the LORD’s deliverance, Shavuot remembers His bountiful provision. One such provision was the giving of the Ruach HaChodesh (Acts 2). If leaven is always a negative or bad thing, how could it be “offered to the LORD?” Yeshua proclaimed another positive example of leaven when he stated, “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened,” (Matthew 13.33). “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven” does not sound negative, no matter what angle you approach it. This being said, an alternative definition of leaven is “a pervasive influence that modifies something or transforms it for the better.”
In other words, leaven can be a negative or a positive influence in our lives, depending on its purpose and its fruit. Once again, Shaul writing to the Corinthians stated, “‘Everything is permitted for me’—but not everything is helpful. ‘Everything is permitted for me’—but I will not be controlled by anything,” (I Corinthians 6.12). Key words here are not “everything” and “permitted” but rather “helpful” and “controlled.” We should seek what is helpful but not be controlled by anything – except the Word of the LORD – and even then we must be cautious as that Word is interpreted in our lives. So by all means, continue to “put of the old leaven of malice” while striving to put on the leaven that is the “kingdom of heaven,” which is being in the presence of Adonai Tseva’ot.