Rabbi Ron Symons on April 18, 2016
So many of us have an ongoing relationship with matzah. You might be one of those people who loves it so much that you eat Tam Tams all year round. You might have a preference for a brand either out of habit or as the result of an intentional taste test. You might be dedicated to a particular type: Egg, Whole Wheat, Lightly Salted…. You might even be done with your matzah ration after just one bite on Passover.
As for me, my mother never let us eat matzah outside of the dining room or kitchen. And I, in turn, don’t let my kids eat it anywhere else. My favorite matzah dishes are fried matzah with sugar and my mother’s 7 Layer Chocolate Covered Matzah Cake… like fudge.
No matter your connection, there is something about that time honored bread, the bread that has just 18 minutes to become itself from the moment the water and flour meet until it comes out of the oven. Yes, it was the bread that we learned about in the Book of Exodus when the Israelites quickly left Egypt.
“The dough, which they brought out of Egypt, they baked into unleavened bread, because they were driven out from Egypt and they were not able to delay, and they had not prepared any provisions.” (Exodus 12:39)
In modern terms, matzah was the snack we packed before leaving for our journey, intent to make it all the way without stopping at a Get Go. And even with that, we know that matzah, unleavened bread, had a life of its own in the ancient world even before we left Egypt. And after we left Egypt, having the luxury of time to allow our bread to rise, the unleavened bread was a part of the Temple sacrifices even when Passover was not being celebrated.
We love it so much that we ceremonially break it so that all can see. Tucked in between two other pieces, covered by a special cloth, the leader of the seder reaches in carefully, pulls out the middle matzah, half of which is going to be hidden as the afikomen desert, and recites something like
“Now I break the middle matzah and hide one half as the afikomen. Later we will share it. For the sake of our redemption, we say together the ancient words that join us with our people and with all who are in need, with the wrongly imprisoned and the beggar in the street. Our redemption is bound up with the deliverance from bondage of all people everywhere.”
That simple unleavened bread symbolizes our past: all the journeys our ancestors and grandparents and parents made so that we could be who are today. That flat bread symbolizes all the journeys toward freedom that are happening today. That unassuming bread is the reminder that we have to help others cross through their own deserts and seas just as we did so many years ago. That matzah is a reminder that we are not fully free until everyone is free to rise as they are destined.
And then, when all is said and done, when all is eaten and drunken, when we can’t eat yet another bite…. we send the next generation in search of that simple piece of bread that is hidden away behind the TV. When they find the afikomen, the youngest among us give us a taste of the redemption for which we yearn: A world that respects differences, in which each person can live the freedom we experienced after leaving Egypt, a world that is filled with sacred goodness.
This is what I know: It has to be a child who gives me a taste of the world as it should be because I know that the journey will need to continue long after I am done, when our children are teaching their children how to help others through their own deserts.
Yummy! Matzah. Happy Passover!