Rabbi David Walk
Most of our Jewish holidays have formal names used in Biblical texts and a more colloquial name used in rabbinic literature and conversations. For example, the Torah calls the first day of the seventh month (Tishre), Yom Hazikaron or the Day of Remembrance, of course we call that day Rosh Hashanah. Similarly, the holiday which we call Pesach or Passover, the Torah refers to as Chag Hamatzot. I think the Torah is informing us that the central observance of this seven day period is the consumption of this funny bread. At our annual education seminar called the Seder, matzah has the central role. We begin the program by breaking it, then we spend the whole discussion period alternatively covering and uncovering it; the evening's banquet begins by consuming unbelievable quantities of the stuff, and finally the formal dinner ends with hard-nosed negotiations over its value to different generations. So, what does this substance actually represent? Well, here we get into a little trouble, because the core text of the program, namely the Haggadah is ambivalent on the topic. At one point it is called lechem oni or 'bread of affliction,' but later we say that we have it because it represents the redemption. Which is it, a symbol of slavery or of freedom?
Most years I've hedged my bets by claiming that it's both. When it is whole it reminds us of the speed with which we departed
Every year I try to buy a new Haggadah. This year I bought a fascinating one called The Mosaic Haggadah, compiled by a dentist from
But what about matzah? We keep it dead. We stab it with hundreds of holes and bake it in extremely hot ovens before any sign of life can be detected. We don't allow it to rise from the dead. What a great metaphor for slavery! Slave owners thwart any attempt at meaningful life in their slaves. A good life gives ample opportunities to rise again and again after failure and despair. Especially in Judaism we believe in second and third chances. That's what Teshuva or repentance is all about. No such break is given to slaves. Slavery doesn't allow celebration over successes which are not theirs, but gives ample time to wallow in failure.
This leaves us with a problem concerning the paragraph which equates matzah with redemption. Raban Gamliel demands that we say: This Matzah that we eat for what reason? Because the dough of our ancestors did not have time to become leavened before God was revealed and redeemed them. In other words the speed of the baking mirrors the speed of the departure from
All the evil, bondage and pain of the