parasha

Matzah

Bs”d 5780

Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, Rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites


The matzah that we eat on Passover, and the prohibition from eating chametz, were meant to remind us of the birth of the Jewish nation. This distant history from thousands of years ago still echoes in our hearts and has the power to change lives. This is the story of a nation of slaves that was oppressed and humiliated, chosen to carry the message of faith and morality to all of humanity, and in a wondrous and supernatural process, left Egypt and walked for forty years in the desert. The exodus from Egypt is the central topic of Passover. But no less so – it is the story of the dark period that preceded the liberation, the time of enslavement and oppression.

The matzot are described in the Torah as “lechem oni”, the bread of poverty or affliction. According to some of the most prominent commentators, this is to remind us of the period when our ancestors worked in crushing labor and ate simple foods like matzah. Another explanation offered in the Babylonian Talmud states that the word “oni” comes from the Hebrew root for “answer” so that “lechem oni” is bread for which answers are given (Tractate Pesachim, 115). While we eat the matzah, we tell the incredible story of the exodus from Egypt and sing songs of praise to G-d. In the Passover Haggadah we find a third explanation for the mitzvah to eat matzah on the first night of Passover, Leil HaSeder:
What is the reason behind this matzah which we eat? Because the dough of our ancestors did not have enough time to be leavened before the Ultimate King, the Holy One, Blessed is He, revealed Himself to them and redeemed them.”
The matzah, therefore, represents the three parts of the story: the period of enslavement, the moment of liberation, and the song we sing about the miracle. It represents the enslavement because it is a simple food; the moment of liberation because it is baked in haste; and it represents the song of praise by the acts we do during the seder alongside the mitzvah of eating matzah and drinking the four cups of wine on the “path to freedom”.
All of humanity is currently going through a terrible period of time in the battle against the coronavirus. No one knows how or when this battle will end, but we all know what our obligation is during this time: We must abide by the directives given by the health authorities, maintain self-quarantine as we “shelter at home”, make sure to practice the necessary hygiene, and pray to G-d to redeem us from this hardship so we know no more sorrow.
Just as the matzah reminds us not only of the period of enslavement, but also of the moment of liberation and of the song we sing in memory of the miracle of the exodus, so too we hope to be quickly redeemed from this calamity so we may be privileged to sing a song of thanksgiving for the miracles and wonders that the Blessed be He will do for us shortly!
May we see the fulfillment of the blessing and wish made on seder night: “Blessed are You, Hashem, our G-d…Who has redeemed us and redeemed our ancestors from Egypt, and enabled us to live to this night, to eat on it matzah and maror. So, Hashem, our G-d, and the G-d of our fathers, may You enable us to live to other festivals and holidays which will come to meet us in peace, happy in the reconstruction of Your city and joyful in Your service… And may we thank You with a new song for our redemption and the liberation of our soul.”
Wishing you a happy and kosher Passover, in good health and serenity!

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