June 22, 2024
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June 22, 2024
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Seder Night: The Promise of Matzah

This Pesach is a very difficult one for Jews all over the world. Many are mourning the loss of close relatives or friends. Others are sick and need a refuah sheleima. I personally know multiple people currently in the hospital. Many are there due to COVID-19. However, a few are there for happy reasons—they just gave birth to a baby.

Whatever situation we have, we will be without guests—no extra family and friends as we had in years past. We will be secured in our homes with the same people who have shared our dwelling for the last several weeks.

Matzah this Pesach depicts our tumultuous time. We start the section of Maggid near the beginning of the Haggadah, with the words, “Ha lachma anya,” this is the poor man’s bread, that the Jews ate in Mitzrayim. The Torah calls it “lechem oni” (poor man’s bread), reminding us of the slavery and oppression our people suffered.

However, at the end of Maggid, we say matzah was eaten because the Jews left in such a hurry—they didn’t have time for their dough to rise. Is matzah then a reminder of poverty and affliction, or a reminder of a dramatic race to freedom?

This duality is even brought together in a single pasuk: “For seven days you shall eat matzah, the lechem oni, because I took you out of Egypt in a hurry” (Re’eh 16:3). The Torah is clearly comfortable with both concepts.

The Ramban explains that both views of matzah are true: the bread of affliction and the bread of redemption. Still, why the need for both concepts regarding our precious matzah?

Our time in Mitzrayim was extremely oppressive. We had to produce our full brick quota with never enough time. Our work—even our limited rest time—were filled with anxiety about our not moving fast enough. We simply never had enough time! But once the redemption was at hand, Hashem turned this idea of haste into a blessing. We needed to leave quickly—too quickly to let our dough rise. And then…we were free!

We experience this duality in our lives all the time. The same action can sometimes be happy or sad. People go to the hospital for medical care. It can be a happy, exciting reason like giving birth, or it can be fraught with worry in the case of an illness. Same initial action, very different experience.

Recognizing such dualities can strengthen our emunah (faith) in Hashem. The same Hashem who took us out of Mitzrayim, placed us there to begin with. Emunah is the faith that everything Hashem did was for our good, even when we don’t fully understand why.

Pesach is that perfect time to remember Hashem can, with haste, in a flash, turn a difficult situation into one of great celebration. Let’s not forget Yosef, who languished in prison in Egypt for 12 years. But on Rosh Hashanah morning, he was rushed out to meet Pharaoh and became the viceroy of the world’s superpower.

In our current predicament, as Pesach is about to begin, we see that Hashem is the one who put us in this situation. We’re worried. We can’t predict tomorrow. But then we remember Mitzrayim—it was in great haste that redemption came. At night we were locked in our homes. In the morning, our whole nation walked out to freedom. Hashem can do anything!

The matzah we utilize is the sign that Hashem will do this again.

That’s why at the closing of Maggid, right before we eat the matzah, we recall again our eating this bread because we were “rushed” out of Egypt by Hashem. Why don’t we mention the idea of “lechem oni” at the end? Quite simply, the poverty and affliction were really just the preparatory stage to enable us to be freed. The Kli Yakar explains that to become Klal Yisrael, we needed to become a submissive, humble people, which occurred in Egypt. That experience prepared us to receive the Torah and accept an elevated course of life.

Near the beginning of our Seder, we split the matzah. The smaller piece is what we refer to as the poor man’s bread and we tell the story of our oppression. The larger piece is hidden as the afikomen and only returned to the table after the meal for Tzafun (eating the afikomen). This represents the idea that whatever is taken away from us, in the form of hardship, is not permanently removed, it’s just set aside by Hashem.

The day will come when our “matzah” will be made whole again by Hashem; the missing piece will return. And in haste, with great joy, we will celebrate the coming of Moshiach.

Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim is the associate rosh yeshiva of Passaic Torah Institute (PTI)/Yeshiva Ner Boruch. PTI has attracted people from all over northern New Jersey, including Teaneck, Paramus, Rockaway and Fair Lawn. He initiated and continues to lead a multi-level Gemara-learning program. He has spread out beyond PTI to begin a weekly beit midrash program with in-depth chavrusa learning in Livingston, Springfield and Fort Lee. His email is [email protected].

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