Some of the most renowned Jewish practices are discussed in this week’s Torah portion, Parshat Bo. Our portion goes through the last three of the ten plagues, which took place in Egypt, and it then finishes off with the mitzvot of the Passover Seder. One the mitzvot and traditions that we participate in on Passover is the eating of the matzah, the unleavened bread. Matzah looks nothing like bread. Rather, it resembles a type of cracker that consists of the bare basics: flour and water. The Torah commands the Jewish people to eat matzah every year on Passover to commemorate the Exodus.
Now, I do not know about you, but eating bland, hard crackers for a week just because my ancestors were stuck with nothing better to eat does not do it for me. What relevance does this practice of eating matzah have in my life? We must seek a deeper understanding of this spiritual practice that we partake in year after year.
The Torah explains that there were two times that the Jews ate matzah. The first time they ate matzah was when they were enslaved in Egypt. Here, matzah represented a “poor man’s bread,” a food that was fed to prisoners. The other time the Jews ate matzah was when they were freed from Egypt. They baked it, but did not have time to let it leaven, as they were leaving in such a haste; consequently, this matzah represented a “bread of freedom.”
These descriptions appear to be contradictory: in one instance, matzah represents slavery. In another, it represents freedom.
There are two categories of people that have little interest in the food they eat. One category consists of people that are depressed and downtrodden — who feel that they have little to live for. For this group, bland foods are equal to the most gourmet delicacies, as they have little interest in the material pleasures of the world. The other category of people who care little about the food on their plates are the leaders, the builders, the innovators, and the entrepreneurs, people who are busy creating and accomplishing great things. Food is a necessity to fuel their bodies, but they are far too preoccupied with the excitement of their lives to be concerned with the kind of food that they are consuming.
Matzah represents that duality of the downtrodden and the invigorated. We, the Jewish nation, were a people in Egypt, depressed and with little to live for. However, once we were freed, we became a nation by receiving the Torah. We transformed into leaders and visionaries. We became a people that tried to build and accomplish something, a people with a mission in life, a higher purpose. Thus, the food we ate was not our main priority. Bland matzah was sufficient since there was so much more to live for.
By commemorating the practice of eating matzah year after year, we strive to be part of this great nation that creates and builds, living for a higher purpose. The matzah does truly represent a duality, and, hopefully, we will find ourselves on the right side of the matzah.
Have an incredible Shabbat!