Matza: What's the point?
For some (me included), it’s a delicious snack that we enjoy for eight days a year with our favourite toppings. For others (poor souls!), it’s dreadful grub that they despise for eight days and somehow make it bearable by smothering it with favourite garnishes!
However, have you ever really considered what the point of matza is? Eating Matza on the first night of Pesach, is of course a “mitzvah de’orayta”, a Torah obligation and one that we will perform with relish this coming Friday night, whilst seated with our family and friends around the seder table. Actually, these two contradictory versions above of how we may see matza, perhaps unwittingly, parallel the true meaning of matza!
You see, the Torah in Deuteronomy (Deverim 16:3) calls matza, “lechem oni”, the bread of the poor person, the bread of affliction, and Nachmanides (Ramban) explains that this refers to the bread that the Jews ate while they were slaves in Egypt.
This is reasonable to imagine; the taskmaster/slave owner provides some poor-quality grain to be ground by the slaves into flour and mixed with water, to be quickly baked by the slave in a makeshift oven. A simple pitta/laffa style matza ‘bread’, hurriedly made by the slaves as they were leaving Egypt. This understanding of matza as a poor person’s bread of affliction is highlighted towards the beginning of the seder when we break the middle matza, hold up the smaller part and recite in Aramaic, “ha lachma anya”. “This is the bread of affliction that our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt.”
On the other hand, however, matza also symbolises liberty, “cheirut”. The second, larger part of the ‘yachatz’ matza is hidden away for the kids to find and then eaten whilst leaning to the left as free people, after the meal. This ‘afikoman’ matza symbolises freedom. It represents the matza eaten with the ‘korban pesach’, the Passover offering that we ate as free people in Israel during Temple times.
Seen in this light, the breaking of the middle matza at the beginning of the seder takes on a remarkably significant role. It becomes a moment of awakening for us, an enlightened instant of recognition. A reminder that Jewish History has had its ups and downs. A dawning upon us, that our own lives too have highs and lows. That we as a nation, we as a community, we as individuals, have times when we feel afflicted, weaker, challenged, subjugated. Yet, we as a nation, as a community, as individuals also have times that fill us with hope and joy, love and meaning.
Our life objective is to try to ensure that the larger part of the ‘matza of our lives’ is the part filled with hope and joy, love and meaning. To feel optimistic about the future. To feel ‘tikvah’, hope.
This is our ‘tefilla’ to our creator at this time of year. May Hashem grant us with the ability to see good times, times of peace and tranquillity for us, for the people of Israel (especially given the tragic events of the last few weeks) and for the whole of Am Yisrael. We ‘daven’ for an end to suffering for the people of Ukraine, we pray for peace in Europe, for ‘shalom’ across the whole world.
I challenge each and every one of us to consider this idea this coming Friday night as we break the middle matza. Take a moment to consider those is a state of ‘smaller pieces of matza’, those afflicted. Then offer gratitude (sing hallel) for all that we have. Offer a ‘bracha’ that the entire world will merit such joy too.
Wishing the Rabbanim and their families, staff, students and families of Carmel School and the entire Perth Jewish community, a ‘Chag Pesach kasher ve’sameach’.
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