Matzo, Its Story and Ours

    April 2008 Passover Edition            
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Matzo, Its Story and Ours


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By Avi Lazerson

Matzah has a special taste, but this is not due to any special ingredients. Just the opposite, the matza that we eat at the Seder has no ingredients in it other than flour and water. There is no oil, no sugar, chemicals, food additives or colors. It is simply flour and water mixed together and baked in a manner that precludes it from rising.

Perhaps the reason we enjoy it so at the Seder is because we are either very hungry since we refrain from eating much on the day before the Seder or perhaps because we have not eaten it for a very long time. Some Jews have the custom not to eat matzo from the being of the month of Nissan, others thirty days before the Seder, and others just chose not to eat matzo during the year. Nonetheless, this simple and lowly bread form forms the center piece of the Seder and of the holiday of Passover.

The Torah calls matzah "lechem oni", the bread of poverty or the bread of our affliction. This is because it is a very simple food with nothing other than the two basic ingredients, four and water; not even salt may be added. Because of this, matza has the appearance of being flat, both in appearance and also taste. Yet the festival is referred to as "chag ha-matza", the festival of the matza.

The Zohar, the ancient source book of Jewish mysticism, refers to matza as the bread of faith.

What is the connection between matza and faith?

When the Jews finally left Egypt, they were driven out in a great hurry. They had no time to prepare provisions for the journey. Instead they baked their bread as flat, round unleavened cakes. Not one of them complained to Moses saying that they do not have provisions for the travel. Instead everyone picked up and quickly left. This reflected a tremendous faith in Moses and in G-d that they were ready to trust the provisions for the journey to them.

Matzah represents the trust that we have in G-d that we need not worry, but rather trust that He will fulfill His obligations to us as He promised to our ancestors. But there is a second side to this trust. We must make certain that we fulfill our side of the agreement. We must obey Him and do as He bid us to do. If we do so, we keep our side of the agreement; we can rest assured that He will keep His side.

Faith – (Hebrew: Emunah), as the rabbis understood it, is an inner feeling which is not based on intellectual ingredients. Reason and knowledge are not prerequisites for believing and trusting in G-d. Faith begins where knowledge and reason end. Perhaps even more so, faith is the beginning of knowledge. Faith is the beginning of knowledge of G-d. When we realize that no human being, however wise, can properly comprehend or really understand G-d and His workings, yet when we know that His being and wisdom are infinitely greater than ours, we establish our roots in firm belief and commence the road to understanding of Him.

The basic attribute of a person who has faith in G-d is that he is humble and accepting of a higher force which guides and directs this world. Humility comes from the realization of our tremendous lacking in both intellectual, physical, and emotional achievements. It comes about from realizing that without G-d's help, we are powerless to achieve anything. Everything that we have comes from Him through his infinite kindness. It is when we give ourselves over to His control that we truly become humble and accepting.

The matza in a simple food, it is the humblest amongst breads. It possesses neither the fine taste, nor the delicious aroma, not the texture of the many different types of delicious breads that are available in the market place. Matzoh's purpose is simply to sustain life, not to provide indulgence in epicurean delicacies and pleasures of this world.

The spiritual counterpart of matzoth is emunah, belief in G-d's benevolent grace. Emunah is a spiritual food that sustains mankind throughout his wanderings on this planet. It provides us with the independence that will allow us to be liberated from the worldly desires and bonds that flourish to trap people into believing that they are experiencing great pleasure, when in reality they are slowly slipping into the quicksand of materialism.

This is the very message that Moses told Pharaoh, "Set My people free that they may serve Me!" The first step to becoming a spiritual person, to rise about the gross materialism of this world is to realize that we must be free from those elements that try to bind us to the physicality of the world and blind us to the spiritual.

We must put our faith in G-d and He will deliver just as He delivered our forefathers from Egypt, He will deliver us from our enemies. To reach a level of trust in G-d that will grant us a peaceful life, we can not rely on our own logic and reasoning. G-d is infinite and beyond our abilities to understand His ways.

We first start simply by eating the matzah, the humblest of foods. As we eat it, we realize that had G-d not taken our forefathers out from Egypt, we and our children would still be slaves. He has guided us through a difficult two thousand year exile and brought us as a free people to our own land. In spite of all of the enemies that surround us and threaten us with extinction, we are secure in our knowledge that they will never be successful. How we will be saved from them, we may not now know, but know we do, that He will never abandon us, for we are Israel, His first born.

This is the message of the matza. If we learned only this, it is enough.


from the April 2008 Passover Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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