Matzah, Haggadah and the Ten Plagues

    April 2001 Passover Edition            
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Matzah, Haggadah and the Ten Plagues


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Matzah and the Haggada

By Jay Kahan

Each holiday comes to tell us something special. Pesach is no exception.

The central theme of Passover is the matza. Perhaps nothing symbolizes the holiday as much as these flat cracker-like "bread substitute." Bread becomes the villain and is forbidden with a penalty of "koret" spiritual excommunication. Interesting to note, that the restriction from eating bread is a more severe punishment than perhaps any other forbidden food.

Perhaps we can begin to fathom the reason of this punishment, and its relation to other forbidden foods by understanding an argument in the Haggadah. In the Haggadah, there is a difference of opinion between the Rabbis of how many plagues the Egyptians suffered at the Red Sea. Rabbi Yossi HaGalilie says that since in Egypt the Egyptians suffered ten plagues and that is only referred to as the finger of G-d, therefore at the Red Sea the hand of G-d is mentioned so the Egyptians must have suffered fifty plagues.

Rabbi Eliezer maintains that each plague was four fold and therefore at the Red Sea the Egyptians suffered a total of two hundred plagues. Rabbi Akiva argues that each plague was five fold and therefore at the Red Sea the Egyptians suffered two hundred and fifty plagues.

Now in order to understand the point on which these rabbis disagree we must realize that according to Jewish tradition all matter is composed and constructed of four elements: fire, air, water and earth. Although we may not consider them elements, none the less, these four elements are in all matter. Fire is the element of heat, air is the aspect of lightweightness, water is the aspect of wetness and earth is the primordial building block. When something burns, as an example, a piece of wood, the water dissipates with the fire, the air is set free and the ashes that are left are the earth element alone.

Therefore, with the above in mind we can understand the arguments of the rabbis as follows:

Rabbi Yosi HaGalilee maintains that the plagues were on the surface of the object being smitten. Rabbi Eliezer however maintains that the plagues penetrated the surface and smote the inner essence of the matter to the four element that make up the matter. Rabbi Akiva maintains that the plague went even deeper, it penetrated that aspect of the object that is its spiritual essence. That is the fifth dimension.

Now some foods are forbidden such as horse. Horse is forbidden to eat but it is not forbidden to own a horse or to buy or sell one. We can say that the aspect of forbiddeness is on the external form of the horse or that which causes the horse to be forbidden to eat is only a surface blemish. The punishment for eating horse is stripes (lashings). Other food, such as a kosher cow that was used as a deity in a ceremony of idol worship, is forbidden to eat or to benefit by selling it. The aspect of forbiddeness is much deeper and the punishment for eating is also greater.

But eating bread during Passover is even deeper. That aspect of bread that causes the punishment to be so great, a spiritual excommunication, is that the tainted part of bread is connected with the deepest aspect that a Jew has: his fundamental belief in G-d. This is the belief that transcends reason and logic. A Jew believes in G-d not because it is proven to him or because his parents brought him up in this manner. A Jew believes in G-d because his soul is tied to G-d in a manner that he can not deny G-d's existence; because G-d's existence is his existence.

Bread rises; it is synonymous with pride. Matzo undergoes no change in the baking process. Eating the matza at the Passover Seder rekindles our feelings of belief and connects us directly with G-d. To eat bread during this time, a Jew severs himself from his G-d. This is very serious indeed!

Passover is the time of recharging our spiritual souls. After Passovers passes, we possess the power to engage the world and its challenges, the world of facade, the world of bread.


from the April 2001 Passover Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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