Matzah in Context
On the night before departure from Egypt, the Israelites ate the delicacy of roasted lamb with matzah and bitter herbs, maror (Exodus 12:8). The latter two foods reminded the slaves why they wanted to leave. For matzah was lechem oni, bread of poverty [Haggadah]. When the Israelites rushed toward freedom the next morning, they placed the dough on their backs (midrash on Exodus 12:39). Their road food became another name for the holiday of Pesech, Hag HaMatzot.
During Pesech, the Torah dictates we are to rid our homes of hametz, leavened products. In Hebrew, chametz and matzah share two letters in common. As for the third letter, only a dot distinguishes the chet [ח] and hey [ה]. That dot, sages teach, symbolizes the yeast that aids the grain to rise. Metaphorically, this holiday bids us to rid ourselves of our own yeast, the power of ego, that may lead to inflated self-importance and bitter cynicism. By redefining ourselves as essentially just human, we enable empathy with those who are less well-off financially, interpersonally, or in health. And yet, we only eliminate hametz during this limited timeframe. For a touch of self-importance is also a motivator to stretch ourselves to meet goals.
Whether matzah is the bread of slavery or a taste of freedom depends on context. Whether ego is a source of self-inflation or a healthy ingredient of motivation is also a matter of time and place. “Understanding” in Hebrew is binah, whose root means “between.” Wisdom demands that we make subtle, impactful distinctions. We learn from an archer that a small shift in position at the moment of release may determine whether an arrow widely missed the mark or is a bullseye.
May you enjoy crunchy matzah for the rest of your Pesech celebration. And may, the eating of matzah serve to quicken well-directed responses from your true self to the needs that surround you.