Raban Gamliel would say, “Anyone who does not mention these three things
has not fulfilled his obligation and these are they: Pesach, Matzah, and
Marror!” (Pesachim 116A)
Matzah is the center stage feature on Seder Night! What is the super-
significance of this flat unadorned poor-man’s bread? Why and how does it
signify our ticket to freedom? How did this holiday with the most dietary
restrictions come to be known as “the time of our great freedom”? What’s
so free about not being able to eat what we want?
I once challenged a group of Jewish kids in public junior high school to
formulate together as a committee a definition of freedom. I was shocked
by their answer as the foreman of the jury read aloud, “Freedom means:
Doing whatever you want to whoever you want, whenever you want!” I
certainly don’t want to be in the direct line of that freedom fire! What
they described can be categorized as freedom “from”-freedom from
responsibility. What they failed to include was any mention of what in the
world freedom is “for”!
Imagine now a budding young pianist practicing laboriously his scales for
hours on end while his friends frolic outside. Who seems freer? Years
later though, this young fellow, by virtue of having trained his hands to
move accordingly, is now able to release the musician within. Expressive
emotions flow with seemingly magical ease through his agile fingers.
Even as I write this, many holy women and some good husbands too are on
their knees looking for the ultra-contraband we call Chometz so that it
should not be seen or found in their possession on Pesach? The primary
ingredient for real deal Chometz are the five grains, wheat, oats, spelt,
barley, and rye. Once they come into contact with water the eighteen
minute clock starts and before you know it skull-cross and bones appear on
the container and all are warned to stay away. This stuff is poison on
Pesach for the Jewish Soul.
You might think that if Chometz is so ruinous on Pesach then we should beg
away from anything associated with those five grains and thereby avoid any
possibility of coming into contact with the enemy. Ironically, the one
food we are compelled to eat on Pesach is not gefilte fish, no it’s
Matzah. Matzah can only be made of the same raw ingredients as Chometz;
the five grains. What then is the difference between Matzah and Chometz?
If the kneading and baking occur within the eighteen minute window then we
have qualified and certified Matzah. If that time-line is crossed then
the same stuff becomes Chometz. What is Chometz? It is undisciplined
Matzah. What is Matzah? It is disciplined Chometz?
The Sefas Emes, quoting the Zohar, defines the word “PESACH” as a
contraction of two words, “Peh”-Mouth/ “Sach”- Speaks- The mouth that
speaks! He says that for the Jew the mouth is in exile. We are shy and
intimidated to express what is really deep inside. Through the exercise of
telling more and more about the Exodus we become more articulate and
expressive (with the help of four glasses of wine) until we are singing
Hallel with full mouths and hearts.
One of the keys to lasting freedom is self-discipline. We are not avoiding
confrontation with negativity in pursuit of freedom. That would be
freedom “from” to escape the chains of responsible living. Rather we are
compelled through the Mitzvah to eat Matzah to engage in the more refined
art of pursuing freedom “for”. By arresting our appetites and practicing
self-control we can hope to say temporarily “no” to a lower-lesser urge in
order to gain the ability to express a higher “yes”.