This is how the Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the word “matzah.” But when we take a deeper look
into the message behind these “large crackers,” we are sure to walk away inspired.
Matzah is referred to as lehem oni, the bread of our affliction, as it reminds us what it means to live without dignity; to be afflicted, enslaved, and powerless. And thus at the seder we break the matzahin half, proclaiming that this crude, meager morsel of food is what our forefathers ate in Egypt, as they were unable to enjoy large, soft, satiating bread. At the same time, however, the matzah serves as a symbol of our freedom. The Haggadahexplains that we eat matzah to commemorate our emancipation from Egyptian sovereignty, the time when we departed Mitzrayimwith baked matzah on our backs. We therefore eat the matzah while reclining, like wealthy, powerful men who have the luxury of taking time to dine comfortably, without having to rush and without worrying about being interrupted.
The question is obvious: Is the mitzvah of eating matzah intended to remind us of the plight of slavery we once endured, or is it rather to remind us of the redemption we so thankfully experienced?
Motty’s Bad Day
Motty woke up with a startling jolt. Jumbled and frantic, he quickly grabbed the digital clock at his bedside, fuming upon seeing he’d missed his alarm and overslept. It was the first day of his much-needed vacation, and the flight that would unite him with his family in Los Angeles was scheduled to leave in just under two hours! Motty raced out of bed, washed his face, grabbed his bags, and while still in his pajamas, went out to hail a taxi.
His heart raced, and the mere thought of missing his long-awaited flight made him uneasy, to say the least. After arriving at Logan International Airport, Motty hurried through check-in, waited impatiently through the security lines, and darted for the gate. Still catching his breath, Motty placed his ticket on the table, staring incredulously at the woman on the other side.
“I’m sorry, sir… You’re flight has left,” she informed him.
Motty’s head sunk deep in his hands, remembering he’d bought the cheap ticket on non-refundable terms. The drive home was nothing short of depressing.
Hours later, after relaying the news to his loving family, Motty turned up the radio, hoping to ease his mind. He was dismayed to hear that his flight, United AirlinesFlight 175, had crashed into the second World Trade Center building.
The prophet Yirmiyahu (30:7), tells us “Ve’et tzarah hi leYaakov umimenah yivashe’a– “It is a time of trouble for Yaakov, but out of it shall He be saved.” This pasuk here imparts a fundamental concept, one that is vital for us to internalize: It is through the events that seem to be inconvenient, bad, or even tragic, that salvation will ultimately surface.
Initially, Motty was infuriated by the inconvenience of missing his flight, and torn that he wouldn’t be seeing his family as soon as he’d hoped. Yet, just hours later, it became clear that through the very same inconvenience, his life was spared.
The Message Behind the Matzah
We tend to resent the challenges we’re forced to facein life. We often turn to Hashem and ask, “Why?” when things do not proceed as we want them to.
We currently live in exile, in a time in which Hashem has chosen to be “metzitz min haharakim– peering through the cracks.”1. Gd is often hard to find amid the misfortunes and hardships that we endure, like a person hiding behind a stone who is visible only through small cracks. And more often the not, we are not able to find the answers to our questions as Motty did.
By eating matzah on Pesach, we are reminded not merely of the slavery we faced in Egypt, nor solely of our triumphant liberation from Pharaoh’s brutality. We are reminded that in the hardest of times, when our ancestors were forced to perform backbreaking labor in Egypt, salvation came by way of the misfortune and the suffering. It was only through the Egyptian exile that we were able to rise to the spiritual heights necessary to receive the Torah at Har Sinai, enter Eretz Yisrael, and become the great Jewish nation we are today. The matzah of oppression and suffering become the matzah of triumph and glory.
It should give us hope to realize that when the time comes for Gd to redeem us one last and final time, He will no longer peer at His children “through the cracks,” but will rather be “mashgiah min hahalonot– watching, through the windows,”2and will make Himself easily visible in each and every situation that we confront.
1. Shir Hashirim 2:9. 2. Ibid.