One of my favorite stories is told of Rebbe Zusya of Annipoli. Zusya was known to have had a life full of suffering and poverty. He was burdened with countless miseries.
He was often asked "How can you thank G-d each day? What about your suffering?"
"My sufferring?"Zusya asked amazed. "Who is sufferring? Not I. I am happy. Zusya is happy to live in the world G-d, blessed be He created. Zusya lacks nothing, needs nothing. Everything he wants, Zusya has, and his heart is filled with gratitude".
Zusya did not even understand the question.
We are on the threshhold of Pesach. We are about to usher in the holiday of our national becoming. What lesson will you take with you into the festival? What lesson do you need to hear?
May I humbly offer the one I will take with me this year.
I am struck by the obvious. In Torah terms this holiday is called "Chag Hamatzot".
The matzah is not only the mitzva of the yom tov. It is the symbol, important enough to give the festival it's name. Yet the matzah presents us an enigmatic message. On one level matzah is the bread our ancestors ate as they left Egypt, even as the Torah tells us that the Israelites left in a hurry and had no time to let the dough rise. While they surely would have preferred bread,circumstances required they make due with the matzah. It was this matzah, the unwanted bread, that became identified with the liberation and became its symbol.
At another level, in the Hagadah we refer to the matzah as the "poor bread which our ancestors ate in the Land of Egypt". The matzah then was the bread we would have found on the tables of our parents at dinner time in Egypt, in the house of slaves!
How can it be that the same food can be both symbolic of freedom and of slavery?
The message of the matzah seems contradictory.
I believe the message here is most profound. When the Israelites left Egypt no doubt they wanted to make changes, to live more like free men and women. They wanted to finally be able to bake real bread and experience the 'luxory' reserved for those who lived liberated lives. The last thing they wanted was to eat once more the bread of slavery, the poor bread, the matzah. But G-d in His wisdom thought otherwise. And while our parents had hoped to eat the more tasty and upscale bread, they had no time to wait to let the dough rise, and so once again they were to eat the bread they knew so well, the bread they ate as slaves.
What lesson were the People to learn from this? What important value was meant to be imparted to a nation just emerging?
The People were being taught that "things" do not make you free. From the outset G-d was telling them, by dint of their situation, that the bread you eat will never be the marker of the quality of your life. Who you are, what you are, will not be experienced through indulgence, no matter how luxurious or substantial. G-d was telling the Israelites "You can eat the same bread you ate in Egypt as slaves and be every bit as free, maybe more so, than if you ate the bread of kings."
Freedom is not about having. It is about not needing to have! With all his misery and deprivation Zusya was free. He was happy. He did not need to have!
We, with all our posessions and bounty, are enslaved and all too often depressed.
And why? because we need to have. It is not this gadget or that gadget we need. It is not this house or that house we need. It is not this car or that vacation. It is not the thing we need. We simply need to have! We are driven to acquire as if having will set us free or make us whole and happy.
The message of the matzah is indeed a message of freedom. We are being told that if we want to be free and happy we need to break our dependency on having. We need to have less, not more. Matzah is less than chametz. The Hebrew word for both has nearly the same letters. It's only a difference between a 'chet' and a 'heh that separates them. In written Hebrew that is the difference of but half a line stroke.
On Passover that small difference makes one cherished as the celebrated ritual of the holiday and the other reviled to the point that we irradicate it from the home.
It is not that regular bread is bad. On the contrary, bread is also the challah we eat on Shabbat. Bread is the staple of the meal. We make our blessings over bread. No, it is not the bread that is the problem. It is our need to have that is bad! And on Pesach that is symbolized by the bread our ancestors wanted to bake as they left Egypt. They wanted to have. They saw having as the indicator of freedom. On Passover, on this festival of our national becoming, we affirm that who and what we are will never be defined by what we have.
We eat matzah. We remove the bread. We say thereby that yes it's wonderful to enjoy G-d's world with all it's bounty but we must never make the quality of our life dependent on having. Enjoy, yes...need to have, no!
I can not think of a more important message for the times in which we live. Our lives are endless pursuits of having. It does not matter what. We simply need to have. We buy to buy.We spend to spend. And, in the end, we waste so much of our lives in trying to make the means to support our need to have.
What we fail to understand is that freedom is not about getting what we do not yet have. Happiness is not about acquiring. Freedom is about getting rid of the need to have. And happiness is the joy of experiencing what is already ours!
I hope you have a happy and meaningful Pesach with the ones you love!
Chag Kasher V'samayach
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