Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah – Yom Rishon shel Pesach

If there is a paradigmatic holiday that speaks to the ultimate Jewish value of Justice, it is Passover. We read of the story throughout the Torah. We tell the tales (some Biblical and some commentary based) of the evil Pharaoh and the Egyptian taskmasters. We shout praises to Moses whose heroism helped deliver us from slavery. Most Jewish? We talk about freedom and we eat. Freedom and food are, of course, more important than anything else in religion.

We sit (or recline) at our Seder table and recount the miracles that we experienced on our journey from Egypt, across the desert, and into the Promised Land. Tonight we will read from the Haggadah (Book of stories, prayers, and rituals) about this bread that Israel ate a long time ago. We call it Matzah. As we read the service, we get to the phrase, “This (matzah) is the bread of affliction. May all who hunger come and join us.”

If there is a singular most identifiable symbol of Passover, it is this unleavened bread called, “Matzah.” Some people love it, and some hate it. It is great as thin crust pizza or as the noodles for lasagna. It is tolerable with butter or cream cheese. It is simply one step better than cardboard by itself. However one consumes it, matzah afflicts the digestive system even as it represents the affliction of servitude.

As we celebrate freedom, why do we eat matzah instead of cake? Why do we invite other people to share in our afflication? How genuine is our invitation? How real is freedom?

Tradition tells us one thing about the matzah, while the Torah and Haggadah tell us another. Traditionally, we teach that the bread didn’t have time to rise as we fled from Egypt, but the text actually says that this is the bread we ate while enslaved in Egypt. Certainly, the traditionally told version helps make the use of Matzah easier for the spiritual and digestive palate. At the same time, knowing that our tradition teaches, “If one is oppressed, none are free” makes the simple, simply untenable.

Commentators throughout history teach us that we eat the Matzah specifically to remind ourselves that as long as “oppression” exists, none of us is out of its reach. This generation it may not be us, but next, it may be all about us. If we eradicate the need to oppress, then everyone is safe. Passover is then not a celebration, but a call to action. Perhaps it is for this reason that we begin the Seder proclaiming, “We were slaves in the land of Egypt,” instead of “Our ancestors were slaves.” It may also be the reason why we invite people to join in our affliction (eating of the bread of affliction). If we are going to heal the world, we need to partner with the world. We need to grow empathy with people, not sympathy for them or draw a mission without them.

The goal of Passover is to emerge from the holiday committed to a greater focus on healing the whole world, not just our own piece of it. The Seder will end with the words, “Next year in Jerusalem.” This call with cannot be taken literally. There is no commandment or suggestion that we should be celebrating Passover somewhere else next year. Jerusalem is more than a geographical site. Jerusalem is the prayer for peace, wholeness, and wholesomeness that will determine the ultimate healing of this world. At the very table at which we commemorate the Passover, may we join next year and bring with us, stories of beautiful healing in the world with which to share.

Along the way through the Seder, we will acknowledge the prophet, Elijah. According to tradition, he will be the one to come and announce the coming of the Messianic Age. According to the calendar, we seek his return on Passover, expect that he will become covenanted on Tisha B’Av (the day that of the Jerusalem Temples’ destructions, and then celebrate the Age of peace during Sukkot. We know, however, that if we don’t do the work of healing the world, this cycle of miraculous world transformation will have to wait another year. So, ultimately, our obligation is to reach the point in world peace that the matzah is a reminder of the world that “WAS” out of place, and not that it still is. If we invite people into our affliction, all the more so, we must reach out to share our blessings. Let’s get to work so that we can then bring on the celebration! Shabbat Shalom.