THE BLOG
03/25/2013 05:06 pm ET Updated May 25, 2013

Matzah: Hope and Integrity

As we heighten our preparations for a Pesah both kosher and happy, I want to offer a brief thought about one aspect of the festival:

The Mah Nishtanah notes as it's first statement, ha-lailah ha-zeh kulo matzah -- "on this night, we eat only Matzah." According to Philo, ztz"l, "each year, God reminds humanity of the creation of the world, and with this view, puts forth the spring" (On the Special Laws, Book 2). Spring is a time of renewal for the world around us, and for our spirits too. As plants blossom into renewed beauty, and animals bring forth their young, we naturally think of the world's creation (and our own beginnings), and anticipate the renewal of the world, our people and our souls.

Pesah is, then, a time of renewal and of hope. It is a time to recall our connection -- through creation -- with all of God's creatures. And the matzah blends this into one single symbol: again to quote Philo: "Unleavened food is also imperfect or unripe, as a memorial of the good hope which is entertained; since nature is by this time preparing her annual gifts for the race of humanity, with an abundance and bounty pouring forth." In other words, it is davka because the matzah is imperfect, because it is unprepared and unripe, that it is the perfect way to symbolize hope. Hope is always a potential, always unformed, always just ahead. Our anticipation of a better tomorrow -- for ourselves, for our people, for the world -- finds a visual reminder in this simple, hard bread.

But matzah is more than a symbol of hope over despair. Matzah is a reaffirmation of simplicity over excessive sophistication, of fidelity to one's true self against the false mask we are often urged to hide behind. Philo teaches us:

"Unleavened food is a gift of nature, whereas baked bread is a work of art. Since, therefore, the Festival is a commemoration of the creation of the world, and since it was inevitable that the most ancient persons, those formed out of the earth, must have used the gifts of the world without alteration ... Moses ordained the food which was the most suitable to the occasion, wishing to kindle every year a desire to walk in the paths of a holy and simple way of life."

Matzah reminds us to be ourselves at our truest level, rather than to take on airs by pretending to be someone we are not. It asserts the virtue of simple truth over dissembling nuance.

Liberation, then, is a blending of hope for a better tomorrow with an acceptance of our simple, given selves. Perhaps that is why the Zohar refers to matzah -- the symbol of hope and simplicity -- as ma'akhal shel r'fuah, "healing food." When we take our stand in a spirit of hope and joy, when we resist the relentless pressures to mask our uniqueness under the concealing cosmetics of materialism, consumption and conformity, only then can we embody the healing that leads to true freedom. Only then do we emerge from bondage to today's pharaohs to the freedom of being avdei Ha-Shem, servants of the one whose service is freedom.

All blessings and my prayers for a year of hope, integrity and healing for you, your loved ones, all Israel and all creation.