PESACH 1 5779
One of the most recognizable Jewish items is matzah. I mean, what’s more Jewish than matzah? It’s so up there with the shofar, the menorah and, of course, matzah ball soup. Matzah is the center of the Seder and the symbol of Passover. You would think that matzah would then have this amazing taste. But no…it doesn’t really have much of a taste at all. There have been efforts over the years to flavor matzah. I did some research on the Internet and here are the “Top 10 Rejected Flavored Matzot”:
- Spearmint matzah
- Marshmallow matzah
- Licorice matzah
- Root Beer matzah
- Liver matzah
- Anchovy matzah
- Bubble-Gum matzah
- Chorizo matzah
- Menudo matzah
.....and the #1 top rejected matzah flavor: Bacon matzah!
Next year the rumor is that chametz flavor matzos will take over the market…and with a very good hechsher it will make a mint!
Another matzah story: a Jew took his Passover lunch to eat outside in the park. He sat down on a bench and began eating. Shortly thereafter a blind man came by and sat down next to him. Feeling neighborly, the Jew offered a sheet of matzoh to the blind man.
The blind man ran his fingers over the matzah for a minute, and exclaimed, “Who wrote this garbage?”
One more: what do you call someone who derives pleasure from the bread of affliction? A matzochist!
My friends, Jews have been eating matzah on Pesach for more than 3300 years. But the truth is, the way we make matzah has changed over the centuries. Initially, matzah was made by hand and it was soft and thick and round like a pita. To this day, many Sephardic communities still eat soft, thick matzah. I had a Sephardic neighbor who would make this soft, thick matzah every year.
Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg writes that by the 1500’s things were changing. The Ashkenazic world started making matzah thin, dry and hard but continued making them by hand. And then came the Industrial Revolution that brought more and more people from the shtetl to large, urban centers…and in 1838 a machine was made that rolled dough for matzah that could make massive amounts to accommodate.
By the late 1800’s there were a number of matzah factories, and in 1886 an immigrant from Prussia to Cincinnati, Ohio started a matzah factory that exists to this day. His name was Dov Behr (can you guess) Manischewitz. And the rest is history! Dov Behr loved to tinker with gadgets, and he automated the entire matzah-making process. By 1903 the Manischewitz Company held more than 50 patents relating to the process and in 1920 they claimed that they were capable of producing an astonishing 1.25 million matzot a year!
So matzah—over the centuries—has gone from soft, thick and round to hard, thin and square. You can still buy round handmade round shmura matzah for a hefty $20 a pound. Or, if you’re like me, you can get a box of machine matzah for a little over $3 a pound if you buy the 5lb package. I, however, like to use the round handmade matzah for display at the Seder because it looks more like the original.
So—if matzah is the center of the Seder and the symbol of Passover—why do we eat it? Here’s the story we usually tell: Long long ago when the Jews were leaving Egypt, there wasn’t enough time to bake bread because they were so busy rushing that they put the dough on their backs which they later baked into unleavened cakes—and we eat matzah because of that.
Charlie Harary, professor, radio show host, and author of, Unlocking Greatness: The Unexpected Journey from the Life You Have to the Life You Want, asks about this story: What??? Could this really be? Gd shows up in Egypt and reigns upon the Egyptians some of the coolest plagues ever: blood, frogs, lice, wild animals, locusts, darkness—you know the list. By the time the Jews are ready to leave He turned the entire country upside down. Gd did all of that to save the Jews and He couldn’t arrange on the day in which we leave Egypt for us to have a late check out??? Maybe He could have given us like an hour heads up, so we could bake our bread and then leave for the Promised Land? Why did we have to run out like fugitives? Why couldn’t we leave like normal people? And yet, this technical difficulty of not having the time to bake bread becomes the symbol of the Exodus, the symbol of our freedom?
Judaism is not a commemorative religion. We don’t do things just because we did them a long time ago. Judaism is dynamic; Judaism is relevant. When we observe a custom…we’re not just reliving history. We use history as a window into something much deeper—to better our lives today. Egypt is both an historical place and an everyday reality. In Hebrew Egypt is called Mitzrayim which is connected to the word meytzar (constraints).
My friends, we all have constrains—aspects of our lives that are lacking, areas in which we feel unable to grow and change for the better, relationships that are strained, talents unfulfilled, frustrations, disappointments, and failures that we see in ourselves and others. We’re all looking to be free from these constraints—for a path out of our Mitzrayim—our personal Egypt towards the Promised Land.
Many times, the opportunities that we’re looking for—you know the ones that can change our lives—present themselves right before our eyes. And then comes a moment that requires us to step up at work, step up at home, step up in our community, step up in our relationship with Gd. We see it; we know that it will bring us a little closer to greatness. But there’s a catch. These opportunities have one thing in common—their packaging. Growth moments are always wrapped the same way—in challenge, in difficulty and in discomfort.
Why? Because this is how it works. Greatness is uncomfortable. If it were easy…it wouldn’t be great. And when those moments present themselves we’re stuck. We know we should do it, but we don’t want to. We should make the call. We should be healthier. We should learn more. We should be more patient and kind and generous and tolerant— but it’s too hard. And we’re so tired. So we come up with a brilliant response: “Later! I’ll do it, later. No I want to and I’m going to, but at the end of the day…it’s almost the weekend…I should wait till after the holidays…or when the kids are out of the house…you know when I make partner…no, after I retire. This is a great move, is it not? No work and no guilt! Harary astutely remarks, “Later is the 1st step to Never.”
That’s the difference between matzah and chametz. You mix flour and water to make matzah, but if you wait too long–more than 18 minutes before it finishes baking—it becomes spoiled, leavened, chametz. Chametz is later and matzah is now. Perhaps this is why matzah is the symbol of Passover—the holiday of our freedom. Because matzah reminds us that the difference between a life of meaning and mediocrity—of Egypt or Promised Land—is really determined by one thing: our reaction to challenge, our willingness to either delay or engage in the opportunities in front of us. Chametz or matzah, I pray that Gd will gives all the wisdom to choose wisely. Amen!