- Wednesday, 28 March 2012 06:03
This time of year, we all become obsessed with Matzah. Where's the best place to get it, how much do we need, what's the best type to get. It makes sense, Pesach is referred to in the Torah as “Chag HaMatzot”, the “Holiday of Matzot”. Matzah helps us reflect on freedom and slavery simultaneously. It represents our freedom, as we were in a rush to leave Egypt and didn't have time for the dough to rise, and it represents slavery, the “poor man's bread” we would eat as slaves.
Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook (1865-1935), the first Chief Rabbi of Palestine, says that he understands the pivotal role Matzah plays on Pesach, but why the need to prohibit Chametz (leavened foods)? Couldn't we promote Matzah without demoting Chametz? There is no mention of the Jews avoiding Chametz as they left Egypt, there was merely a need practical need to eat Matzah. So why do we go so far as to ban all traces of Chametz?
Rav Kook answers that Matzah is not just a remembrance of the food the Jews ate as they left Egypt, it is a symbol of the very concept of freedom. He remarks that what makes Matzah unique as a food is it's simplicity. It is water mixed with flour. No additives. No salt, no eggs, no yeast. Nothing external is added to the essence of the food. Rav Kook says this is the root of freedom. Freedom is a mindset. It is the ability to block out all outside influences and truly think for yourself. It is to remove all external stimuli and stay true to your values and purpose. Chametz represents all of the outside influences that affect our mind and soul, and by removing Chametz from out midst we are reminded to stay true to who we are.
As Viktor Frankl, the Holocaust survivor and psychologist wrote:
“Everything can be taken from a man or a woman but one thing: the last of human freedoms to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.”
That is the crux of freedom, the last bastion of free will and the purity of the human spirit.
Today we live in a world of constant influence, and it can be overwhelming. Through social networking we are aware of everyone's thoughts on everything in real time. The Internet allows us to follow current events as they happen, and opinions are flying before events even have a chance to unfold. Teens and college students are text messaging and Facebooking throughout the day, sharing thoughts and opinions. In a recent episode of PBS's Frontline, professors at Stanford University say that their students have a hard time formulating thoughts that can last an entire essay, due to the constant distraction in their lives.
It is hard to form your own opinion, your own identity, when you are always absorbing the views and opinions of others. If we aren't careful we can become one big amalgamation of each other, a societal behemoth that becomes indistinguishable from each other. We need to fight for our freedom, for our unique mental space that allows us to thrive in our individuality and think for ourselves. To be free.
May we embrace the message of the Matzah, and most importantly the elimination of Chametz, and embrace true freedom this Pesach.
A Chag Kasher V'Sameach from my family to yours,
Rabbi Joshua Strulowitz