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Home » Passover, Tragedy

Passover: Bland Matzah

Submitted by on April 13, 2019 – 10:58 pmNo Comment | 225 views

Have you ever noticed that we eat bland Matzah at the Seder table?

There are no spices in Matzah; we don’t add anything to give it zest because we want it to resemble the poor man’s bread. We don’t even add salt. In fact, we are not permitted to add salt to the dough because salt can accelerate the leavening process.[1] Many even refrain from sprinkling salt over the Matzah on the Seder night. This demonstrates that they love the Mitzvah so much that it doesn’t require any additional flavors.

Although there are good logical reasons for not adding salt as outlined above, we still wonder what lesson we can learn from the fact that Matzah is served bland. Is there a deeper meaning to the bland Matzah?

Salt
Salt has two primary properties. A, it extracts the undesirable from the desirable. For example, it extracts blood from kosher meat. Soaking a wound in salt water forces out bacterial liquids and cleanses the wound. B, it releases the flavor of any food it is placed in. The second property is fascinating because salt has a terrible flavor. Most people can’t stomach a spoonful of salt, yet if you add salt to salad or to bread, it brings out tantalizing flavors.

There is something else in life that has similar properties—suffering. Suffering is painful. Yet, it also cleanses. Those who have suffered know that it changes them. If they had been self absorbed, they become more conscientious. If they had been conceited, they grow a little more modest. If they had been arrogant, they grow humbler. Suffering hurts us deeply just like salt in an open wound stings deeply, but it transforms us into reflective, thoughtful, and insightful people.

Suffering also has salt’s second property. It doesn’t taste good, yet when we look for a silver lining, we can often find it. Just like no one likes to eat a spoonful of salt, but we like what it does to our chicken soup, so does no one like to experience a pound of suffering, but we like the silver lining that it brings.

However, it is only in retrospect that we can contemplate the silver lining. In the moment, suffering like salt, tastes awful. It is only with time, after the suffering has mixed with years of experience as salt mixes with other ingredients, that wisdom sets in and we begin to perceive its benefits.

Faith
This raises the question of how to survive suffering in the moment? In retrospect, we can perceive some of its benefits, but in the moment, the pain can be so intense as to literally take our breath away. How can we survive?

The answer is faith. If we believe in G-d, and that G-d orchestrates the events of life, and that G-d is good, then we must believe that our suffering is for good purpose. It isn’t easy to hold on to faith in the midst of suffering, but as a friend once said to me, the alternative is not much prettier. Living in a pit of despair is not a good alternative. That is why girding our loins and repeating the uplifting message that everything is for the best, is helpful.

Even if we must repeat it like an endless mantra on a continual loop of deep darkness, we do so with determined certitude because it serves to lift us up.

Egypt
In Egypt, our ancestors could not have perceived the benefit to their suffering. The bondage was so intense and pervasive that it seeped into every pore of their body and infiltrated their every conscious thought. The Jewish men actually despaired of hope and were prepared to divorce their wives rather than bring more children into the dark pit of suffering that was their lot in Egypt.

The Jewish women, however, forged on—persevering only on faith. They persuaded their husbands to have more children because they believed the promise of the early prophets that the time for redemption would eventually come. If they would not have children, whom would G-d redeem? They encouraged their husbands to view their suffering not as an endless pit, but as a long tunnel at the end of which there was a light. They had more children, and eventually, the time for redemption arrived.

Bland Matzah
The bland matzah served up on Passover night, represents our ancestors’ unshakable faith that everything was for the best. Salt brings out flavor. Salt represents our understanding of suffering in retrospect. Bland Matzah represents the faith that helps us survive our suffering, the faith that our suffering serves a purpose—a purpose so grand that it justifies all our suffering.

On the Seder night, the night of the Exodus, when our ancestors experienced their first taste of freedom, the exile was too fresh for rationalization. Their wounds were too raw for salt. One doesn’t try to rationalize suffering when the wounds are fresh; that is like pouring salt on an open wound. All they had to fall back on at that point, was their faith. And fall back on it they did.

As they did on that momentous night, so do we attempt to do on this holy night. As we eat the bland saltless Matzah, we close our eyes and contemplate the depth of faith that our ancestors displayed in Egypt and how their faith was rewarded and proved true on this night. As we visualize that faith, we strive to emulate it and allow some of it to seep into us.

In the days following the Seder, we will be permitted to sprinkle salt on our Matzah. This is because with the passage of time, suffering yields a richer and deeper perspective as salt releases a richer and deeper flavor. With time, our ancestors were able to put their suffering in perspective and discern its silver lining. It had refined their thinking, strengthened their faith, cemented their relationship with G-d, and enhanced their spirituality. There were many benefits to the suffering in retrospect, but those would come with time. On the night of their Exodus, all they had was faith. Therefore, on the Seder night, our Matzah is eaten bland. The message of the bland Matzah is that some of their faith can and must rub off on us.

The faith represented by the bland Matzah fortifies us in times of challenge, enables us to perceive the light at the end of the tunnel, and carries us through to the day when we will be able to look back on our darkest days, and perceive the ways in which our suffering had served us. Indeed, when Mashiach comes we will thank G-d for our suffering,[2] but until that time we accept on faith that suffering serves a purpose.[3]

May we never need to suffer, and may our redemption come speedily in our days.

Happy and Kosher Passover

 

[1] Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim, 495.

[2] Isaiah, 12:1.

[3] This essay is based on Likutei Torah, Vayikra, p. 6b.

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