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Home » Passover

Passover: A Matzah Meditation

Submitted by on March 28, 2010 – 2:08 amNo Comment | 2,032 views

What is Matzah?

Almost everyone knows the answer to that one; it is the cracker like bread, round or square, hand or machine made, that we eat on Passover. True enough, say the Jewish mystics, but wrong answer; matzah is bread of faith. (1) How so?

The Hebrew word matzah is composed of three letters, Mem, Tzadi and Hei. The first and last letters of the word comprise the Hebrew word; mah, which means what. Mah is central to Divine worship. Speaking for himself and Aaron, Moses said, “Va’anachnu Mah,” what are we? (2) His, was a rhetorical question, minimized by any attempt at response. What are we? We are, but nothing!

The mah is a question mark, but rather than leave us with a question it leaves us with a penetrating silence that answers all questions. The answer itself need not be stated; merely implied. It is beyond articulation, but clearly intuited. Only G-d is something. Before Him, what are we?

Mah, thus connotes humility; recognizing our place in the context of G-d. It is interesting to note that mah is also a key component of the Hebrew word, chachmah, which means wisdom. When we explore the etymological root of the word chachmah the words koach mah, power of what, emerge. Wisdom is our profound ability to gaze beyond the veil and see the simple, but essential truth about ourselves. Koach Mah. The power [to acknowledge that we are, but] what.

Don’t Confuse Me With The Facts

Wisdom, even in its most prosaic sense, is an exercise in humility. The wise person employs intellect to gain understanding. The quest for understanding flows from a sincere desire to know the truth. We set out to find the truth and follow it wherever it leads. And when we find it we accept it as is even if it forces us to reconsider everything we thought we understood.

Yet not all intelligence is wise. King Solomon wrote, “Ani Chachmah Shachanti Armah,” I am wisdom I dwell in deceit, because at times wisdom is employed as a tool of deceit. (3) Some scholars embark on their journey of understanding with the goal of proving what they already believe to be true. Facts that contradict their cherished beliefs are simply reinterpreted. The reinterpretations are brilliant, even wise, but theirs is not wisdom of humility; it is wisdom of arrogance. Rather than seek the truth, they block it; a terrible corruption of wisdom.

Wisdom is designed to be used in the humble pursuit of truth; this is why it is called Chach-mah, the power – to acknowledge that we are, but what. Using it in deceit, to arrogantly deny the truth, is devious; an abuse of chach-mah. It is thus no wonder that the Hebrew word for deceit is Armah. If we divide this word into two, we emerge with Ar-Mah, which means, naked or devoid of [the ability to acknowledge that we are, but] what. Wisdom employed in the humble pursuit of truth is chach-mah, power [to seek] what. Wisdom employed in the pursuit of conceit is Ar-mah, devoid of what.

Matzah – The Bread of Faith

As we eat matzah we reflect on the power of mah that bracket the Tzadi at the centInnerStream.ca Torah Insights into Life and Jewish Observanceer of matzah. The Tzadi represents the tzadik, Hebrew for pious. When the pious eat they reflect on G-d Who provides their food. The ordinary person’s eating experience is self absorbed; we think only of pleasure and satisfaction. The pious reflect on G-d. Eating thus leads us to conceit, but the pious to humility.

There was one exception and that was the manna served to our ancestors in the desert. This miraculous bread descended directly from heaven; eating it was a heavenly experience. Rather than reciting the ordinary benediction over bread, thanking He who extracts bread from the ground, our ancestors chanted, He who extracts bread from the heavens. As they ate the manna they could not help but humbly acknowledge that their food came directly from G-d. The manna fostered humility and faith.

Ordinary food is not extracted from heaven. The miller grinds the wheat grown by the farmer. The kneader kneads the flour ground by the miller. The baker bakes the dough kneaded by the kneader. The grocer sells the bread baked by the baker and we eat the bread sold by the grocer. Unlike the manna, the hand of G-d is concealed in our bread.

It is only the pious that seek, let alone find, the hand of G-d in their bread; the rest of us credit humanity and pat our own bellies, completely forgetting that G-d provides the rain, sun, soil, seed, farmer, miller, baker and grocer. We conceitedly ignore that our ingenuity, energy and hard work are gifts from G-d. This is not chach-mah, humble pursuit of truth, but ar-mah; a reinterpretation of the facts. It is not wisdom, but deceit and conceit.

Eating Matzah is the exception because the word matzah connotes humility; its letters bespeak the tzadik, who experiences [the humility of] mah. Everyone is a tzadik when it comes to matzah because it is the bread that nurtures faith. Just Like Manna …

Matzah is the bread of faith. Our ancestors ate matzah when they left Egypt because they were hurried and did not have time to let their dough rise. They embarked on a journey across a vast desert with no provisions, but the matzah they had hurriedly baked. They put their faith in G-d and trusted Him to provide. And He did. (4)

All they ate was matzah, but this simple food miraculously nourished and sustained them for thirty days. Every time they ate it they were reminded that theirs was not a simple eating experience, but a miracle orchestrated by G-d. They turned to G-d with gratitude as they realized that life is in G-d’s hands; we can and must do our best to sustain ourselves, but in the end G-d holds the key. Arriving at this recognition is the humble realization of faith. As the mystics taught, matzah is the bread that nurtures faith. (5)

As we eat matzah today we reflect on the matzah meditation, the unique history of the matzah and on its ability to nourish our faith. It is the food that renders everyone pious. Eating matzah is never self centered; it is an exercise of humility in pursuit of the truth. It is the exploration and recognition of our true nothingness before the infinite greatness of G-d.

Matzah – the bread that nourishes faith. (6)

Footnotes

  1. Zohar II 183b.
  2. Exodus 7: 8
  3. See Mechiltah on Exodus 12: 39.
  4. Mishlei 8:12. Though most commentaries translate
    Armah in this context as cleverness and wit, this translation is in
    keeping with commentary of Ralbag (Gersonides) ad loc.
  5. Matzah is thus the equivalent of manna in that it
    broadcasts the Hand of G-d. The Torah tells us that our ancestors ate
    manna for forty years. The sages asked how this might be true if they
    ate matzah for the first thirty days of their journey and they explained
    that our ancestors enjoyed the matzah as much as they did the manna.
    Indeed, both contained that same otherworldly quality. See Kidushin 38a.
  6. Based on Sefer Mamarim 5670 p. 72
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