Letter and Spirit

For the week ending 12 January 2019 / 6 Shevat 5779

Parshat Bo

by Rabbi Yosef Hershman
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Bread of Independence

Matzah is classically thought of has having dual symbolism — it is both the bread of affliction and the bread of freedom. It represents the poor’s mans bread, the bread of slavery, but also is reminiscent of the bread we ate as we left Egypt in great haste — before the bread had time to bake.

Although the two contexts of consuming matzah — as slaves and then as newly-freed men — are vastly different, in each case the matzah evidences an oppressor who controlled our actions. Throughout the enslavement the Egyptian taskmasters’ ever-present whip ensured that we would have no time to bake our bread. When we left Egypt it was those same oppressors who did not give us enough time to wait for our dough to rise before chasing us out of their land. Matzah, then, is the bread of servitude, the bread of dependence.

Chametz, by contrast, is the bread of social independence. On the holiday of Pesach we recall the moment we attained freedom and independence. The day was set as a memorial so that we would never forget how and in what manner we attained these gifts. The day of our rise to freedom and independence introduces a whole festival of seven days, marked not by the symbol of freedom, but the removal of chametz the symbol of independence.

What is the message in this counterintuitive memorial? We refrain from nourishing ourselves with the bread of independence to remind ourselves that at the moment of our rise to freedom and independence, neither in our personalities nor in our possessions was there the slightest trace of independence. We were sunk in servitude and helplessness, and it was only by the kindness of G-d that we were brought to freedom and independence.

One who consumes chametz — the bread of independence — mistakenly assigns credit to the human achievement of freedom and denies the Divine origin of our national freedom. For this reason, he who eats chametz on Pesach is not only cut off from the history of our people, but also from any part of Israel’s future.

§ Source: Commentary Shemot 12:8; 12:15

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