For the week ending 8 April 2017 / 12 Nisan 5777

Freedom Food

by Rabbi Shlomo Simon
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In the Seder, at the beginning of Magid we lift up the matzah and say: “Hah lachma anya”. “This is the ____ that we ate in Egypt.” If you were asked to fill in the blank, what would you say? Most likely you would say “the bread of affliction”. This is the translation given in most English Haggadot, from Maxwell House to ArtScroll. However, according to the Maharal in his commentary on the Haggada this could not be more mistaken. He explains it to mean: “poor bread”. What’s the difference? Everything.

“Lechem oni”, “poor bread”, is in contrast to matzah ashira, or “rich matzah”. Matzah ashira has additives such as oil, honey, eggs or fruit juice, or, as I remember as a youngster, even a chocolate glaze. Lechem oni has no added ingredients. It is only flour and water. It is “essential bread”.

The Maharal explains that Pesach is the holiday that celebrates our freedom from slavery, and that matzah is symbolic of this progression which we relive on Seder night. Why, asks the Maharal, would the Festival of our Freedom, which the Torah calls Chag Hamatzot, celebrate the bread of slavery? Why would we be commanded to eat the bread of slavery for seven days? Why would the holiday that celebrates the emancipation of the Jewish People from Egyptian bondage and is a paradigm for all future redemptions be symbolized by the bread of slaves? The answer according to the Maharal is that it doesn’t. Matzah is not the “bread of slavery”. Rather, it is the symbol of our freedom from slavery.

He proves this point by noting that there is nothing in the Written Torah, Midrash, Mishna, Gemaraor any Tanaitic or Amoritic source that says that we ate matzah in Egypt, except on the day on which G-d commanded us to — the day we left Egypt. Any commentary about our Egyptian overlords feeding us matzahbecause it takes a long time to digest, thereby saving them money, is a much later invention without any textual support.

Why is matzah the symbol of freedom? Like the matzah, which has no additives, the person who is freest is the one who has no material possessions weighing him down. He can go where he wants, when he wants. He is, in a sense, footloose and fancy free. The rich man is weighed down by his possessions. They restrict his freedom of movement since he has to protect and care for them. They cause him worry. As our Sages teach, “Marbeh nechasim, marbeh da’agah” — the more property that a person has, his level of worry increases. (Pirkei Avot 2:8)

There are different levels of poverty. There is the needy man (dal), and there is the poor man (oni), who, while he has no material possessions, is not needy. G-d provided our food in the desert. We didn’t have to worry about preparing it every day or night. We had no need to build homes in the desert. G-d provided succot (booths) for us to dwell in, which were sufficient because the temperature and the weather were always favorable. We had no need to pack suitcases full of clothing — our clothing never needed laundering. One change of clothes and one pair of shoes were enough for 40 years. They grew with us and stayed fresh and laundered.

The matzah was also baked and commanded to be eaten b’chipazon — quickly. According to the Maharal this means “in no time”. Thus, the matzah represents our freedom not just from materiality, but also from time itself. Matzah set the Jewish Nation on its path to eternity. Being outside of time. Ultimate freedom.

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