The Matzah of Recovery

Thursday, 15 March, 2018 - 10:16 pm


Many people believe that matzah was an accidental invention, the result of the children of Israel hastily fleeing from Egypt with no time for their dough to rise. As the verse states, “They baked the dough that they had brought out of Egypt into matzah rounds, for it had not leavened – because they were driven out of Egypt and could not delay.”[1]

Yet earlier in the very same chapter we see the Jews already had eaten matzah the night before they left Egypt. Obeying G-d’s instructions, they conducted a seder which featured three primary foods: “They shall eat the meat [of the Pascal Lamb]. It shall be roasted over fire eaten with matzah and bitter herbs.”[2]

So seemingly matzah was not created by accident. How can we reconcile this with the verse that indicates that matzah was a result of the rush out of Egypt?

One answer suggests that there were two “matzah moments” that were both integral parts of the Exodus story. One matzah the Jews ate while still in Egypt pre redemption. Another matzah was eaten while escaping Egypt post redemption.

Jewish mysticism teaches that the Jewish people in Egypt suffered not only physical enslavement, but were also habituated to pagan beliefs and very unholy lifestyles.   It was a time of deep spiritual bondage; after so many years of dependence, they had neither the tools nor the courage to escape from it.

“The supreme king, the Holy One, blessed be He, revealed Himself unto (the Jews) and redeemed them.”[3]

It was with His help that a morally corrupt and spiritually desensitised people were able to overcome such extreme helplessness and be ready for redemption. Now the Jews were finally ready to be liberated from their external and internal task masters.

But G-d does not help until we show we are ready for redemption. That’s why the commandment to eat matzah came before G-d delivered the Jews. Matzah - which is simply bread that does not rise and inflate - represents a state of self-reckoning and humility wherein individuals realise that where they are now is not where they want to be. This is a very healthy sense of humility which is an absolute prerequisite to redemption.

So which matzah are we commemorating at the seder?  

The answer is “both”.

We recall the accidental matzah that was the result of the hasty escape, but we also appreciate and remember the effort the children of Israel made to humble themselves in anticipation of the redemption, as symbolised by the matzah they ate the previous night. 

The story of Egyptian exile was a prototype of all subsequent exiles both national and personal.

Nobody wants to admit defeat. But it is “…only through utter defeat that we are we able to take our first steps towards liberation and strength. Our admission of personal powerlessness finally turns out to be firm bedrock upon which happy and purposeful lives may be built.”[4]

Refusing to believe that our lives have become unmanageable is being in denial and many seem to be very good at that. In order to take the appropriate steps towards recovery, we first must accept that there is a problem. If we can recognise this and that we personally lack the control to repair it, our next conclusion is inevitably that we need to enlist help from a power greater than ourselves.

This is where humility comes in as a mode for day to day living, a “complete deflation”, which allows us to look outside ourselves for the much needed help which is the basis of recovery.

And so it was with the Exodus. G-d’s redemption only came once the Jews had their serving of humble matzah. They recognised they were in a place they did not want to be and that only through the true power of G-d were they able to be redeemed. As the famous AA recovery slogan goes, “There is no magic in recovery, just miracles.”

So as you crunch on your matzah this Pesach, let go of your ego and allow G-d to enter. Only this will  provide the humility and sobriety that is necessary to free us from our personal bondage.

[1] Exodus 12:39 

[2] Exodus 12:8

[3] Passover Haggadah

[4] Twelve steps and twelve traditions (AA)

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