“Do not eat it with bread made with yeast, but for seven days eat unleavened bread, the bread of affliction, because you left Egypt in haste — so that all the days of your life you may remember the time of your departure from Egypt.” — Deuteronomy 16:3
This month marks one of the most ancient and holiest of Jewish celebrations, Pesach, or Passover. It is a celebration of God’s redemption of His people, Israel, from bondage, and freedom is a theme underlying the celebration. Please enjoy this collection of timeless devotions from my father, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, on this sacred observance. – Yael Eckstein, President
Matzo makes for a not-so-great cracker. Yet for seven days out of every year Jews around the world trade in their regular bread for the “unleavened bread” we call matzo. When you taste it, it’s no wonder the Bible refers to it as the “bread of affliction.” Tasteless and flimsy, matzo is a poor man’s bread containing nothing but the basic elements of sustenance, flour and water.
Curiously, matzo is also known as the “bread of freedom.” Matzo is born out of the exodus narrative when the children of Israel are told to leave Egypt in such a hurry that their bread doesn’t have time to rise. The matzo they ended up with is the matzo that we eat today in remembrance of their freedom from slavery.
How is it that the same item can represent both affliction and redemption? One symbolizes our pain, the other our greatest pleasure. The discrepancy is reconciled by a third term for matzo. Jewish mysticism refers to matzo as the “bread of faith.”
Pain and pleasure are not opposites. Rather, they are two sides of the same coin. The source of our greatest pain is often the same source of our greatest pleasure. Take parenting for example. Most parents will affirm that their children have given them the most grief and also the most joy in their lives. The key to joining the two is faith.
So when my child is painfully stubborn, I have faith that he will turn out to be a very successful and persistent adult. Along those same lines, when we find ourselves in painful situations, we need to have faith that they are part and parcel of great things yet to come. Matzo reminds us that no matter where you find yourself on your journey – whether it’s all uphill or you’re enjoying a smooth ride down the other side – it’s all part of the story of redemption.
Think about a challenge that you are facing right now and ask yourself how it can also be an opportunity. What can you learn from it? How can you become better from it? Every wall that keeps you out can be transformed into a doorway that lets you in. We just need the faith to believe it.
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