Monday, April 2, 2007

The Matzo is the Message

Tonight was the first Seder. Passover, a reenactment of the exodus, and the most ancient Jewish holy day, is a holiday that is observed in the home rather than in synagogue. I only celebrated with our little nuclear family group, while others get together to form large groups of extended family and friends, and many synagogues, including our own Congregation Adas Emuno, hold communal Seders, often on the second night. But however it is done, it is the most frequently observed Jewish holiday, even more so than Yom Kippur, and it is, in my opinion, the most meaningful, and my personal favorite. It's all about remembering that we were slaves, thanking God for our liberation, and celebrating freedom. And it's all about eating, matzo, the unleavened bread, to remember the exodus and that we departed Egypt in such great haste that there wasn't time to wait for the bread to rise, and moror, the bitter herbs (i.e., horseradish), to remind us of the bitterness of slavery. Such great mnemonic devices! Not enough is made of the role of food as memlory aids, and food as a medium, in the media ecology literature. Passover is also all about drinking, four cups of wine to be exact. One of the best parts of the Seder is when we recite the ten plagues that God visited upon the Egyptians, and pour out a drop of wine for each one, because our cups cannot be full when others, even our enemies, are suffering.

The actual name of the holiday is Pesach, and there is a pun involved that is lost in the translation to Passover. Pesach has a double meaning, on the one hand to pass over, because the angel of death passed over the homes of the Israelites when God sent him to slay the first born of the Egyptians, and Pesach also means paschal lamb, which was offered as a sacrifice in the ancient Temple at Jerusalem, and it was lamb's blood derived from that sort of sacrifice that the Israelites used to mark their doors so that the Angel of Death would know to pass over them. Off hand, I can't think of another holiday, Jewish or otherwise, that is symbolized by a pun.

The holiday is based on the commandment in the Torah to remember the exodus by eating matzo. The added requirement that only matzo and no other kind of grain and no form of leavening be consumed is an interpretation of the basic commandment, and adds an important element of sacrifice to the re-enactment.

In other words, to quote that great Hasidic master, the Rebbe Moishe Mack Lewin, the matzo is the message!

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