When I was growing up, you could buy two kinds of matzah in the store: plain or egg.
Today, the grocery store shelves are overflowing with a plethora of varieties of matzah: plain, egg, onion, spelt, oat, gluten-free, tea matzah, whole wheat, whole wheat and bran, matzah “sticks”, English matzah, Israeli matzah, chocolate covered matzah, small size matzah crackers (and all of the varieties exist in the crackers as well).
Trying to choose matzah can sometimes seem like an overwhelming decision with all the available choices!
Don’t forget about matzah meal, cake meal and matzah farfel. They also come in “original”, whole grain and now gluten free. Want some matzah Panko crumbs? Plain or flavored? Regular or gluten-free? They are all readily available.
Matzah has come a long way from its biblical and historical origins. Matzah was originally the “bread of affliction”. In Exodus 12:8, the ancient Israelites ate unleavened bread as they hastily departed Egypt on their way to freedom. They had no time to bake bread and let it rise, so they quickly mixed some flour and water and made flat bread. A type of bread which would bake quickly and not spoil as they travelled.
Ha lachma anya
Di achalu avatanya b’arah d’Mitzrayim…
(From the Passover Haggadah – note we invite all of you to visit Temple Beth Sholom’s Alan & Joy Shebroe Illustrated Haggadah Collection. Alan will deliver the D’var Torah this evening at our Erev Shabbat service explaining his vast almost-400 Haggadah collection)
“This is the bread of affliction, which our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt. Let all who are hungry, come and eat. Let all who are in want, share the hope of Passover.”
With these ancient Aramaic words, we break one of the symbolic pieces of matzah on the Seder table and our Pesach (Passover) seder becomes an evening of community, story-telling and hospitality.
By breaking a piece of matzah in half and opening our front door, we invite all those who have nowhere to celebrate and join us at our Seder tables. We invite all those who are hungry, to celebrate Passover alongside our own families.
Thus matzah comes to symbolize two things:
- the affliction and suffering our ancestors suffered as slaves in Egypt;
- freedom, hospitality and welcoming. Matzah was eaten by people on the cusp of becoming free. We now use it to welcome others to our homes during this special time.
The dual nature of matzah is not lost on us. Matzah is hard and crumbly. It can get stuck in our throats. Yet, we have the ability to transform it into something edible and delicious. (Ever had caramel matzah crunch, aka, matzah “crack?”, or a delicious blueberry matzah brei for breakfast, or just plain matzah with fresh butter and strawberry preserves?)
We find that when we gather together with friends, family and community, share food and celebration, the bonds we form can help lighten any burden we bear. When we gather together as community, we can find a way to alleviate the suffering of others. There is great power, strength and healing in community. Matzah thus reminds us of the dual nature of life: slavery and freedom, hunger and hospitality.
Matzah is made from only two ingredients: flour and water. It mixes together and bakes up quickly. And it lasts a long time without going bad. It is a simple food. Not complicated.
It should be a simple thing for us to reach out to others in friendship and love, to open our doors, our homes and our hearts. It should be easy and not complicated – like matzah.
As you shop for Pesach this year and contemplate which type of matzah you will bring home, think about how to make the ancient words of “Ha lach ma anya” come alive by opening your home and your heart to others this Pesach.
Chag Pesach Sameach! A happy and healthy Passover to you and your family!
Rabbi Sharon L. Sobel
Senior Rabbi, Temple Beth Sholom