Matzah and a Message for this Time of War

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by R. Eliezer Simcha Weisz

This week’s parsha  Bo whispers a powerful message from a seemingly insignificant detail: the Israelites’ hurried exodus. They left Egypt with such haste, their dough untended and unleavened (Shemos 12:39). As Rabban Gamliel reminds us, “Whoever has not said these three  things on Pesach , has not fulfilled his obligation” at the Seder, and the story of the unbaked dough is one of them. Why does Rabban Gamliel highlight this apparently insignificant detail? 

רַבָּן גַּמְלִיאֵל הָיָה אוֹמֵר: כָּל שֶׁלֹּא אָמַר שְׁלשָׁה דְּבָרִים אֵלּוּ בַּפֶּסַח, לא יָצָא יְדֵי חוֹבָתוֹ, וְאֵלּוּ הֵן: פֶּסַח, מַצָּה, וּמָרוֹר. 

Rabban Gamliel was accustomed to say, Anyone who has not said these three things on Pesach, has not fulfilled his obligation, and these are them: the Pesach sacrifice, Matzah and Maror. 

פֶּסַח שֶׁהָיוּ אֲבוֹתֵינוּ אוֹכְלִים בִּזְמַן שֶׁבֵּית הַמִּקְדָּשׁ הָיָה קַיָּם, עַל שׁוּם מָה? עַל שׁוּם שֶׁפָּסַח הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא עַל בָּתֵּי אֲבוֹתֵינוּ בְּמִצְרַיִם, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: וַאֲמַרְתֶּם זֶבַח פֶּסַח הוּא לַיי, אֲשֶׁר פָּסַח עַל בָּתֵּי בְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּמִצְרַיִם בְּנָגְפּוֹ אֶת־מִצְרַיִם, וְאֶת־בָּתֵּינוּ הִצִּיל וַיִּקֹּד הָעָם וַיִּשְׁתַּחווּ. 

The Pesach [passover] sacrifice that our ancestors were accustomed to eating when the Temple existed, for the sake of what [was it]? For the sake [to commemorate] that the Holy One, blessed be He, passed over the homes of our ancestors in Egypt, as it is stated (12:27); “And you shall say: ‘It is the passover sacrifice to the Lord, for that He passed over the homes of the Children of Israel in Egypt, when He smote the Egyptians, and our homes he saved.’ And the people bowed the head and bowed.”

מַצָּה זוֹ שֶׁאָנוֹ אוֹכְלִים, עַל שׁוּם מַה? עַל שׁוּם שֶׁלֹּא הִסְפִּיק בְּצֵקָם שֶׁל אֲבוֹתֵינוּ לְהַחֲמִיץ עַד שֶׁנִּגְלָה עֲלֵיהֶם מֶלֶךְ מַלְכֵי הַמְּלָכִים, הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא, וּגְאָלָם, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: וַיֹּאפוּ אֶת־הַבָּצֵק אֲשֶׁר הוֹצִיאוּ מִמִּצְרַיִם עֻגֹת מַצּוֹּת, כִּי לֹא חָמֵץ, כִּי גֹרְשׁוּ מִמִּצְרַיִם וְלֹא יָכְלוּ לְהִתְמַהְמֵהַּ, וְגַם צֵדָה לֹא עָשׂוּ לָהֶם. 

This Matzah that we are eating, for the sake of what [is it]? For the sake [to commemorate] that our ancestors’ dough was not yet able to rise, before the King of the kings of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He, revealed [Himself] to them and redeemed them, as it is stated (12:39); “And they baked the dough which they brought out of Egypt into Matzah cakes, since it did not rise; because they were expelled from Egypt, and could not tarry, neither had they made for themselves provisions.”

מָרוֹר זֶה שֶׁאָנוּ אוֹכְלִים, עַל שׁוּם מַה? עַל שׁוּם שֶׁמֵּרְרוּ הַמִּצְרִים אֶת־חַיֵּי אֲבוֹתֵינוּ בְּמִצְרַיִם, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: וַיְמָרְרוּ אֶת חַיֵּיהם בַּעֲבֹדָה קָשָה, בְּחֹמֶר וּבִלְבֵנִים וּבְכָל־עֲבֹדָה בַּשָּׂדֶה אֶת כָּל עֲבֹדָתָם אֲשֶׁר עָבְדוּ בָהֶם בְּפָרֶךְ. 

This maror [bitter greens] that we are eating, for the sake of what [is it]? For the sake [to commemorate] that the Egyptians embittered the lives of our ancestors in Egypt, as it is stated (1:14); “And they made their lives bitter with hard service, in mortar and in brick, and in all manner of service in the field; in all their service, wherein they made them serve with rigor.” (Hagadah Shel Pesach).

If we ponder it, Matzah seems like a rather minor point in the whole story of the Exodus. The fact that they were driven out quickly and had no time to bake bread that night would hardly seem to be a crucial factor in the miraculous deliverance! We eat Maror because we suffered bitter slavery for 210 years, a fact that easily qualifies as a significant symbol of the Passover holiday. Eating the Korban Pesach each year symbolizes our bravery in slaughtering the god of the Egyptians and consuming it in our homes on the night of the Exodus, in accordance with God’s mitzvah. This too is a significant occurrence. But where is the fundamental significance in the fact that they did not have time to bake bread when they were chased out of Egypt?

However, one might wonder why they did not have a little foresight and prepare food for their journey. Moshe  Rabbeinu told them ahead of time that they were leaving Egypt the next day. They should have packed up and prepared provisions. Why were they so rushed at the last minute that they did not have time to let their dough rise? How long does it take for dough to rise? What is the meaning of this emphasis on this seemingly insignificant detail?

Matzah symbolizes a profound truth: redemption often arrives not when we’re prepared, but when hope seems lost. After enduring nine crushing plagues, the Israelites had descended into utter despair. Each false dawn of liberation shattered their optimism, leaving them numb by the tenth plague. Yet, it was precisely at this darkest hour, when they had abandoned all expectation of salvation, that redemption arrived swiftly and unexpectedly, in the blink of an eye.

In this moment, Matzah takes on a deeper meaning. It becomes a symbol of the Israelites’ utter despair, their spirit reaching its lowest point just before the dawn of their miraculous liberation. Through this unleavened bread, we are reminded that true redemption often arrives not when we are perfectly prepared, but when Hashem intervenes.

The Israelites’ lack of foresight wasn’t carelessness. It stemmed from a relentless cycle of shattered expectations. We can imagine the frantic packing, the hushed whispers of doubt after the first of the Makkos when they thought they were going to be redeemed immediately, and thereafter the faces etched with weariness and disappointment as they unpacked again and again. Shattered hope crushed their spirit and left them doubting immediate deliverance. Their unbaked dough, flat and lifeless, stands like a stark monument and a silent reminder of their extinguished hope.

Eating Matzah is not just a reminder of past suffering; it’s a call to cultivate enduring hope amidst despair. When we look at the world with anxieties and fears, let the Matzah be a reminder, a testament to the resilience of the human spirit, and the importance of faith.

While the current situation in Eretz Yisrael and of Am Yisrael is cause for concern, the story of Matzah offers a powerful message of hope. It reminds us that even when the darkness stretches before us, and the path ahead seems unclear, Hashem’s intervention and human resilience can bring about unexpected transformations. By drawing inspiration from our ancestors’ journey and fostering a spirit of unity and action, we can contribute to shaping a brighter future for Eretz Yisrael and Am Yisrael. Let us remember that even the smallest spark of hope, nurtured by Emunah, and collective effort and Tefillos, can illuminate the path towards a brighter dawn.

אַחֵינוּ כָּל בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל, הַנְּתוּנִים בְּצָרָה וּבַשִּׁבְיָה, הָעוֹמְדִים בֵּין בַּיָּם וּבֵין בַּיַּבָּשָׁה, הַמָּקוֹם יְרַחֵם עֲלֵיהֶם, וְיוֹצִיאֵם מִצָּרָה לִרְוָחָה, וּמֵאֲפֵלָה לְאוֹרָה, וּמִשִּׁעְבּוּד לִגְאֻלָּה, הַשְׁתָּא בַּעֲגָלָא וּבִזְמַן קָרִיב.( תפילת שחרית ימי חול).

[As for] our brethren, the entire House of Israel who [still] remain in distress and captivity, whether on sea or on land, may God have compassion on them, and bring them from distress to relief, from darkness to light, from servitude to redemption, at this moment, speedily, very soon; and let us say Amein.(Siddur Tefillat Shacharit)

About Eliezer Simcha Weisz

Rabbi Eliezer Simcha Weisz is a member of The Chief Rabbinate Council of Israel

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