MATZOH- NOURISHMENT FOR THE BODY AND SPIRIT
Published April, 2017
Every Jew in every generation since the first Passover some 3500 years ago knows that the most important symbol of Passover is matzoh. The matzoh dramatically proclaims the very meaning of the great festival that marks the birth of the Jewish people.
It is interesting that in all cultures bread, whether leavened or unleavened, occupies a central position. The Hindu scriptures state: “Everything is food, but bread is the great mother.” Nicholas Berdayev, a Russian Jewish philosopher, said it this way: “Bread for myself is a physical problem. Bread for my neighbor is a spiritual problem.”
Jews have always understood this. That is why the Bible told us to leave the corners of the field and the after-gleanings for the poor. The whole concept of tzedakah is really an extension of the basic understanding of our responsibility to share the very substance of life with those who are needy.
Perhaps this is best illustrated in a wonderful story about Passover. A solicitor for charity went to the home of a wealthy Jew on the eve of Passover to solicit maot hittim. This is money for the poor who cannot afford to have a proper Passover. He rapped on the door, waking the affluent one from his afternoon siesta. Angry that his nap was disturbed, the wealthy Jew opened the door in a sour mood. His mood was translated into action when he saw the solicitor and slapped his face. The solicitor placed one hand on his face to soothe the stinging pain and extended the other hand to the wealthy man saying “The slap you have given me. Now what will you give to the poor?” On Pesach the Jew knows when he or she eats the matzoh that the most important thing is to understand that it is the bread of poverty and to identify with the needy. Matzoh stands for the spiritual excellence of our people. It reminds us that the real purpose of our rituals is to teach us to do what is proper in life and to care about others.
A prominent rabbi in a shtetl (small European village) used to personally supervise the baking of the matzoh. Although he was very busy, he devoted the whole week prior to Passover to oversee this important task. Once he fell ill and could not carry out his usual charge. His congregation came to him and said: “Rabbi, we are sorry that you cannot personally be present to supervise the baking of the matzoh, so we will do it for you. But is there anything special that we should be careful to observe?” And the good rabbi replied: “Yes, make sure that those employed to bake the matzoh receive a fair wage.”
That is the real meaning of matzoh – spiritually enriched bread.
Miryom, Sarah, Lewis and Sarah, Danny and Debby, Judah, Bennett, and Nava join me in wishing you a chag sameach v’kasher, a happy and kosher holiday.
Rabbi Alvin Kass
Chief Chaplain of the NYPD