Matzah, Lechem Oni, the ‘Bread that makes us speak up!’
On Saturday night we will lift up a piece of Matzah at the Seder table and say HaLachma Anya. “This is the ‘Bread of affliction’ that our ancestors ate in Egypt. Let all who are hungry come and eat, let all who are in need come and share. This year we are here, next year in the land of Israel. This year we are slaves, next year, free people.”
At the same time we celebrate our people’s freedom from Egypt, we also focus on the on-going struggle for freedom for all humanity. One of my teachers in Jerusalem, Rabbi David Forman, once asked “If we are celebrating freedom why don’t we eat chocolate cake?” The truth is, most of each chocolate cake a bit too often! Matzah is purposeful. In the Torah it is called, Lechem Oni. The “Bread of affliction.” The word Oni means distress and poverty. In the Talmud, Shmuel writes “Matzah is Lechem sh’Onim Alav,” which means – “Matzah makes you speak up!” This is the real purpose of Matzah. It’s meant to get us talking about who we are and who we want to be – as individuals, a community of Jews, and as the human race.
The four questions of the Passover Seder are Judaism’s tool par-excellence for sharpening our minds and our souls.
In 1988, this editorial appeared in the NY Times: “To the Editor: Isidor I. Rabi, the Nobel Laureate in physics was once asked, “Why did you become a scientist, rather than a doctor or lawyer or businessman, like the other immigrant kids in your neighborhood?” “My Mother made me a scientist without ever intending it. Every other Jewish mother in Brooklyn would ask her child after school: ‘Nu? Did you learn anything today?’ But not my mother. She always asked me a different question. ‘Izzy,” she would say, ‘Did you ask a good question today?’ That difference – asking a good question – made me a scientist.”
This Shabbat is called Shabbat HaGadol. Tradition says on this Shabbat parents and children should prepare for the Seder by preparing the four questions together. But it does not say which questions to ask! What would be your 4 questions for this year 2021 (the Jewish year 5781)?
When will this plague end?
When will we celebrate Passover together in-person?
When will we feel free?
What can we do to bring about liberation for those who are oppressed?
What new questions will you ask at your Passover Seder this year?
At Pesach have a Freedom Feast. Eat matzah, but remember this bread is meant to be the bread of discussion. What will you add to the conversation?
Wishing you all a Zisen Pesach, a Sweet Pesach,
Rabbi David Wilfond