ON Wednesday, April 8, Jews in Solihull and throughout the world will gather together to celebrate Passover, the ‘Festival of Freedom’. The item most closely associated with Passover is Matzah, a cracker-like flat bread.
The description of matzah in the Bible designates it as the ‘bread of poverty’. “Seven days you shall consume matzah, the bread of poverty, for in haste you left Egypt...” How did this poor bread wrangle centre stage in the festival of liberty, the time of the birth of the Jewish nation? Why does the Bible describe this symbol of freedom as the ‘bread of poverty’?
A medieval commentary on the Bible explains that the Scripture is skilfully highlighting the true meaning of freedom. Freedom means the liberation from dependency on matters or forces that are external to our true selves and goals. True freedom allows the self to shine forth unhindered.
A gourmet bread containing oil or honey, a cake with nuts and fruits, or a challah with eggs and poppy seeds can not represent freedom. They are flavoured by external ingredients that override their most basic materials. Matzah, lacking such extra ingredients, symbolises the most pure and true self, a self not enslaved by foreign influences.
The Jews in Egypt had been moulded into slaves, with the mindset and all else that accompanies 210 years of exile and harsh labour. They had likewise absorbed and become part of the Egyptian culture and practice. To be free, to become a nation unto themselves, they had to shake off their dependency, mindsets, and customs, of the nation of Pharaohs. All the way down to their basic flour and water.
This message rings true throughout history, and still guides us today. The person who can overcome negative social or internal pressures and align his life with his soul’s purpose has freed and given expression to his true self.
Each year, we have a festival of true freedom, to search out and negate negative and external influence, and to refresh our sense of who we truly are.
Rabbi Yehuda Pink MSc, Solihull & District Hebrew Congregation, www.solihullshul.org