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Why Do We Eat Matza On Passover? A New Kabbalah
Why do we eat matzah on Passover? ?
This question is one of four that the Pesach haggadah asks to open discussion at the Passover seder.
The traditional answer given is that matzah represents the bread of misery that our ancestors ate as slaves in Egypt. By eating the dry, tasteless matzah, we relive the physical servitude and hardships our ancestors endured.
On the other hand, matzah is also referred to as the bread of redemption. When the moment came for Moses to take the Jews out of slavery, they did not have time to leave the dough for bread. In their haste to flee, they hastily took the flat, ready to eat matza as provision for the long journey ahead of them. By eating matza on Passover night, we get to re-experience and internalize the taste of freedom.
However, there is another interpretation as to why we eat matzah on Passover, a Kabbalistic one. And while the answer dates back hundreds, if not thousands of years, the meaning seems more modern and relevant today than ever before.
Matza is sometimes referred to as “the bread of healing”.
What is the connection?
The answer is best expressed by the Hasidic master, Rabbi Yerachmiel Yisrael Yitzchak of Alexander, in his classic work “Ismach Yisrael” (Reblied o Israel.) According to the Alexander Rebbe, we eat matza on Passover Eve, to correct and correct all acts of eating that may require “repair”. In Hebrew this is referred to as “tick.”
A fundamental belief of the sage is that all our actions are done with thought and intention. The highest purpose of eating, like all physical activities, is to serve our Creator.
If we have dinner without thinking, without consciousness regarding our higher goals, without consciousness as to the ultimate source of our food, such food is in need of repair.
Thus, by eating matza on Passover night, with the right intention, we have the ability to perform a “tikun” or correction for all the times we have eaten in a careless, thoughtless, animal way.
Eating in a more spiritual spirit would be a first step to bring about a “healing”. A rectification to reconnect us with our Creator and the world around us.
Thus the reference to matza is a “bread of healing.”
But we have to go deeper.
In the light of this teaching, I would like to propose four questions that we can ask ourselves this coming year when we sit down to eat. Although probably not the same questions that the Alexander Rebbe had in mind, these questions are nevertheless meant to help us raise our awareness and eat more consciously.
1. Is the food I eat nutritious?
According to leading nutrition expert, Dr. Joel Fuhrman, author of “Eat to Live”, 51% of our caloric intake comes from refined, processed foods. These are foods that have no nutritional value. They are often referred to as “low calories.” They include cakes, cookies, crackers, white bread and pasta, soft drinks, ice cream, vegetable oils, etc.
Such foods cause us more harm than good.
Another 40% of our caloric intake comes from animal products. This includes meat, dairy, poultry, eggs and fish. Study after study from respected medical institutions clearly show the direct connection between a diet based on animals and disease.
The sad part is that only about 5% of our caloric intake comes from fruits, vegetables, grains, seeds and nuts, food that is nutritionally rich and life giving.
We need to choose our food wisely and get back to basics. If not we will kill ourselves with our forks and knives.
2. Is the food I eat respectful of my environment?
Water conservationists have noted that more than 50% of all water used in America goes to raising animals for food.
It takes 2,500 gallons of water to produce one pound of meat and 750 gallons of water to produce one gallon of milk. Yet it only takes 25 liters of water to grow one pound of wheat.
If that same water was used to grow grain to feed people, instead of raising food for livestock, it could go a long way toward eliminating world hunger.
Advances in technology have allowed us to transport food around the world, but is it wise or necessary?
Should a resident of the American Northeast eat kiwis or strawberries in the middle of winter when the cost of fuel and natural resources is prohibitive and exploitative of our environment?
This would be a violation of the biblical commandment of ‘baal tashchit’, the use of items in an inappropriate and wasteful manner.
Other issues worthy of discussion regarding diet and our planet are the dangers of growing and consuming genetically modified foods, the use of chemical pesticides and herbicides, the physical abuse and pain inflicted on animals destined for slaughter, the destruction of our rainforests for animal grazing and the resulting global warming.
What is required of us is to simplify our diet and return to eating locally grown, organic food in season.
3. Do I eat because I’m hungry or because I’m bored?
Too often we just sit down to eat because we lack something better to do. We have forgotten, or never knew, what real hunger is. America today is facing an obesity epidemic. We are too much yet malnourished.
Based on current statistics, more than half of all Americans will die from heart disease or stroke. A third will die of cancer. This does not include those suffering from diabetes or dementia.
The tragedy is that all the above diseases are related to diet and do not need to be avoided.
The good news is that by switching to a plant-based diet, we can heal ourselves and restore our health.
4. Do I express gratitude for the food I eat?
Many families have a tradition of reciting a blessing both before and after a meal. Such action allows us to stop our thanks and focus on the source of our food.
Equally important is expressing appreciation for the individual who bought and prepared our meal. Whatever we may eat, food that is prepared with love and eaten in a warm and caring environment, always nourishes us.
Have we given thanks to the farmers, gardeners, growers and vendors who raise our food and are responsible for getting it to our table? Too often children are raised to think that food comes from the supermarket and are not aware that it grows from the earth and requires someone’s physical effort to work the soil and bring it to fruition.
And last but not least, we have taken steps to ensure that the poor and needy of our own communities do not go hungry.
If we strive to follow the path of the Alexander Rebbe by eating more mindfully, then hopefully when we sit at our seder table this holiday season and ask why we eat matzah on Passover, the matzah will live up to its ultimate promise of becoming real a “bread of healing.”
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