Why eat matzah during Passover?
We were slaves in Egypt. When we fled for our freedom, the dough had not yet risen. So we threw the wet dough in packs on our backs and we ran. The dough was baked by the sun, but it never did rise. The first bread the Jews ate in freedom was flat. It was matzah.
Matzah is the memory of our people leaving Egypt
in a rush. The truth is, we could have waited for the dough to rise, but it would have extended our slavery, and we could not stand it even a moment longer.
Matzah is a symbol of our people's refusal to tolerate slavery in any shape or form.
Matzah is the realization that we were not always free, and that freedom is precious.
Matzah is the testimony that the passage from slavery to freedom is an ongoing celebration.
Matzah is the hope that our generation too will preserve the memory that shapes our people's heart. Matzah calls upon us to search our souls for bondage, and find a way to free ourselves.
Matzah is the awakening of our people from the ser- vitude of humanity into the service of G-d.
In the Torah, the word for Egypt is the same as the word for “narrow places.” Matzah is the elimination of all vestiges of slavery, the cleaning out of the nar- row constricting spaces around us and inside of us.
Matzah is the testimony that we Jews live with a history that is unique and a memory that we celebrate with pride.
Matzah is among the most powerful pedagogical tools that a parent can offer a Jewish child. It transmits core values we learned from having been slaves, val- ues of empathy with any downtrodden people.
What is remembered in the Passover sacrifice (the pesach)?
The lamb shank bone on the Passover plate is amemory of the blood that Jewish slaves put on
the door the last night of slavery in Egypt. The
shank bone remembers the first sign that the Jew-
ish people understood they were not born to be
slaves to a human master, and their faith that with
God's help they would be released from slavery.
The shank bone is the memory of the pain of slavery and the pain of struggling for freedom when evil predominates.
The shank bone is the reclamation of identity in a disconnected Jew. It's a way to say “My home is Jewish.” It is an emblem of our freedom to place mezuzot, Jewish signs, on the door posts of our homes.
And finally, the shank bone doesn't have to be a shank bone. The Talmud permits a beet as a substitute. This is a vegetarian alternative, made because the shank bone is a memory of the time when animal sacrifices were a central part of cultivating a relationship with G-d. The beet is a symbol of that time passing, and a memory of the redness on the door, one that doesn't necessarily require blood in our time.
What is remembered in the bitter herb?
The bitter herb recalls all slavery, for all time.
When we bite into the bitter herb, when the bit- terness cuts to the core of us and brings tears to our eyes, we remember acutely that Passover calls us all to examine our own lives for bitterness.
Our own slavery. In our souls, the life of our fam- ily, and our world.
The bitter herb recalls all the travail that birthing our people into a covenant with G-d entailed, and all the pains of the journey into our time.
One tradition would have us eat bitter herb alone, and another mixes it with the sweetness of haro- set. The fact that we Jews traditionally do both, reflects the span of our people's approach to slav- ery, to bitterness, to limitation, to anti-Semitism, to subjugation, to bigotry, to deprivation of any kind.