Food of Faith & Freedom

As we approach one of the many peaks of the Seder, we raise the matzah and recite Ha Lachma Anya, opening the Maggid section. Speaking in unfamiliar Aramaic, we begin by stating that the matzah we are about to eat is the same matzah as our forefathers ate in Mitzrayim.

We continue with a seemingly unconnected invitation to poor people to join our meal. We conclude with the declaration that this year we are here, in golus, but next year we will be in Eretz Yisroel. Now we are enslaved, but in the coming year we will be free.

Why does this series of statements open the discussion about Yetzias Mitzrayim? What is the connection between these sentences? Why do we hold up the matzah?

Repeatedly, the Torah refers to the Yom Tov of Pesach as Chag Hamatzos. In davening and Kiddush, we also refer to the Yom Tov as Yom Chag Hamatzos. Why is matzah the symbol of Pesach?

The first time the Bnei Yisroel ate matzah was as they left Mitzrayim. Writing about that time, the Yalkut Shimoni in Parshas Beshalach says, “Lo nigalu Yisroel ela b’zechus emunah, shene’emar, ‘Vaya’amein ha’am.’” The Jews were redeemed from Mitzrayim because of their deep belief in Hashem.

However, that statement apparently contradicts the Chazal that says the Jews and the Mitzrim were basically on the same low spiritual level at the time of Yetzias Mitzrayim. If so, how can we then say that they were taken out of Mitzrayim because of their emunah in Hashem?

The Zohar refers to matzah as “michla demehemnusah,” food of emunah. We can understand that to mean that upon eating the matzah while leaving Mitzrayim, the Bnei Yisroel were infused with emunah, and through that emunah, they merited the geulah.

An explanation of the power of matzah appears in the Sefer Afikei Mayim, based on the shiurim of Rav Moshe Shapiro, who elucidates the often-discussed idea that matzah is a tikkun for the cheit of Adam Harishon.

We can understand the connection through a Gemara (Brachos 40a) that cites the opinion of Rabi Yehuda who explains that the Eitz Hadaas from which Adam ate was wheat. The Gemara explains that we see that wheat is connected to daas, because a child cannot call his father or mother until he tastes wheat. When we partook of the matzah at the time of Yetzias Mitzrayim, our daas was enhanced and we gained the ability to connect to Hashem on a higher level.

The idea that those who believe in Hashem and place their faith in him see salvation is presented in pesukim, Chazal, Rishonim and Acharonim. It is the way we should lead our lives if we wish to merit success in all we do.

The Ramban (Emunah Ubitachon 1) points out that the posuk in Tehillim (37:3) states, “Betach baHashem va’asei tov – Have faith in Hashem and do good,” instead of stating, “Do good and trust in Hashem.” This is because bitachon is not dependent on a person’s good actions.

The Brisker Rov expressed a similar idea. The posuk (Tehillim 33:21) states, “Ki vo yismach libeinu ki vesheim kadsho botochnu yehi chasdecha Hashem aleinu ka’asher yichalnu loch.” The Rov read it to be saying that the amount of faith we have in Hashem is the degree to which Hashem will deal with us mercifully.

Rabbeinu Bachya writes explicitly (Kad Vekemach, Bitachon) that it was in merit of their belief that the Jews were redeemed from Mitzrayim. He cites the posuk in Tehillim (22:6) of “Eilecha zo’aku venimlotu,” and says that the reason they were saved was because “becha votchu velo voshu,” they believed.

The Meshech Chochmah, on the posuk of “Ushemartem es hamatzos” (Shemos 12:17), writes that when the Bnei Yisroel will be shomer the matzos (and other mitzvos of Nissan), Hashem will be shomer the night of the Seder to redeem them.

Rabbeinu Yonah writes in Mishlei (3:26) that a person who trusts in Hashem is saved from a tzarah even if he deserved the tzarah. A person’s bitachon prevents the problem from afflicting him. As the Yalkut says in Tehillim (32), “even a rasha who has bitachon is surrounded by chesed.”

 The Chofetz Chaim (Sheim Olam, Nefutzos Yisroel 9) quotes the Vilna Gaon who said that bitachon is not dependent upon a person’s zechuyos. Even a person who is not properly observant but maintains strong belief is protected by his bitachon and Hashem acts charitably with him.

Bitachon is not something that is reserved only for big tzaddikim. Any one of us, no matter our level, can have perfect emunah and bitachon. When faced with a problem, when it appears as if life is being tough with us, we all have the ability to be boteiach in Hashem and be helped.

Matzah is the symbol of Pesach because it encompasses all the messages of the Seder. As we consider and contemplate the exalted moment when our forefathers left Mitzrayim, we eat the very same matzah, unchanged in formula and taste, at the very moment they did, on the same night, year after year, century after century, going back all the way to the day our nation was founded. With this matzah, we became a nation. We gave up avodah zora, left the shibbud Mitzrayim, and emerged as bnei chorin.

This is as prescribed by the Rambam, who states (Hilchos Chometz Umatzah 7:1), “There is a positive commandment to discuss the miracles that were performed for our forefathers in Mitzrayim on the evening of the 15th of Nissan, as the posuk says, ‘Zachor, remember the day you left Mitzrayim…,’ and the posuk states, ‘Vehigadeta livincha,’ to tell your children on that night, meaning the night on which matzah and maror are placed before you.”

The Ramban at the end of Parshas Bo discusses the centrality of sippur Yetzias Mitzrayim to Jewish belief: “Because Hashem does not perform public miracles in each generation for scoffers to witness, He commanded us that we should make memorials for what we saw and tell our children what transpired so that they will know and pass along to their children the great miracles that were performed on our behalf. This is why so many mitzvos are zeicher l’Yetzias Mitzrayim, in commemoration of our redemption from Mitzrayim, so that future generations will remember what Hashem did for us then.

“And just as Hashem publicly performed miracles for the Jews in Mitzrayim, so does He perform miracles for us every day of our lives. Those who observe the mitzvos are rewarded, and those who do not are punished.”

This is the foundation of Jewish belief and what we refer to as Hashgocha Protis. When we sit at the Seder and retell the stories of the many miracles that took place at that time, we increase our emunah and bitachon, and that engenders more zechuyos for us. This is another indication and explanation of the statement of the Zohar that matzah is michla demehemnusah, the food of faith.

With this in mind, we can explain why we begin the Seder by saying, “Ha lachma anya di achalu avhasana b’ara d’Mitzrayim.” We proclaim that this is the bread that our forefathers ate in Mitzrayim when they were still poor and lacking in their observance of mitzvos, as well as in their emunah and bitachon in Hashem. Upon eating the matzah, they were strengthened in their emunah and belief in Hashem and thus merited redemption from slavery.

Thus, we advise people who are lacking in faith, “Kol ditzrich yeisei veyeichol. Join us and partake of the matzah, michla demehemnusah. Doing so will infuse you with faith.” Then we can say, “Hoshata hocha leshana haba’ah b’ara d’Yisroel.” Those who are still needy and lacking in their faith will, by eating the matzah, become strengthened in emunah and bitachon and worthy of the geulah sheleimah bekarov. “Hoshata avdi leshana haba’ah bnei chorin.” Before partaking of the matzah and discussing the exit from Mitzrayim, we are slaves to our desires. After the matzah and reliving the geulah experience, we become free.

The Gemara in Maseches Brachos (17a) relates that Klal Yisroel tells Hashem, “Galui veyodua lefonecha sheretzoneinu laasos es retzonecha. Umi me’akeiv? Se’or sheba’isa. We wish to fulfill Your will, but the se’or sheba’isa prevents us.” Rashi explains that se’or sheba’isa is the yeitzer hora, which ferments us as yeast ferments dough.

Matzah is lechem geulim because it is baked without chimutz, without se’or. One who subjugates his yeitzer hora is a ga’ul. He is redeemed and free. Thus, Chazal state, “Ein lecha ben chorin ela mi she’oseik baTorah.” The free man is occupied with Torah, for he has conquered his yeitzer hora.

The original matzah didn’t rise because, as we say in the Haggadah, “Lo hispik lehachmitz ad sheniglah aleihem Melech Malchei Hamelochim uge’olom.” Hashem redeemed the Jewish people from Mitzrayim suddenly, before the dough they were baking for their trip was able to rise, and thus they were left with matzah.

Matzah symbolizes freedom, because it came into existence amidst the great urgency with which Hashem hurried His people out of Mitzrayim. The cause – Jewish nationhood – didn’t allow for the bread to reach completion. It didn’t allow for se’or and chimutz. Bread of freedom and a life of freedom are brought about by the same process: removal of se’or and chimutz. A person cleanses his soul of sin by being preoccupied with serving Hashem and studying Torah instead of feeding temptations. Doing so helps man break free from the various burdens and obligations life places upon him.

We open our Seder with the statement that the night – the entire Yom Tov, in fact – is about the matzah, the food of freedom. The first phrase tells us that it was “eaten when we left Mitzrayim,” in reference to our being rushed out. It was baked without the se’or sheba’isah.

We address the ditzrich, turning to those who are lacking in life and service to Hashem. “Join us!” we say. “Eat and learn from the matzah, and you will also be blessed and free along with us and all those who enjoy the blessings of Pesach. You will be impoverished no more.”

We continue by acknowledging that while we are now unable to bring the Korban Pesach, if we have indeed internalized the message of the matzah, we will be able to offer Pesochim and Zevochim next year in Eretz Yisroel.

Finally, we acknowledge that now we are still enslaved. The se’or sheba’isah interferes with our lives. We have been unable to expel it from our souls. We affirm our commitment to examining the message, studying the lessons of “Ha Lachma Anya.” Even though we are now captive to the yeitzer hora, we resolve that by next year, we will be free of its domination over us. We remind ourselves that the matzah is lechem geulim. Not only is it the bread of the free, but it helps those enslaved to gain their freedom.

Simple, unconstrained, and as free as the matzah.

Fortunate is he who doesn’t require suffering or challenges to be reminded of his essence but is able to see it clearly in good times as well.

With this insight into matzah and its message, we can begin to celebrate, starting with genus and marching our way on to geulah, a journey from Ha Lachma Anya through Afikoman.

After partaking of the Afikoman matzah, we are forbidden to eat anything, for we must keep that message fresh on our palates. We must not forget what we have learned and experienced on this night.

The matzah has seen us in times of strength and apparent weakness, but always with faith in Hashem and our future. Always with the knowledge that come what may, we are the am hanivchor, chosen, blessed and free.

We cherish the taste of matzah. We eat it and become transformed. We become strengthened in our belief and become worthy of geulah. With our newfound emunah and bitachon, we are capable of transcending limitations imposed by the se’or sheba’isah and the challenges of golus.

 No matter what ails and confounds us, and regardless of the difficulties we have in our daily lives, we remain steadfast in our faith in Hashem, acting as bnei chorin.

Pesach is the Yom Tov of emunah. Let us learn its lessons, observe its mitzvos, partake in its matzah, and merit personal and communal geulah.

Leshanah haba’ah bnei chorin be’ara d’Yisroel.

 

 

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