Monday, April 2, 2012

The Bread of Many Answers

B'erot's Blooming Garden
I have often wondered why in Israel the exhausting Pesach preparations always coincide with planting the summer garden. It seems there is never enough time to both clean and garden. Today it became clear to me that in preparation for Pesach Hashem sends us out of our kitchen cabinets into the garden to recharge by experiencing the renewal of Nature. In order to achieve freedom on Pesach it is more important to spend time outdoors and align ourselves with the rebirth of Nature, rather than doing extra spring cleaning. Listening to the songs of the birds prepares us to us redeem our speech from exile, as we eat the mitzvah matzah on Pesach. 
Read on to learn more about the connection between matzah, speech, freedom and redemption.

Pesach Kasher V’Sameach,
With Blessings of the Torah & the Land,

Chana Bracha Siegelbaum

The Bread of Many Answers
The Pesach Hagadah opens with the words, “This is the bread of poverty that our fathers ate in Egypt.” Yet, “lechem oni” – bread of poverty – also has another connotation. “Lechem oni – the bread about which one answers many things”[1]

With matzah as the center piece, the Seder revolves around questions and answers. The son asks “mah nishtana” (How is this night different…) and his father answers him. As our Rabbis taught, if he has a wise son, the son will ask him, otherwise his wife asks. If he doesn’t have a wife he must ask himself, even two scholars who know the laws of Pesach must ask one another.[2]

The Hagadah itself is written the way of question and answer, in place of simple statements. Rather than affirming that we eat matzah because…, entire sections are written in questions such as: “Matzah – Why do we eat this unleavened bread… Maror – Why do we eat this bitter herb?”[3] The manner of questioning help us to regard ourselves as personally going out of Egypt, when we experienced the newness of emerging from the constraints. Rather than feeling accustomed to the rituals of the Seder, we should feel renewed of soul and wonder about eating the matzah, maror etc. …. Only when we become amazed by the wonder of how this night is different from all other nights, will we be able to feel renewed and changed as if we personally emerged from Egypt.[4]

The attribute of the month of Nissan is שיחה (sicha) –conversation/speech.[5] By answering many questions about the Exodus during the Seder we have the ability to rectify the covenant of speech. This is alluded to in the astrological sign of Nissan טלה – talé – lamb which is linked to the Hebrew word בטלה – bate’la meaning idle. The Matzah elicit rectification of idle speech which continues through the counting the Omer that we recite aloud.[6]

The reason why the mitzvah of telling the story of the Exodus rectifies the covenant of speech is that every mitzvah empowers the limb employed to perform it. The mitzvah of eating the matzah rectifies eating, while telling the story rectifies speech. Therefore, Pesach פה סח (Peh-sach) means, “the mouth speaks” – for the mouth of Israel is opened by means of the matzah as King David wrote: “Take me out from the confines of my soul, so I can thank you…[7] True freedom from slavery is to be able to open our mouth to praise Hashem. This is why it is so praiseworthy to increase in speaking about the Exodus during the Seder. By means of telling the story our mouth becomes like a wellspring which overflows. This is the meaning of “the bread of many answers.”[8]

The expression “Lechem Oni” can also mean –“the bread upon which we call out.” Eating the matzah in holiness enables us to call out with a great voice in prayer. When we turn the letter chet of chametz into the letter heh of matzah – which refers to holiness of thought – we empower our voice to emerge in powerful tefilah (prayer).[9]

By means of the matzah we also merit the voice of Torah. The word “oni” equals the numerical value of the word “kol” – voice, mentioned in regards to Ya’acov: “The voice is the voice of Ya’acov”.[10] The first mention of the word voice in the verse refers to prayer, the second “voice” to Torah Torah…[11]

Maharal explains that matzah is called the bread of poverty in contrast to “matzah ashira” – rich matzah, which contains oil and honey. A poor person has no money, only himself and his body. Likewise, matzah has only the essential dough which consists of water and flour. It represents simplicity.

Although poverty seems to be the opposite of freedom, the Hagadah teaches us that poverty is related to redemption. Redemption can only come when one becomes totally oneself without being dependent on anyone else. Just as a slave is dependent on his master, likewise a wealthy person is dependent on his possessions. Since someone poor has no possessions or attachments, he can stand on his own independently. This connects him to the energy of redemption. “Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose.”[12] Therefore, during the night of the Exodus, we are commanded to eat the bread of poverty containing nothing but its own essence.

The simplicity of the matzah connects us to the redemption on Pesach, which origins from the upper world. The quality of simplicity, although considered a lack in this world, is a virtue in the upper world. While, the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) ministers in golden garments all year, on Yom Kippur he enters the innermost chamber in simple white garments. By entering in the innermost chamber of the Holy of Holiest he goes beyond the level of this world, which is compound, and acquires the level of the upper world, which necessitates simplicity.

Matzah is related to answers because it teaches us about the Exodus and publicizes the miracle and the haste with which the Jewish people left Egypt. The Torah says, “Seven days you shall eat matzah, for in haste did you go out of Egypt.”[13] Haste is essentially connected to the poverty of matzah, because it too stands on its own, independent of the continuation of time. Moreover, we went out in the first month because the first is not connected and joined to previous months.[14] Redemption is beyond continuation and connection. For this reason we eat the bread of poverty in haste.

The haste above the continuation of time during the Exodus teaches us that the Exodus is beyond time, and they went out by means of the upper level. The redemption was not according to nature, and therefore it is proper that they should eat the bread of poverty that is simple. This is the reason why matzah is related to answers. Matzah tells us about the haste of the Exodus and teaches us that the redemption came from the upper world.[15]

According to Rav Shalom of Beltz, “the bread of many answers” can also mean that on this night, G-d answers and fulfills all the requests we make of Him. This is the night when the redemption and salvation of Israel is awakened. Therefore, “whoever is hungry” and needs Divine assistance should take advantage of this time and “come eat,” for the Heavenly help will come. At this time, and by means of eating this bread, our requests are answered from Heaven.

Let the matzah teach us freedom from any attachment so we can return to our essential selves. May the “lechem oni” empower us to elevate our eating and speech, arousing our voice in Torah and tefilah, and in the merit of the matzah may Heaven answer all our heartfelt prayers to deliver us from our oppressors!

[1] Babylonian Talmud, Pessachim 115b.
ibid. 116a.
The Hagadah of Pesach, the saying of Rabban Gamliel.
Pri Tzaddik, The Holiday of Pesach, Ot 2.
Sefer Yetzira 5:7.
Ateret Yehoshua on the Torah.
Tehillim 142:8.
Sefat Emet on Pesach.
Likutei Halachot, Laws of the Meal, Halacha 3.
Bereishit 27:22.
Sefat Emet on Pesach.
Janis Joplin.
Devarim 15:3.
Nissan is called the first of the Jewish months.
Maharal, Gevurat Hashem, Chapter 51

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