Matza Matters (adapted from Aish clips)
A human being can endure all manners of suffering if he believes there is some meaning to it. If he appreciates the true meaning of life and focuses on life's ultimate purpose, then he can even survive the Holocaust. (See Victor Frankel, psychiatrist holocaust survivor who founded Logo Therapy – creating meaning in life as a psychiatric treatment)
But what about the person who has no real purpose for living? What if he instead invents some "make-believe" purpose? In that case, all shades of delusion are possible, none more sensible than any other. That is why we see some people living to collect beer bottles, some to hit a baseball the farthest, and some to dine at Europe's finest restaurants. The simplest "purpose" is to live for a good meal. That's called "living to eat." And typically, that is the lifestyle of a slave. Can anything be more crushing than the realization that one's whole existence is only to feed the body?
This is what the Egyptians wished to make out of the Jews.
But the Egyptian plan backfired. Because it was that very matzah that kept the Jews focused and clear. When the slave's food is as tasteless as matzah, he can have no delusions of purpose. He knows he is not living for the pleasure of eating, only for the energy that food gives him.
What about our lives today and the "tasty food" we consume? That taste comes in many forms – not only a good meal, but also a fancy car and a promising career. In essence, we may not be living for anything more meaningful than does the slave. The slave merely finds it harder to delude himself into believing he is living for a greater purpose, since he lacks the distractions of tasty food.
The Haggadah poses the question: Could we survive on matzah all year round – or do we need "taste" to keep a delusion alive?
This puffing up – the rising which the yeast produces – symbolizes a person's own inflation with himself. A central concept of freedom is "pulling back from the ego." Of course this doesn't mean you should never have ego – because we know that the rest of the year we are allowed to eat regular bread! But Passover provides a point where we get back to basics, to what we really want without all the additives and superficialities.
Matzah teaches that to really be in control of yourself, you need to know what you want – straight, without the luxuries. This doesn't mean luxuries are wrong in and of themselves. If you know that you don't need two beautiful new cars, and you know that you could get along with one older car if you had to, and you know that your children are much more important than any car – then it's no problem having two beautiful new cars, because everything will be in perspective.
On the other hand, what if the cars take on such importance that when your child gets a little mud on the car you go berserk. If we feel that the additives and superficialities are essential to our lives, then that obscures everything. Our ego gets in the way and we lose sight of what really counts.
Passover is all about breaking free of that. Matzah says you've got to get back to essentials. Focus on what really counts.
Matzah is literally free of all additives, externalities and superficial good looks - it is bread without the hot air. It represents the bare essentials.
Everything we pursue in life can be divided into necessities and luxuries. To the extent that a luxury becomes a necessity we lose an element of our freedom by being enslaved to a false need. Jewish thought teaches that we should not submit to peer pressure, viewing ourselves as competing with others. It is far better to focus on our 'personal bests' rather than 'world records'; life is an arena in which we do not need others to lose in order for us to win.
On Passover we can focus on the essence and leave the externalities behind. It is a time to get rid of the ego that powers our self importance and holds us back through distracting us from our true goals.
Freedom and pain are inexorably linked. Our approach to the 'bitter' times is neither to deny nor to seek escape but to face up to the challenges and embrace the opportunity they offer. The key is to recognize that pain and suffering emanate from exactly the same source as joy and pleasure. The self same God that redeemed us from Egypt was the One who allowed us to be enslaved there in the first place, because, painful though it was, it was necessary for us to go through it as a nation. Without an appreciation of pain and hardship, with all the inherent challenges that life entails, there can be no true sense of joy and fulfillment. Without connecting to the trials and tribulations that are woven into the tapestry of Jewish history, we will be unable to fully appreciate the majesty that forms Jewish destiny.
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