Some Final Thoughts For Passover 5783


One of the central rituals of our seders comes right before
the meal. We are told that Rabban Gamliel, the first century sage, held that as
part of the seder we have to explain three symbols on our seder plate – the
Pesach, the Matzah and the Maror. The Pesach, or shank bone, represents the
Passover sacrifice that our ancestors ate before the Exodus. The Matzah
represents the flight from Egypt. The Maror represents the bitterness of the
experience of being slaves. But while Rabban Gamliel focuses on the national
and historic meaning of these symbols, I wonder if there are some other, more
personal meanings hidden within them.

The word Matzah is related to the root mem-tsadi-heh which
means “to squeeze”, or “to drain”. Matzah, therefore, can symbolize our basic
selves, squeezed, or drained of any pretention or pride. Matzah is a simple,
honest food. It symbolizes, therefore, the values of modesty and humility in
our own lives. It represents our “pure” internal state, where we can be our
“true selves”, free from any external, material influences, free from comparisons
with others. Matzah symbolizes the absence of the superficial in our lives, and
the ability to be “faithful to ourselves.”

The Maror represents the bitterness of slavery, but it also can
represent the difficulties in our own lives. We cannot avoid bitter moments in
our lives – times of loss, times of disappointments, sadness, and pain. They
are part of being human. Here, we not only partake of the bitterness, but we
also recite a blessing over it!  Perhaps
this is because, as Maimonides teaches, we can never know when those bitter
times will in fact turn out, in the longer run, to be a blessing. The eating of
the maror teaches us to look directly at the hard moments of life, without
fear, without evasion. Out of every difficulty we grow, we become strong in the
broken places.

The Pesach sacrifice was eaten in a communal setting, among
family, friends, and neighbors. Moses commands the Israelite slaves that each
family should set aside a kid or a lamb to sacrifice on the night of the 14th
of Nisan. If the kid or lamb was too much for the family to consume in one
evening, they were to invite their friends and neighbors to the roasted meal. Thus,
the Passover sacrifice was not to be eaten by only one person alone. This reminds
us that it is with the help of family and friends, neighbors, and community
that we endure the bitter times in our lives.  The shank bone also symbolizes the mysterious
bonds that connect one Jew to the other, not only at this Passover, but to
Passovers throughout the ages, beginning with the very first observance of our
Festival of Freedom on that Egyptian night so many years ago.

Chag Sameach