Is Matzah a Symbol of Freedom or Slavery?
By Rabbi Rami Pavolotzky
The Torah refers to the matzah as the “bread of affliction.” It is written, “You shall not eat anything leavened with it; for seven days thereafter, you shall eat unleavened bread, bread of affliction—for you departed from the land of Egypt hurriedly—so that you may remember the day of your departure from the land of Egypt as long as you live.” (Deuteronomy 16:3).
Why is it called the bread of affliction? One simple answer is that when the Children of Israel were slaves in Egypt, this was all that they were given to eat. Therefore, for them, the matzah brought back memories of the oppressive years.
Matzah, however, has another symbolism. It also represents freedom. As the Jews were leaving Egypt, they did not have enough time to bake bread, so in their haste they were only able to bake matzah. The matzah is then a reminder of the exodus from Egypt. The first food they ate after being liberated from slavery was Matzah.
Think about it: The same item, Matzah, brings two very different messages—slavery and freedom! At first sight, this seems contradictory. How can one thing represent two opposite ideas like slavery and freedom? Well, maybe because in order to appreciate freedom, the Children of Israel needed to remember the slavery. After leaving Egypt, when once a year they ate Matzah, they certainly remembered their harsh experiences as slaves in Egypt, while, at the same time, they were able to value the freedom they were enjoying in the desert.
So, is matzah a symbol of freedom or slavery? The answer is both. Matzah can remind you of the distress of being a slave, but also the joy of being free. Perhaps that is one of the reasons we continue eating matzah every year during Pesach. It is a unique food that can remind us of the real value of freedom, and the misery of not having it. As general food helps us appreciate the joy of being healthy and reminds us of the challenges of not being well-fed, matzah helps us appreciate our freedom and reminds us of the affliction of being a slave.
As we are only hours away from sitting down for the Passover Seder, I invite you to take a moment, before eating your first piece of matzah this year, to think about the many blessings we are able to enjoy, like freedom, and to realize how much harder life would be without them.