They baked the dough which they had brought out of Egypt into cakes of unleavened bread. For it had not become leavened, since they were driven out of Egypt and could not delay, nor had they prepared any provisions for themselves. – Exodus 12:39
Matzah is known as the bread of affliction. But what exactly is that affliction? Is it a reminder of the affliction of Egyptian slavery, or an ongoing affliction to the Jewish people who have to eat it?
Rabbi Arnold Jacob Wolf (obm) taught that having to eat matzah on Pesach was actually a punishment, or at the very least, a negative consequence of their not having been prepared to leave Egypt. Rabbi Wolf questioned if the Israelites knew that the final plague was coming, after which the Pharaoh would let them go, why were they not ready for when it happened? There was certainly enough time for the dough to rise that last night had they prepared it, but they waited until it was too late! Why did they not prepare bread for the journey ahead? According to Rabbi Wolf, they did not prepare provision for the journey out of Egypt because they did not believe it was actually going to happen! They had enough time, but they did not have enough hope! And because of their lack of hope, they, along with every generation to follow, were afflicted with the punishment of having to eat that dry, tasteless piece of cardboard we call matzah.
The problem with this, of course, is that many of us LIKE matzah! Matzah with cream cheese, fried matzah, matzah lasagna, matzah toffee, matzah farfel, matzah pizza, and of course those forever favorites, matzah balls! (I prefer floaters to sinkers.) And did I mention milk chocolate covered bread of affliction? Hardly a punishment!
But therein lies another important lesson. Looking back, we as a People have had an ability to take the bitter challenges with which God/history/tradition have afflicted us, and to morph them into opportunities to bring sweetness into our lives and our world. Whether in response to the woes of Jewish history or the personal pains we all face, our response has been one of hope and affirmation. We have focused, not on what was no more and could never be again, but on what remained and could never be taken away. Ours has been and remains an imaginative response, using the creative artistry we have developed through the years to respond to the Torah’s call to “choose life!”
The Jew lives with hope! As I have written before, hope is not wishful thinking that blinds us to reality. Hope is the knowledge that whatever happens, we will have the means to cope with it in life-affirming ways. To paraphrase an old joke, when the next flood comes, we will simply learn to live and thrive under water.
They say that when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Jewish history and heritage says when life gives you matzah, cover it with chocolate!