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The Foundation Stone Haggadah: Matzah: Living to Eat?

The matzah represents two things, the haste with which we left Egypt and the food of our slavery. The Haggadah starts by referring to matzah as the food of our slavery.

The above statement combined with the raising of the matzah, informs us that we are going to re-live the experience of Pesach. Therefore, try and imagine, what do you think it was like being a slave in Egypt?

The Haggadah mentions one thing, ‘the bread of affliction’. Why of all things to recall about the slavery does it talk about ‘bread’?

Of all that is bad about servitude, food seems to be the least important. Do we ever hear that the horror of the enslavement of the Blacks was that they had terrible food?

Lack of ability to travel, harsh treatment, lack of privacy, etc., would all seem to preempt food as a major complaint against slavery.

Furthermore, Jewish history is replete with disasters and sufferings that would make a diet of matzah seem like paradise. Food also seems to be one of the few things all Jewish mothers agree cannot be disparaged, “think of all the starving and suffering thousands” is a parent’s common response to any complaint about the quality of the food.

Why, in the story of Pesach, the story of Jewish suffering, is matzah so symbolized? Why now, in the beginning of the Haggadah, where the emphasis should be given to greater hardships? How can we as Jews, who have a sense of history, who know what we and others have suffered, point to the matzah and say, “that’s how bad Egypt was!?”

If we seek a little further, the answer should become clear. Why did the Egyptians feed the Jews matzah? Slaves are valuable as a work force. A worker is as good as the food he eats. His food needs to be nourishing if he is to stay healthy and strong. Matzah does not seem to fit this bill.

If the slave is being fed matzah it is because the one feeding only wants the slave’s survival not his best strength. Furthermore, in the mixing of flour and water one has to consciously make an effort to make matzah. Flour and water will naturally rise to make bread if you leave it but a few minutes. If the Egyptians gave the Jews matzah as opposed to bread it is because that is what they wanted them to eat, not that matzah was easier to make.

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