The Music of Halacha: Pesach: The Broken Piece
There are moments during the Seder when we act as free people, almost as royalty, such as when we recline when we are eating. At other points during the Seder we reenact slavery and deprivation, such as when we eat the Matzah and Marror. We repeatedly fluctuate from slavery to freedom and back again. We are charged with recreating both aspects of Pesach, the suffering and the freedom.
Are we slaves or kings when we recite the main text of the Haggadah?
Many people remove their Seder plates before the Ma Nishtana in order to trigger questions. The Seder Plate must be returned to the table for “Avadim Hayinu” – “We were slaves”.
The reason is that Matzah is called “Lechem Oni” – The Bread Over Which many Answers Are Offered”. We must recite the Haggadah over uncovered Matzah, just as we recite Kiddush over wine.
However, because Lechem Oni also means the “Bread of the Poor Person”, we must recite the Haggadah over the broken middle Matzah, which more accurately reflects the meal of a poor person. It is not whole. It is smaller. There is less to eat.
Therefore, we must place the broken middle Matzah on top of the others as we are reciting the Haggadah. It would seem that we are focused on the slavery and suffering as we chant the Haggadah. However, the custom is to recline as royalty during Maggid – Telling The Story. This is the only point of the Seder when we simultaneously experience the contradictions of Pesach. Why?
I often used to sleep in my grandparents home when they were older. One night, around 2AM, my grandfather’s voice woke me. I ran out to find him pacing the living room and muttering. He couldn’t sleep because he was troubled by a question. I urged him to go to sleep and find the answer when he was well –rested, and he looked at me as if I were insane. So, I went back to sleep.
An hour later, I heard two voices coming from the kitchen. I found both my grandparents in their finest Shabbat clothes making a L’chaim over orange juice. My grandfather had found the answer to his question. He was so excited that he woke up my grandmother to share the moment and she came out at 3AM in her Shabbat clothes, high-heels and hat to join him in a L’chaim to God!
Only a person who would lose sleep over a question can appreciate the gift of finding the answer. My grandfather asked as a poor man, and was answered as royalty.
We will experience a greater, almost royal level of clarity and joy if we are desperate enough to lose sleep over a question, or, in other words, to experience unanswered questions as deprivation.
The questions triggered by the Haggadah are our opening to experience abundance only if we understand the suffering of unanswered questions.