By Rabbi Alex Chapper
Pesach, like other Jewish festivals, is best known by the special foods we eat.
And although all food on Pesach must be free of chametz (anything that can leaven) it is most famous for matzah – the flat, dry and unleavened bread.
We all learned from a young age the significance of matzah and why we eat it on Pesach – namely, to remember that the Jewish people left the land of Egypt in such a hurry that they did not have time for their dough to rise before it fully baked in the hot desert sun.
That makes matzah a powerful symbol of our freedom from slavery.
However, our sages tell us that matzah was also the staple diet of the people while they were slaves because, forced to work hard and long hours, they did not have the luxury of enjoying fresh bread. That presents us with a dichotomy, because how can matzah be a symbol of our freedom if it also reminds us of our slavery?
This year marks 25 years since the emergence of the internet and it is hard to believe we ever lived without it.
Back then, it was predicted that such technology would save us so much time that we’d be able to enjoy more leisure. Yet the opposite has happened – we’re working longer hours and have less free time than before.
In addition, the promise of the internet to give us instant access to information has made us more demanding and impatient. How many of us, for example, have ‘rapid boil’ kettles because we don’t want to wait the extra minute for a cup of tea? How many people become frustrated at the time it takes for the toast to emerge from the toaster or the phone to connect or for a website to download?
Pesach comes along once a year and for eight days we remove the chametz and we eat the matzah as an ancient antidote to a very modern problem.
Matzah represents both slavery and freedom because there’s a very fine line between the two of them.
We may no longer be slaves in the traditional sense of having a taskmaster standing over us, but we’re in danger of being enslaved by the pace of life that modern society demands.
Matzah reminds us to reclaim our freedom, to be in charge of our time and in deciding what we do with it, to ensure that we have time for the important things in life – family and friends, community, learning and growing as individuals.
I wish you and your family a happy, healthy and kosher Pesach.
Rabbi Alex Chapper is minister of Ilford Federation Synagogue and the Children’s Rabbi – www.childrensrabbi.com