By Rabbi Alex Chapper
Pesach, like the other Jewish festivals, is best known by the special foods that we eat. And although all food on Pesach must be free of chometz (anything that can leaven) it is most famous for Matzah – the flat, dry and unleavened bread.
We all learnt from a young age the significance of Matzah and why we eat it on Pesach – namely, to remember that the Jewish people left Egypt in such a hurry that they did not have time for their dough to rise before it baked in the desert sun. So Matzah is a powerful symbol of our freedom from slavery. However, our sages tell us that Matzah was also the staple diet of the people whilst they were slaves, forced to work hard and long hours they did not have the luxury of enjoying fresh bread. But 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’s hard to believe that 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 and 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 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 even for a website to download?
Pesach comes along once a year and for 8 days we remove the chometz and eat 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 the decisions of 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