Matzah: Racing Out of Egypt
Why did God rush us out of Egypt?
No time left for you
On my way to better things
No time left for you
I'll find myself some wings
No time left for you
Distant roads are calling me
I got, got, got, got no time
-The Guess Who
The definitive symbol of Passover is matzah, unleavened bread. The entire baking process of matzah, from the mixing of flour and water to its baking in the oven, must be done in less than 18 minutes, before it can leaven or ferment. Visit a matzah bakery and you will never see Jews move so quickly (except when attacking a Kiddush).
The Haggada teaches us the meaning behind the matzah:
What is the reason for this matza that we eat? Because the dough of our ancestors did not have enough time to become leavened before God revealed Himself to the Jewish people, and redeemed them, as it says (in the Torah), " They baked the dough which they took out of Egypt into matza because it did not rise since they were driven out from Egypt, and they could not linger."
Hence, matzah is associated with the haste and swiftness by which the Jewish nation left Egypt. But why indeed did God have to rush us out of Egypt? We were already there for 210 years. What’s another day or two for us to gather our things together, plan properly for the journey ahead and maybe make a trip to Grodzinski’s Bakery and pick up a rye (with seeds, please) and a danish for the road?
In truth, the manner by which the Jews left Egypt expresses an integral lesson and ingredient of the entire Passover experience of Freedom and Redemption. Haste was a necessary and definitive component of that momentous event and serves as a paradigm for all future Redemptions, both personal and national.
In everyone’s life, at some point or another, events arise without any sign or indication, and even if there is some sort of hint of their arrival, there is still a certain quality of disbelief once they indeed appear. One can plan for a wedding many months in advance, know that a child is to be born for the good part of a year, or on the other end of the spectrum of lifecycle events, know with a degree of certainty that the demise of a loved one is on the horizon. But when it happens, there is a stark and unexpected reality to it that no amount of preparation or prearrangement can ever provide.
These events are so dramatic that they catapult us into new ways of viewing and living our lives. They become such eye-opening and life-changing experiences that alter us so dramatically that sometimes we cannot even relate to the person whom we were prior to their happening. In a very real sense, they are moments of deliverance from a previous life.
This is what Judaism means by geula, redemption. We become redeemed and released from the constricted and limiting lifestyle and worldview that had dominated and defined us previously. In essence, we each leave Mitzrayim (Egypt) – which means the land of limitation and constriction, coming from the word maytzar in Hebrew. We depart the place that squeezes and suffocates the life of all who dwell there. We become free and released, we become a new person.
Matzah is the symbol of redemption because haste is inherent to redemption. No matter how fast or slow redemption happens, it is always too sudden for significant change, by its very nature, is something that we can never fully understand or know until we get there. It is something that we will never be able to anticipate or pretend to understand until it has already arrived. While there may be a build up to it, there is no process to Redemption; it is a momentary happening that alters things forever and happens in a split second. Redemption may come through sorrow and pain or may come through joy, but it is never on time.
The haste associated with matzah – Passover’s symbol of Redemption - is because the very nature of any Redemption is that surreal, out-of-body, timeless experience where we get carried along by forces far greater than we can ever anticipate, know, fathom or imagine. All we can do is go along for the ride.
This Passover, as we sit around the Seder table with our families and friends and recount the Haggada, when we eat the matzah let us hope and pray that one day soon, the final Redemption will arrive and send us all to great new heights … whether we are ready for it or not.