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The Three Main Passover Symbols: Pesach, Matzah and Maror

April 17, 2016 | by Debbie Gutfreund

The powerful gifts of gratitude, hope and grit.

What’s the most important part of the Passover Seder? I’ll receive many different answers. My great grandfather would have said singing the Hagaddah in the tune that his own grandfather sang the words. My Uncle Leo would have said the delicious food. All the children would have said running around the house trying to find the Afikomen. And my grandmother would have said having the whole family together around the table.

But there is actually one part of the Seder that is the most important for all of us, and we are all obligated to recite it when it comes up in the Haggadah and understand it.

Rabban Gamliel used to say: Whoever has not explained the following three things on Pesach has not fulfilled his duty: Pesach, Matzah and Maror.”

What do each of these symbols mean?

Pesach. The shank bone symbolizes the sacrifice that the Jews in Egypt gave to thank God for the miracle of passing over their houses during the tenth plague in which all the Egyptian’s firstborn died. What can we learn from this sacrifice of gratitude? Just as the Jews thanked God for passing over their houses in Egypt and protecting them from the fate of the Egyptians, we can learn to thank God for the everyday miracles when we are spared from harm in the first place. Driving somewhere and arriving safely. Not getting sick. Not being hungry.

This Passover, think about all the hidden and open miracles that God has done for you in the past year and thank Him for the incalculable number of “ordinary” moments in which He saved you from harm without you even realizing it.

Matzah is the unleavened bread that the Israelites brought with them when they left Egypt. Matzah teaches that God doesn’t need any time to prepare; He can save us in an instant. Since He can turn everything around in a moment, we should never give up hope. And when things are going well, we should remind ourselves that this too is an ongoing miracle. God is with us in this moment even when it seems like everything is just proceeding as “it should.”

When we look at the matzah, think about the times in your life when everything turned around in a moment, seemingly without any warning or effort on your part and how God can do the same for you today, no matter what your challenges may be.

Maror is the bitter herb that reminds us of the tears that the Jewish people cried when they were slaves in Egypt. It teaches that when we are going through challenging, seemingly bitter times, sweetness and light and hope are just around the corner. Maror reminds us not to avoid obstacles but to instead recognize that they are a necessary part of the process of success. Without our tears and our prayers, the Jewish nation would not have been able to leave Egypt. Without the bitterness and the struggle, we don’t reach our full potential.

When you look at the maror, think of a struggle you have gone through in the past year and how it helped you become who you are today.

Pesach, matzah, maror symbolize gratitude, hope and grit. With these three powerful gifts we sit around our Seder tables and thank God for the miracle of our freedom.

(The Pesach and matzah explanations are based on Rav Moshe Feinstein ztz”l explanations found in The Reb Moshe Haggada)

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