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Matzah and Maror

03/26/2021 01:14:56 PM

Mar26

Please join us tonight for Sheldon Low at 7:00pm for a special Passover seder.

This past week I came across two texts from our tradition that highlight two of the very different ways to approach life.  One approach is to recognize the hardship of life and recognize that those hardships will make you stronger.  The other approach is to allow optimism, and hope to empower our journey.  Neither approach is the right or wrong approach.  Rather, as Ecclesiastes says, “there a time and place to everything under heaven.”

In a teaching in the Talmud, the rabbis taught us that there is a question we must ask of every convert:

The Sages taught in a baraita: With regard to a potential convert who comes to a court in order to convert, at the present time, the judges of the court say to him: What did you see that you to come to convert? Don’t you know that the Jewish people at the present time are anguished, suppressed, despised, and harassed, and hardships are visited upon them? If he says: I know, and I am unworthy, then the court accepts him immediately. Talmud Yevamot 47a-b

The underpinning to this teaching is an approach to life we are all familiar with: life is hard, but if you are up for the challenge, throwing your hat in will prove your worthiness.  This teaching tries to illustrate that we will endure hardships but it is a willingness to engage the hard life that will bring reward.  How many of us wake up in the morning wondering what hurdles await us and if we have the strength and humility to overcome them?  This teaching tells us our ability to overcome those obstacles is entirely within our power but the road may not be easy or pleasant.

On the other hand, the second teaching, about our upcoming holiday of Passover, teaches us a different way to approach the obstacles of life that we will encounter:

“We speak about matzah and maror at the Seder. Yet why do they appear in this particular order? If matzah symbolizes freedom and maror slavery, shouldn't maror be mentioned first and the matzah afterwards? The answer can be found in a verse in Ecclesiastes: “In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider; God has made the one as well as the other, to the end that man should find nothing but Him.” If we remembered the sad and tragic days first before the happy day of rejoicing, they would cast a dark pall over the happy days. Therefore, we mention the Matzah first, a reminder of the God's kindness and love, before we mention maror, the painfulness of slavery and oppression. The story of the Exodus should be a story about triumph and rejoicing and not just a story about oppression...
...The transformation did not just take place at that time and in that place, but in every generation. It is not enough, then, just to perform these acts; one must explain their connection to the Divine.
– Ephod Bod on the Haggadah of Passover.

This teaching juxtaposes our earlier teaching.  It suggests that what has kept us alive for all these years is not resilience, as the first teaching suggests, but joy.  This is not a teaching telling us to choose joy over hardship, but rather to be aware that joy is there, even in the hard times, if we allow ourselves to be aware of it.

Hardship and joy do not exist in contrast to each other, but rather in relation to each other.  Hardships will come, as Passover and the maror make abundantly clear.  However, it need not be misery and obstacles that become the narratives of our lives.  Rather, it can be joy that becomes our central narrative on the road to freedom.

Sun, April 11 2021 29 Nisan 5781