Matzah: More Than Just a Cracker

In Judaism food is never just food. It also conveys symbolic, metaphoric and sometimes even homiletic messages. A powerful example of this is matzah, the quintessential Passover food: “In the first month from the fourteenth day of the month at evening, you shall eat unleavened bread (matzah) until the twenty-first day of the month at evening.” (Exodus 12.8) Initially we are simply commanded to eat matzah. Eventually, the Torah explains that matzah, also called the “bread of affliction,” reminds us of the Israelites hasty departure from Egypt as well as their many years of slavery.

Matzah is more than just a mnemonic device to help us remember an important transformative Jewish event. Homiletically, flat matzah made from dough not allowed to rise (puff up), has long been held up as a lesson in modesty.

More importantly, it is also a universal symbol of the arc of life distilled down into three words was, is, will be. As the “bread of affliction” it reminds us of our past. As a symbol of our hasty departure it reminds us of the here and now. And as a symbol of our liberation it represents the full potential (future) of freedom. Matzah, then, represents the movement of time, or the arc of life. Therefore, matzah shares its was/is/will be quality with YHWH, God, whose name is a verb that means was/is/will be.

© Copyright Rabbi Howard A Cohen