Over Pesach, my daughter told us that we call it Pesach because we’re focused on what HaShem did for us (passing over the houses) while in the Torah it is referred to as Chag HaMatzos, because HaShem focuses on what we did, leaving so quickly that we couldn’t even let our bread rise. It reminded me that being focused on and proud of the achievements of the other party is a wonderful tool for strengthening any relationship.
It was therefore curious to me that in Shemona Esrai, throughout the Yom Tov, we say Chag HaMatzos. Shouldn’t we continue the idea of praising what HaShem did for us and call it Pesach? It was only on the seventh day of Pesach that I was inspired with an answer.
We don’t just call it Chag HaMatzos. Instead, we have a complete phrase, “Chag HaMatzos, Zman Cheirusainu,” meaning, “the festival of Matzos, the time of our freedom.” What, I kept asking myself, is the connection between matzah and freedom? On the contrary, we call it the bread of our affliction, poor man’s bread, and don’t think of it as a shining symbol of liberty like some glorious light-brown circular flag blowing in the wind.
Well, if we define being rich as not one who has a lot, but one who needs little (which we do – check out Pirkei Avos), then freedom could be defined not as one who is in control, but as one who is not controlled by external forces and desires. In other words, the less I need, the less others have control over me.
Of all foods, I thought, matzah needs the fewest ingredients. It only needs two, flour and water, and is even missing a key ingredient in all other types of bread – TIME. Yes, when the Jews took their dough out of Egypt, they didn’t allow time for it to rise. They were told to go immediately and that’s what they did. They didn’t worry about the fact that they didn’t have the time they needed so their food would be ready. They just left, and that is a great aspect of freedom.
People are always complaining that we don’t have enough hours in the day. There’s too much to do and not enough time. Even Chazal said it, “The day is short and the workload is large.” It’s easy to get discouraged, but instead of stressing about the fact that there’s not enough time to get it all done, let’s remember the end of the Mishna – “It’s not your responsibility to finish the job, but you are not free to neglect working on it [with whatever time you are given.]”
The freedom we experienced from the matzos was the ability not to worry about the finished product, and just to do what we need to do now. We left the results up to HaShem and got matzah, which is even better than bread because it can be eaten for much longer without going bad. In fact, in the desert heat it probably stayed light, crispy and tasty.
I remembered this thought one day as I was driving behind a v-e-r-y s-l-o-w driver. I was trying to get to shul for Mincha, and this guy was making his way ever so slowly down the one-lane road, with no opportunities to pass him. He was doing about ten miles an hour below the speed limit. I started to get annoyed and angry, then told myself, “It’s up to G-d whether I make it in time. At this moment, I have to recognize that I’m not in control.” It worked. I calmed down, and drove without getting road rage or showering him with “blessings.” (I made it to Mincha.)
We’re now in the period of Sefiras HaOmer, and we count each day. We don’t say, “Today is fifteen of fifty,” we say, “today is fifteen.” Part of the lesson that we learn from Pesach and Shavuos, including the interim weeks, is that we don’t have to worry about finishing the job, but rather making the most of the time we are given to work with. Each day should be a goal and each day should be an achievement. “Am I doing what I am supposed to do at this very moment?” If I am, then I am free. I am not beholden to an end result that is beyond my reach, and I am not bound by a need to fill twenty-four hours in a day with thirty-six hours’ worth of work.
In our lives, we will not have the time to do everything that must be done in the world. However, if we spend time worrying and lamenting that fact, then we’ve wasted some of the precious time we HAVE been given.
This lesson is one we learned from HaShem when we relinquished control and left with the unrisen dough. It was G-d who gave us the matzah which taught us this special lesson about freedom and life, and that’s why we focus on this gift during Shemona Esrai, seeing it as just one more of the myriad billions and trillions of things He does for us on a daily basis.
Freedom is about time. It’s about knowing that at this moment I’m exactly where I should be. This knowledge about time is a gift – that’s why they call it the present.
By Rabbi Jonathan Gewirtz
Jonathan Gewirtz is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in publications around the world. He also operates JewishSpeechWriter.com, where you can order a custom-made speech for your next special occasion.
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© 2013 by Jonathan Gewirtz. All rights reserved.