Written by: Zach Mainzer, AJA 9th Grader
In a few short days, the Jewish nation will start celebrating their miraculous escape from the Land of Egypt after 210 years spent in exile. Of course, one of the famous stories that is told on Pesach is of the Matzah our ancestors baked on their way out because the dough didn’t have time to rise. The Hagaddah even tells us:
מצה זו שאנו אוכלים על שום שלא הספיק בצקם של אבותינו להחמיץ
This Matzah that we eat is because the dough of our ancestors didn’t have enough time to leaven. However, the Vilna Gaon points out that this is not the only reason for the Matzah. Earlier in the Haggadah, we establish:
הא לחמא עניא די אכלו אבהתנא בארעא דמצרים.
This is the bread of affliction which our ancestors ate in the Land of Egypt. In contrast to the above statement, which implies that we were already on our way out of Egypt when we made Matzah, this statement seems to say quite clearly that our ancestors ate the Matzah while they were still slaves in Egypt. So how can we reconcile these two statements? One seems to clearly say that Matzah is the bread of freedom; we were baking it as we left the burden of slavery behind us. But we open our Seder every single year with the phrase “This is the bread of affliction,” bread which is supposed to remind us of the hardships of slavery. How can we say both are true?
There is a concept mentioned in Mishnah Pesachim that on Pesach, we start with the distressing times and end with praises of Hashem. The distress is represented by Matzah being the לחמא עניא, the bread of affliction. It was the only food that our ancestors could manage to make while they were laboring in Egypt. But how does the bread of freedom relate to the praises of Hashem with which we end our Seder? We can say that Matzah does represent our freedom, as it commemorates the time when we were no longer slaves. However, it was not pure freedom to do absolutely whatever we wanted. We were free to create our own schedules and could eat and sleep whenever we wanted, but we were not as free as the Egyptians, who were known for their corruption and immorality. It was important for the Jewish nation to realize that while we were no longer slaves in Egypt, we were still ‘עבדי ה, servants to Hashem, and were not free to wander into the ways of Egypt. We are free to choose to be Hashem’s servants; this servitude is the ultimate freedom, which we celebrate on Pesach.
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach,