April 3, 2020
9 Nisan, 5780
From my new collection of seder readings for Passover - some thoughts about the symbolism of matzah during an age of pandemic:
We’re traditionally taught that we eat matzah on Passover to remember that the Israelites didn’t have time to let their bread dough rise when they left Egypt. When you think about it, however, there’s nothing “hasty” about making matzah. Baking unleavened bread is, in fact, a process that demands great care and attention.
According to Jewish tradition, matzah dough must be baked no more than 18 minutes after the exposure of cut grain to moisture. If left to sit longer, airborne yeast bacteria will interact with the sugar molecules in the flour mixture and multiply by the billions. The yeast microorganisms will then release carbon dioxide gas that causes the dough to ferment.
As we consider this complex process, the connections to our current moment are obvious. During a time of pandemic, we must follow very specific protocols to lessen the chances of contracting and spreading viral infection. We're required to take care in our personal behaviors because we know they will have a direct impact on the greater good. Perhaps this is yet another reason for eating matzah on Passover: it reminds us of the sacred discipline required of each and every one of us to ensure our mutual well-being.
As we eat matzah this year, let it inspire us to commit and recommit to one another. For in the end, there will be no collective liberation if we fail to take responsibility for our own.
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Pesach Samech,
Rabbi Brant Rosen