The Hidden Matzah

What is viewed as a game by children can have deep significance for adults.

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Brokenness is a symbol of incompletion. Life is not whole. The Passover itself is not complete. The Passover we celebrate deals with the past redemption of our people from the bondage in Egypt. That redemption is a fact of history and it heartens us because through its recollection we know that our hope for future redemption is not fantasy. It did happen once and to our whole peo­ple. A small slave people witnessed the power of a supreme divine agency to snap the heavy chains around our hands, and to break the yoke upon our necks. It was no dream, this redemption. It hap­pened, and at the Seder we relate the testimony of this act.

But it is toward the Passover of the Future that our memories are directed. The redemption is not over. There is fear and poverty and sickness. There is a trembling on earth. Around us are the plagues of pollution, and images of fiery nuclear explosions in the clouds, not like the cloud of glory and the pillar of fire that led our ancestors through the wilderness. The broken matzah speaks to our times, shakes us by the shoulders and shouts into our hearts, "Do not bury your spirit in his­tory. Do not think it is over, complete, that the Messiah has come and you have nothing to do but to wait, to pray, to believe."

The Past and Present Tell Our Future

The history of our liberation is not for the sake of gloating over the past but for confirmation of our hopes. Even as we retrieve the past, the future is held before us. We begin the story of our past af­fliction with an appeal for present help and with aneye set upon the future. Three time dimensions are mentioned in one opening paragraph. "This is the bread of af­fliction that our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt. All who are hungry, let them come in an eat; all who are in need come in and celebrate the Passo­ver. Now we are here, next year in Israel. Now we are subjects, next year may we be free persons."

The silence before the breaking of the middle mat­zah and before the eating of the afikoman suggests that something secret is expressed in the ceremony. We know that the idea of a Messianic era was con­sidered a threat to regimes for whom there was no messiah but the Emperor, no redeemer but Rome. To dream of an era of peace, an end to slavery, is a revolutionary critique of the status quo. Jews dis­agreed among themselves as to who the Messiah will be or when the Messiah will come, but one thing they all knew. This was not the Messiah, now was not the fulfillment of the Messianic era. In silence, without benediction--for one does not bless that which has not yet occurred--they broke the matzah hidden between the two whole ones, anticipated its recovery, and eating it affirmed their belief in the Passover of the Future.

The hidden matzah is the greater part. The promise of the future is greater than the achievements of the past. It is no game to keep the child awake, this secret. It is the vision of messianic times to­ward which we live and struggle. Rouse the child from his slumber. Without his find the seder can­not be completed.

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Rabbi Harold Schulweis

Harold Schulweis is the senior rabbi of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino, California. He is the founder of Jewish Foundation for Rescuers and the author of For Those Who Can't Believe.