Tuesday, April 10, 2007

After Pesach .. Catching Up! Part 2. The Maror in the Matza

Pesach and Maror

Each year, I feel like I manage to develop some new understanding or stimulating perspective in the approach to Seder night. This year , with all the bustle, the innovation just wasn't coming through. Until Seder night that is. Just prior to Maariv on Leil Pesach, I read a piece by Rav Neriah Gutel, (Dean of Michlelet Orot,) about Maror.

He raised an important observation. That even though the night of Pesach focuses upon Freedom, we still remember slavery… we still eat Maror! I once wrote a shiur about how there are three "tenses" in the Seder: Maror represents the past … the enslavement. Matza represents the Future – the Freedom, the hasty Exodus. Pesach symbolizes the freeze-frame moment of redemption; the midnight hour which is the pivot, the linchpin. This is the "Present" , the moment of freedom!

In the throes of freedom we may suppose that we forget the slavery, the suffering and the bitterness. However, we actually combine all three elements and eat them together?

But how does Maror add something? Why should we remember the bitter past? What does it add to the future, to a world of choices and opportunity, to the mindset of the free-Man?

This is the question that I thought about during Seder… What does Maror add? Why remember the slavery?

There are a number of possibilities.

1. Contrast. In the same manner that sharp food as a condiment may enhance the taste of another food, so Maror enhanced the meat of the Pesach (like we add mustard to a steak, or horseradish to gefilte fish!?) If we may unpack the parable, the memory bitter slavery reminds us how fortunate we are, how far we have come… form the depths to the heights: מקימי מעפר דל מאשפות ירים אביון להושיבי עם נדיבים

2. The texture of Freedom: Maybe it is there to ENHANCE our freedom. The free man who has never tasted suffering lacks perspective. He lacks sensitivities that have been gained through suffering, poverty and danger. וזכרת כי גרים הייתם במצרים - that as Jews, we must be more sensitive to outsiders, to minority groups because we know what it is like to be a despised minority, a scapegoat and outcast, exiled from society. Maror reminds us that in our success we must not lose perspective of the poor man.

3. Ongoing danger: A further perspective that I heard on Shabbat Chol Hamoed may relate to the fact that even at the moment of Exodus we are far from Freedom. After the victory of the night of the Exodus, comes the fear of the Israelites at the Red Sea. The terror of the sight of the Egyptian army in pursuit sends the Israelites into frenzied panic. Is the Freedom of Egypt illusory? In Hallel we find ourselves praising God: "Hodu LeHashem Ki Tov" – and the next moment; "Min Hameitzar – I call to God in my distress!" Frequently even major successes can fall flat in a short period. Maybe as we eat Maror, we understand that even in victory, might and the glorious dizziness of Freedom, there is only a small distance to exile, defeat, suffering and helplessness. Maror looms beneath the veneer of the Matza. Even in our march to Freedom, we realise that Maror is not that far away.

Is that too pessimistic?

It is certainly interesting that before Yom Haatzmaut, we mark Yom Hazikaron, and even earlier, Yom Hashoah. Is that the Maror with the Matza?

My new perspective was that even in our discussions of Freedom, of national birth, of Jewish Identity and nationhood, we must include the Maror… a sense of memory of past suffering, a sensitivity even in the present to understandings gained in the past, and maybe even a sense of humility, despite present comforts and opportunities.

Feel free to offer your suggestions in the "Comments" section!

Oh! And one lovely piece from Haaretz that made me sit up and think. Avirama Golan who is frequently sharply anti-religious, wrote this articulate and sensitive piece about the limits of "Freedom" or maybe "the Maror with the Matza!" Read it here.

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