The Unleavened Generation

Passover and the Seder are occasions which we may find trying at times, a test of fortitude and familial serenity.

By DAVID HOFFMAN
May 2, 2011 10:51
4 minute read.
matzo

matzo_521 (do not publish again). (photo credit: Avi Katz)

THE PASSOVER TORAH PORTION BEGINS WITH stipulations about how the holiday must be observed and the food that may be consumed over the week-long festival. It then goes on to describe how the People of Israel, in exile in Egypt, were to protect themselves from the destroyer – the slayer of the firstborn – by spreading sheep’s blood on the door frames.

Perhaps surprisingly to some, by this point the Egyptians, starting with pharaoh, fearing more horrific plagues, were more than happy to see the people go. From here, most people can probably continue the story unassisted. The People of Israel are told to get their stuff together, no time to bake the bread, the Egyptians are more than a little upset, and God releases the Chosen People from their bondage in Egypt. “And it came to pass the self-same day that the Lord did bring the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt by their hosts.” (Exodus 12:51) The haste in which the Israelites leave Egypt is emphasized by twice stating that the children of Israel could not tarry and were not able to wait for their bread to rise.

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But closer scrutiny of the text will reveal a somewhat different, and certainly more detailed, sequence of events. As mentioned, the Egyptians were more than eager to see the Israelites leave, as they feared further retribution from the hands of the Almighty. “And the people took their dough before it was leavened.” (Exodus 12:34) This passage, which has over the course of millennia come to symbolize the great haste and alacrity with which the people of Israel left Egypt, only tells part of the story. The next two verses discuss the additional actions taken by the hurriedly departing Israelites. “And the children of Israel did according to the word of Moses; and they asked of the Egyptians jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and raiment. And the Lord gave the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so they let them have what they asked. And they despoiled the Egyptians.” (Exodus 12:35-36) This lesser-known second part of the passage ties in with the theme I wish to relate to today – a concept, that in this context, I call the unleavened generation.

The rapidity with which the Israelites leave Egypt, or the semblance of speed, has become one of the main components and images of Passover, with matza as its most prominent embodiment. The point I wish to touch on is this “unleavenedness” or haste and lack of time, lack of attention to detail, or possibly lack of interest.

Today’s world, this generation, is a very unleavened one. There is a great lack of patience, of attention span. Instant gratification is the name of the game, be it reality television, relationships, or most forms of written communication. Difficult or complex notions, ideas and actions are glossed over in favor of the instant solution. As a contemporary example, Facebook, the ultra-popular social networking site, has recently removed its “comment” button, and replaced it with the enter key, as apparently, clicking an additional button just takes too much time.

The preference for instant solutions may also be responsible for our Ritalin-addled youth. I sincerely doubt that so called ADD/ADHD (Attention Deficit Disorder/ Hyperactive) children would not simply have been called boisterous or very energetic a few decades ago.

Perhaps the problem is that it would be that much more difficult and time-consuming to try educational methods to solve the problem. Much simpler to pop a small yellow pill. These may be symptoms of a cultural, and maybe even a conceptual, switch. Just like your car, washing machine or fridge could once be trusted to last for 25 years, and now you’d be overjoyed if it would last for even half that time.

Unleavenedness is the lack of waiting for something, anything, to come to fruition. It has taken the excitement out of receiving a letter, killed the delicious expectation before the album of a favored artist is released, and done away with the anticipation of viewing your favorite weekly television show.

Of course, modernity and technology are not bad things – far from it. Nor am I some sort of crazed technophobe living in a cave. It is just that the world used to function at a different pace, one which allowed you to take in more than just the bare essentials. Is seems that nowadays, the style that fits most people’s taste is unleavened. This could explain why we only remember the first part of the aforementioned passage.

The Children of Israel were not unleavened. They had endured unthinkable oppression over the course of their subjugation in Egypt.

The Torah portion Bo, of which the Pesah portion is a part, clearly shows their unwavering faith, even given the extended period of time they were enslaved. They most certainly had patience. Passover and the Seder are occasions which we may find trying at times, a test of fortitude and familial serenity. But as we recount the astounding story of our redemption from servitude, the best usually shines through, and we regain that warm, satisfying feeling, after having had to wait a while for our goal – the holiday feast. It is what I would call a “leavened” feeling – which, while not exactly kosher – is immensely gratifying.

The writer, a native son of Jerusalem, is a student of Jewish tradition.


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