matzo_521 (do not publish again).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
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.
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
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
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.
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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
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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