Monday, March 30, 2015

The matzo longing for its mate

Several of us were confused this morning after reading All Grown Up and In Charge of the Seder a wonderful description of Seder nostalgia published in the Sunday Times by Jennifer Weiner.

She writes:
As a child, and as a young adult, I would savor the meal and collect memories — like, no matter where he was sitting, my brother Jake always ended up reading the portion of the Haggadah about bare breasts and the matzo longing for its mate
Having been teenage boys ourselves, we all knew where to find the passage about breasts --
and populous-- as it is stated:"I made you as numerous as the plants of the field. You grew and developed, becoming very attractive, your breasts firm and your hair grown long; but you were naked and bare."
-- but where does the haggadah say anything about a matzo longing for its mate?

Our Twitter pal Shlomo Kaye found the answer.

The excerpt above is from On Wings of Feedom: The Hillel Haggadah for the nights of Passover by Rabbi Richard N. Levy where this interesting recitation / meditation / kavanah is given for Yachatz. Its absent from Orthodox versions of the Haggadah, which explains why no one from my OJ set could place it.

Connecting the broken matzah to the verse from Songs is a clever bit of interpretation - note the verse's mention of reclining. and recall that the matzo is hid in the "place where [we] recline"  -  but whose interpretation is it? Is it something old that the Reform authors of this haggadah retained after Orthodoxy forgot it? Or is the interpretation an example of Reform creativity?

I went to Midrash Shir Hashirim first to see if any of Our Rabbis made this association, but came up empty. In that collection of interpretations, no one connects this verse to matzoh, or to Pesach reclining. 

Nonetheless, the idea of longing - for God, for redemption, for freedom - is not an idea that's foreign to Pesach or the Seder. 

In fact, the theme of longing - by which I mean a strong, persistent desire or craving - is one that runs through Shir Hashirim, the love poem that has been allegorized as the story of Israel's relationship with God. This allegorization is one reason why Shir Hashirim has become a Pesach text, second only to the Hagadah. 

I rather like the idea of picking up these delicate threads, however tenuously, at Yachatz. I like using the separated matzohs as a symbol for the break that exists between God and His people and for the mutual craving that followed. I like the idea of starting the Seder with the idea that we are separated from God, and the thought that the ritual meal will reunify us with Him. Orthodox Jews aren't taught to think about Yachatz this way. For us, this interpretation is revelatory. 

Framing Yachatz this way, also connects the separation of the matzo to the separation of the two Yom Kippur goats, and all that represents, and to the two birds that are brought to cure us of various forms of impurity. One piece of matzo, remains on the table while the other is hidden away. Likewise one goat remains in the Temple, while the other is sent into the wilderness and one bird is sacrificed as an olah, while the other becomes a chatas. Both the birds and the goats are considered "mates" to each other. 

Its a simple thing, imagining the matzo longing for its mate, but it unlocks so much excellent and powerful symbolism!

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