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Bo 5769

By: Rav David Milston

The Tastiest Sandwich on Earth – Rav David Milston "And they shall eat the meat on this night, roasted with fire, and matzah; and they shall eat it with bitter herbs." (Shemot, 12:8) The Torah lists the various commandments relating to Pesach, and instructs us to eat the Korban Pesach (the Paschal lamb) together with Matzah (unleavened bread) and Maror (bitter herbs.) A similar reference is made in Bamidbar, 9:11, concerning Pesach Sheini.[1] Interestingly enough, it is actually from the latter verse that Hillel came to the halachic conclusion that the way to fulfill the mitzvot of the sacrificial lamb, the Matzah, and the Maror on Seder Night is to eat them together in what is famously known as the 'Hillel Sandwich' (in Hebrew - 'Korech'.)[2] It is our custom to partake of Korech immediately after having eaten Matzah and Maror separately, thus reminding ourselves of Hillel's opinion. Even if we were not to accept Hillel's understanding, we still need to understand the true meaning of the verse. Why are these three themes juxtaposed, suggesting that Pesach, Matzah, and Maror are independent of one another, yet conceptually intertwined? I would like to refer to three very different but equally interesting approaches: The Kli Yakar[3] suggests these verses indicate the obligation to remember the difficult times at the precise moment our situation improves. Hence, even though we are eating Matzah to celebrate our freedom on Seder Night, it is crucial to eat Maror too, so we remember the bad times as well. This can be explained in a number of ways: The most obvious implication is that if one has never known slavery, one cannot fully appreciate freedom. Those who have always lived in comfort take much of their existence for granted. Freedom is clearly a value in itself, but before we can even begin to understand its value, we must compare it to its antithesis. A second interpretation could be that only from this perspective can we truly appreciate the Almighty's lovingkindness. He does not only sustain us in our good times, but He liberated us from a nightmare existence. However, my favorite interpretation is that this 'sandwich' defines the essence of the Jewish faith. On this night of liberation, when we sit as free men and women and celebrate our independence and our crucial role in the world, we are reminded of a very important educational principle: A Jew cannot only celebrate God when all is running smoothly, as symbolized by the Matzah. We must realize we have to serve God even if the reality is Maror. Being Jewish will always distinguish us from other nations. Just as we were required to take the Egyptian god and sacrifice it in the main streets of Cairo and Alexandria all those years ago, so we will be required to act in ways that will not only distinguish us from our neighbors, but may even create friction. On this night, Am Yisrael's very first Yom Ha'Atzmaut (Independence Day,) we must confirm, especially now in the midst of celebration, that our commitment to the Almighty is absolute. Just as we trust in Him when we can see the immediate benefit of His actions, so must we trust in Him when our herbs are bitter. This truth is even more important when we consider we have historically experienced much more Maror than Matzah. This is the sandwich of Jewish faith. It is only because of these principles established on that momentous night, that we still have the faith to overcome the unimaginable, and to succeed where all others have failed. Rav Kook, in his comments to the Haggadah, offers a different understanding altogether.[4] Maror represents slavery; Matzah, freedom. Maror is the slave; Matzah the beloved son. As we know from the famous Avinu Malkeinu prayer, we have two very different, though not mutually exclusive, relationships with the Almighty. On the one hand, He is our Father, and we are His children. At the same time, He is our King, and we are His servants. We cannot have one without the other. In our relationship with the Almighty we have a real need for Matzah, for freedom; a need to feel able to express our love and enthusiasm at being the People of God. We need happiness, freshness, and pure excitement in our Divine service. However, if this is the sole definition of our relationship with the Almighty, then danger lurks in the shadows of uncontrolled religiosity and misdirected spirituality, as we see all too often in Tenach. For example, it could be argued that the events surrounding the sudden deaths of Nadav and Avihu were due to uncontrolled religious excitement during the consecration of the Tabernacle.[5] Similarly, the tragedy that befell Uzzah during the frenzied attempt to bring the Holy Ark to Yerushalayim Ir HaKodesh.[6] Our relationship with the Almighty must include Maror. There must be an element of servitude, submissiveness, awe, and fear. We need to be constantly aware of the Omnipotent God, and His control over us 24/7. We must tremble in the knowledge that we are ultimately accountable to Him for our actions. As slaves, we cannot do whatever we want whenever we want to. We are controlled and limited, reliant on our Master, subservient to His will. However, a religion that is solely Maror is also a failure. God wants us to strive for closeness, to serve with happiness, to cling to His being. But these objectives are unobtainable if we feel constricted to express ourselves. Hence the need for the sandwich. Only when these two crucial facets co-exist in our relationship with the Almighty, can we reach the spiritual level represented by sacrifice. The Hebrew word for sacrifice is 'Korban' – a derivative of the word 'LeKarev' – to draw near. Closeness to God can only be accomplished when these two forms of servitude, Matzah and Maror, interlock.[7] In our communities, there have always been those who put extra emphasis on fear, on restriction and caution in our Divine service, and correctly so. Yet, there has recently been an emergence of groups 'hungry for more,' dissatisfied with serving God on these terms alone, and a refreshing and invigorating 'spiritual' celebration has appeared. Similar to the materialization of Chassidut in the latter part of the 18th Century, this may well be an 'explosion' of religious energy that has been pent up for so many years. But let us not be mistaken. It would be foolish and religiously fatal to even think of replacing Maror with Matzah. We should enthuse, dance, sing, and enjoy our relationship with the Almighty, but only when that celebration is synthesized with halachic restriction, and under the supervision and direction of rabbinical authority. Our sacrifice, our dialogue with the Almighty, must be with both Matzah and Maror. Following the Kli Yakar and Rav Kook, we turn to Rav Hirsch for our third majestic insight into the Hillel Sandwich (Shemot, 12:8): "On this freedom-bringing night … the sacrifice must be roasted directly on fire, together with Matzah and Maror. The meaning of 'Matzot and Merorim' is clear: Just as their oppressors did not grant them time to eat leavened bread at the moment of the exodus, so they never had time to eat real bread, sufficing with Matzah during the whole period of their slavery. The overseer's whip and the breathless rush of the overwhelming workload were always behind them, only allowing the quickest and easiest preparation of their food. Matzah is the real bread of slaves, and we still refer to it as 'the bread of affliction that our forefathers ate in Egypt'.[8] Thus, Matzah represents slavery. Maror is the symbol of ruthless torment, of the people being constantly embittered by their masters. Matzah and Maror therefore represent two of the three well-known phases of the Egyptian exile: 'Avdut' (slavery) and 'Inuy' (affliction.) The roasted sacrifice represents the third element of our suffering – 'Geirut' (being regarded as a stranger.) Without a base, with no firm ground under its feet, hanging and swinging back and forth on a spit, the Paschal Lamb is extremely symbolic. Aliens, strangers, are literally in that position: With no social standing, they are driven back and forth, with no right to the ground under their feet. This people, now rising to freedom and independence, had to be matured for their ultimate goal." Rav Hirsch explains the verse as teaching us to remember not just the general theme of slavery in Egypt, but also the details of that suffering. The initial fall from equal citizen's rights, as represented by the Paschal Lamb, the fall from 'tourist' status to the reality of slavery, as symbolized by Matzah, and finally the total loss of any rights and dignity through the active affliction as shown by Maror. This is indeed the order we see in the Torah: Pesach, Matzah, and Maror. Surely we cannot end here! If Rav Hirsch is suggesting the central symbols of this joyous evening all reflect elements of hardship, can this be the message of Pesach? To sit together and bemoan our terrible experiences in Mitzrayim? So Rav Hirsch concludes: "We eat these three foods together to remain mentally aware that we were still under heavy pressure right up to the moment of redemption. We were still the same slaves in the power of the Egyptians, and it was God and God alone who granted us freedom. We ourselves had not the slightest part in it." At the climax of Seder Night, we eat foods symbolizing slavery, and then we immediately commence the celebration of our freedom, and begin to recite Hallel. Isn't that a contradiction? No! We are reenacting the reality of Yetziat Mitzrayim! This was not a popular uprising; there were no revolutionary anthems and mass demonstrations. We were slaves to the very end. The Almighty God brought us out of Egypt. By re-living those moments on Seder Night, we appreciate His lovingkindness all that more. It was an absolute redemption; an immediate grant of freedom. A literal overnight success: slaves today; free men tomorrow. And this message gives us inspirational hope. Never give up. Never despair, however dire the situation appears to be. One minute before midnight, we were slaves in Egypt with no prospects and no future. A minute later, we were a people marching towards Mount Sinai! That's our sandwich. Three great commentators spanning hundreds of years of Jewish experience, but all connected to the very source of our national existence. Our sandwich contains an eternal message; a message that gives us strength whenever we seem trapped with nowhere to turn. We remember that night in Egypt; we remember how redemption can come "at the blink of an eye," and we are strengthened, rejuvenated, and invigorated in our beliefs. Even our food becomes our faith.

 

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