As background to our own Passover celebration, food historians are of the opinion that leavened bread originated in Egypt, probably less than a millennium before the pyramids were built. The Egyptians, while also consuming unleavened bread, were the first to produce leavened bread which became a symbol of Egyptian culture.
This offers us remarkable understanding for why the Israelites left Egypt with matzah. For our Biblical ancestors, leaving Egypt with unleavened rather than leavened bread meant they were leaving Egyptian culture behind. They may have been in a hurry, but fleeing slavery they were ridding themselves of the culture that enabled their misery.
I want to add this awareness to our Passover celebration. Careful that our food is matzah and not hametz, honoring the symbolism and the memory of our Jewish master story, let’s focus on more than our meals. Let’s focus on our culture and walk away from the leavened, fermented elements which enslave us.
In our contemporary culture self-importance enslaves us. We prize personal preference over communal norms. We are uncomfortable speaking of social responsibility.
Imagine in the week of Passover absolute kindness and mutual respect between people. Imagine a week in which no one is mocked for their life circumstance. Imagine a week without the crass and the cruel that often passes for entertainment. Imagine a week of sincerity and honesty. Imagine a week during which other people’s needs are more important than our own desires. Imagine all of this for more than a week!
The Seder invites us to explore the role and responsibility of an individual in the life of a people. “In every generation, every individual should feel as though he or she had actually been redeemed from Egypt.” There was no way our ancestors could have left Egypt individually. It was only as a people that we attained our freedom. And, it is only as a community that we safeguard it.
The society we seek requires humility, not arrogance. Fermented grain implies personal and social excess. Unleavened bread suggests modesty. As a result of our observance, may this Passover season inspire us toward greater compassion and caring.