Which proves, like the old Levy's rye bread ad, you don't have to be Jewish to like matzah. Like His Holiness, I like matzah, too. Yet I never eat it except during Passover.
Years ago, when I grew up in Baltimore and had an annual family seder there, the first course my grandmother served was always hardboiled eggs in salt water. I think the eggs represented spring, and the salt water the tears of the Hebrew slaves. This custom must have come from the Old Country. But what got funny was that every year, my brother-in-law Murph would enthusiastically eat the dish, ask for more, and say the exact same words, "Why don't I eat this all the time!"
So if matzah tastes so good, why don't we eat it all the time? Here's the way I understand it: We are given the mitzvah (commandment) of eating matzah as a way of cultivating a special awareness. And not eating it all the time keeps it special. As a matter of fact, matzah, in its flatness, its lack of leaven, represents "pure awareness," which is given to us as a special gift at Passover. The day before Passover begins, we are not to eat any matzah, in order to prepare our palate spiritually for this great gift.
What is that awareness? It is awareness of God in our lives.
Souls live inside bodies, and the Jewish understanding is that we have bodies in order to transform our experiences and elevate them to the level of soulfulness. The various Jewish holidays take advantage of our having bodies by giving us opportunities to use them spiritually. When we say sweet prayers with our lips and tongues, we are elevating those body parts through our special use of them. When we dance around the synagogue on Simchat Torah, we are turning our legs and arms into prayer. But at Passover, we are given an extraordinary opportunity: We are turning the very act of eating into a mitzvah.
There's one more thing we can do in connection with matzah, and we are reminded of that in the seder when the leader holds up the plate of matzah and recites the following words:
"This is the bread of affliction that our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt. All who are hungry, come and eat! All in need, come and join in celebrating Pesach! This year we are here, next year we will be in the land of Israel. This year we are slaves, next year we will be free men."
Those words recited at the Passover seder are for me the essence of Passover, the Jewish holiday that is most celebrated, most favored, most loved of the entire Jewish year. And I think it's important to make these words concrete and real. We need to find a way to put them into action.
Traditionally, poor members of the community were invited to the seder table, and that was a basic meaning of this invitation, "Let all who are hungry come and eat." But if that's not possible, here are at least two things you can do to make these words a reality in your life. The first thing is something you can do right now: Click over to the Hunger Site. This is a website that allows you to provide two cups of food a day for hungry people all over the world. All you have to do is click on the site--that's it. Please put it on your favorites list. Please consider making it your homepage. You are allowed to visit it once a day, and each time you do, the sponsors help feed more people. Here's the address: www.thehungersite.com.
Here's a second way to make the words real: Mazon. Mazon is a "Jewish response to hunger." The idea is to spend $18--or whatever you would spend to bring one extra person to your seder table--and give that money to a hungry family. You can send your contributions to Mazon, 12401 Wilshire Blvd, Ste 303, Los Angeles, CA 90025-1015.
And have a great Passover.