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Rabbi Mendy Herson's Blog

Thoughts from, and conversations with, Rabbi Herson

The Soul of Matzah

Passover - and Matzah ! - are just over two weeks away.

So let’s explore the Passover experience, and the Matzah, our famous brittle bread. 

Most of us know the narrative's basics:
The Jews were enslaved in Egypt, until G-d told Moses that it was time to liberate them, and started to afflict the Egyptians with plagues.

Then, two weeks in advance, G-d gave Moses the process of liberation:

A.  On the night of the Exodus, the Jews were to have a special meal, consisting of a Passover offering, Matzah and bitter herbs.

B. Later, at midnight, G-d would inflict a final plague on the Egyptians.

C. The Jews would leave in the early morning hours.

Ultimately, they needed to rush when they left and their bread didn’t have time to rise. So the dough was made into Matzah instead.

Those are the basics.

Note that the Jews actually had two Matzah experiences. There was Matzah on the planned-in-advance, Passover evening menu. And then they had a second Matzah experience, which seemed to be happenstance.

Now to the subtext:

In Chassidic thought, simple Matzah represents humility (as distinct from the puffed-up ego represented by bread).

Self-absorption desensitizes us to our need for spiritual growth, creating a daunting "personal Egypt". By contrast, Matzah represents humility and openness to self-improvement. It also represents faith, which is receptivity to something greater than us.

So, G-d told the Jews to find a Matzah mentality, and thereby leave their "personal Egypt." They met their objective, and opened the way for a second level of Matzah, a deeper dimension of surrender.

The first Matzah represents the Jews' self-generated submission to G-d. The second experience was Divinely-granted, generated by G-d’s revelation of Himself to the Jews at that time. With that experience, could any vestige of shallow self-interest possibly remain?

So Passover had two stages: Once the Jews had worked with themselves to find humility and faith, G-d granted the Divine coup de grace to their ego struggle.

That second Matzah wasn't planned, and it wasn't in our hands to create. It was a Divine gift. A gift that keeps on giving.

This year, at the Seder, we can experience both Matzah levels, because G-d grants the gift, again and again; if we’re ready for it.

The preparation begins now.

Bringing Ourselves into Line

Emotions are a funny thing.

When something triggers emotion in me, I know that it matters. Emotions also form a bridge – or a barrier – between people. So emotions are a critically important part of the personality.

But emotions can also get away from you. Like when you ‘fly off the handle.’ Emotions are your psyche’s fire. And, like fire, we need to treat them carefully and keep them under control.

Emotion even impacts our understanding. Unless I’m ‘emotionally-available’ to internalize and accept hear your words, I probably won’t be able to appreciate their logic (i.e. if I don’t like you, your opinion is probably wrong).

Sometimes, it can feel like our emotions control the joystick of our lives. But they don’t have to. Because we also have intellect.

Intellect is the more sedate and controlled side of the human psyche. Logic is cool, calm and somewhat detached. It’s soothing water to help you control your emotional fire.

I remember reading how a man sat on a subway in NYC, while a father with three young children sat next to him. The kids were unruly and really got under this fellow’s skin. As his anger-quotient rose, the father noticed his discomfort. Apologizing for his children’s behavior, he explained that they were on the way home from the hospital. The children’s mother had just passed away and they were a bit overwhelmed with the confusion in their lives.

This subway traveler was totally transformed. Ashamed of his snap to judgment, his anger was immediately replaced by empathy and concern.

Why do you think his anger disappeared?

It’s because his perspective changed. With new information, a new understanding, he revised his mental ‘framing’ of the situation, and his emotions immediately followed suit.

Too often we feel that our emotions ‘run away with us.’ They don’t have to. When we reframe how we see the world, our emotions can come into line with our reasonable selves.

Much of Torah life, the Mitzvot and their mindset, guides us toward this goal of corralling human nature and bringing it into line with a purposeful life. Each Mitzvah is its own exercise, bringing us closer to our better selves.

G-d wants us to become optimally-functioning human beings, so G-d gave us a user’s manual for life – the Torah – to help us achieve that goal.

Check out the program.

It works.

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