The Taste of Matzah
Dedicated to the blessed memories of Yehudah Yosef ben Shoshana, beloved son of Dr. Arnold and Sue Feldman and Alison Louise Johnson, beloved daughter of Bob and Rabbi Naomi Hyman
Sponsored by Dr. Dena Drasin, Eryn Kalish, and Josh Jacobs-Veld
Most of us don’t really like matzah. We love our chametz (leavening). Matzah is just flour and water baked no more than eighteen minutes. Eighteen is the gematria of “chay,” Hebrew for life itself. So, matzah is pure life as it is, unadorned, unenhanced– the taste of pure life itself without embellishments.
Generally, to deal with our lives, we need chametz. We need something to make life interesting and tasty. We become so attached to our craving for chametz that we lose the taste for pure life itself. But our tradition teaches that the essence of Life, the Chey ha-Chayyim, is what we mean by G-d. So, in losing our taste for pure life itself during the course of the year, we become more and more estranged from the source of ourselves and all that exists. To get that taste back, we need to be reminded that G-d is there in the essence of pure life itself. In eating matzah we can rediscover what we really crave, the Taste of Tastes, so that in tasting it again, we can find it in everything just as it is.
But how can we really taste matzah? In life, many of the things that are most refined and ultimately most pleasing are often things that are classified as “an acquired taste.” We don’t necessarily like them the first time we try them. But connoisseurs tell us that if we keep trying something really good, eventually we “get it.” The hidden charm, beauty, and delight are revealed only to one who believes it is there and who is willing to devote herself to the quest. And yet, sometimes the things we develop a taste for are themselves only another form of chametz. So, we have to be very careful if we want “the real thing,” because the Taste of Tastes can only be tasted when one is beli mashehu chametz, when all chametz has been eliminated. To taste the best of the best we have to eliminate the things that coarsen our palates.
Before we can even taste matzah, we have to know what our chametz is. What are the attachments, distractions, and habits that block us from tasting the taste of pure life itself? According to the Mishnah, we are to search for chametz “’or le-arba’ah eser.” Conventionally, that means the search for chametz is usually done at dusk on the 14th of Nisan. But if we look more closely at the precise language of the early rabbis and read it literally as “light for four ten,” we can find in these words the spiritual advice to shine light on our chametz in all the ten sefirot of all the four worlds. As the verse (Proverbs 20:27) says, “Ner YHVH nishmat adam, (a person’s soul is a divine light). In checking ourselves for chametz, we need to focus our inner divine light of awareness on the “chametzdik” aspects of ourselves in all four worlds: in action, feeling, concepts, and, yes, even in our spiritual life. Where are we stuck? Where are we relying on something other than the Source of Life itself to make our lives palatable?
This is, of course, not a process in which we can be completely successful. Nevertheless, in order to taste the matzah, we have to make the sincere effort to locate (and intend to eliminate) our chametz, first. In Sefer Nachat ha-Shulchan, the Tcheriner Rabbi points out that when we look for our chametz (bediqat chametz), we say a blessing over “burning chametz,” and not “seeking chametz” even though the act of burning (eliminating the chametz that remains after the process of seeking it) doesn’t take place until the following morning. The reason is, he tells us, because the power of shining the conscious light of our souls on our chametz already begins the process of its elimination.
To succeed in this practice, we have to make sure to look very carefully in those places where our chametz is likely to be found, where we can clearly see what it is. In this way, we prepare ourselves to taste the matzah. We don’t have to and, in fact, can’t find everything. The rest we can renounce and disown. In sincerely examining the chametz that we can find, we are able to strengthen the divine light of our souls. As a result, we nullify every tendency to identify with chametz, conscious or unconscious. In that sense, we can then be “beli mashehu chametz (without any chametz at all).”
Reb Noson of Nemirov, of blessed memory, has a prayer in his Liqqutey Tefillot in which he prays that he be granted the power to really taste matzah on Pesach and to be able to be beli mashehu chametz all eight days, so that after Pesach, when we begin eating chametz again, he can still taste the matzah.
I would like to ask the Chey ha-Chayyim, Source of Life and Taste of Tastes, to bless all of us with the power to fulfill the prayer of Reb Noson. This Pesach, may we all really taste the matzah! Be-hatzlachah!
Good Shabbos. Good Yom Tov. A joyful and “matzahdik” Pesach to one and all.
Moshe Aharon Ladizhiner, Pesach 5768