A Deeper Take on Matzah


4 Nisan 5776

by Rabbi Josh

My teacher, Rabbi Shefa Gold, writes:

“I've been experiencing ‘Matzah’ as the essence that we must return to, must re-discover in order to grow in purity and awareness toward our liberation. The ‘hametz’ [the leavened products traditionally removed on Passover/Pesach] is the sourness, often unconscious, the residue from suffering, disappointment. When hametz is left to its own, it causes inflation, which is the process whereby layers of false-self build up to protect the essential core. The trouble is that through this process we also lose access to that essence. Before Pesach the challenge it seems to me is to release those layers of false self and then to discern the sourness that gave rise to that layering, then to re-experience the essence which is the unique spark at your core, beyond all the accumulated knowledge, talent, personality that you usually identify with.”    

I’d like to invite us to print out and retain Rabbi Shefa’s kavannah (intention), and to apply it to when we actually encounter (eat!) matzah on the night of the seder, as well as for all the remaining eight days of the holiday. Pesach is the only time of year in which we daily partake of a sacred food, i.e. matzah. In this way, the holiday gives us the opportunity for an eating meditation on a very deep level, sustained for one full week. How might our lives be transformed if we reminded ourselves of this deep intention every time we ate matzah during this week-long holiday? What if we were to use the reminder of this ultra-simple, sacred food to reconnect to our essence, to take a moment before eating to release any false-self/hametz sourness that might be creeping in?

Even further, what if we really got a head start on this process and took the extra step of clearing out hametz before Pesach starts, i.e. before the night of the first seder on April 22?  In many ways, the most important part of Passover is in the preparation.  There are multiple ways to clear out the ‘hametz’ in our lives. One is the traditional way: to remove all products made with the five prohibited grains (wheat, barley, spelt, oats, and rye), and to thoroughly clean one’s kitchen and indeed the entire house (and one’s cars!). To turn a “spring cleaning” and removal of products like bread, cereal, cookies, etc., into a meaningful spiritual practice we might consider the following additional step: as you remove these products and give your home a thorough cleaning, stop every 10 minutes and say, lichvod Pesach, “in honor of Passover,” to remind yourself of why you are doing this.  As you pause in your physical cleaning, you may want to also set an intention of other types of internal hametz that you’d like to release—habits or defenses you no longer need to cling to, negative mind-states that obstruct your freedom.

This can also be a time to clear out non-food hametz, other types of things that clutter up your life:  piles of old papers, emails clogging your in-box, and general physical mess. The tradition generally looks at hametz at the food and the internal level. Yet today- at a time when so many of us have too much stuff in our lives “puffing us up” and disrupting our ability to access our essence- we might want to expand our understanding of hametz to include the material hametz with which we surround ourselves. At Pesah, then, we are invited to set an intention to simplify our lives and gain greater clarity, and to take on one physical project that will help manifest that intention.

May this be a Pesach that liberates on many levels for all of us!

If you are interested in another Passover teaching by Rabbi Josh, check out his blog post from last year.

(With thanks to Rabbi Toba Spitzer for compiling these texts).