A House of Cards: A No Yeast Blog
Dear readers, we are close enough for me to admit that I suffer from opsomania. Don’t worry, I won’t have you scrambling for your dictionaries--maybe just scramble some eggs. Opsomania is the abnormal love for one kind of food. In my case it’s, bagels. But as Passover arrives it’s not an option. I cannot deny that every year, as I sip away at my morning latte, I lament the loss of my favorite carb and my spirit sadly flattens like a whole wheat matzah.
But Passover is not just about slicing off bread from the menu or getting rid of the last possible crumbs from our fridge. It is also a divinely sanctified time for us to take an introspective look at ourselves, to clean up our spiritual crumbs, and to commit ourselves to doing things differently and better today than we did yesterday. It’s about scrutinizing our habits, cravings and entire life with questioning and honest eyes. A thorough and honest search often reveals that we are much crumbier than we realize or care to admit. On Passover we are reminded that Chametz (leavened dough) is equivalent to arrogance – it is the exact opposite of the Torah ideal.
The yeast that makes bread rise is compared to a man’s swollen pride and self-puffery. Yet matzahs are hardly attention seekers. Everything about them bespeaks humility. And indeed, they are a needed reminder to a people who often bloated by their own success, forget that at any moment history can take the air right out of them. The destiny of a Jew can pivot in a second. G-d’s chosen people historically has had to go to sleep at night with their running shoes on.
Repeatedly in Jewish history we have seen that Jews can be up one day and under the heel of its enemies the next. One day Joseph was the viceroy and savior of Egypt until his people were rendered slaves of Egypt. German Jews were also respected citizens of their beloved Vaterland, Deutschland until they were cremated and gassed to death. Jews living in the Diaspora are welcome guests in their host countries until they are not and then they must flee for their lives. One moment Jews are simply living life and the next second, even in their own homeland, are gunned down, stabbed and run over by terrorists.
A thinking man must ask, “Why?” Passover is the perfect time for such introspection. It is a holiday called by a few names: One is, Chag HaHerut, i.e., the holiday of freedom. What are we doing with our freedom? When G-d smashed Egypt along with its idols and freed His nation, He told the Israelites:
“You saw what I did in Egypt, carrying you on eagles' wings and bringing you to Me. Now if you obey Me and keep My covenant, you will be My special treasure among all nations, because all the world is Mine.
You will be for Me a Kingdom of Priests and a holy people.” (Exodus 19:5-6)
Do we resemble that beautiful vision G-d had of us at all? Are we behaving like a holy people or liked a puffed-up holey bagel, all inflated around an empty core?
The Passover Haggadah reminds us that each generation must consider that it was they themselves who came out of Egypt and not their ancestors. We are free and safe at anytime only by G-d’s will. We must earn our redemption daily. Israel has to pray every day for rain while its neighbor Egypt is irrigated by the Nile. G-d demands a constant unique relationship with us and in all our interactions. He wanted us to be a “special treasure,” to become polished gems through His Torah. But, instead we throw away His commandments like unwanted crumbs and fashion our lives like oil-rich bread loaves molded in the shape and service of foreign gods.
There’s a price to pay for walking away from Hashem. “You shall fear the L-rd, your G-d, worship Him, and swear by His name. Or What? “Lest the wrath of the L-rd, your G-d, be kindled against you, and destroy you off the face of the earth.” It is the Eleventh principle of Jewish faith to believe that G-d rewards those who keep His commandments and punishes those who don’t. Our enemies are just the sticks that G-d uses to hit us, albeit enthusiastic sticks. The irrational quality of Jew hatred should make us realize that something “irrational,” something exceptional, something beyond the physical reality we cling to, is at play. Rabbi Avraham Tanis says: “Man believes in himself and questions the Almighty, when really, we should believe in the Almighty and question ourselves.”
My friends, Jewish destiny is as brittle as a matzah. And even as we succeed, let's not forget who is puffing the air into our well being. So let’s try to make every effort to remember we are Jews and show it in ways that are important to G-d, i.e., by observing His Torah.
Yes, these days are different than all other days. For one, I will miss my bagels. Secondly, it's an apt time to acknowledge that at the center of that sesame-seeded symbol of pride is a big fat zero--an accurate evaluation of what we are without G-d as the core. And so, as we munch on our matzahs, it’s the perfect time for us to reflect upon our more savory days and take note of Who really is buttering our bread or making us choke with each bite.