Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Slavery, Then and Now: How Matzah Can Change the World

Ha lahma anya,” we chant in Aramaic as we open the Maggid / storytelling section of the Passover seder.  “This is the bread of poverty that our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt.  Let all who are hungry come and eat.”  

I must confess that I truly loathe matzah, and love good quality, fresh bread.  I dread this time of year with the same passion that drives men to produce great sandwiches - the TLT, for example: baked tofu, lettuce and tomato, ideally with red onion and wasabi mayonnaise on a hallah roll.  Matzah is not merely unsatisfying; it’s downright painful, and somewhat unsettling.

But that, of course, is exactly the point.  For eight days out of the year, we forgo not only the sourdough, whole wheat, rye, pumpernickel, pita, tortillas, and of course pasta, decent breakfast cereals, soy sauce, and a whole range of other hametz-laden edibles.  This is supposed to be a challenge, one that brings us down a few notches from our usual comfort range; although we are free, we should continue to look back over our shoulders to those whom we left behind in Egypt, those who even in this day are oppressed and suffering, like modern-day slaves.

There are an estimated 12 million to 27 million slaves on the planet today: 80% are female, 50% are minors.  Some 600,000 to 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders each year, and more within their own countries.  Contemporary slaves falls into two major categories: those that are forced into prostitution, and those in forced-labor arrangements.  Both of these types exist within our borders, but our lifestyles support slavery all over the world.  If you want to see how your choices keep slaves and their taskmasters in business all over the world, go to the website slaveryfootprint.org.

Why is it that Jews have often been at the forefront of humanitarian causes?  Why is it that we have such a long track record of remembering the poor and disenfranchised, of taking steps to repair this fractured world?  Perhaps it is because the Torah exhorts us no less than 36 times to protect the stranger that dwells among us, far more than keeping the Shabbat or avoiding pork.  Or maybe it is the matzah.  The bread of poverty reminds us that slavery is still a part of us, and that redemption comes when all of humanity comes forth from Egypt.  So please, don’t enjoy your food during the week of Pesah; allow the hard, unpalatable staple to bring to mind the suffering of others, the oppression of those who are figuratively as well as literally enslaved.

Let all who are hungry come and eat.

Rabbi Seth Adelson

(Originally published in the Temple Israel Voice, 4/7/2012.)

No comments:

Post a Comment