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Liberation of the “I” on the Seder Night

Despite all the time and effort we spend preparing delicacies for the Seder table, the Seder’s main focus is the matzah and the wine. These two simple items are replete with deep spiritual significance. Let us take a deeper look at these two foods:

The Nullification of Matzah

What does the matzah say to us? Maztah, in Hebrew (מַצָּה) is written mem, tzaddik, hei. The numerical value of the first letter, mem, is 40 and the value of the last letter, hei, is 5. The tzaddik, the letter in the middle, equals 90, twice the value of the first and last letters together. As a word, the first and last letters (מָה), allude to self-nullification, as in Moses’ words, “And we are nothing”[1] (וְנַחְנוּ מָה), an expression of humility. The matzah itself in the way it is produced expresses the attribute of humility. It does not rise, meaning it does not inflate with self-pride. It is made from just two basic ingredients—flour and water—with no leavening agent and no other spice.

Put another way, matzah represents nothingness (אַיִן). Chametz, or leavened dough, symbolizes a sense of self, which like the leavening process, fills a person with a sense of pride, which causes his ego to rise and inflate. Physically, when we eat leavened bread, we feel satiated and full. Conversely, when eating matzah, we connect back to our source. Because no time passes between the preparation of the dough and its baking, matzah connects us back to our source in God making us feel that we have nothing of our own; all that we are is given to us by God.

This is the appropriate feeling for the moment of the Exodus from Egypt. Just yesterday we were Pharaoh’s servants and now we are free. However, we did not redeem ourselves from Egypt and we feel God’s hand, as it were, liberating us from bondage and guiding us into redemption. It’s almost as if He was kneading and baking us. We feel as if we have been created anew, yesh me’ayin, something from nothing.

The Song of the Wine

What does the wine say to us? The wine sings praises to God. “We sing only over a cup of wine.”[2] We drink wine and secrets pour out of us. The numerical value of “wine” (יַיִן) and “secret” (סוֹד) are identical. After the matzah that alludes to self-nullification and humility, the wine is not supposed to make us proud, but simply to make us happy.

When we eat the matzah, we still do not feel happiness, for we are nullified to the Divine nothingness. The wine, however, highlights our being; it stresses that we do indeed exist, and our hearts are filled with joy. Interestingly, a different permutation of the words that describe the quality of the matzah, “something from nothing” (יֵשׁ מֵאַיִן) is “fire from wine” (אֵשׁ מִיַּיִן). This is the holy fire that rises within us as we drink each of the four cups of wine at the Seder.

“I and No Other”

For a person who leads his life with humility and self-nullification and is like matzah, the sense of nothingness (אין) is so strong that we would find that person would be incapable of uttering the word “I” (אֲנִי). Nothingness overcomes the egotistical “I” and what we feel is that there is only God. Nothing else exists.

This feeling, however, should not be our goal. Together with the matzah, we need the wine to release something inside us, so that we can transform the “nothingness” (אין) into “I” (אני). We need to internalize the message of self-nullification of the matzah to the point where it becomes part of us and then we can say “I” but be referring to the Shechinah—to God’s Divine Presence, that dwells within us.

In the words that can be seen as the climax of the Hagaddah, we say, “I and not an angel…, I and not a fiery angel…, I and not a messenger… I, God; I am He, and no other”[3] (אֲנִי וְלֹא מַלְאָךְ… אֲנִי וְלֹא שָׂרָף… אֲנִי וְלֹא הַשָּׁלִיחַ… אֲנִי ה', אֲנִי הוּא וְלֹא אַחֵר). The word “I” appears here five times. The literal meaning is that God is referring to Himself as “I,” but after having integrated the message of the matzah, we are able to say “I,” with Him.

After we internalize this point, we will feel even more strongly that the main part of our Seder table is still missing—the meat of the Paschal sacrifice. May we merit to sacrifice it before God, in the rebuilt Temple in Jerusalem, speedily, in our days, amen!

[1]. Exodus 16:7.

[2]Shut Tashbetz 3:65. Beit Yosef on Yoreh De’ah 265.

[3]. Exodus 12:12.

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