As miraculously and suddenly as geulah appears, it may disappear. Like sand between our fingers, it could quickly escape our grasp unless. Unless we vigilantly guard our borders from maror. We need to remember that the Egyptians were initially kind to our ancestors and only later embittered their lives with persecution.
Hillel’s sandwich teaches us this very lesson. The Pesach meat, matzah and maror are all parts of the same redemptive process. Should one of the ingredients be missing, we lose the ability to fully appreciate what it means to become truly free.
The maror sandwiched between two matzot conveys a similar message. The Torah gives us two reasons why matzah is eaten on Pesach. Matzah is lechem oni, the bread of affliction. It reminds us the hardship of our slavery. Even as it recalls our slavery, it reminds us of the swift and hasty manner of our redemption.
Matzah represents the rush to freedom as well as the bread of affliction.
Both reasons create the basis for the mitzvah to be observed at all times, and the rationale for continuing Hillel’s practice even when the Pesach meat can no longer be consumed. When the nation of Israel finds itself safe and secure in its own land, freed from foreign rule and dominion, matzah is to be eaten as lechem oni, lest the nation suffer the illusion that its present state is natural and sure to continue. Remembering the past prompts us to “keep our guard up” and to maintain a vigil against external, as well as internal, intrusions.
When we are not safe and galut and maror overwhelm our existence; when the nation of Israel is once again under foreign rule, the matzah we eat will remind us that, “You came forth out of the land of Egypt in haste.”
There is always hope in the Eternal. Our fate can change in an instant.
The lechem oni of the past need not be reinforced in the present state of affairs, when oni is yet again relived in our contemporary galut. What needs reinforcement, then, is the chipazon element of our faith, remembering that even when one sees no glimmer of hope and is apt to despair, God can change it all in a moment.
In galut conditions, matzah saves the nation from despair. At the same time, when the nation is in geulah, the matzah is like the watchman, keeping the nation from being seduced by the illusion of security. This is the reason the Torah tells us to “remember the days you left Egypt all the days of your life.” That is, during the days of geulah as well as the days of galut.
The forever dynamic of galut and geulah is the essence of the Jewish experience. They make up a single sandwich – a single experience.
Rabbi Dr. Eliyahu Safran is OU Kosher’s vice president – communications and marketing. He is the author of “Kos Eliyahu – Insights on the Haggadah and Pesach.”