Rabbi Mayer Twersky

Matzo and Maror

"They should eat the flesh on that night – roasted over the fire - and matzos; with bitter herbs they shall eat it"(Shemos 12:8)

Hillel's understanding of this verse serves as the source for his original and our mimetic practice of eating matzo and marror together. (Pesachim 115a. Vide Hagahos Maharav Ranshburg ad locum.) Primo facie this mitzvah appears to be anomalous because it seemingly incorporates antithetical elements within a single mitzvah. Matzo symbolizes and commemorates redemption "[It is a mtzvah to eat] matzo because [our ancestors] were redeemed" (ibid 116b). Marror, on the other hand, symbolizes and commemorates bitter servitude "[It is a mitzvah to eat] marror because the Egyptians embittered the lives of our ancestors in Egypt" (ibid). What message does this seemingly anomalous mitzvah convey?

In truth, the dialectical merging of the symbols for redemption and servitude occurs within the mitzvah of matzo itself. Not only is matzo the quintessential symbol of redemption, but simultaneously it evokes images of suffering and slavery. In fact, we accentuate this dimension of matzo in our introduction to maggid "This is the poor man's bread that our ancestors ate in Egypt" (Vide Ramban to Devarim 16:2).

Upon reflection, this apparent anomaly points us to a profound, enhanced understanding of the relationship between suffering and redemption within Hashem's providential scheme. Redemption does not represent the end or negation of suffering; instead it is the culmination of suffering. Redemption is an outgrowth rather than a reversal of suffering. Accordingly, matzo simultaneously symbolizes both suffering and redemption. Moreover, matzo and marror merge because in Hashem's master providential plan suffering forges redemption.

Bnei Yisroel emerged from the iron furnace of Egypt poised to become an unique nation, the chosen people. Their national character – merciful, modest, and kind (Yevamos 79a) – had been forged in the suffering of Mitzrayim. Accordingly, the Torah constantly reinforces our collective memory "that you were strangers in the land of Mitzrayim" (Shemos 22:20). The matzo of the fifteenth of Nissan "because they were redeemed" (ibid 116b) was clearly the culmination of the matzo of suffering and servitude (Vide Ramban to Devarim 16:2).

This perspective on the relationship between suffering and redemption has sustained and nourished Kelal Yisroel throughout the generations. May it continue to sustain and nourish us, individually and collectively, until the coming of Moshiach, bimherah be-yamenu, amen.

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