Come seder night, how many millions of Jews will be looking much more forward to the matzah ball than to the matzah itself? Frankly, I don’t blame them. Matzah tastes like cardboard and a kneidel in a hot chicken soup is undeniably delicious.
I’ll come back to our friendly matzah ball in a moment, but first let me ask another Passover question. At the seder, we first hold up the matzah and declare: “This is the Bread of Affliction that our ancestors ate back in Egypt.” We recall the harsh slavery and broken morsels the Egyptians fed their Jewish slaves. Later in the Haggadah, though, we raise the matzah and explain that we eat it “because the dough of our fathers had no time to rise before the Holy One redeemed them.”
So what is it? Is matzah a symbol of slavery or of freedom? Does matzah represent bondage or redemption?
Well, the simple answer is both. First, we were slaves and then we became free.
But it speaks to us personally, too. One fellow will eat matzah on Passover and complain about how hard and tasteless it is. He is re-experiencing the bondage of old. But another will taste the freedom. Believe it or not, some people love matzah, especially with a little avocado smeared on top.
There’s a simple but powerful message here. Life is what you make of it.
How many times do we see two people with the exact same set of circumstances, and one enjoys success while the other fails miserably? King Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes that “there is no bread for the wise,” meaning that clever people do not necessarily always succeed in life. Ironically, we have all seen many ordinary, simple individuals who have achieved great success.
Today, we know very well that EQ is more important than IQ. Our attitude always determines our altitude. Whether we will fly or flounder will depend more on how we deal with our own particular circumstances than with the situation itself.
And this leads me to my profound philosophical discovery. “Life is like a matzah ball!” We’ve all tasted a variety of kneidels over the years. Some were a big hit at the seder table while others were a disaster. One woman’s kneidel is big, soft and fluffy—great on the plate and delicious to the palate—while another’s is small, hard and as tasteless as the matzah itself. Both chefs used the identical ingredients, but some rise, and some sink; some are delicious, and some are downright dangerous.
So is matzah the bread of affliction or the food of freedom? The choice is ours.
We have seen Holocaust survivors who rebuilt their lives and families, while others wallowed in misery and bitterness for the rest of their lives. They had ample justification, and it’s not for us to condemn or even criticize. But the observation is enlightening for all of us, regardless of our own circumstances.
My own father of blessed memory was the sole survivor of his entire family from Poland. Thank G-d, he rebuilt his family, leaving more than 80 great-grandchildren when he passed away.
Life is what we make of it. And the choice is ours.
May we all use our opportunities wisely. May we see the positive in every circumstance. May we choose to live constructive lives, choosing freedom over bondage and redemption over exile.
I wish you Chag Kosher v’Sameach—a joyous and kosher Passover!
Rabbi Yossy Goldman is Life Rabbi Emeritus of Sydenham Shul in Johannesburg and president of the South African Rabbinical Association.