Whole and Broken
The Seder is our feast of Freedom, but it also contains much about our slavery and pain.
i. We drink 4 cups of wine, celebrating God’s salvation, but we also eat Maror!
ii. We eat Matza, celebrating our speedy departure, but then we also call it, the Bread of affliction. In fact, according to the Rambam, we don’t even have לחם משנה on Seder Night; instead we have one whole matza and another broken Matza:
ומפני מה אינו מברך על שתי ככרות כשאר ימים טובים? משום שנאמר לחם עוני מה דרכו של עני בפרוסה אף כאן בפרוסה.
Why does one not recite a blessing on two loaves, as on other festivals? The verse states "the bread of poverty."(Deut 16:3) Just as a poor man is accustomed to eating only a slice of a loaf, so, too, a broken bread should be used. (Rambam. Mishna Torah. Laws of Hametz and Matza 8:6)
iii. We tell our story מתחיל בגנות ומסיים בשבח from, literally, “shame”, to praise. We actually mention our embarrassing past - that we were enslaved, or that we were idolaters – rather than just celebrating our liberty, our pride as a free nation.
So what is this all about?
Why do we want to mention the bad along with the good?
Approach 1: “Look how far have come!” - One option might be that recalling the bitterness and broken past amplifies the delight and joy of freedom. As in מקימי מעפר דל מאשפות ירים אביון להושיבי עם נדיבים – when a person remembers where they were, so humiliated and broken, and now they are safe, well-fed, free and prospering, the joy is magnified.
Approach 2: “Gaining Perspective” - But possibly we could suggest something else. We get used to freedom pretty quickly. We habituate ourselves to new creature comforts rather fast. Seven years ago, I bought my first smart phone; now I cannot function without one. So, we get to enjoy the trappings of freedom quite fast, as yesterday’s luxury becomes the new normal.
In this regard, this year with its Coronavirus restrictions has been difficult and painful. Painful? Really?! We live in a safe, large house, we have a loving family, secure finances, 3 sumptuous meals a day. And yet: my gym is closed, I cannot travel, I cannot shop or see friends or go to a restaurant. Oh boy! Terribly painful!
So maybe we free people need a reminder about the past, a sense of perspective, an understanding that we need the perspective of a broken matza to even appreciate the whole matza. We need to learn about our גנאי or else we word feel normal, not שבח … we wouldn’t appreciate the “now”! We need to taste that marror to give us perspective.
In this way, the past year has been a dose of humble pie, to realize just how extensive our blessings are: Our safety and security, our health, our loving families, our homes, our friends and more and more.
Approach 3: “Free Yourself!” In this regard, let me share a message from Rav Efrem Goldberg of Boca Raton, FL:
We live with unprecedented freedoms… And yet, with all those freedoms, our generation remains enslaved. We are slaves to needing “more.” We are dominated by needs. Our need for more money, more time, more things, the latest things, a better seat, a better room, more power, more friends, the need to have the last word, even our need to be needed.
Our needs, wants, and lack of contentment become our taskmasters. They occupy space in our head and in our hearts, they hijack our thoughts, they dictate to us how to feel and they command us to say things and do things that are self-destructive.
This pandemic has forced us to redefine “essential” and “non-essential.” With the proper frame of mind, many of us can be empowered in unprecedented ways to sincerely and genuinely sing Dayeinu from the essence of our being.
So maybe this is a third dimension. Not just “broken” to enhance the joy of the “whole”, not just “broken” so that we can appreciate the blessings of the “whole”, but our appreciation of what is broken, what is bitter, frees us from the excesses of freedom, which can in itself become a slavery.