Thursday, April 7, 2011

I want to be a matzah

I just heard this awesome story from Rabbi Hanoch Teller about a rabbi who realized right before the seder that his housekeeper had fed all the shmurah matzah to his children for breakfast.

This was the 18th century. These weren’t matzot that the rabbi had ordered from his shul or picked up at the local kosher mart. He had cut the wheat himself and separated the chaff and ground the grain to flour and mixed it with water and kneaded the dough and shaped the matzot and poked them full of holes to discourage rising and rushed them into a hot oven and baked them to perfection.  And through all this hard work, I’m sure he meditated on the symbolism of matzah, yearning to be “flat” and free of the chametz of ego and to perform the mitzvah with beauty and clarity. And in an instant, all that work was gone, munched into breakfast crumbs. But the rabbi didn’t freak out and yell at his employee; he just asked his wife to obtain some regular matzot, and they proceeded with the seder.

I shifted in discomfort when I heard this story. I thought of how I might react if, say, a side dish for the seder meal doesn’t turn out the way I want.

I have big plans for the weeks ahead. I want to empty myself of all the traits that hold me back. I want to fill myself with lots of ideas and insights and inspiration.  I want to review the details of the holiday so I don’t get to Pesach and think, “Wait, how much maror do I have to eat? What melacha can I do on Yom To? Etc.” I want my house to be free of chametz and clean and beautiful for the holiday. I want to find beautiful clothes for my kids and myself to wear. I want to plan fun things to do together during Chol HaMoed. I want to host my visiting father-in-law in comfort and serenity. I want to plan and cook delicious, nourishing meals. I want to be organized enough so that I don’t have to keep sending my husband out for things I forgot to buy. I want to have an inspiring, joyous seder and I want to be well-rested enough to enjoy it.

But these are just my goals. Like the rabbi whose matzah didn’t meet the fate he’d intended, I actually have no idea what the reality will be. I don’t know what’s in God’s plan for me. I have no control over anything that happens. The only thing I have control over is my attitude.

And that’s the incredible victory I heard in the matzah story. Chametz represents haughtiness and ego. When I empty my home of chametz and refrain from putting it in my body for a week, I have the opportunity to do the inner work as well: to find the vestiges of arrogance, dominance and entitlement inside myself and say, “This isn’t who I want to be anymore.” I can reimagine myself as a matzah: gloriously flat! Humble, empty, present, still, accepting.

The holy rabbi of the story faced a test of having his dreams hit up against God’s reality. He could have ignored the message of the matzah and yelled at the housekeeper, “What do you mean you fed the shmurah matzah to my kids?????? That wasn’t supposed to happen! What’s wrong with you?” He could have sunk into despair and sulked through the seder. But he accepted the reality and recognized that while his physical labor didn’t result in matzah he could make a blessing on and eat at the seder, his spiritual work was not in vain. He didn’t get to eat the perfect matzah, but he got to become the perfect matzah.

1 comment:

Glad Hatter said...

One rebbitezen told me it was important to make sure your children and husband didn't get turned into the korban Pesach from all the stress. Your post totally goes along with that! That's a great story (R'Teller is great), thanks for sharing! Wishing you a chag kasher v'somayach!

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