As a child, and even in my early adulthood, I used to feel that a supernatural event was happening during the Seder. It was physical, like a twanging vibration rushing around out there in the immense night as we sat retelling the story of the exodus from Egypt, feeling safe in our little lit-up island of a house. It came and I always accepted it without question or even mentioning it to anyone else. I couldn’t give it a name. Now I think: was I feeling Eliyahu HaNavi on his way to visit Jewish homes?
Well, why not?
A year came when I no longer felt this vibrating, awesome thing during the Seder, and I forgot it. Recently, though, I have remembered.
When my Dad conducted a Seder, it was always in three languages: Hebrew, English, and for my mother’s sake, Spanish. Four languages, counting the occasional breakouts into Aramaic. I will never forget my father, impressive in his white kittel (holiday robe), rising from his seat, holding a matzah aloft. He would recite:
“Este es el pan de afliccíon que comieron nuestros padres quando fueron esclavos a Faraón en Egípto. Todos los que tengan hambre, que vengan a comer….Este año, todavia somos esclavos. D-os mediante, el año que viene, celebramos Pesaj como hombres livres en Jerusalem.”
This is the bread of affliction that our fathers ate when we were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt. All who are hungry, come and join our meal. …This year, we are yet enslaved. Next year, G-d willing, we will celebrate Passover as free men in Jerusalem.
Matzah is a precious thing. The flat, bumpy, tasteless bread represents – apart from G-d’s command that we eat it – nationhood and freedom from oppression. To the individual, it represents refinement of character. I’m sure there are other, mystical interpretations of matzah, but I am not a sage and this is what I know.
Whenever rulers wished to oppress us, they forbade matzah. I have seen photographs of secret ovens in Spanish cellars, where medieval Jews risked their lives to fulfill the mitzvah. Back in the ’60s. friend Judy used to fly to Russia before Passover. She brought smuggled haggadot (printed guide to the Seder, with prayers) and matzot in her luggage. She never knew if she’d escape her KGB watchdogs long enough to find Jews, convince them she was safe, and hand them the goods. She did, though.
I’m grateful to have matzot every year, celebrating the Seder in freedom. When you can just pick up a box of any kind of matzah in the supermarket, it gets harder to realize how precious they are, and how hard-won the freedom.
Maybe this year, when my husband opens the door to invite Eliyahu HaNavi in, I’ll catch the great prophet by the fringes of his robe and pull him down next to me. I know he’ll be wanting to be on his way. All the same, I hope to tell him something before he floats on to the next Jewish home:
” We wait and wait, and only wait, for you to announce the coming of Moshiach. Please, Eliyahu, gather all our Seders up and make a matzah out of them. A shining, supernatural matzah pierced with light. Hold it up to G-d and ask…to make us truly free.”