Bread of Faith
The number four figures prominently at the Passover seder:
We drink four cups of wine, ask the Four Questions, speak
of the Four Sonsto name but a few of the fours
associated with the festival of freedom. Our sages explain
this recurrence of the theme of four on Passover as deriving
from the four expressions of redemption in G-ds
promise to Moses:
I will bring you out from under the hardship of
Egypt, and I will save you from their bondage; I will redeem
you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. I will
take you to Myself as a nation, and I will be to you a G-d.
As the commentaries
explain, the four expressions of redemption relate
to the four aspects of our liberation from Egypt: 1) I
will bring outour physical removal from the geographical
boundaries of Egypt; 2) I will saveour delivery
from Egyptian hegemony;
3) I will redeemthe elimination of any future
possibility of enslavement because of the great judgments
inflicted upon the Egyptians; and 4) I will take you to Myself as a nation,
and I will be to you a G-dour election as G-ds
chosen people at Mount Sinai, the purpose of the Exodus.
So why arent there four matzahs?
Matzah, the unleavened bread, is the most important item
at the seder. It is the bread of poverty
that symbolizes our hardship under Egyptian slavery.
It is also the bread of haste that did not have
time to rise, reminiscent of the nature of our redemptionthe
sudden, drastic, overwhelming change that the Almighty wrought
in our lives. At the stroke of midnight on Passover eve, G-d
instantaneously transformed a materially and morally impoverished
clan of slaves into a free peopleinto the nation chosen
to be His light unto the nations and to play the central role in His purpose of
Virtually the entire seder centers on the three matzahs
on the seder plate, from the recitation of the Haggadah
over the smaller half of the middle matzah, to the eating
of the after matzah (afikoman) at the meals
end. Indeed, the biblical name for Passover is The Festival
of Matzahs, for it is the matzah that embodies the essence
of the Exodus.
So why arent the four expressions of redemption
represented in the most basic symbol of the Exodus? Why are
there only three matzahs arranged on the seder plate?
Flash of Faith
The matzah, as we said, expresses both our poverty at the
time of the Exodus and the haste with which the redemption
came about. The two are interrelated: it was because we
were impoverishedspiritually as well as materiallythat
our redemption had to be such a hasty affair. Our sages explain
that we had become so entrenched in the paganism and depravity
of Egypt that the Exodus came at the very last possible moment.
Had we remained slaves in Egypt a moment longer, there would
have been no people of Israel to redeem.
Thus, we could not afford the luxury of an orderly, methodical
redemption. We simply did not have the time to gradually divest
ourselves of our slave mentality and pagan ways, to comprehend
the significance of the role for which we were being chosen,
or to develop the proper emotional response to the greatest
event in human history. All we had was our faith in G-da
faith that had persevered throughout our long and harrowing
exile. On Passover eve, G-d ignited
this faith with a tremendous revelation of His might and truth,
blasting our souls free of the chains that had imprisoned
them in an internal slavery more nefarious than any physical
bondage. It was this faith, and this faith alone, that took
us out of Egypt and set us on the road to Sinai. The prophet
Jeremiah describes the moment when he says: So
says G-d: I remember your youthful love, your bridal
devotion, following Me out to the desert, to an unsown land.
But faith alone was not enough. Faith can move mountains,
but it cannot remake the essence of man. For faith is a transcendent
force, and therein lies both its power and its limitations:
it can lift a person to unprecedented heights, but these remain
otherworldly experiences, extraneous to his inner
Faith got us out of Egypt, but it could not get the Egypt
out of us. To become truly and inherently free we had to change
from within, by means of a gradual process of internal growth
So following the instant exodus of Passover, G-d embarked
us on a systematic regimen of self-refinement and transformation.
Only at the end of a forty-nine-step
process (which we reexperience each year with the 49-day sefirah
count) did He enter into His covenant with us at Mount Sinai.
Thus, while the I will bring out, I will
save, and I will redeem elements of the
Exodus were realized on Passover itself, the fourth element
came to fruition seven weeks later, with the giving of the
Torah at Mount Sinai (marked each year with the festival of
Shavuot). At Sinai, G-ds promise that I will take
you to Myself as a nation was realized, after we had
internalized the faith of the Exodus, attaining an understanding
and appreciation of our mission as G-ds treasured
people among the nations ... a kingdom of priests and a holy
Flat Cake and Sensual Drink
These two stages in our redemption are personified by two
staples of the sedermatzah and wine.
Matzah, the bread of poverty and the bread
of haste, is the bread of faith
which represents the state of the Jewish people at the moment
of the Exodus. The matzah dough must be kneaded hastily, and
placed immediately in the ovenallowing it to rise and
assume the richness and texture of full-bodied bread renders
it chametz, forbidden for consumption (or even possession)
on Passover. Also, in order to be valid for use at the seder,
the matzah must consist of flour and water only: any innovative
attempt at a gourmet matzah (e.g. mixing in eggs or fruit
juice) disqualifies it for the mitzvah of eating matzah on
Matzah thus reflects the intellectual and emotional poverty
of one who, roused by a flash of divine truth, follows G-d
into the desert with nothing but his faith and commitment.
One who understands nothing, feels nothing, tastes
nothing save his awe before the majesty of his Creator and
his firm resolve to serve Him.
Wine, on the other hand, is the epitome of sense and experience.
Wine, the palatable beverage that gladdens G-d and man,
represents the spiritual richness of the people who stood
at the foot of Mount Sinai: a people who had undergone the
process of internalizing the divine truth so that it invigorated
every nook and cranny of their minds and hearts.
Thus we have three matzahs and four cups of wine at the Passover
seder. With the three matzahs, we reexperience the
event of the Exodus itself: the flash of faith that brought
out, saved and redeemed us from
Egypt, but which fell short of enabling us to taste
the substance of our freedom. With the four cups of wine,
we savor also the fourth dimension of the Exodusthe
flavor and fragrance of the spiritual maturity attained at
The Sensitive Servant
And yet, matzah is not the tasteless food that
many an undiscerning palate would judge it. Indeed, the taste
of matzah is mandated by Torah law.
Actually, we find two seemingly conflicting rulings in halachah
(Torah law) regarding the taste of matzah. On the one hand,
there is the law which states that even if a person does not
taste the matzah he is eating, he has nevertheless fulfilled
the mitzvah of eating matzah on Passover eve. For example,
if a person grinds the matzah into a powder and swallows it,
he has observed the mitzvah. Another law, however, stipulates that the matzah
must retain its distinctive taste; if, for whatever reason,
the taste of matzah is suppressed or altered (e.g., it is
cooked or mixed with other foods)
it is not valid for the mitzvah. Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi
explains: Although one need not taste the matzah in
his mouth, the matzah itself must possess the taste of matzah.
Matzah need not be tasted, but it must be tasteable.
For matzah does have a taste: the taste of faith, the taste
of commitment, the taste of self-abnegation. Matzah is not
wineit has not the keen tang of intellectual inquiry
or the intoxicating high of passion. But the sensitive servant
of G-d will savor its simple yet subtle flavor, its austere
yet deeply satisfying consistency.
One who does not taste the matzah he is eatingone who
does not appreciate the flavor of faith and the delectability
of commitmentnevertheless fulfills the mitzvah of eating
matzah on the seder night. For also our forefathers,
beholding the truth of truths for the first time that night,
were not in a position to taste their faith and
experience its sublime delights. The overwhelming revelation
of G-dliness which they experienced was just that: overwhelming
and unreal to their yet unperfected selves.
But the matzah must have its distinct flavor, even if the
one ingesting it is incapable, as of yet, of relishing it.
Faith, true faith, always carries the potential for a deep
and satisfying relationship with G-dno less satisfying
than the most luscious vintage of the mind and heart.
Matzah, Wine, and Matzah
So it is matzah, not wine, that is the symbol of the Exodus.
The sensory austerity of matzah is not merely an initial phase
to be overcome and surpassed on the road to Sinai; if this
were the case, the robust cup of wine, rather than the flat
matzah cake, would be upheld as the symbol of our freedom.
But it is the matzah which embodies the ultimate goal of the
redemption, the matzah that we are to refer to, all
the days of your life, for the ultimate significance
of our freedom and nationhood.
Certainly, we should strive to stimulate our senses with
an appreciation of our purpose in life and our relationship
with our Creator. But the purpose of it all is a return to
the genesis of our journey, a return to the unequivocal commitment
that transcends reason and experience.
This is not a return to the tasteless faith of
childhood, to a faith whose simplicity stems from the limitations
of the unmatured mind; it is not a return to a sense-poor
Exodus that was dictated by the circumstances of the Egyptian
galut. Rather, it is a reaffirmation of the faith and
commitment that comes after we have comprehended all
that is in our power to comprehend and we have experienced
all that we are capable of experiencing. It is the acknowledgment
that no matter how high our sensory self might reach, there
is always something higher, a truth to which we can relate
only with the simple acceptance of faith. Having supplemented
our matzah with wine, we must now graduate to a higher order
of matzah, to a matzah that is not bereft of thought and feeling
but which surmounts them and supersedes them.
Matzah hurriedly chewed on an empty stomach is virtually
tasteless; but at the meals end, especially after a
glass or two of wine, it is a feast for the senses.
Based on an address by the Rebbe, eighth day of Passover,
Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe by
 Nachmanides, Sforno, et al.
. Egypt was a superpower that enslaved and oppressed
many nations and peoples outside its borders.
. Had Egyptians power not been broken by the
Ten Plagues and the drowning of its army in the Red Sea,
they would have posed a future threat to the freedom of
Israel (indeed, no sooner had the people of Israel left
Egypt than Pharaoh chased after them to try to force their
return). Freedom that exists under the threat of slavery
is not true freedom.
. Exodus 12:39: And they baked unleavened cakes
of the dough which they brought out of Egypt, for it did
not [have time to] leaven; for they were driven out of Egypt
and could not tarry....
. See Rashi on Genesis 1:1.
. The practical reason for the three matzahs is
that the concept of bread of poverty is best
represented by a piece of matzah, rather than a whole
matzah; on the other hand, we honor each Shabbat and festival
meal with lechem mishnehtwo whole loaves of
bread. We therefore place three matzahs on the seder plate.
At the beginning of the seder, we break the middle matzah
in two; the larger half is set aside for the afikoman,
and the smaller half serves as the bread of poverty
upon which the Haggadah (the telling
of the story of the Exodus) is recited. To observe the mitzvah
of eating matzah, we eat both from the broken matzah as
well as from the top whole matzah. The third (bottom) matzah
is used for korech, the matzah-and-maror sandwich.
But everything in Jewish life is significant, especially
on the seder night, when everything we do is replete
with symbolism and meaning. So in addition to any technical
reason, there must be a deeper import as well to the matzahs
departure from the theme of four that pervades
. Thus we say in the Haggadah: If
G-d had not taken our forefathers out of Egypt, we, our
children, and our childrens children, would still
be enslaved to Pharaoh in Egypt... If the redemption
had not come when it did, it could not have come at all
(see sources cited in the Rebbes commentary on the
Haggadah, Haggadah Im Likkutei Taamim Minhagim
uBiurim, p. 30).
. Yalkut Shimoni, Hosea 519; cf. Midrash Rabbah,
Shemot 3:15. See Midnight, WIR, vol. VI, no. 19.
. The human character consists of seven basic attributes,
each of which contains elements of each of the others, making
a total of forty-nine traits and nuances of personality.
Hence the forty-nine-step program of self-refinement.
. Zohar, part II, 41a (see the Rebbes notes
on page 116 of Sefer HaMaamarim 5708).
. Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, 462:2; see also
Magen Avraham, ibid., 461, sub-section 7.
. Cf. Talmud, Nedarim 41a: There is no true
poverty save the poverty of mind.
. Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, 475:3.
. Ibid., 461:4 and sources cited in note 17.
. Shulchan Aruch HaRav 461:12.
. Deuteronomy 16:3, quoted at the beginning of
. Likkutei Sichot, vol. XXVI, pp. 43-48.