By Rabbi Simkha Y. Weintraub, LCSW
Healing Lessons of the Matzah
The following is an excerpt from an edition of The Outstretched Arm, a publication of the National Center for Jewish Healing.
Maggid, the central "Recounting" section of the Passover seder ritual, begins with the following declaration, proclaimed as the matzah is raised for all to see:
Ha Lahma Anya/This is the bread of affliction
That our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt:
All who are hungry come and eat!
All who are in need come join in our Passover!
This year we are here; next year we are in the land of Israel!
This year enslaved, next year free!
Here are [three] "healing lessons" the matzah may offer.
Lahma Anya Bread of Affliction
This simple, direct series of statements expresses how our historical experience of suffering must motivate us to call out to those in need, here and now, today. In this opening paragraph, we can sense at least two distinct tasks and interratelated challenges: to extend ourselves to others in (spiritual as well as physical) need and, in an ongoing way, to be honest about own states of exile and subjugation. Implicit in this declaration is empathy that leads to action, inner sensitivity that translates into active support for others. A key to healing is this balance of reaching in and reaching out, healing ourselves by helping others
and, of course, letting others reach out to us.
The "Perilous Proximity" of Hametz and Matzah
It has often been pointed out that the three Hebrew letters comprising the words hametz ("leaven" itself but also all forbidden goods on Passover) and matzah are virtually identical indeed, to make them exactly alike takes but a smudge of the pen. How close health and illness, well-being and suffering, can be! A tweak of fate can turn us from the one reality to the other. Perhaps this ought to remind us of the shared vulnerability of those labeled "ill" and those deemed "well" and help us reconstruct a world where unhelpful barriers break down, and Jews/people enable each other to bear the burdens of mortality with a deepened sense of community and relationship.
Lehem Onim: Bread of Response
The seder, of course, ought to revolve around an active exchange and discussion, a multi-level question-and-answer format meant to draw peoples voices and associations out. A tempting pun on the word anya, affliction, reads it as stemming from the related Hebrew cognitive, onim, answerers. This bread, of both slavery and freedom, is "food for talk." There may, indeed, be no "answers," but a live, real, honest open-ended discussion about suffering and redemption can yield a healing responsiveness, both internally and from others.
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