Matzah, Martin Luther King and our Machaneh

By, Andrew Fretwell (TY '00, Machon '01, Sprout Tsevet '02, TY Tsevet '02-present)


“Passover, that’s the holiday where you eat that cracker...what’s it called, Matzah?” You’ve heard it before, we all have. And while reducing all of Passover’s layers of meaning, symbols, rituals and commentary to just eating matzah, it isn’t totally unfounded. After all, matzah is the primary symbol of Passover. But is it worthy of such kavod (status)? I think so, and this is why…

According to my handy Maxwell House Haggadah, our ancestors were commanded by Moses not to let the bread rise so they could exit Egypt ASAP. That’s logical seeing that Pharaoh had previously reversed his acquiescence and ultimately would again. But was the speed with which we left Egypt so important that its symbol, matzah, is the centerpiece of Passover? If it took 40 years complete the journey, why does it matter how quickly we got out of the gate? And just as important, if God secured our escape by protecting us at the Reed Sea, why is that not at the center of the Seder instead?


I think the answer is subtle, and definitely not obvious. The speed with which we left Egypt is paramount because the larger narrative of Passover is of journeying from oppression to fulfillment, both physically and spiritually. Matzah was God’s way of saying, “Do NOT waste another moment in embarking on the road to redemption.” You could say that it is the Jewish version of carpe diem, but it also goes deeper. Martin Luther King Jr. echoes it in his “Letter from a Birmingham Prison,” in which he states, “time is always ripe to do right,” and in a 1967 anti-war speech, saying, “We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now...Procrastination is still the thief of time.”

The matzah we hoist up symbolizes that fierce urgency of now. It reminds us that as we were not allowed to tarry in embarking the path from oppression to redemption, we cannot linger in following that trajectory; each moment delayed is a lost one.

As the Rosh Machane Bet overseeing Hadracha, Tel Yehudah’s Activism program, matzah speaks strongly to what we do at Tel Yehudah and Young Judaea. I am proud that we do not only offer training to our campers to affect change, nor do we just provide them the knowledge and skills to eventually begin a life-long commitment to justice and tikun olam. Our campers have the opportunity to start acting as repairmen (and women) of a fractured world from the moment they arrive to camp. Within customized and self-selected “Tikun Groups,” our campers in Hadracha will learn about a fracture in today’s world they want to address (ranging anywhere from Iran’s nuclear program to LGBT equality) and create a campaign within, and extending beyond, camp to affect change. Our campers will leave the summer not only knowing that they can make a difference, but that they have already begun. After all, why put off to tomorrow what we are can start repairing today?

Andrew Fretwell currently serves as Young Judaea's Manager of Youth Leadership and Education and will be the Rosh Machane Bet at Tel Yehudah in Summer 2013.  

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