That last bite of matzah has a special message

That last bite of matzah has a special message

Shemini, Leviticus 9:1-11:47

The countdown to Passover is on.

With that in mind, what will we do this year to make Passover less about food — especially decadent chocolate cakes preceded by a multicourse meal — and more about that final bite of matzah?

Based on a luxurious, male-only, philosophical Roman meal, the seder took the component parts and turned them on their heads.  Instead of dipping in something delicious, we dip in salt water; generations of mothers, fathers, siblings and cousins sit together; we welcome our children to ask questions.

But that last little bite of matzah is my favorite irony. No after-dinner mints for us.

The afikoman, of course, is hidden with great ceremony and found with great ruckus as our exhausted, pajama-clad children scour the house for that half piece of matzah so that they can collect their prizes and all may finish the seder.

Yet more than the matzah gets hidden; sometimes the message behind the meal is hidden as well.

While we retell our story of servitude and invite “all who are hungry, come and eat,” most of us do not know what it is to feel hunger. It makes me think of Elie Wiesel’s words: “Hunger is isolating; it may not and cannot be experienced vicariously.  He who never felt hunger can never know its real effects, both tangible and intangible.  Hunger defies imagination; it even defies memory.  Hunger is felt only in the present.”   

Yet there are so many people whom we know who are hungry.  In Monroeville, per Gateway School District’s figures, there are currently 24 homeless students and — an astronomical and heartbreaking figure — 35 percent of our students (1,302 out of 3,505) who are receiving free or reduced lunches due to need.  Do you know how many students are hungry in your neighborhood?  How many are homeless?  The statistics should not make us judge our neighbors or our neighborhoods; our response to the statistics and how we treat our neighbors is what is to be judged.

As we chew on that last bite of matzah, our stomachs full, chew on this: What will you do this year to make the words of the hagadah come to pass?

(This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.)