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God is in the crumbs

04/08/2021 08:20:11 AM

Apr8

Rabbi Jeffrey Myers

Hopefully we remembered to pack away everything that we took out for Passover, and not discover that one item that we forget that belongs in the rear box behind seventeen other boxes. The short amount of time that it took to put everything away was noteworthy, since due to the pandemic we did not host in-person Sedarim for the usually large numbers of people that we are accustomed to, thus utilizing far less. I was also surprised that as the holiday came to a conclusion, there were few if any leftovers other than matza stuffing, as I always make too much. Then came the feeble attempts to sweep up all the matza crumbs.

No matter how many times I try, I continue to find matza crumbs every day, as though Elijah the Prophet visits my home and sprinkles matza crumbs around the house during each visit. The more I’ve thought about this fruitless effort to remove all the matza crumbs, I began to view them from a different perspective. They remain not as an annoyance, but as a reminder. Permit me to explain.

Sprinkled throughout the Torah is the Hebrew word ot, which most scholars translate as “sign”. Those of you familiar with the Shabbat liturgy will recognize the word from the text of Deuteronomy 31:16-17 known by its first word: V’shamru.  We sing during Friday evening services Ot Hi L’olam, it is a sign for all time. That is to say, Shabbat is God’s eternal reminder of creation that we are expected to observe, the gift of a day off that the Jewish people shared with the world. Tefillin are also referred to as an ot, and we most recently recounted in the Hagadah God’s otot umoftim, signs and wonders performed for the Israelites.

While the word “sign” is the common translation, I would prefer an alternative word: reminder. The Shabbat is a reminder of creation. Tefillin are a reminder of our responsibilities to God. Matza crumbs are to a me a reminder. You might ask: A reminder of what?

Matza is called in the Torah lechem oni, the bread of affliction that our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt. When we eat it, we experience exactly how our ancestors felt eating this same matza over 3,000 years ago, and perhaps develop a better understanding of slavery through food, in addition to the sting of eating maror and the minimal amount of food that eating the karpas implies. Every time I come across a matza crumb, I now think:

  • What have I done to move towards the eradication of slavery on this planet?
  • How have I worked to eliminate food insecurity?
  • What steps am I taking to see that all human beings are treated equally?

This does not mean that I abrogate my responsibilities of trying to keep a clean home. It does mean that every time I come across another matza crumb, and inevitably I will, it will serve as an ot, a reminder, that I still have responsibilities to be the best possible self I can be by engaging in ways to better the lives of people in my community, my state, my country, and this planet. I know that I alone cannot accomplish this, but, as Pirkei Avot teaches, I am not absolved from trying. Oops. I just spotted another matza crumb. Back to work.

Sun, May 9 2021 27 Iyyar 5781