Aryeh Ben David

How does hopelessness taste?

Not just regular hopelessness – but really down, finished, not a prayer in the world – hopelessness.

When I was a kid, about 20, I backpacked through Europe. I was innocent, not very wise, and totally lacking in any world-experience. I hitched around for a few months, making my way without any direction or agenda.

In one big city I was lured into a street gambling scene. People crowded on a corner, raised voices and lots of excitement. Someone was playing the old “pea and shell” game. I stood on the side watching. Suddenly the guy next to me shouted: “I know where it is, I got it!” He turned to me quickly and said – “put your hand on this shell while I get my money out.” Totally clueless and wanting to be a nice guy I put my hand on the shell. In a flash, everyone started screaming at me: “You got it! You got it! Get your money out. You’ll win!” I took out my wallet and put a pile of cash on the shell.

Well, you can guess the rest of the story. It was all a racket. Everyone was in on it. Waiting for the next gullible target to appear.

Irrevocably etched into my memory is the feeling a split-second before the shell was picked up and I knew that I was going to lose. I suddenly had this dry, parched, cotton-like feeling in my mouth. Every drop of water had been sucked out of me. I couldn’t chew or swallow.

In that moment – I had tasted hopelessness. We revisit this taste every Passover.

It’s the taste of matza. Dry, parched, stuck-in-your-throat kind of feeling.

The Hagada begins by telling us that the Jewish people ate matza in Egypt – “This is the bread of affliction that our forefathers ate in the land of Egypt”.

Did they actually eat matza? Or did all of their food become utterly tasteless because of their hopelessness? When there is no hope at all, then everything becomes parched and dry. Like feeding a corpse.

What is the point of eating when condemned to slavery? Slavery decimates our bodies; hopelessness decimates our souls.

Passover is not only about a people’s physical liberation from slavery. It is also about a people’s spiritual liberation from hopelessness.

Finally, when the Jews in Egypt groaned and called out – it’s remarkable that they didn’t even call out to God. They had given up on praying. Where had God been during their suffering? Even God couldn’t help them. There was no hope of getting out of slavery, not even the hope of a miracle. Every day was eating the bread of affliction, dry and stale.

What is the message of Passover? In a world of hopelessness – like a bolt of lightning from the heavens, hope can come out of nowhere. Hope can happen in a flash.

In Hebrew, one word characterizes the recovery of hope – chipazon.

The Jews left Egypt – b’chipazon (in the flash of a moment). Although they were told of their freedom at night, and left in the middle of the next day, although they had time to gather the belongings they would use in the desert, nevertheless, they left b’chipazon.

Passover’s message is the birth of hope. Even though we believe that a situation is utterly unsolvable, bereft of hope, and not even worth praying about, nevertheless, somehow, in a flash of a moment hope can reappear.

The taste of matza has prevailed for centuries. So many times we have lost hope. And then, in a moment, hope returns.

The questions at our Seder table this year will be:

  • Which moments or issues facing the Jewish People caused you to lose hope this year?
  • How did you find hope? Who gave you hope?
  • And most important – how do you give hope to others?

There are so many issues today – social, religious, political, security – facing the Jewish People and Israel that appear to be hopeless to fix. So many times during the past year I have had the dry suffocating taste of matza in my mouth.

Then Pesach calls and summons us once again to awaken to hope – “Next year in a re-built Jerusalem.” And hope, in a sparkling flash, returns.


**If you’d like to sign up for Aryeh’s pre-Pesach Hope Series and receive 10 practical steps to transform your seder into one filled with hope, please visit and sign up for our Newsletter.

About the Author
Aryeh Ben David founded Ayeka: Center for Soulful Education in 2008. Ayeka educates rabbis, teachers, and professionals to bring Jewish wisdom from our minds to our hearts to our souls and into our lives. He recently published: The Secret of Love - A Glimpse into the Mystical Wisdom of Rav Kook. He lives in Efrat with his wife, Sandra.
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