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Passover: A Mashiach Perspective

On the last day of Passover, we celebrate the coming of Mashiach—the ultimate liberation of our people from exile. This tradition was revealed by the Baal Shem Tov, founder of Chassidism, and has since gained momentum in Jewish communities around the world.

The highlight is the festive meal at the end of the day called Mashiach’s feast during which we drink four cups of wine. The idea is that just as we drink four cups of wine at the Seder on the first day of Passover to thank G-d for our past liberation so do we drink four cups of wine on the last day of Passover to thank G-d for our coming (imminent) liberation.

The big question is why don’t we also place three matzot on the table and maror—bitter herbs? After all, the requirement to eat matzah on the Seder night is biblical. The requirement to bitter herbs is biblical when it is eaten with a pascal lamb and rabbinical during the exile when we don’t bring this offering. But at least its origins are biblical. The four cups of wine are a rabbinical convention.

If we want our celebration of the future to emulate our celebration of the past, should we not begin with the biblical rituals? Why do we only include the rabbinical ritual and pass-over the biblical rituals?

To answer this question let’s explore the symbolism of matzah and maror.

The Message of Matzah
Matzah is the poor person’s bread that our ancestors ate as they left Egypt. It is the poor person’s bread because the poor don’t have the luxury of waiting until the dough rises since they must rush to work. Only the wealthy have the luxury of sitting around until the dough rises.

Matzah also symbolizes our faith in G-d. Our ancestors embarked from Egypt into an arid barren desert with the matzah on their backs. That was their only provision. They relied on G-d for the rest. Faith is the foundation of our relationship with G-d, but it is only the beginning. A relationship based on faith alone is an impoverished relationship. It means that we don’t know G-d, we don’t have any experience with G-d, and we haven’t studied G-d. Thus, Matzah symbolizes both material and spiritual poverty.

The Message of Maror
Maror—the bitter herbs, represent the bitterness of our slavery in Egypt. We eat it to remember the severity of our bondage in Egypt and to recognize that, but for G-d’s miracles, our lives would be bitter. In a spiritual sense, maror represents an attitude of bitterness toward our Jewishness. Yes, we are Jewish, but life as a Jew is wretched; filled with antisemitism, persecution, and suffering.

The Message of Wine
Wine carries the exact opposite message. Fine wines are the rich person’s drink. The poor person can’t afford to waste a grape for its juice. The poor are hungry and if they have a grape, they eat it. Moreover, even if they can afford to suck the juice from the grape, they can’t afford to wait months and years to produce fine wine. If they can’t even wait for their dough to ferment, they certainly have no time to wait for their wine to ferment and age.

When wine is ready to drink, it has a lovely bouquet and flavor. In addition, even in limited quantities, wine elicits joy and expansiveness. It is not a bitter experience like the maror or an impoverished experience like the matzah. It is a delightful, joyful, rich, and expansive experience.

The most important property of wine is that it reveals what is hidden. First, the juice is hidden in the grape and is only revealed when it is squeezed to make wine. Second, when we imbibe it, our hidden secrets emerge. This symbolizes the discovery of the concealed Divine mysteries; exposing the cosmic secrets of Creation and plumbing the depths of the Torah’s unfathomable teachings.

Exile and Mashiach
We can now appreciate that the message of matzah and maror represents the experience of a Jew in exile. Even if we were freed from Egypt, we are still not completely free. That will only occur in the Messianic era. Thus, it is appropriate for the Mashiach feast to feature wine, but not matzah or maror.

In exile, Jews might come to believe that our lot is to be poor and oppressed. The gentiles are in in the driver’s seat, and we live at their pleasure. They dictate our direction, they determine our pace, they make the laws, and we limp meekly along. Sometimes we are better off and sometimes we are worse off, but compared to them, we are always poor and bitter.

It is not uncommon for Jews to say, “ah, it is hard to be a Jew.” But that is a diaspora message. The Mashiach message is, “ah, it is great to be a Jew.” The Mashiach minded Jew feels empowered and emboldened to identify openly and apologetically as a Jew. The Mashiach Jew doesn’t fear antisemitism. On the contrary, we confront it and expose it with honesty, courage, and conviction of identity. The Mashiach Jew is neither impoverished nor bitter. The Mashiach Jew is expansive, brave, and generous.

Another important point: Exile Jews spend their money on physical trappings. They purchase the nicest home that they can buy, fill it with the best furniture that they can afford, spend fortunes on fancy vacations and resorts, and save as much money as they can for the future. However, when it comes to Judaism, they are stingy. They seek discounts for their children’s tuition and are thrifty on Jewish expenditures such as Torah books, Shabbat, and holidays.

Moreover, they often seek, the most lenient and permissive way to discharge their Jewish duties. If there is an easier and more convenient way to fulfill their obligations, they opt for it. The most troubling aspect of the exile Jew is that Judaism is perceived as a bitter burden. They practice bitter Judaism.

Mashiach Jews practice delightful Judaism. They are not stingy with their Judaism. They are generous and expansive with their Jewishness and view it as a delight.  If there is a way to expand their Mitzvah and do more rather than less, they delight in doing so. The Mashiach Jew’s Judaism is neither impoverished nor embittered. It is expansive and blissful.

Most important, when Mashiach comes, G-d will be visible and knowable. We will spend our days pursuing knowledge of G-d. We won’t suffice with faith alone. Faith will be our foundation, but we will indulge in a passion for knowledge of G-d. We will study day and night and grow exceedingly wise.

This will not be a matzah or maror Judaism. This will be a wine Judaism. It will be delightful and full. It will be generous and expansive. It will be a pleasure and a joy.

In Preparation
The only way to prepare for Mashiach is to live in a Mashiach like way. To emulate the behaviors of Mashiach while we are still in exile. This means to practice our Judaism today generously and expansively. To make Judaism our joy and delight. To seek our luxuries in our Jewish observances not in material trappings. That is a Mashiach like Jew.

It now makes perfect sense that we celebrate the coming of Mashiach with wine rather than with matzah or maror. It is a joyful time, so let’s raise our glasses and bring and usher in the coming of Mashiach.[1]

[1] Based on Toras Menachem:2 (33) 5722, pp. 336–339.

About the Author
Rabbi Lazer Gurkow, a renowned lecturer, serves as Rabbi to Congregation Beth Tefilah in London Ontario. He is a member of the curriculum development team at Rohr Jewish Learning Institute and is the author of two books and nearly a thousand online essays. You can find his work at www.innerstream.org
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