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Moshe-Mordechai van Zuiden
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Why all the questions, why eating matzoth, and why leaving Egypt in a big hurry?

If you want to understand the Torah, you must read what it says

Tradition has us put walnuts on the Seder table so the kids will ask: What’s with the nuts? On this evening, we must tell our offspring of us leaving Egypt (Exodus 13:14-16, 12:26-27, Deuteronomy 6:20-25). And, it’s easier to teach people who ask, who want to know. Pesach means Skipped over, Pass over. But, in a pun, Pey Sach means: A mouth that speaks.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work. The kids learn in kindergarten about the nuts. Nothing surprises them anymore. They know better than us. Maybe don’t put nuts on the table so that they’ll ask: Where are the nuts?

I think there is yet another reason for the questions. Many assume that the Hebrew Bible mostly comes to inform and enlighten us. I don’t think so. It mainly comes to help us ask. Why (me)? When? Who? Where? The first and the last letter of the Torah form the word Lev: attention. It wants us to pay attention. The Oral Law, the Talmud, is built on questions.

Reb Shlomo Carlebach says: Don’t ruin a good question with an answer.

People will tell you: We eat matzoth (Exodus 12:18) because we left in a great hurry (Deuteronomy 16:3), the dough had no time to rise. That is nice as a simple, charming, cute idea. But, it can’t be true. Why?

Around midnight, Pharaoh said: You’re free to go (Exodus 12:31-33). But, Moses said: We won’t leave like thieves in the night. We’ll go at daybreak (12:35). Just like Abraham did (Genesis 22:3). So, there was plenty of time to make regular bread. Which hurry? And then, why unleavened bread?

Bread used to be made with sourdough. You take a little of the old bread to make the next dough rise. But, on Seder night in Egypt, before we left, we were commanded to eat Matzoth (Exodus 12:8). It meant: Stop eating your old food. We’re going to have a clean break, a fresh start.

The next morning is called Macharat haShabbat (Leviticus 23:15), often wrongly translated (by the Karaites): The next morning of the Shabbat. But, Pesach is not always on Shabbat. Some translate: The morrow of the Festival, but that’s not what it says. Rather, Shabbat means pause. Outside of the Temple/Tent of Meeting, on Shabbat, we stop work that goes into building and upkeeping that Place. But, Pesach’s pause is that we stopped eating the old, leavened stuff. Fittingly, the verse continues about grain!

NB: We are obligated to eat several Matzoth on Seder evening. But they must be eaten. If we eat a whole Matzah in 15 minutes, that is not considered eating a whole one. That’s nibbling. That’s like eating every seven minutes a half one. Keep it within nine minutes, five if you can. Ask your rabbi. But, when we eat a whole Matzah in two minutes, we haven’t done it either. It doesn’t count. That’s not considered eating. That’s wolfing it down. That might be good enough for a Jewish wolf but not for the rest of us. We ran our way out of Egypt, but our eating must be eating. And dignified, while leaning. Often, life should be lived between two extremes, a measured golden mean. Not too fast, not too slow.

But, what was with the great hurry? The Commandment to leave hastily reminds me of the Demand of the Lot family: Don’t look back nor stop (Genesis 19:17). You could change your mind. You’re only human.

We could translate, as many have done: Because in great haste, we left. But, besides Because, Kee can mean When. We left with Matzoth when we left in great haste. The Matzoth must remind us of the haste. They were not unrisen by the haste, though, because we had much time before. We even had to pick up our dough and move it around so that it wouldn’t rise (Exodus 12:34), so much time it took until we left. Which also showed we didn’t hurry out for fear of the Egyptians. We went by G^d’s commands.

My oldest son went with his yeshivah to the worst destruction sites in Europe. It wasn’t easy. In one camp, the rabbi said: Dance. They unrolled the Israeli flag, danced exuberantly, almost returned the dead to life. Then the rabbi said: Let’s go. They stopped and filed into the bus. Not driven by emotion but by choice. That’s how we left Egypt. The guards were amazed. They only danced when drunk. And then, no command could stop them.

The hurry also wants to tell us that when a Commandment comes our way, don’t let the opportunity go sour (pun intended). Do it ASAP. We might never have left Egypt if we would have gone slow, cool.

The whole night we took it easy. At dawn, G^d said: Three, two, one, go!

Talking of Hebrew, erev shabbat/pesach means the day before Shabbat or Pesach. Or le-erev pesach means the night of the day before Pesach. Leil shabbat/pesach means the eve of Shabbat/Pesach. Your rabbi knows that, but he might say it wrong anyway. Correct him, with a smile. He’ll like it.

About the Author
MM is a prolific and creative writer and thinker, previously a daily blog contributor to the TOI. He often makes his readers laugh, mad, or assume he's nuts—close to perfect blogging. As a frontier thinker, he sees things many don't yet. He's half a prophet. Half. Let's not exaggerate. He doesn't believe that people observe and think in a vacuum. He, therefore, wanted a broad bio that readers interested can track a bit what (lack of) backgrounds, experiences, and educations contribute to his visions. * This year, he will prioritize getting his unpublished books published rather than just blog posts. Next year, he hopes to focus on activism against human extinction. To find less-recent posts on a subject XXX among his over 1500 archived ones, go to the right-top corner of a Times of Israel page, click on the search icon and search "zuiden, XXX". One can find a second, wilder blog, to which one may subscribe, here: https://mmvanzuiden.wordpress.com/ or by clicking on the globe icon next to his picture on top. * Like most of his readers, he believes in being friendly, respectful, and loyal. However, if you think those are his absolute top priorities, you might end up disappointed. His first loyalty is to the truth. He will try to stay within the limits of democratic and Jewish law, but he won't lie to support opinions or people when don't deserve that. (Yet, we all make honest mistakes, which is just fine and does not justify losing support.) He admits that he sometimes exaggerates to make a point, which could have him come across as nasty, while in actuality, he's quite a lovely person to interact with. He holds - how Dutch - that a strong opinion doesn't imply intolerance of other views. * Sometimes he's misunderstood because his wide and diverse field of vision seldomly fits any specialist's box. But that's exactly what some love about him. He has written a lot about Psychology (including Sexuality and Abuse), Medicine (including physical immortality), Science (including basic statistics), Politics (Israel, the US, and the Netherlands, Activism - more than leftwing or rightwing, he hopes to highlight reality), Oppression and Liberation (intersectionally, for young people, the elderly, non-Whites, women, workers, Jews, LGBTQIA+, foreigners and anyone else who's dehumanized or exploited), Integrity, Philosophy, Jews (Judaism, Zionism, Holocaust and Jewish Liberation), the Climate Crisis, Ecology and Veganism, Affairs from the news, or the Torah Portion of the Week, or new insights that suddenly befell him. * Chronologically, his most influential teachers are his parents, Nico (natan) van Zuiden and Betty (beisye) Nieweg, Wim Kan, Mozart, Harvey Jackins, Marshal Rosenberg, Reb Shlomo Carlebach, and, lehavdil bein chayim lechayim, Rabbi Dr. Natan Lopes Cardozo, Rav Zev Leff, and Rav Meir Lubin. This short list doesn't mean to disrespect others who taught him a lot or a little. * He hopes that his words will inspire and inform, and disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed. He aims to bring a fresh perspective rather than harp on the obvious and familiar. When he can, he loves to write encyclopedic overviews. He doesn't expect his readers to agree. Rather, original minds should be disputed. In short, his main political positions are among others: anti-Trumpism, for Zionism, Intersectionality, non-violence, anti those who abuse democratic liberties, anti the fake ME peace process, for original-Orthodoxy, pro-Science, pro-Free Will, anti-blaming-the-victim, and for down-to-earth, classical optimism, and happiness. Read his blog on how he attempts to bridge any tensions between those ideas or fields. * He is a fetal survivor of the pharmaceutical industry (https://diethylstilbestrol.co.uk/studies/des-and-psychological-health/), born in 1953 to his parents who were Dutch-Jewish Holocaust survivors who met in the largest concentration camp in the Netherlands, Westerbork. He grew up a humble listener. It took him decades to become a speaker too, and decades more to admit to being a genius. But his humility was his to keep. And so was his honesty. Bullies and con artists almost instantaneously envy and hate him. He hopes to bring new things and not just preach to the choir. * He holds a BA in medicine (University of Amsterdam) – is half a doctor. He practices Re-evaluation Co-counseling since 1977, is not an official teacher anymore, and became a friendly, powerful therapist. He became a social activist, became religious, made Aliyah, and raised three wonderful kids. Previously, for decades, he was known to the Jerusalem Post readers as a frequent letter writer. For a couple of years, he was active in hasbara to the Dutch-speaking public. He wrote an unpublished tome about Jewish Free Will. He's a strict vegan since 2008. He's an Orthodox Jew but not a rabbi. * His writing has been made possible by an allowance for second-generation Holocaust survivors from the Netherlands. It has been his dream since he was 38 to try to make a difference by teaching through writing. He had three times 9-out-of-10 for Dutch at his high school finals but is spending his days communicating in English and Hebrew - how ironic. G-d must have a fine sense of humor. In case you wonder - yes, he is a bit dyslectic. If you're a native English speaker and wonder why you should read from people whose English is only their second language, consider the advantage of having an original peek outside of your cultural bubble. * To send any personal reaction to him, scroll to the top of the blog post and click Contact Me.
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