When we say the blessing of hamotzi on the night of Pesach, we are accustomed to take a fragment of matzoh, together with the complete ones. Our Sages (Pesachim 115a-b) tell us the reason for this: Just as the way of the poor person is to eat from a fragment, so too, we take a piece on this night.
We might question the meaning of this practice. What particular lesson are we to gain from taking a fragment of matzoh? Is there a deeper connotation to this?
We may answer this, based upon a fundamental understanding of redemption, which the Maharal (Gevuros Hashem, Perek 51) expounds upon. He asks: What is the significance of matzoh, the bread of poverty, in relation to redemption? What relevance does destitution have at this moment?
The answer is that the very nature of the poor person, which is generally viewed as a weakness, is on this night looked upon as a tremendous benefit. Unlike the man of wealth who has strong ties to his prosperity, the pauper is completely unbound from anything. Thus, we learn from him the very meaning of redemption itself. Redemption is the ability to be unshackled from every material aspect of our life, to the point where we can be completely unified with Hashem alone.
On this most holy night of the seder, we wish to attain new, elevated levels, in which we will experience true redemption. Redemption means our ability to be completely submissive to Hashem; to live only for climbing to new heights in spirituality. In order to attain this great accomplishment, we must first isolate ourselves from the world of materialism which surrounds us. This means to say, that on this night, we will not be bound to thoughts of the material world for its own sake, which often overtakes us.
Perhaps this is the message of the fragment of matzoh which we take on this night. It is only a poor person, who does not have anything of his own, that would truly appreciate the morsel of food which is given to him. On the other hand, a person of means, would find it very difficult to see good in the small fragments that are handed to him. This teaches us an important lesson on this night. Only once we train our thoughts to be free from all else other than our world of spirituality will we be able to appreciate every kindliness which Hashem has performed for us. As long as our minds are filled with other less spiritual thoughts, we will find it very difficult to see even the ‘small’ kindnesses that Hashem has always performed for each of us. If our minds are busy thinking about the new car we have just bought, or occupied with the beautiful design of the new bathroom which we recently renovated, then we will find it very difficult to appreciate the ‘fragments’ of goodness in our lives.
Hashem is constantly bestowing kindness upon us. Yet we might be completely oblivious to it all. Genuine redemption is to be free from a strong leaning towards materialism, to the point in which we can look at everything that occurs in our lives, both physical and spiritual, as a means of spiritual growth. The way in which we can grow from the material things which Hashem gives us is to see His Hand of chessed in our lives. This would apply to every aspect, from the smallest to the greatest.
Thus our Sages teach us, that on this night we should delineate every detail of the kindnesses of Hashem that is inherent in the redemption of Mitzrayim. ‘We begin with our disgrace and end with praise’ (Pesachim 116a). We do not only spend the night thinking of the great wonders Hashem had done for us in Mitzrayim. Rather, we focus on every detail and each kindness that Hashem has done for us from the very beginning, and all the way through. It is only when we are prepared to appreciate these details that we will experience the feeling of true redemption.
Pesach | Rabbi Usher Smith
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