Passover: Freedom, Tradition, and Matzah

The Passover tradition carries with it a deep and rich symbolism, particularly with regards to matzah. This unleavened bread is a poignant emblem of freedom and tradition, as the ancient Aramaic refrain echoes through generations, retelling the story of liberation from Egyptian bondage.

“Ha lahma anya di achlu avhatana b’ara d’mitzrayim Kol dihfin yeteh ve yehchol Kol ditzrich yehteh veyifsach: Hashatah hacha Leshana haba, b’ara d’Yisrael! Hashana avdeh Leshana haba, bnei horin!” (Haggadah)

“This is the bread of affliction, the poor bread which our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt. Let all who are hungry come and eat. Let all who are in want share this bread. As we celebrate here, we join with our people everywhere. This year, we celebrate here—next year, in the land of Israel. Now, we are still in bonds. Next year may we all be free.” (English Translation)

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks aptly illuminates the dual nature of matzah, portraying it as both the sustenance of enslaved people and the hurried provision of emancipated Israelites.

“Matza represents two things, the simple food of enslaved people and the bread eaten by the Israelites as they left Egypt in haste.”

However, beyond its apparent simplicity, matzah embodies the intricate journey towards redemption, marked by skepticism, perseverance, and the enduring quest for true freedom. This exploration delves into the multifaceted meanings of matzah, weaving together threads of history, faith, and contemporary relevance, inviting us to ponder the timeless pursuit of liberty and its enduring resonance in our lives.

The story of the Israelites’ freedom from slavery in Egypt is full of surprising events, including strange actions and doubts even among the Israelites themselves. When Pharaoh made the people’s situation worse, Moses, who was the main person in charge, questioned what was happening and even challenged G-d. The Torah tells us about Moses expressing his frustration and confusion, questioning why G-d would allow the Israelites to suffer despite him obeying G-d’s command to speak to Pharaoh.

“Moses returned to the Lord and said, ‘O Lord! Why have You harmed these people? Why have You sent me? Since I have come to Pharaoh to speak in Your name. He has harmed these people, and You have not saved Your people.” *1

As per halachic tradition, the technical definition of matzah involves a mixture of flour and water left to sit for no more than 18 minutes. Yet, the connection between this definition and freedom is not immediately apparent. The growth of grain and the creation of bread symbolize settled civilization. As the initial stage of bread, Matzah represents the foundation of a stable society’s sustenance. As matzah precedes bread, leaving Egypt is the initial step to freedom and ultimate redemption.

The journey to freedom and redemption, symbolized by matzah, is protracted and intricate, extending beyond the Israelites’ departure from Egypt. The matzah encapsulates this ongoing quest.

Various perspectives on freedom emerge in both secular and religious realms. President Franklin D. Roosevelt outlined four essential freedoms: speech, worship, want, and fear. Rabbi Meir Soloveichik identifies four additional freedoms embedded in the Passover seder:

  • The freedom of children: The seder engages children, the carriers of tradition, highlighting their role in future freedom.
  • The freedom of intergenerational continuity: The obligation to recount and elaborate on Jewish history fosters continuity.
  • The freedom of time: The ability to control one’s time, a precious resource, is a hallmark of freedom. The establishment of the Jewish calendar signifies this autonomy.
  • The freedom of the law: The Torah, with its laws and narratives, provides the foundation for true independence and ultimate redemption.

The Passover Seder provides insights into various forms of freedom, including politics, speech, worship, and more. It shows how tradition, community, and individual choice are all connected. As we celebrate Passover, recent global events like the attack on Ukraine remind us of the ongoing struggle for freedom. As we gather around the Seder table, let us recount our ancestors’ journey and renew our dedication to liberation, compassion, and solidarity.



  1. Torah, Jewish Bible, Exodus/Shemot, Chapter 5, verses 22-23.
  2. Torah, Jewish Bible, Exodus, Chapter 12, verse 2.
  3. FDR and the Four Freedoms Speech. Retrieved from
  4. Rabbi Meir Soloveichik, Sacred Time, Episode 9: Passover – The Four Freedoms.


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