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Passover Yizkor: Making the Broken Matza Whole

04/25/2022 11:08:19 AM


Rabbi Ezray

       As we come to the end of Passover and thoughts turn to that all important choice of what to eat tonight, pizza, bagel, pasta, you name it, I want you to hold onto the symbol of matza and take it with you.

       Matza’s symbolic meaning has the power to inform our identity in moving ways. Especially as we prepare for the Yizkor service connected with each of our pilgrimage festivals; we say that we too are like matzah: whole yet broken; broken yet whole (phrase taken from a sermon by Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin).

        Think about that symbolism, whole yet broken, broken yet whole. Let your imagination take you back to last week’s Seder, the Yachatz, where we broke the matzah. One side larger than the other, a jagged edge with messy and crumbling pieces, reminds us that we live every day with uncertainty and pieces of each of us and the world can break in a moment. You only need to think about the ongoing image of people fleeing Ukraine to know the truth of that statement. We celebrate our redemption amidst the knowledge that our world is still broken. 

          Confronting brokenness – personal, communal, and global – and searching it for meaning and purpose is an aspect of Jewish wisdom. Moses shatters the tablets descending from Mount Sinai and witnessing the Israelites frolicking around the Golden Calf and according to Midrash, God instructs him to put the broken tablets in the ark next to the new tablets. Why should the broken tablets be put in the holiest place that exists? That which is broken, ourselves included, is treasured. As the Kotzker Rebbe says, “There is nothing so whole as a broken heart.” The broken matza is each of us, and the brokenness, in the words of Mark Gerson who wrote The Telling: How Judaism’s Essential Book Reveals the Meaning of Life, describes it as, “…Our incomplete, disappointed, confused, insecure, scared, scarred, vulnerable and broken self,” contains holiness.

          What do we do with that brokenness? We cry out, knowing that when our ancestors cried out to God it was the beginning of our redemption. As we voice our pain, it lifts up, a piece releases, it teaches us and even motivates. Yizkor, when we remember loved ones who we miss, is a moment of confronting the brokenness that comes through loss. As lift our voices, we listen to the lessons of those no longer with us. We remind ourselves that our broken selves are holy and embraced by God and those around us. Mark Gerson reminds us that the broken matza is surrounded by two whole matzot. In our brokenness we are surrounded by community and friends supporting us; standing together may be one of the most powerful aspects of Yizkor. And then we go further, understanding that confronting brokenness is meant to unlock empathy and caring. Because we were slaves we care for the stranger and welcome the hungry to our homes. In the Yizkor prayers, we vow to give Tzedakah in memory of our loved ones. Our brokenness changes us if we listen to it and make it part of life moving forward.

          Now move through the Seder. What do we do with the broken half of matza? We hide it away and after the meal, we bring it back; the afikomen. We reunite the broken matza and imagine wholeness returning. Whole yet broken; broken yet whole. Explore the wholeness that comes from embracing brokenness; the life lessons, wisdom, inspiration, and activism that emerges. Let the emotions of loss connected to those you remember in Yikzor and the lessons your carry whisper to you. Listen to how the poet and academic Marcia Falk expresses it in a Hagaddah she edited that came out this year:

          Loss, suffering, hopelessness: broken spirit, broken self. Our lives are broken off by death. The human condition is brokenness.

          But there is also another kind of breaking, the breaking-open of the heart that puts us in touch with our deeper selves and that may even serve as a gateway to wholeness.

          What is wholeness of self? Does it depend on outer connections – bonds between self and other, between self and world? Is it the feeling that one is part of a greater whole?

          Or is it an inner connectedness? An awareness, a knowingness sustained from within, a bringing forth to consciousness the hidden parts of self? And might this deepened consciousness offer a path to freedom?

          Or is wholeness all these things – and perhaps more?

          We dwell in a world of brokenness, but we yearn and strive for wholeness.  It is elusive, but it is our birthright.

          The pursuit of wholeness is the human calling.

          Her beautiful writing brought up images in my heart. I pictured Rabbi Chiel, of blessed memory, gently reminding me not to internalize hurtful words. I remember Ann Sherrod, of blessed memory, our housekeeper who was like a second mother, bandaging a scrape on my knee. I held the memory of Ilse Rosenbaum, who died this past week and who responded to surviving the Holocaust by helping so many in need. Brokenness can crack our hearts open, and we emerge different, whole amidst the brokenness.

          Picture the two pieces of matza coming back together. It is part of the power of memory, of Pesach and Yizkor. Let brokenness and wholeness sit together and touch places deep in the hidden parts of self that help lead us on the path of who we are meant to be. Allow pain, anger, and regret to lead us to unexpected understanding of what wholeness might mean.  

           Ultimately this moves us to act. Every act of memory is meant to result in action. Rabbi David Wolpe reflects that the afikomen returns at the end of the meal because the symbol of return to wholeness is the ultimate response to evil. The children find it because they are the harbingers of a better time. We emerge from Pesach confronting both the reality of evil/brokenness and each individual’s responsibility to combat it.  In The New American Hagaddah, we read that the afikomen is a radical statement embodying the faith that there is always a way, concealed though it might be, to make the transition from the suffering that we know to the future that we dream. 

          Rabbi Harold Schulweis, of blessed memory, builds on this message teaching that both the Yachatz, the breaking, and the eating of the afikomen are practiced without a blessing and in silence. Why? Everything in Judaism has blessings, but these acts don’t. Rabbi Schulweis teaches it is because the dreams of wholeness have not been actualized. We send our children to open the door for the hidden Elijah, urging them to look to tomorrow, to a time better than yesterday or today. Tomorrow must be kinder, and we hold onto a vision of what can be. We sing about Elijah and imagine the messianic era he might bring, for Elijah is the forerunner of the Messiah or messianic times. Where can he or she be found? Some believe that the Messiah was born on Tisha b’Av on the very day that the Temple was destroyed. The Messiah will emerge from our brokenness as we bind the wounds of those who suffer and seek peace in angry world. Picture holding onto the afikomen and let the song of Eliahu Ha’Navi echo in your heart and we embrace becoming partners to bring about the Messianic era.

          Yizkor reminds of the past that was, and the future that might be. We remember the love of those for whom we recite Memorial prayers and we return their love by living both their and our people’s noblest dreams. The memories of our loved one; the message of broken matza returning to its other half while remaining broken inspires us to live the moral imperative inherent in Passover to bring healing and love to ourselves and our world.

Wed, December 7 2022 13 Kislev 5783