Shabbat Hagadol

“Parsha and Purpose” – Tzav 5781 / Shabbat HaGadol
Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s weekly insights into the parsha 

“Making the World and Ourselves Whole Again: Freedom’s Opportunity

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Parshat Tzav (Leviticus 6:1 – 8:36)

“Making the World and Ourselves Whole Again: Freedom’s Opportunity”

 With Pesach starting right after Shabbat, I want to highlight two interconnected moments at the Seder that provide an extraordinary insight into ourselves and our responsibility to the world.
 
The first moment occurs early in the Seder, when we perform the ritual known as Yachatz: we take the middle matzah and break it into two, leaving the smaller piece with the other two, whole matzot.
 
What do we do with the larger piece of the broken middle matzah? Not surprisingly, there are several customs; some people give it to a child at the Seder to hold or to hide; while others have the custom that a child “steals” it and holds it “hostage” in exchange for the “ransom” known as the Afikoman present. 
 
Either way, the larger piece involves the participation of a child – if one is present at the Seder.

The piece, once returned to the table, is eaten at the end of the meal in the section of the Seder known as “Tzafun”.

I have a few questions:

1) Why do we have a ceremony to break the middle matzah? There are plenty of broken pieces of matzah in every one of our matza packages, why don’t we just use them to begin with, rather than actively break a complete matzah in two?

2) What is the meaning of the childrens’ role in this particular ritual?

3) The eating of this broken piece of the matzah has its own “billing” in the Seder: the uncommon word “Tzafun”, which means “hidden”. What is the significance of this ritual and its name?

I would like to suggest that the breaking of the matzah into two pieces is a statement. 

That even as we celebrate our freedom from slavery, we must be mindful of the fact that there are so many people with broken hearts, broken lives; things that are still broken in our world; and so much opportunity for us as free people to galvanize and transform the world around us.

And it is no coincidence that at this profound moment of acknowledgement of our reality, we purposely bring in the next generation, demonstrating to them that we can’t defeat the challenges that we face alone. 

By engaging our children we signal to them that it must be a multi-generational effort.

We teach them that just as we inherited a broken world from the previous generation and are doing our best to fix it, they, too, are still inheriting a broken world unique to their generation, and it is incumbent upon them to make it better.

While this symbolism is happening on a macro level, on the micro level, it’s even deeper, because it’s not only the world that’s broken. Each and every one of us is fractured in one way or another.

Each of us has talents, significant pieces of ourselves, like the larger section of the broken matzah, which are hidden. Potential that we haven’t yet actualized.

The matzah that has been hidden or stolen from us represents the fact that there are pieces of our potential that haven’t even been revealed to us yet. 

And this is why the peak of the matza-breaking ritual – which began earlier with Yachatz – is consumed at “Tzafun”, meaning “hidden”.

Because when we eat the Afikoman, we are not simply eating a broken piece of matzah, we are internalizing the reality of the hidden potential in the world around us… and the hidden potential in the world within us.

At this year’s Seder, let’s be conscious of the messages we’re conveying through our rituals, reminding ourselves that we are part of a multi-generational effort to make our world – and ourselves – whole.

The true responsibility that comes with the gift of freedom.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Kasher V’Sameach

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Listen to Rabbi Riskin’s Shabbat HaGadol Drasha in English:  “Who will Destroy Amalek and Bring about the Redemption, God or Israel?” Delivered on Motzai Shabbat April 8, 2017, at the Jerusalem Great Synagogue in memory of Rivka bat Sarah Domb, a Holy Martyr of the Holocaust and mother of Sam Domb, a lover of Zion …

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