One of the many themes of the upcoming Passover holiday is the idea of the chipazon, or haste, with which the miracle of the Exodus occurred. The Torah writes in Deuteronomy 16:3: "You shall not eat leavened bread [with it], for seven days you shall eat matzos because of it, bread of affliction, for you departed from the land of Egypt in haste - so that you will remember the day of your departure from the land of Egypt all the days of your life."
Everything that occurred on that fateful day when the Jewish people left Egypt over 3300 years ago happened so quickly. Imagine that ... the Jews were enslaved and persecuted by their Egyptian tormentors for a period of 210 years(!), but when the time came for them to finally leave and become free men, they left in such a hurry that there wasn't even enough time for them to bake bread and to let it rise. Instead, they baked unleavened bread - today we call it matzah - and the rest, as they say, is history!
Why did G-d have to take them out in such a hurry? And why is the fact that the Exodus happened with such haste that the Jews had no time to bake bread, so central to the entire story that it is commemorated each year by eating unleavened bread? Had we gone out of Egypt a little slower, would anyone be any less happy?
The answer to these questions has to do with the symbolism of matzah, unleavened bread, versus chametz, or leavened bread. If you've ever been to a matzah bakery and seen the entire process of baking matzah - one word that would no doubt come to mind in describing what you saw would be the word "rush". Everyone is rushing. If the matzahs aren't all baked within 18 minutes - the amount of time it takes for dough to rise and become chametz - they cannot be used for Passover. So the clock starts and the water is poured into the flour and the mixture is quickly kneaded into a thick dough. The dough is then rushed to a long table where it is then split up into many sections, each to be rolled into a nice-size matzah. The matzahs are then rushed to a table where they are perforated, then to be brought to the oven where the expert baker completes the process and turns out crispy, fresh-baked matzahs. All the workers at the matzah bakery know that each and every second counts - if you let a matzah sit, it will sour and become chametz - so they do their jobs with great haste.
The Jewish people were languishing in Egypt for hundreds of years. Along comes Moses and brings them a message that they will now have a chance to become free - free to become part of this brand new nation that would bring G-d's word, the Torah, to the world. Here was their big chance. Would they continue to remain slaves in Egypt, or would they rush out, grabbing whatever they could, to follow Moses into the desert?
You might be surprised to learn that not all the Jews ran out of Egypt when the opportunity arose. The Midrash tells us that four-fifths of the Jewish people never left Egypt! Only those who "saw the hieroglyphics on the wall" and realized that it's either now or maybe never, actually left Egypt with Moses. And that's the message of all that haste and rush at the Exodus.
You see, it takes a special type of person to realize that the time is now, here's my chance to go and become something better, I am not going to let this opportunity slip away. Just like all those Jews running around in the matzah bakery, making sure that the matzah doesn't just "sit around" and become chametz, we, too, have to make sure not to let ourselves just sit around and, G-d forbid, become chametz.
Not always do we get the chance later to do those things which "we really ought to do but don't have the time for right now" - as the following story, told to me by beloved grandfather, Rabbi Joseph Baumol ZT”L, illustrates:
The year was 1937, and my great-grandfather, Rabbi Yoel Moshe Baumol of blessed memory, was in Vienna due to a terrible illness that he would ultimately die from. He was but 51 years old at the time, yet he sensed that his end was near. It was on what would be his last Friday night in this world, when Reb Yoel Moshe called his younger son, my great-uncle Reb Yehoshua, to his bedside, and told him the following: "As you well know, my dear son, I was not blessed with the privilege of witnessing the wedding of your older brother (my grandfather, Rabbi Joseph, was married a few years earlier in the States, and his father wasn't allowed to leave Poland to be present at the wedding -dz), and I am afraid that G-d will not grant me the merit of dancing at your wedding either. So, my dear son Yehoshua, let me at least dance the wedding dance together with you right now." And so it was that a dying father and his beloved son danced together, hand in hand, on that fateful Shabbos, in what was to be the last dance of Reb Yoel Moshe's short, but very meaningful, life.
My great-grandfather never got to do something which so many of us, thank G-d, can almost take for granted - to dance at the wedding of our children. Yet there are so many things we would like to do - know that we should do - that would no doubt enhance our lives and give them that much more meaning. Things like exploring our history and Jewish roots, asking ourselves where we are headed in life, what do we want to leave as a legacy to our children when we leave this world, what can we do that will make us feel more fulfilled as Jews ..... the list goes on. But if we don't rush and make haste, who knows if we are ever going to have that chance? Who knows if things might just sour and become chametz, G-d forbid, before we ever get to all those things we thought we had plenty of time for?
There is a beautiful Jewish custom to read the entire book of The Song of Songs from the Scriptures at the end of the Seder on Passover night. The Song of Songs is a beautiful and very deep allegory written by the wisest of all men, King Solomon, that speaks of the love relationship and longing between G-d and the Jewish people. In one of the most moving sections of the Song of Songs (5:2), we find G-d knocking on His beloved's [the Jewish people] door and beseeching her (I am paraphrasing), "Open your heart to Me, My dove, My love, My perfection ... and let Me come into your life.” To which His beloved responds, "How can I come to the door when I have already gotten undressed? Maybe tomorrow morning is a better idea". So G-d sees He's not wanted here and goes away. But then His beloved realizes what has happened, and has a change of heart. "I opened for my Beloved [G-d]; but, alas, my Beloved had turned His back on my plea and was gone. I sought His closeness, but could not find it; I beseeched Him, but He would not answer."
G-d loves us and every so often will send us a message - a wake-up call - a knock on our door. But unfortunately we are sometimes too busy to pay serious attention to the call. "Maybe next year I'll join the Torah study group". "Maybe when I retire, I'll have more time to learn to read Hebrew, something I have always wanted to do". "Maybe when I have children and they go to Day School, I will start to go to synagogue more regularly". "Shabbat sounds like a really great idea for us to do with the kids, but right now it conflicts with too many other activities that they do".
This, then, is the lesson of the Passover "rush". When the inspiration comes, when the opportunity presents itself for us to make some positive changes in the way we lead our lives, when we feel like there is something more religious and spiritual that we ought to be doing in our lives - we must seize the moment and not let our matzah become chametz. We just got to get dressed and answer the door before that moment goes away and who knows when it'll come back!
Let us hope that this year, when we're sitting at the Passover Seder, chomping on all that hastily-made matzah, we won't let this powerful lesson go to waste, and we'll have the courage and strength to do what we really want to do now, instead of putting it off for later.