Half a Matzah and a Broken World

Is half a matzah as good as a whole?

Not if one half stands for the body

And the other half stands for the soul.

The allure of the Passover seder from ancient times to the present has been its symbols and symbolic rites.  At the Passover seder the whole matzah symbolizes the two components of human life, body and soul, that should function together in an integrated way.  But in our world they are often dysfunctional. This dysfunction is symbolized at the seder by the rite of yahatz. We break the middle matzah on the seder plate. We wrap the larger piece in a napkin and set it aside to be eaten after the meal as afikomen, the after-meal desert.  In the order of the seder in the Passover Haggadah, the eating of the afikomen is called Tzafun, the hidden, i.e., the broken matzah in the napkin.

Here is a mystical explanation of yahatz, the breaking of the matzah, and afikomen, the after meal desert. It comes from Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, the first chief rabbi of the land of Israel and the greatest kabbalist of the 20th century. When we break the matzah in two, we point to the fact that we live in what the kabbalists call alma de peruda, a world of separation and fragmentation.  In this world human beings are separated from God and from one another. In this fragmented world the individual’s soul is distanced from the body, and the body and its needs is given priority over the soul and its needs.  In some religious groups, the split results in an emphasis on soul at the expense of the body. The body and its needs are denied. The first half of the matzah, symbolizing the body, is  eaten just before the meal when we are hungry. On this first half of matzah we recite the blessing al akhilat matzah.  In Jewish law it is called akhilah le-teavon, eating with an appetite,symbolizing bodily needs.

The second half of the matzah that is wrapped  in a napkin and hidden away is the afikomen, the after meal desert. The eating of the afikomen is called in Jewish law and tradition, akhila al ha-sova, eating when sated since we are no longer hungry after our meal. Thus, the afikomen symbolizes the soul and its needs. The afikomen is the larger half of the matzah because the soul should guide the body not the body guiding the soul. But this half of the mtzah is hidden and children, or in some traditions adults, have to search for it. Why?  The soul is deep within the self. It is not on the surface and its needs are not always apparent. In a very materialistic age such as ours, the soul, the source of our sense of kedusha, of holiness, is more hidden that ever. So, says Rabbi Kook, when we eat the afikomen, the after-meal desert, we attempt, as best as we can, to join the soul and its needs to the body and its needs in a broken world.




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About Rabbi Joseph Schultz, PhD

Dr. Joseph Schultz served as Rabbi for congregations in Brookline, MA, Norwich, CT and Cambridge, MA. Dr. Schultz founded the Jewish Studies Program at Boston University where he was Assistant Professor of Religion and at the University of Missouri-Kansas City where he was Oppenstein Brothers Distinguished Professor of Judaic Studies. He helped establish the Center for Religious Studies in 1996, a consortium of six colleges, theological schools and the University of Missouri-Kansas City, offering an interdisciplinary graduate program for the PhD in Religious Studies. Dr. Schultz was its first director.

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