Matzah Is the Bread of Freedom Precisely Because It Is the Bread of Affliction

March 18 2021

While there can be no doubt about the centrality of unleavened bread to Passover, its meaning is not at all straightforward. The Torah itself calls it the “bread of affliction,” but elsewhere implies that it is in fact a symbol of freedom. While some rabbis have claimed this paradox is fundamental to understanding matzah, others, writes Shalom Carmy, see no paradox at all:

Rabbi Judah Loew, the late-16th-century rabbi of Prague, known by the acronym Maharal, . . . rejected the idea that matzah can represent two conflicting themes, namely, liberation and enslavement. . . . To the [Maharal], matzah is the simplest kind of bread. Quickly prepared, it is dough and water and nothing else. In the Maharal’s opinion, nothing is more emblematic of freedom than a simple food of this sort, the very opposite of luxury and superfluity, which so easily weighs us down with the cares of this world.

[W]hen I taught a course on the Maharal last spring, I was in for a surprise. His claim that matzah, precisely as the food of simplicity, is the quintessential bread of freedom provoked vigorous resistance among my students. In their minds, freedom is predicated on not being bound by material constraints. Necessity is the great enemy of doing as one pleases. It is not hard to recognize that the life of a poor but saintly person is morally more authentic and religiously richer than that of those who enjoy greater material resources. Yet doesn’t poverty enslave one to exigency and dearth? How can a life held hostage to need possibly be freer than one that has the option of material comfort?

I demurred. Maharal is not focusing on the desperation of penury—matzah, for all its lack of culinary sophistication, is physically nourishing. What he stresses is that life conducted with simplicity is unencumbered by preoccupation with material acquisition and consumption. In that sense, it enables and expresses a freedom not available to those possessed by their wealth and possessions.

Can this awareness help us move toward the kind of unencumbered existence that Maharal associates with the liberation of Exodus? . . . The story of Passover is not only about God redeeming our ancestors from Egyptian slavery. He redeemed their descendants along with them. The challenge of spiritual and moral liberation confronts us today no less than then. The simplicity of the unleavened bread can be a starting point, a powerful reminder that what we need is often far less than what we want. It is a recognition that frees us to enter into what God gives.

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Read more at First Things

More about: Freedom, Judaism, Maharal, Matzah, Passover

 

Is the Attempt on Salman Rushdie’s Life Part of a Broader Iranian Strategy?

Aug. 18 2022

While there is not yet any definitive evidence that Hadi Matar, the man who repeatedly stabbed the novelist Salman Rushdie at a public talk last week, was acting on direct orders from Iranian authorities, he has made clear that he was inspired by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s call for Rushdie’s murder, and his social-media accounts express admiration for the Islamic Republic. The attack also follows on the heels of other Iranian attempts on the lives of Americans, including the dissident activist Masih Alinejad, the former national security advisor John Bolton, and the former secretary of state Mike Pompeo. Kylie Moore-Gilbert, who was held hostage by the mullahs for over two years, sees a deliberate effort at play:

It is no coincidence this flurry of Iranian activity comes at a crucial moment for the hitherto-moribund [nuclear] negotiations. Iranian hardliners have long opposed reviving the 2015 deal, and the Iranians have made a series of unrealistic and seemingly ever-shifting demands which has led many to conclude that they are not negotiating in good faith. Among these is requiring the U.S. to delist the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in its entirety from the State Department’s list of terror organizations.

The Biden administration and its European partners’ willingness to make concessions are viewed in Tehran as signals of weakness. The lack of a firm response in the shocking attack on Salman Rushdie will similarly indicate to Tehran that there is little to be lost and much to be gained in pursuing dissidents like Alinejad or so-called blasphemers like Sir Salman on U.S. soil.

If we don’t stand up for our values when under attack we can hardly blame our adversaries for assuming that we have none. Likewise, if we don’t erect and maintain firm red lines in negotiations our adversaries will perhaps also assume that we have none.

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Read more at iNews

More about: Iran, Terrorism, U.S. Foreign policy