During my year living in Israel, I spent the first part of the Pesach break in Tel Aviv. I was amazed at how the entire city, as secular as it was, managed to switch over for the holiday. Now I wasn't kidding myself. I doubt any of these places kashered their dishes or sold their chometz in any thing more than a token fashion but the changes were there nonetheless. At Miss Lucy's, a hot dog place off of Kikar Dizengoff the hot dogs were served on thin pieces of matzah. Pizza was served at Rimini's on matzah as well and anyone asking for a beer at most of the cafes was laughed at. It was Pesach, didn't they know?
True, the chometz was still there, hiding in the shadows. I recall a classmate of mine sauntering up as we enjoyed our hot dogs. He was smirking and then proudly displayed the ham and cheese sandwich he'd managed to procure. Yes, no King of the Universe was going to interfere with his personal freedom, that was for sure.
(For the record, the last time I was in contact with him, he had intermarried and was vociferously anti-Israel, openly advocating the replacement of our State by an Arab one. Amazing what ham and cheese can do to the neshama).
During the latter part of Pesach, I returned to the kibbutz where I lived and was shocked when I entered the dining hall and saw a bin full of bread next to the bin where the matzah was being served. When I asked why bread was being put out, I was clearly told that no religious coercion was allowed on the kibbutz. Those who chose not to eat matzah would not be forced to.
Yet to this day I still don't understand why withholding bread and substituting matzah for one week of the year is considered such unbearable coercion. Especially after reading this article in which the High Court, that great force for secularism, has gone and made official what was sadly present for all these years anyway. As I found out, bread isn't hard to find in Israel during Pesach but the official lack of acceptance seemed to offer some minor consolation. For the State to be officially forbidden to ban chometz is unacceptable, yet it has happened.
After all, what's the big deal? One week, that's all it is. Serve matzah instead of bread, wine instead of beer and whisky. How many billions of people in the world live in daily fear of being killed, imprisoned, or starved to death? How many lack access to clean water, healthy food and medications? How many are denied a say in how their lives are run and afraid to share their opinions in public for fear of terrifying reprecussions? And in Israel we are told that one whole week without bread is intolerable religion coercion. Please, get a grip!
But even beyond that, the rejection of matzah speaks to something far deeper. The matzah represents the simplest of foods, a synthesis of bread and water. Lacking any leavening, it represents the simplest way a person can be, lacking any materialistic pretensions or arrogance. More than that, Torah is compared to both bread and water. Thus matzah is the person who is emblematic of complete acceptance of God's will and His Torah. For this reason we remember it as the food with which we left Egypt. Despite being forced out and with clearly minimal provisions, we left with a high hand because of God's love and presence. By insisting on continuing to eat chometz throughout Pesach, a Jew rejects what the Allmight did for us. He shows that he does not understand that Pesach was not a transfer from slavery to freedom but one from slavery under human and materialistic authorities to servitude to the King of Kings. He chooses to spiritually remain in Egypt and deny himself the great elevation that accepting the yoke of Heaven brings one. No wonder the punishment prescribed for eating chometz is spiritual excision. Someone selfish enough to reject the lessons of Pesach and the Kingship of God in favour of shallow self-worship cannot count himself as part of the Jewish people's heritage.
And in the end, their behaviour proves their limitations. After all, if someone who otherwise lacks little cannot change their diet for just seven days in the year, what does that say of their ability to sacrifice their needs when some other duty comes along?
Let us pray that this new law is universally ignored and that, during this upcoming Pesach, the people of Israel remind themselves of their tie to our God and the glorious heritage He has granted us.