CLERGY CORNER: The Secret of Maror at the Passover Seder

Posted on 05 April 2017 by LeslieM

Why do we eat maror, or bitter herbs, at our Passover seder? The first seder the Jews conducted was in Egypt, on the eve of the 15th of Nissan, the night before they departed from the cursed country. Moses instructed the Jewish people to eat during that seder roasted lamb or goat, together with matzos and maror (bitter herbs).

Why did they eat maror on that first Passover night?

Rashi explains, “G-d commanded them to eat maror to remember that the Egyptians embittered their lives.”

This seems absurd. I can understand that now, in 2017, we are instructed to eat bitter herbs to remember the bitter pain our ancestors endured in Egypt. But for the first generations of Jews, who experienced the Egyptian exile, whose infants were plunged in the Nile, who were beaten and tortured, who suffered unbearable agony and bitterness—they needed to eat bitter herbs, horseradish, to remember the pain?

Imagine: It is April 1945. The Russians entered Auschwitz. The Germans fled. The Jews are still in the death camp. You tell them, “Tonight make sure to eat maror, so that you remember how the Germans embittered your lives.” You’re kidding me? Bitter herbs to remember? I have to remember? And a bitter vegetable will remind me of it? I have lived on this hellish planet for years! All bitter vegetables in the world don’t begin to compare to what I have been through.”

One of the answers is this. The mitzvah to eat the maror is what allowed the Jewish to become free.

When people experience pain they often react in one of two ways: Some people repress it; others become defined by it. Some people don’t talk; they don’t want to face the pain. It remains etched in the depth of their psyche, paralyzing them unconsciously. Others do not stop talking about it. It becomes the sole focus of their life. Bad things people might have done to you completely occupy your mental space. Disappointments, challenging experiences and difficult moments become your defining reality. Both paths are understandable, but we are capable of more. And that is the secret of the maror.

When G-d instructed that generations of Jews eat maror on the night of the seder, He was sharing with them the Jewish way of dealing with all types of disappointments and painful experiences in life: Designate a time and space to eat it, to look at it, to deal with it, to choke over it, to cry for it, to feel the pain. But do not let it become the focus of your entire life, and swallow up your future and destiny. The Jews leaving Egypt, by eating maror, objectified their pain, meaning they transformed it into an important reality that they could look at, feel, study and learn from. But it did not become their entire reality. They were a free people. Otherwise, they would have left the Land of the Pharaohs, but the Pharaoh would have not left them.

Once you eat maror, then you can eat matzah and drink four cups of wine. You can say to yourself, there is also joy in my life. There may be challenges but there is so much opportunity. There may be frustrations, but there is blessing, and, perhaps, I can utilize my experience to grow even more and to help others around me.

We do not ignore pain or take it lightly. We do not delegitimize human feelings. We do not say “get over it.” No, we designate a sacred space in our heart and our seder plate for the “maror.” When we eat the maror, this is our focus. We honor our feelings and experiences. And when we do that, we can say: that was the maror. And now it’s time for the matzah and the wine.

We are hosting our annual Seder at the Jewish Center of Lighthouse Point. To RSVP: e-mail Tzvidechter@gmail.com or visit our website at www. JewishLHP.com. Have a happy and a kosher pesach!

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