The Most Important Interview That You've (N)ever Had
Rav Shmuel Aharon Yudelewitz, the son-in-law of Reb Aryeh Levin, was exceedingly careful in baking matzos.
Every year, a day before Erev Pesach, he would take a few students to a spring outside Yerushalayim to draw water for baking the matzah. This water would be cool and clear, and left over night as Mayim Shelanu.
In preparation, he would wake up early, go to the home of a local potter and purchase a large barrel that was brand new. To the top he would fasten new ropes from the shuk. The ropes would be used for carrying the water back to the bus – cabs were too expensive.
And so it happened one year that Rav Shmuel Aharon had woken up early, bought his new pot, affixed the ropes, drawn the water, shlepped it up the hill and onto the bus. From there he carried it to the bakery, where it would remain overnight.
The next morning, the rabbi arrived with his students to begin baking the matzos. But when they picked up the pot, to their great horror, it was empty.
The cleaning lady, the night before, had seen a new pot of water and without giving it much of a thought, had used the water to wash the floor.
The students were in shock. An entire day of effort in obtaining the water was wasted. There was no time to get more! How would their Rabbi have matzos to eat. The tension in the room was palpable as they looked to their teacher for his reaction.
Rav Shmuel turned to them and said: “You think that the reason I am so careful to bake my own matzos is because you think mine are the most kosher and everyone else's are not. Nothing could be further from the truth. Every Jew has kosher matzos, but I bake my own matzos because to be a Jew means to put in your best effort – that's all Hashem asks of us.”
He continued to explain to his students: “If it doesn't work out, that too is what Hashem wanted. I'll get matzos from someone else. There is no reason to get upset.”
It's an important message to keep in mind this Yom Tov. I am not a prophet, but I'm guessing that something in your home hasn't gone perfectly well this Yom Tov. A order that didn't arrive, an invite that didn't work out? Perhaps a recipe that flopped or a dish that didn't taste quite right?
It's never perfect, but Hashem isn't looking for perfection, He's looking for me and you.
The Bnei Yissaschar, explains that the primary difference between chametz and matzah is action. Matzah is never allowed to be left without someone working it. From the time the flour and water are combined, the dough is kneaded, promptly rolled out, perforated, and baked. Nothing happens to the matzah that is not the direct effect of someone handling it. Not so with chametz, where the ingredients are mixed and then set aside for a period of time to rise. Chametz is spontaneous, occurring without anyone's doing anything to make it rise.
Matzah and chametz, therefore, represent two opposing perspectives. Chametz represents the idea that things can happen by themselves, while matzah symbolizes that nothing happens unless someone makes it happen.
Reb Leibele Eiger would explain that this is the same reason we eat an egg at the seder. An egg represents that which cannot come to fruition without working at it. Without incubation, an egg is just an egg. But with incubation, with warmth, with time, with commitment, it'll hatch, it'll grow.
Likewise, Rav Kook paskened that one who uses horseradish for Marror should grate it before Yom Tov, allowing the majority of the sharpness to dissipate. So long as it still tastes a little bitter, he argues, you have eaten Marror. But if there's a way to reduce the bitterness through out actions, we are well within our rights to do so.
Let's ask a silly question: Which moments of sitting on the egg are the ones that make it hatch? Which foldings, rollings and kneading are the ones that prevent the matzah from becoming Chametz? At what point in grating the Marror does it lose its bite?
The absurdity of the question becomes apparent immediately. There is no one single moment, no one action that achieves the end result. There is no secret recipe, no magic moment.
Rav Pinchas of Koretz explained that on Pesach, when we renew our membership as Avdei Hashem, Hashem decides what our Avoda is going to be for the year ahead. It's an annual interview that we aught to pay attention to. Some are set up for a year learning, others for davening. Some are given the means to give tzedaka, and others with time to do whatever Hashem needs in His world. But Hashem is not looking to “get things done”, He is looking for people who are dedicated to His cause; people that care about the process.
This is the secret that Rav Shmuel Aharon understood: the process is far more important than a specific event or activity. Avodas Hashem is about the effort and process of drawing water for matzah, not the success of the result.
Pesach asks us: What do you want you Avoda to be this year? Hashem should help us to grow into the Jews we dream to be, that He needs us to become.