Matzah, the cracker-like bread, round or square, made by hand or machine, that we eat on Passover. True enough, say the Jewish mystics, but there's much more than that: matzah is the "bread of faith."1 How so?

The Hebrew word matzah is composed of three letters: mem, tzadi, and hei. The first and last letters of the word comprise the Hebrew word mah, which means "what." Mah is central to Divine worship. Speaking for himself and Aaron, Moses said, "Va'anachnu Mah?"—"What are we?"2 His was a rhetorical question. What are we? We are but nothing!

Wisdom is our profound ability to see the simple, but essential, truth about ourselvesThe mah is a question mark, but rather than leaving us with a question it leaves us with a silence that answers all questions. The answer itself need not be stated, merely implied. It is beyond articulation, but clearly intuited. Only G‑d is something. Before Him, what are we?

Mah thus connotes humility; recognizing our place in the context of G‑d. It is interesting to note that mah is also a key component of the Hebrew word chochmah, which means wisdom. When we explore the etymological root of the word chochmah, the words koach mah, "power of what," emerge. Wisdom is our profound ability to gaze beyond the veil and see the simple, but essential truth about ourselves. Koach mah. The power [to acknowledge that we are but] what.

Don't Confuse Me With The Facts

The pursuit of wisdom, even in its most prosaic sense, is an exercise in humility. The wise person employs intellect to gain understanding. The quest for understanding flows from a sincere desire to know the truth. We set out to find the truth and follow it wherever it leads. And when we find it, we accept it as is, even if it forces us to reconsider everything we thought we understood.

Yet not all intelligence is wise. King Solomon wrote, Ani chochmah; shachanti ormah, – "I am wisdom; I dwell in deceit,"3 because at times wisdom is employed as a tool of deceit.4 Some scholars embark on their intellectual journey with the goal of proving what they already believe to be true. Facts that contradict their cherished beliefs are simply reinterpreted. The reinterpretations are brilliant, even wise, but theirs is not the wisdom of humility; it is the wisdom of arrogance. Rather than seek the truth, they block it; a terrible corruption of wisdom.

Wisdom is designed to be used in the humble pursuit of truth. This is why it is called choch-mah, the power to acknowledge that we are but what. Using it in deceit, to arrogantly deny the truth, is an abuse of choch-mah. It is thus no wonder that the Hebrew word for deceit is ormah. If we divide this word into two, we emerge with or mah, which means "naked or devoid of [the ability to acknowledge that we are but] what." Wisdom employed in the humble pursuit of truth is choch-mah, power [to seek] what. Wisdom employed in the pursuit of conceit is or-mah, devoid of what.

Matzah – The Bread of Faith

As they ate the manna, they could not help but humbly acknowledge that their food came directly from G‑dAs we eat matzah, we reflect on the power of mah that brackets the tzadi at the center of the word matzah. The tzadi represents the tzadik, Hebrew for "righteous." When the righteous eat, they reflect on G‑d, who provides their food. On the other hand, the ordinary person's eating experience is self-absorbed; with thought only of pleasure and satisfaction. Eating thus leads many to conceit, but the righteous to humility.

There was one exception, and that was the manna served to our ancestors in the desert. This miraculous bread descended directly from heaven; eating it was a heavenly experience. Rather than reciting the customary benediction over bread, thanking "He who extracts bread from the ground," our ancestors chanted, "He who extracts bread from the heavens." As they ate the manna, they could not help but humbly acknowledge that their food came directly from G‑d. The manna fostered humility and faith.

Ordinary food is not extracted from heaven. The miller grinds the wheat grown by the farmer. The kneader kneads the flour ground by the miller. The baker bakes the dough kneaded by the kneader. The grocer sells the bread baked by the baker and we eat the bread sold by the grocer. Unlike the manna, the hand of G‑d is concealed in our bread.

The righteous, however, seek, and find, the hand of G‑d in their bread. The rest credit humanity and pat their bellies, completely forgetting that G‑d provides the rain, sun, soil, seed, farmer, miller, baker, and grocer. They eat and smugly ignore the reality that our ingenuity, energy, and hard work are also gifts from G‑d. This is not choch-mah, humble pursuit of truth, but or-mah: a reinterpretation of the facts. It is not wisdom, but deceit and conceit.

Eating matzah is the exception, too, because the word matzah connotes humility. Its letters tell of the tzadik, who experiences (the humility of) mah. Everyone is a tzadik when it comes to matzah, because it is the bread that nurtures faith.

Just Like Manna

Matzah is the bread of faith. Our ancestors ate matzah when they left Egypt because they did not have time to let their dough rise. They embarked on a journey across a vast desert with no provisions but the matzah they had hurriedly baked. They put their faith in G‑d and trusted Him to provide. And He did.

We can and must do our best to sustain ourselves, but in the end, G‑d holds the keyAll they ate was matzah, but this simple food miraculously nourished and sustained them for thirty days. Every time they ate it, they were reminded that theirs was not a simple eating experience but a miracle orchestrated by G‑d. They turned to G‑d with gratitude as they realized that life is in G‑d's hands. We can and must do our best to sustain ourselves, but in the end, G‑d holds the key. This is the humble recognition of faith. As the mystics taught, matzah is the bread that nurtures faith.5

As we eat matzah today, we reflect on the unique history of the matzah and on its ability to nourish our faith. It is the food that renders everyone righteous. Eating matzah is never self-centered; it is an exercise of humility in pursuit of the truth. It is the exploration and recognition of our true nothingness before the infinite greatness of G‑d.

Matzah—the bread that nourishes faith.6