Thus did the [sage] Hillel during the time when the Holiday Temple [in Jerusalem] was standing: He would combine [in a sandwich] the Passover offering, the matzah and the bitter herbs and eat them together…

Sitting at the festive Passover service, the “seder,” we eat some bitter herbs to remind us of the enslavement of the Jewish nation in Egypt. The Haggadah text, from which we conduct the seder, directs us not to recline while eating the bitter herbs even though we do recline while eating the other traditional foods. This is because reclining represents freedom, and bitter herbs are a reminder of slavery.

Now the Haggadah shares some history with us:

The great sage Hillel did not eat the bitter herbs separately. Nor did he eat the matzah alone. Hillel lived at the time of the Holy Temple, when eating the Passover sacrifice was a part of the Passover obligations. Instead of eating the three foods separately (matzah, bitter herbs, meat from the sacrifice) he would make a sandwich combining the three, and eat it while reclining. To commemorate Hillel’s sandwich (“korech”), Jews do the same today, eating the Hillel sandwich (minus the meat) while reclining.

Symbolized in the sandwich is Hillel’s positive approach to all the hardships in his life.

The sandwich is a comprised of matzah and bitter herbs. Matzah is the thin bread that represents the freedom we have been granted, as opposed to being slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt. Inside the two pieces of matzah we place the bitter herbs, symbolizing life’s hardships.

Hillel viewed the bitter parts of his life, particularly the hardships of poverty that G‑d bestowed upon him, positively. So, while his life appeared difficult, he was able to understand that it was G‑d’s will and ultimately for a good reason. Therefore he placed the bitterness (bitter herbs) inside the freedom (matzah) and ate it while reclining.

Two Names Seeking the Good

Passover and the Holiday of Matzah are two of the names given to the holiday. G‑d refers to the holiday as the Holiday of Matzah and the Jewish nation call it Passover.

The matzah represents the Jews listening to G‑d’s commandment to leave Egypt immediately. They were in such a rush that the dough of the bread did not have a chance to rise and instead baked as matzah while still being carried on their backs. The name Passover represents G‑d jumping over the Jewish homes as he killed the Egyptian firstborns.

G‑d looks at the Jewish nation positively, recalling their rush to heed his command, and calls it the Holiday of Matzah. The Jews look at G‑d positively and recall how He spared their homes, calling the festival Passover.

Adapted from the written notes of Passover commentary of my grandfather, the venerated scholar and teacher Rabbi Chaim Meir Bukiet, of blessed memory.