Do you know why we eat matzah on Passover? It all started back in Egypt.

“And on that very day all the legions of G‑d left Egypt.”1 Rashi, quoting the Midrash, explains: “When the time of redemption arrived, G‑d did not delay the Exodus even for as much as the blink of an eye.”

Indeed, they left Egypt in haste.

“They baked the dough that they took out of Egypt into unleavened cakes, for they could not be leavened, for they were driven out of Egypt and they could not delay.” 2

Why couldn’t they wait for the dough to rise?

Do you know how long it takes for dough to rise? Over the years, my wife has taught many hundreds—perhaps even thousands—of women to bake challah. Her home-baked challah is legendary in our community. So one day I asked her: How long does it take for dough to rise? About three or four hours, she said.

I don’t get it. Our ancestors had spent 210 years in Egypt. They couldn’t wait a few more hours? Why the mad rush?

Conventional thinking suggests that they needed to hurry before the Egyptians changed their minds and reneged on their offer of freedom.

Really? After suffering through 10 devastating plagues, being wiped out physically, financially, and emotionally, would the Egyptians really want still more trouble? Was that a realistic concern?

Surely they were so badly beaten that they couldn’t wait to say “good riddance” to those who had made their lives so miserable. Pharaoh himself was a broken man with no more appetite for resistance. He’d lost his own son in the final devastating plague.

So the question remains, why the rush?

The Rebbe offers a novel approach to this difficulty,3 arguing that it wasn’t the Egyptians who were the problem—it was the us!

G‑d wasn’t concerned that the Egyptians might have gone back on their offer of liberation, but that the Israelites themselves might have had a change of heart.

“Better the devil you know … ” goes the old proverb. It must have been quite a leap of faith for the longtime slaves to leave the infrastructure of Egypt and head out into an unknown wilderness.

I can just imagine their thinking: Here, we have a roof over our heads. True, there are no luxuries, but we do get fed every day. What will we have in the wilderness? No food, no shelter, not even water. We’d have to be crazy to leave an established country and wander off into uncharted territory. Even with all our problems, are we not better off just staying here in Egypt?

Indeed, when they reached the Red Sea and realized they were trapped, there were many who clamored to return to Egypt. Better to be a living slave than a dead free man, they reasoned.

So, when the moment of the Exodus arrived, it was a dramatic window of opportunity. Had they not grasped it with both hands at that very moment, it’s possible that these and other doubts might have crept in and delayed the whole experience. Thank G‑d, they did seize the opportunity.

Frankly, it can happen to all of us. We all get comfortable in our little slaveries, and daily drudgeries. They might not be ideal, but they are far less intimidating than the challenges that come with new opportunities. There’s an old Yiddish proverb that expresses this idea: “May we never get used to what we can get used to.” With the passage of time, we become weary, worn down, and what was previously intolerable becomes all too acceptable.

We’ve all experienced missed opportunities at various points in our lives. The house we could have bought, the stocks we could have sold, even the man or woman we could have married. But we hesitated, and as another old proverb goes, “He who hesitates is lost.”

In our Jewish lives, too, we should take advantage of the many opportunities now available to us that we may not have had when we were younger. Regular Torah study, more time in the synagogue, a new mitzvah. There is so much on offer today that we easily can make up for any lost opportunities.

It takes courage to grasp the moment and embrace new visions and horizons. When opportunity knocks, let’s not miss our chance.