Among the fifteen steps in the seder, the one which most likely gets passed over (sorry) the most is Korekh. Just before the meal is laid out, a sandwich is made of matzah, maror and charoset. We recite the words "in remembrance of the Temple, as Hillel did." Each person gulps down this appetizer, and then it's "pass the gefilte fish."
Hungry though you might be, allow me to recommend that you pause for a moment and consider the significance of this combination. When the Temple stood, each family ate of a lamb slaughtered that day by the priests. It was Hillel's custom to literally fulfill the commandment "on unleavened bread and bitter herbs shall you eat it" by combining the three basic elements of the observance. Today, we omit the sacrifice, but we remember Hillel and his custom in this ritual.
The flatness of the matzah is what adds to the significance of its name, lechem oni, "bread of oppression." It symbolizes not just the haste of the exodus, but the nature of life under bondage. And the bitterness of the maror represents the bitterness of our lot in the time before the redemption. Charoset is generally understood to suggest the mortar we were forced to make, though it has a sweetness which belies its appearance. And when Hillel added the sacrifice, it represented the tragedy of death which preceded the exodus, and the sad fact of life being lost in the pursuit of justice.
Hillel's "sandwich" forces us to contemplate just how much we sometimes have to swallow before redemption arrives -- and just how much pain and grief there can be in the world, even in the pursuit of a higher cause.
This past month, the Jews of Israel and the world had to swallow an awful lot of bitterness. The sense of oppression in Israel is palpable. And the sacrifices were unthinkable. It is tempting to give into the resentment of the moment, and to act in bitterness and demand sacrifices in retribution. But as you prepare to fulfill korekh, stop and think of the result were the slaves in Egypt have given into a desire to punish their oppressors -- and miss the chance for redemption.
Since the Temple was destroyed we have remembered oppression and bitterness without demanding sacrifice. And we have added the tantalizing bit of sweetness to remind us of the promise of a better time. When your tears flow from the bitter herbs, remember the sacrifices of ancient times and modern day. But do not ignore the sweet taste of redemption from violence which can be ours if we pursue a just exodus from the oppression of war.
A happy and kosher Pesach from all the Molines to all of you. And may there be peace upon Israel.