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On Leaving Egypt, Matzah, and Accepting Good Enough

Rabbi Sarah Marion
Friday, April 10, 2020
“On Leaving Egypt, Matzah, and Accepting Good Enough”

It was early in the afternoon when the Israelites learned that the time had come. Once word got out, the message quickly spread, from one house to the next, just like that “telephone” game that we used to play at camp, where everyone sits in a circle and the same message gets whispered, from one ear to the next. On that day, so long ago, the message of freedom spread quickly, like wildfire, from one house to the next, each whisper generating more excitement than the last.

We have to pack quickly, they said. We need to leave before the sun sets.

But as everyone started packing, throwing clothes and other meager items into bags, there was one Israelite child who actually felt a sense of sadness, and loss. Because that morning, in the hot Egyptian sun, her mother had finally taught her how to make bread; her mother had finally shown her how to kneed the dough, how long to let it rise.

The child was so excited to taste the first warm, fluffy morsel of bread and feel the pride and accomplishment, knowing that she had finally been entrusted with the secrets of bread making, passed down in her family from one generation to the next.

And so as her family spun and swirled around her, their excitement and anticipation rising with each passing moment, the child sat, forlorn, unable to take her eyes off the dough that she and her mother had just put aside. She knew, as her mother had told her, that it would be another handful of hours until the dough would rise.  

All around her, everyone was talking about where they were going to go and what it would be like, but what about the dough? This was all the child cared about.  This was all she wanted to know.

At one point, her mother looked over at her, and traced her gaze to the small mound, sitting on the table.

Oh honey – she said. We will take it with us. Whatever happens to it, it will just have to be good enough. Once all this is over, once we are free, we will bake the most delicious bread you have ever tasted. I promise.[1]

Of course, we all know how the story ends, and we all know what happened to that “good enough” bread that didn’t have a chance to rise.

It became an icon, the central ingredient, of every Passover Seder. And it took on these lofty titles, like the “Bread of Affliction” and the “Bread of Liberation.”

This Passover, I am thinking about those Israelite families, who, in their haste to leave Egypt, had to settle for bread that was “good enough.” 

Because for us, too, this was a Passover in which we had to settle for “good enough.” And we are living in a broad moment in time, in which “good enough” is, so often, just about all we can muster.

It is the end of Week Four of this “New Normal,” and it only continues to feel harder and harder. Four weeks ago, when this all began and I anticipated how the coming weeks would go, I imagined that, by now, we would have settled into a new routine…I imagined that, by now, my family would be making the most of our days; that by now, we would have finished at least a half-dozen house projects; that by now, I would have made time every week for yoga and all kinds of creative art projects with my kids and – ultimately – that by now, I would be feeling like everything was under control.

And yet, all of my pre-conceived notions of time and control have slowly unraveled with every passing day. Right now, in so many ways, we are all learning to settle with “good enough,” when so much of what we want and need just isn’t possible.

Replacing hugs with FaceTime calls, celebrating Passover and Shabbat and B’nai Mitzvahs on zoom, being pulled, constantly, between work and family, juggling our own needs with the devastating pain and loss that continues to explode everywhere we turn…we are all doing the best we can – and doing our best, right now, will probably not be perfect or ideal…but, rather, it will just have to be good enough.

Living in this twisted, upside down sideshow has stretched us all so thin. Like our matzah, we are cracked and we are dry and we are fragile and we feel like we may break apart at any moment. Some of us already have.  Some of us will, in the coming days. After years of experience with matzah, we know that we must handle it with care, lest it crumbles beneath our fingertips…So, too, it is, right now, with all of us. Handle with care. We are breaking.

But if that matzah, that “good enough” bread ultimately became the “Bread of our Liberation,” then maybe accepting our “good enough” lives and our “good enough” selves is what will help liberate us from some of the pains of the present moment. Maybe this is the ancient but timeless wisdom of our matzah, hidden within the crumbs and the cracks, waiting to be revealed, year after year:  the notion that “good enough” and “liberation” go hand in hand and are, actually, one in the same.  All reflected within one dry, humble little piece of un-risen bread. 

I imagine we all could use a reminder to be kind to ourselves right now.

This is all really, really hard. And on the days when “good enough” is all we can muster…perhaps we need a reminder that that is ok. In fact, it is more than ok. It is what is required if we are ever going to make it to the other side.

And even as we accept “good enough” for the time being, we can still keep hold of that ancient, but timeless promise. The promise that our spirits and our world will, once again, rise, with the liberation that is bound to come our way. And when it does, I am sure that it will taste even better, even sweeter, than it ever did before.

[1] My adaptation of the Passover Exodus story, as retold in the Passover Haggadah and based on Biblical passages in Exodus, Numbers and Deuteronomy