Matzo, also known as matzah, matzoh or matsah, is a flatbread made by the Jews, using white plain flour and water. The dough for making matzah is pricked in several places and not allowed to rise before or during baking. A cracker-like, hard, flat bread is thus produced, which is used as an ingredient in several Jewish delicacies. In preparation, matzah is quite similar to the Southwest Asian Lavash and the Indian chapati. During the Jewish holiday of Passover, Matzo serves as the substitute for bread, as bread and leavened products are forbidden in Passover.
Matzah Meaning & Symbolism
Matzah has several explanations and historical associations. The biblical narrative regarding the Exodus from Egypt, states that the Jews left Egypt in haste, and as such, they could not wait for their dough to rise. The product that resulted from the un-risen dough was matzah. However, the symbolic meaning associated with matzah is that it symbolizes redemption and freedom, and is also seen as poor man’s bread. Therefore, it serves as a reminder for the Jews, to be humble and not forget their life spent in servitude in Egypt. Matzah serves to teach the Jews a lesson in humility and appreciation of freedom.
Another explanation for matzah is that it has been used as a substitute to Pesach, or the traditional Passover offering made before the annihilation of the Temple. During the Seder, when the matzah is eaten for the third time, it is preceded with the Sefardic rite, zekher l’korban pesach hane’ekhal al hasova”, which means “Remembrance of the Passover offering, eaten while full.” The last piece of matzah is called afikoman, explained by many as a symbol of salvation in the future. In fact, a Pesach meal is replete with symbols of salvation, though matzah remains the oldest salvation symbol in Seder.
In ancient Israel, bread was often seen as a symbol of salvation. The idea of bread as symbolic of salvation is associated with the Garden of Eden that was fertile with bread trees. The benediction over bread was “motsi lechem min ha’arets,” which meant “brings forth bread from the earth.” It implied “that in the future, He will bring forth bread from the earth,” or the Garden of Eden will be restored. During the first century, after the temple cult, the symbolism of bread was applied to matzah. This made it a replacement for the Pesach, as bread was already viewed as symbolic of salvation in the Jewish community.