Pesah: The Bread of Faith
Towards the beginning of the Seder, before we begin reading the Maggid section, we break the middle Masa on the table. The Gemara in Masechet Pesahim (115) explains that this is done because the Torah (Debarim 16:3) refers to Masa as “Lehem Oni” – “poor man’s bread,” and poor people generally eat scraps of bread, as opposed to whole loaves. In the Gemara’s words, “Darko Shel Ani Bi’perusa” – a poor person is accustomed to pieces, rather than loaves.
The Gemara’s comment also has a deeper meaning. Elsewhere, in Masechet Nedarim (41a), the Gemara teaches, “En Ani Ela Be’de’a” – the true “poor person” is one who is “impoverished” in terms of knowledge. In this sense of the term “poor,” we are all paupers. We all lack knowledge. We see so many things in the world that make no sense to us – good, innocent people who suffer, evil people who prosper, and countless strange events that defy our understanding. The challenge of Emuna (faith) is to recognize just how little we understand. If person walks into a movie forty-five minutes after it started, he will be unable to follow the plot, and will think that nothing makes sense. We all come into this world well into the “story,” millennia after G-d created the world, and we see and know about very little of what has happened, what happens, and what will happen. Our knowledge is very limited, we see everything from a very narrow viewpoint, and so we don’t understand. Once we recognize this, we can trust and feel confident that G-d runs the world in His perfect wisdom, and everything occurs precisely the way it should, even though we do not understand how this could be.
This is the deeper meaning of the Gemara’s comment, “Darko Shel Ani Bi’perusa.” We are “poor,” very limited in our knowledge, and so we see only a “Perusa,” a piece, part of the story. The events we witness and experience are only a very small piece of the large puzzle, of G-d’s master plan, and this is why we do not understand why things happen as they do. We therefore break the Masa, keep one piece on the table, and hide the second piece. We remind ourselves that we see only a small portion of what is going on, and the other portion is hidden from our view. That hidden piece is brought back only at the end of the Seder, symbolizing the fact that at the end of our exile, at the time of Mashiah, everything will become clear. Then we will finally access all the hidden information that we are now missing, and we will fully understand everything. Until then, we need to strengthen our Emuna and firmly trust that Hashem is in full control and has only our best interests in mind.
A young child does not understand why his mother holds him down to allow the doctor to give him a shot and cause him pain. Years later, however, when the child realizes that the shot saved him from a dozen or so fatal diseases, he thanks his mother. In our current state, we are “blind,” like ignorant children, and we do not understand the reason for the pain we sometimes have to endure. Pesah reminds us that the day will yet come when we will have the knowledge we lack now, and then everything will be perfectly clear.
The Zohar calls Masa “Lahma De’mehemnuta” – “the bread of faith.” The experience of Pesah is intended to bolster our Emuna, to remind us that there is so much that we do not know, and to trust that we are always in G-d’s capable hands, and everything He does for us is always only for the best.