Many of the Jewish People are still scattered all over the globe. They have no need of special symbols to remind them of our precarious situation amongst the gentiles. Even so, we continue to eat Matzah on Seder night as a reminder of the days of our affliction; why should we need this special symbol to remind us that we are in exile?
Harold White had been poor for as long as he could remember. So, too, had his parents struggled all their lives with hunger and want. When he grew up and weighed his path for the future, the outlook was bleak, to say the least. As much as he would have liked to break away from the pattern of poverty, there did not seem to be much chance that he would succeed.
But "man proposes, and Heaven disposes." Heaven did indeed smile on Harold White; again and again he was blessed with good luck. Time after time, he came home with rich profits. To give credit where credit is due, it must also be said that Harold worked long and hard, and learned to recognize a good opportunity when he saw one.
In short, at age thirty-two, Harold became the proud owner of his own hardware store. Astute management and three years of intensive, hard work brought him success. He invested in a second shop, then a third.
Twelve years' time saw him a prosperous owner of a full chain of stores. He mixed with the upper classes, but did not grow headstrong. He still had a warm smile and encouraging word for those upon whom financial fortune had not smiled so warmly. In fact, Harold was determined never to forget his humble beginnings. Together with his wife, Martha, he decided to institute a family custom that would always remind them of the more difficult times they had seen in their earlier years.
After weighing the matter, Harold and Martha decided that their family would conclude every meal with a crust of plain, dry bread. "Just like the kind of bread we used to eat at every meal, because it was the best we had," Harold explained.
Soon it became a regular routine. The children quickly adapted to the new custom, without questioning. There were so many other foods on the family table at each meal, that they had no objections to a bite of dry, crusty bread after their tempting deserts.
When visitors sometimes looked askance at the slices of old, dried-out bread served on a silver serving tray, Harold would explain his custom. Some remained silent, others commented that it sounded like a fine idea, and a few people even went so far as to praise Harold and Martha for their integrity.
A close friend of Harold, David Hopkins, arrived at the office one day with a proposition of a new investment. Harold asked for more facts, and spent the rest of the week considering all aspects of the prospect. In the end, Harold decided to invest heavily in the new venture. To his surprise, Hopkins, who had suggested the project in the first place, decided to invest in a different project, even though he had originally been very enthusiastic.
Six months later, the news came through that Harold's investment had gone sour. He had lost everything he had put into the new business. At first Harold just brushed of the loss; he had other resources. It was a disappointment, but not a major tragedy. Then another blow fell, and he lost a significant sum from two of his stores.
The family's income fell, and they were forced to move to a smaller home. Then one blow after another set them back more and more. As impossible at it seemed, Harold was again a pauper. When he looked for work to support himself and his family, no one would consider hiring him. For lack of any other way to keep body and soul together, he began to beg from door to door, just to keep a piece of dry bread on his family's table.
One day, as he was making his rounds, Harold was appalled to find himself at the home of his old friend, Hopkins. It was a strange reunion. Hopkins was as wealthy as ever; his heart went out to his former friend, and he invited him to join him at the table for a good meal.
Harold was only too happy to accept the invitation. It had been a long time since he enjoyed a hearty warm meal. When the last course was cleared away, Harold recalled his old custom of finishing each meal with a piece of old, dry bread. He asked Hopkins whether he might trouble him to ask the maid for a crust of old bread, and explained his old custom to his friend.
"I must say, it seems a bit odd to me that you persist with this custom, even now that your circumstances have changed so radically," commented Hopkins. "I can understand that you needed some practical act to recall your former status when you were well off. But now? Today? How can you forget what it's like to be a pauper? You live the experience every day! What need have you of a dry crust of bread to remind you that you were once nearly penniless? Today you are once again in the same state of affairs."
"I hear what you're saying, David," replied Harold. "Let me make the picture clear.
"You are quite right that today, I am down and out, and have not a penny to my name. But I do have a hope for the future. Three years ago, I set a young man up in business in a distant town, Tourville. I entrusted him with a substantial sum and helped him to open a new store there. According to the agreement between us, he has seven years to establish himself and to expand the business. During this time, he is to invest all the profits in expansion, after drawing his fixed wage.
"And what happens after that?" asked Hopkins.
"After the first seven years, we become full partners. Half of all the profits belong to me. With Heaven's help, I am looking forward to having a decent income again in a number of years' time.
"So you see, I am destitute right now, but unlike most paupers, I have a definite hope for a brighter future.
"Therefore it's right that I still keep up my custom of finishing off my meal with a crust of dry bread; I'm a poor now, but I have a wonderful future ahead of me."
At first glance, it would seem odd that during hundreds of years of exile, the Jewish People have always used matzahs on their Seder night in order to recall the days of exile in Egypt.
One might well ask why it is necessary to go so far back in history as Egypt and Pharaoh, when there has been no lack of evil tyrants and oppressors who persecuted Jews and made their lives miserable during the past 1,900 years.
The answer is similar to that of Howard:
Our good fortune awaits us in the future; our redemption from the present exile is within our grasp, if we will only prove ourselves worthy of it. The truth of the matter is, that in the long view, we are not paupers at all. On the contrary, we have the guarantee from our Father above, the Master of all creation, that the day will come when we will once again all be gathered to our own Homeland, and serve our Father in His own Temple, as in the days of the past. At that time, Israel will again be the most blessed and joyous of all nations.
This is the reason we continue to eat matzah on the Seder night – so that in our times of joy, we not forgot the lessons we learned long ago, as slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt.