The Broken Matzah

It Is Passover, Again!

The Seder table is set as it has been for centuries. Elijah's cup, untouched and full, remains in its place, a mute yet eloquent reminder that – someday – some One will come, One Who is the hope of Israel and the desire of the nations.  One Who is our long-awaited Messiah.

There, too, on the Seder table is the dry bone, the shank of a lamb, a melancholy reminder that now in the years of our dispersion we have no priest, no temple, no sacrifice, no way to approach a just and holy God.  The situation is exactly as God warned it would be if we disobeyed.

For the Israelites will live many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred stones.1 

The youngest son recites the historic mah nishtanah, the four questions asked annually at Passover to prompt the retelling of the Exodus events.  The father dutifully responds,

We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, but the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand.  Before our eyes the Lord sent miraculous signs and wonders – great and terrible – upon Egypt and Pharaoh and his whole household.  But he brought us out from there to bring us in and give us the land that he promised on oath to our forefathers.  The Lord commanded us to obey all these decrees and to fear the Lord our God, so that we might always prosper and be kept alive, as is the case today.2

 

The Three Matzot - a Strange Ritual

But let us not forget one of the most important Passover traditions – the ritual of the three matzot.  Strangely enough the origin of this unique custom has yet to be adequately explained.

The Ceremony Today

During the Passover observance, the head of the house reaches toward an ornate white bag, beautifully decorated, often with the word Matzah embroidered in Hebrew.  He lifts it gently, careful not to harm its contents.  The bag, or Matzah Tash, is constructed so as to create a three-in-one container, each section holding a piece of the matzah.

As part of the ceremony, the father reaches into the three-in-one bag, which has come to be referred to as a Unity by the rabbis.  He passes by the top compartment and removes the centre matzah.  He breaks the matzah and wraps half in a cloth of white linen, sometimes placing it in a separate embroidered bag labelled Afikomen.  The wrapped, broken matzah is hidden, often buried beneath one of the pillows that the family members are reclining upon at the Seder table.

The Ceremony in Symbolic Terms

The ritual of the matzah (plural, matzot) is curious and difficult to explain.  There are those who, when asked about this three-in-one unity, respond that the matzot represent a unity of the fathers – Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  Others call it a unity of worship – the priests, the Levites and the people of Israel. 

But these explanations do not clarify the breaking, the burying and, then later in the Seder, the resurfacing of the broken matzah, timed to coincide with the pouring of the third cup of Passover wine, the Cup of Redemption. 

Yet those who are Jewish followers of Yeshua (Jesus) believe there is a very fitting interpretation of the three matzot, one which also explains the ceremony of the broken matzah. 

The three matzot represent the unity of the Godhead – the Father, the Son (Messiah) and the Holy Spirit.  The broken matzah symbolizes the Messiah.  The ceremony described above presents a picture of the birth, death and resurrection of the One Who came to bring redemption to Israel and salvation to the nations.

The very nature of matzah points to the nature of Messiah.  Since matzah is unleavened and leaven is symbolic of sin in the Scriptures, matzah portrays the holy nature of Messiah Jesus Who was born without sin and lived a sinless life.

As the middle matzah is removed from the three-in-one unity bag, so Messiah became flesh in order to be among us upon this earth. 

As the matzah is broken, so too was His flesh broken by the whipping, the nailing to the cross and the piercing of the sword in His death. 

As the broken piece is wrapped in white cloth, so was His body prepared for burial in a tomb. 

As the piece is called Afikomen (meaning, The One Who Comes Again), so Jesus rose again from the dead to complete His mission of redemption and, of course, He will come again to establish His kingdom. 

As the Passover Cup of redemption is deeply drunk along with a piece of that broken matzah, so too are we invited to drink deeply of Messiah’s gift us – eternal life.

How Did This Ritual Begin?

Although the explanation above seems apt, it still does not tell us when and how the ceremony was introduced to the Passover Seder.  For that we must go back nearly 2000 years. 

Shortly after the death and resurrection of Messiah, the Jewish believers were regarded as part of the Jewish community.  They were considered to be a Jewish sect and were called Nazarenes.  They were looked upon as a faction, in much the same way as were the Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes and Hellenists.

When others in the Jewish community celebrated the Jewish feasts, so did the Nazarenes.  Passover was as significant to this sect as to the others, perhaps even more so.  With the event we now call Jesus’ Last Supper – a Passover Seder – fresh in their minds, these early believers in Jesus placed special emphasis upon the ceremony of the bread and the wine.  Their leader had elevated these elements alongside the central symbol of the Passover lamb by infusing them with new meaning.

With the destruction of the Temple in CE (AD) 70, and therefore with the cessation of animal sacrifice, the Jewish people could no longer offer the yearly Passover lamb.  Ever since this time, the emphasis upon the matzah and the wine has become the norm for all Jewish households in Israel and throughout the dispersion.

It seems plausible that the ceremony of the broken matzah and the three-in-one bag was developed by the Nazarenes and was integrated into the traditional Passover without a complete awareness of the symbolisms it contained.

The Invitation

And so the mysterious origin of the ritual of the broken matzah may be a mystery no more.  Yet the question remains:  How should one regard the ceremony in his or her own life? 

The invitation of Passover to come and eat of this bread of affliction is the same invitation that Messiah Jesus personalized when He said, “This is my body given for you.”3 

The invitation has been extended.  It is up to every individual to decide how to respond, whether or not to believe and receive Messiah’s redemption from sin. 

The Passover Lamb, the Lamb of God, Messiah Yeshua, can take away your sin and cause death to forever pass over you. 

 

Notes: 

1 Hosea 3:4
2 Deuteronomy 6:21-24
3 Luke 22:19

All scriptures are from the New International Version.

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