During the early part of the seder, the leader breaks the middle matzah into two parts. He leaves the smaller part on the table between the other two matzot, while hiding the larger part to be eaten later during Tzafun, the 12th step of seder, when we eat the afikoman.
What is the significance of this part of the seder?
The first time something was broken into two parts in the Torah occurred when Jacob divided his camp into two parts prior to his encounter with his brother, Esau. The Torah relates that Jacob said, “If Esau comes to one camp and attacks it, the remaining camp will survive.” On a simple level, it appears that Jacob is saying that even if his enemy can destroy one part, he will never be able to destroy the second part.
The chassidic commentaries explain that Jacob was referring to much more than just the physical structure of the Jewish people. Jacob was symbolically referring to the two parts that make up the human being: the physical encampment and the spiritual encampment – the body and the soul.
Jacob’s deeper intention was to show that no matter what the worst anti-Semite tries to do, the most he can ever succeed in is harming the physical entity of the Jewish people. But the encampment of our soul can never be taken away from us. So even if Esau comes to one camp – the physical one – and attacks it, the remaining camp – the spiritual one – will survive.
One can read the countless incredible stories of Jewish spiritual defiance, and can’t help but be amazed at the fact that as much as the accursed Nazis were able to physically destroy the Jew, they could not destroy the spiritual camp of the Jew. For that reason, seeing Jews singing and dancing while saying the Shema on the way to the gas chambers enraged the Nazis more than anything else.
Therefore, as we start the Magid, the telling of the story of Passover, we break the matzah into two halves, the smaller part symbolizing our body, which we can see, and the larger part symbolizing the soul. We hide the bigger part to show that, even though we cannot see it and it is hidden from us, it will help us realize that the biggest part of who we are can never be destroyed. And by the end of the seder, at the end of time, it will be revealed in all its glory.
Right now, as we go through history, we begin to wonder if we will survive at all – it is Tzafun – hidden from us. We don’t have a way of understanding it, but it is the biggest part.
The smaller part of the matzah is what we say during the recitation of the Haggadah. Yes, we are going to go through all kinds of suffering. But by covering up the bigger part for later, we convey the message that we believe. The greater part of us is hidden. We don’t understand where it is and when it will show itself, but it is surely going to come.
The symbolic breaking of the matzah is a huge statement before the recitation of the Haggadah: although we find ourselves in situations where it is sometimes difficult to celebrate freedom, we are performing an act of faith, saying we believe that the greater portion of what we are all about is Tzafun – hidden – and there will come a time when we will eat the dessert.
Rabbi Yossi Michalowicz is the spiritual leader of the Westmount Shul and Learning Centre in Thornhill, Ont.