Sociologist Martha Beck teaches that we have an essential self and a social self. The essential self is our personal identity and qualities, and it guides us in life purpose. The social self is what forms through interaction with others’ expectations, but also provides the skills to accomplish our life purpose. When our essential self has become hidden by others’ expectations, Beck says, we may experience boredom, numbness, disconnect and hollowness – we’ve lost our direction for this journey.
This process of reconnecting with our essential selves is a deep theme of Passover. The Sefat Emet, a 19th-century Hasidic rabbi, taught that, on Passover, our inner essence that God has given us is renewed. Throughout the year, this divine essence should be our guide. Equally true, throughout the year, our inner essence can get caked over – pun intended – with ego, worries, wanting to please others and even apathy.
Matzah is called lechem oni (poor person’s bread) because it is completely simple, without any adornment, the simple essence of bread. The Sefat Emet taught that our inner essence is also lechem oni, the simplest form of ourselves. On Passover, our inner essence has a chance to be purified and renewed. In the Torah, we are told to keep or guard the holiday of matzot. The Sefat Emet interpreted this verse as meaning to guard our own matzah self – our truest, most essential form.
To clean off, to reconnect with that essential self takes effort – probably a lot more effort than scrubbing the fridge shelves or kashering the sink for the holiday – but it’s how we can fully live the holiday. Our tradition teaches that our last taste of the seder should be matzah, which is why the afikoman, the dessert, is matzah. This Passover, let’s find out how getting back to our essential selves and our true purpose can be the sweetest reward.