Monday, April 2, 2012

Women and Matzah

One Erev Pesach, the wife of Reb Avraham Yehoshua Heschel, Apter Rebbe and author of Ohev Yisrael (the lover of fellow Jews), was busy in the kitchen taking care of last minute preparations for the impending seder. She was bustling and in the midst of great activity when she heard a knock at the door. Too engrossed in her work, she let someone else in the house welcome the visitor. Two town collectors of tzedakah (charity) were at the door, asking if there was any small change or Pesach goods in the house so that they can buy and distribute matzah and wine to the poor who had not yet been taken care of for the Yom Tov. Having no money on herself, and with the Rebbetzin astir in the kitchen, she spotted a few matzos tied up in a napkin on the table. She ran over, and handed them to the men.

When the Rebbetzin finally made her way from the kitchen into the dining room, she sensed that something was amiss. She surveyed the room, now aglow with Pesach utensils and wares. The room shined with a Yom Tov radiance, and the Rebbetzin contemplated the notion that she had gone to such measures in preparation for the Pesach holiday, that the shechina (divine presence) might even descend into the dining room itself, in this mikdash me'at (small sanctuary of the home), as if to validate her kavanah, namely, that everything was prepared leshaim shamayim (for the sake of heaven). Everything was perfectly prepared for the seder. Well, almost everything. The table was lacking. "The matzah!" she cried out. It was just that day that her husband had personally baked the matzos with the utmost, meticulous care and with the deepest of kavanahs (intentions) in order to fulfill the mitzvah of matzah with the utmost holiness. This was his shemura matzah for the seder (specially guarded matzos from the time that the wheat is cut). Shaken, she pondered the situation, and finally grabbed hold of herself. She reasoned that there was only one recourse. And that was to take three ordinary matzos, and tie them up into the same napkin that had been "guarding" the shemurah matzos.

Hours later, after the seder was complete, there was a knock at the door. A disgruntled man led his wife into the home of the Rebbe, and began to complain. Apparently, the man wanted a divorce, because his wife had refused to cook in separate utensils for Pesach without shruyah (today knows as gebrokhts. The extra pious do not want water to come in contact with the matzah even after it is baked, lest it get puffed or "cooked" and become chametz, leavened bread, which is forbidden on Pesach). The irate man argued that the Rebbe had to agree that this was grounds for divorce. The Apter Rebbe called his wife into the room. "What type of matzah was used for tonight's seder?" questioned the Rebbe. Too afraid to give over the truth and let her husband's anger flare, she stood paralyzed. "It's OK, said the Rebbe. Nothing will happen to you. Just tell me. What type of matzah was used for tonight's seder?" She began to tremble, but finally admitted that it was not shemurah matzah, but plain, ordinary matzah. And she told the entire story. The Rebbe turned his attention to the quarelling couple. "You see, I knew the whole time that it was not sheurah matzah that was being used for tonight's seder. But rather than get upset at my wife, and speak words that I might later regret, I sat in silence, and felt that I had fulfilled the mitzvah of matzah in its entirety. And I did this for the sake of shalom bayis (peace in the home). And now, you wanted to divorce your wife because she used gebrakhts!" The couple understood well, and after a few more minutes under the Rebbe's care, a peaceful reconciliation was forged.

Word had gotten out, and had reached Reb Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, that the poor women in the matzah factories were being overworked, from early morning until late night, without even adequate break. Reb Levi Yitzchak got up in shul, and said the following, "for years we have suffered the crushing consequences of the blood libels thrown against us by the anti-semite gentiles. They accuse us of using Christian blood as the secret ingredient when we knead and bake our matzos. But I tell you today that it is not Christian blood that we use, but the blood of our own daughters of Israel, who are being overworked in our bakeries!"

The Rebbe Reb Elimelech was once asked what the biggest mitzvah of baking matzos was. He replied, "making sure that the almanos (widows) don't get yelled at in the bakeries."

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