The sweetness of slow-rising bread, Bo, Exodus 10:1-13:16

The sweetness of slow-rising bread, Bo, Exodus 10:1-13:16

A few weeks ago I came upon a bread recipe that was making its way around the Internet. The recipe was being lauded for its simplicity — it uses flour, water, yeast and salt, and for its ease — you don’t have to knead it. You simply mix the ingredients and let the dough sit for a long time — 12 to 18 hours, in fact. It happened that we had a few days at home without any significant obligations, so we baked the bread. It was crusty and delicious.
It is interesting to think about the luxury of the slow-rising bread we made in our kitchen with the bread we read about in this week’s Torah portion. This week, in parshat Bo, we read about the unbaked bread dough the Israelites took from Egypt when they left in haste following the 10th plague:
“The Egyptians urged the people on, impatient to have them leave the country, for they said, ‘We shall all be dead.’ So the people took their dough before it was leavened, their kneading bowls wrapped in their cloaks upon their shoulders.” (Exodus 12:33-34) Then, a few verses later we find:
“The Israelites journeyed from Ramses to Succoth…. And they baked unleavened cakes of the dough that they had taken out of Egypt, for it was not leavened, since they had been driven out of Egypt and could not delay; nor had they prepared any provisions for themselves.” (Exodus 12:37-39)
These verses provide the explanation for the eating of matzah on Passover. But, when we look closely at the text, we realize that the Israelites had had two weeks to prepare for the Exodus. Why didn’t they plan ahead?
In her book The Five Books of Miriam, Ellen Frankel notes, “To a slave, planning for the future is a luxury he or she cannot afford. And a pharaoh’s promises can never be trusted. Even the few hours it takes bread to leaven may turn out to be only a temporary reprieve from suffering rather than a prelude to real freedom. The Israelite women believe that they’re truly free only when they’re finally able to sit down together in their tents, babies on their knees, waiting for their dough to rise.”
To be free is to have time to plan and to have faith that what we plan will (most likely) happen. To be free is to have time — time for ourselves, time for our families, time to think and time to let our dough rise.
Shabbat is our best example of the inextricable link between time and freedom. In the Kiddush Shabbat is called “zecher litziyat Mitzrayim (a reminder of our liberation from Egyptian bondage).” On Shabbat we have time to breathe and to think and to enjoy an extended conversation. And on Shabbat we have time to taste the sweetness of bread, which has had enough time to rise.

(This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.)