On Hipazon: The Lessons of Urgency

Ruhi Sophia Motzkin Rubenstein

For years, the operating discourse around climate change was denial. Unbelievably quickly, many people have flipped from that denial to a fatalistic sort of despair: “It’s already happening, too late to stop now.” As effectively as denial, this despair absolves us of responsibility.  That’s why it’s seductive, and that’s why it’s dangerous.

It’s true, the best time to have created the policies and culture to stop climate change was forty years ago. The task is so urgent today as to seem almost hopeless, and we are not ready for it. We have not yet built the power or the systems we need to accomplish the task in the short time we have.

Fortunately, one lesson that the Exodus narrative offers us is that readiness is irrelevant. The major symbol of the holiday, the matzah, reminds us that we embarked on our liberation journey despite being fundamentally unready: we hadn’t baked bread in advance, and there was no time for the dough to ferment. Deuteronomy 16:3 explicitly reminds us: “For seven days you must eat unleavened bread, the bread of affliction; for b’hipazon/in haste you came forth out of the land of Egypt; so should you remember the day when you came forth out of the land of Egypt all the days of your life.

There is a paradox about matzah: we refer to it as lechem oni, the bread of affliction, the bread of poverty. But we also refer to it as lechem cherut, the bread of freedom.  Why would a newly freed people eat bread of affliction as they begin their journey out of Egypt? Because we had to leave b’hipazon, and urgency changes the game.  We couldn’t wait for the bread to rise; we had to take that poverty bread, unfermented, and make do. We didn’t have time to make food – but we couldn’t afford the time to wait around, nor could we let ourselves starve. We took that poverty-bread and decided that we would use it as our liberation-bread.

We are on the eve of a great transition, and we do not yet have the tools we need. The urgency of the moment is the same urgency that drove our ancestors to take that unleavened bread, and to eat the first Passover offering with their loins girded, their shoes on their feet, and their staffs in their hands.[1] We don’t have the tools we want, or the power that we’d like, or enough media attention. All we have is the hipazon, the urgency of now. So we must find nourishment where we can, take to the streets, and it will have to do.



[1] Exodus 12:11

Author bio: 

Ruhi Sophia Motzkin Rubenstein is Teva-for-life educator, completing her final year at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. She serves as Cooperberg-Rittmaster Rabbinic Intern at Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, New York City’s LGBTQ synagogue. She and her husband Jacob Siegel live in Washington Heights. They host singalongs, bake their bread, can their salsa and applesauce, and bike commute 12 months a year.

1 Comment

b'Hipazon

<p>Great Dvar and connections about what's possible Ruhi! I'm not sure that we don't yet have the tools, but we have certainly not yet manifest the willingness and willpower. May our heardened hearts soften this Pesach Season!</p>

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