What we can learn from a good ole’ Hillel sandwich

There’s more to the Hillel sandwich than meets the eye.


Image courtesy of reformjudaism.org.

By Rabbi Janine Schloss, Temple Emanuel

We’ve all been there. It’s the middle of the seder and we’re getting really hungry. We’ve gone all the way from Kadesh through Maror, which means we’ve blessed everything from the wine to the parsley to the matzah to the horseradish. We’ve told the entire story of the Exodus. Dayenu!

Finally, we come to the very last item in the Seder before the meal: Korech – the Hillel sandwich. Numbers 9:11 commands us to eat the Pesach offering with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. The only problem is that there’s no longer any sacrificial meat to eat. So we follow Hillel’s tradition of eating charoset (a substitute for the paschal lamb) with maror on matzah – a Hillel sandwich.

What can this mean for us today? Here are three brief conversations that we can have as we munch our Hillel sandwiches during our seder this year:

Jeffrey Schein points out that the Hillel sandwich is really a story-of-slavery sandwich. He asks us: what other kinds of foods or symbols could you put between matzah to make your own story-of-slavery sandwich?

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Rabbi Andrea Steinberger reminds us that our lives, as individuals and as a Jewish people, are filled with bitter and sweet moments, often both at the same time. Life is like the combination of the maror and the charoset, and yet everything will somehow be OK. The Hillel sandwich helps to tell the complicated story of our people’s birth, with all of its sorrow and joy. She then asks: What is your story, your memory of how bitter and sweet have been combined in your life? What is your korech moment?

Finally, the Haggadah emphasizes that we should eat the Pesach, matzah, and maror “b’yachad,” together. Rabbi Oren Hayon explains: “We combine the sweet and bitter elements of the sandwich as a reminder not to remain complacent about other’s suffering during times of ease and comfort, not to lose our capacity for hope and joy in times of struggle.” Ask yourself: In the face of the challenges that you have faced in the year since our last Passover celebration, how do you maintain hope and joy?

May this year’s Hillel sandwich bring added meaning to your seder this year. Dayenu!