Last night, I watched a couple of videos on Youtube of Israeli Rabbis expressing their views on the size of the average olive in ancient times. The significance of this discussion is that this that an “olive size” from Temple times is the minimal measure of matzah a Jew is required to be eat at the “seder”, the Passover meal. The reason why they were clarifying their views on this size is because by tradition many Jews eat a huge amount of matzah, claiming that the ancient olives were likely much larger than contemporary olives. In my opinion the Rabbis done a good job of taking issue with this tradition by making some very valid points:
1) There are still ancient olive trees around producing olives. So we have living examples of the size of olives produced by ancient trees.
2) Rehydrated dried olives found at archaeological sites yield a full fleshed olive matching the size of contemporary olives.
3) The question of what’s an olive size, first arose in medieval times and was only raised by Rabbis who didn’t live around olive trees. Hence, they needed a means of cautious estimation, as they had no living example to go by.
Ever since my youth, I myself was always suspect of the “olive sizes” used by my family for matzah. Yet, I still enjoyed that a larger size lent prominence and dignity to the Divine commandment. It also made the commandment more engaging, as I couldn’t simply be over with it in a few quick nibbles. I had to chew longer on it’s meaning.
Often a collective act for the “sake of heaven” is the result of souls being in tune with a certain spiritual dynamic which their minds, hearts and bodies are unconsciously playing out in the earthly realm. I am not going to claim to know the dynamic behind why collectively many at the Passover meal eat a huge amount of matzah; quite possibly, a lot more than is actually required. However, some small taste what might be behind it dawned on me this morning.
The the 11th Chapter of Tractate Sanhedrin, the Talmud relates that in the messianic era, the fruits will be a lot larger than their current size. I never imagined that this event necessarily had to be a miraculous occurrence. Foreseeable advances in genetic engineering and farming technology could easily bring this on. Already, strawberries are three times the size they were in my childhood.
During the messianic era it will likely be of particular importance to grow the olive much larger, as only the very first squeeze of it’s oil is valid for the Temple’s menorah. A larger sized olive will likely yield much more oil on that first squeeze than a smaller one would. So the “olive size” of the messianic future will likely to be much larger than the olives of today or yesterday.
So it could be that on the night we celebrate our redemption from Egypt and pray for the world’s future redemption, many Jews eat an “olive size” of matzah which resembles the size of a messianic era olive. This devotional act serves both as a prayer for and a demonstration of our readiness for the upcoming redemption.
May it happen swiftly and sweetly in our days. Amen!
Happy Passover !