At the Passover Seder we eat “bitter herbs” to recall the bitterness of slavery. Bitter herbs can range from romaine lettuce to horseradish root.
Sweet to Bitter
Before we eat the bitter herb, we dip it in a sweet chutney-like mixture called charoset, traditionally a mix of apples, nuts, cinnamon, and wine.
As we eat the bitter herb, the first taste is sweet. Only after chewing for a while does it turn bitter. The slower we eat it and the more we chew it, the more we taste the bitterness.
One reason given for this sweet into bitter experience is that it mimics the path of the Jews of ancient Egypt as they fell into slavery. In the beginning, they worked alongside the Egyptians in the fields. Over time the Egyptians became their masters. Slavery snuck up on them; only after they were in it for a while did they realize the bitterness of their predicament.
Sweetness to Bitterness in Our Modern Lives
We see this pattern in our modern lives. The job that was once so exciting but now feels like drudgery. The passionate, romantic relationship that turns sour. The volunteer project you took on in excitement but now feels like an obligation.
Perhaps the best example is technology. When smartphone first came on the scene they were tools of freedom. They allowed us to unchain from our desks and still check email or send essential communications. We could connect with anyone at any time.
Fast forward. Now, most people are chained to their phones and struggling to disconnect. The enslavement to phones is so extreme that some people resort to extreme methods like deleting all apps or greying out the screen as a way to try to take back control over the device.
This is also playing out in the privacy sector. The sweet convenience of seeing ads targeted to what you want or having your information readily accessible to you is being replaced by the bitter reality of losing control over your own data.
How to Set Yourself Free
Many of these conveniences still taste sweet. That’s where the lessons of the Seder come in. When we run around at high speed, we miss the signs that something is amiss. Until we feel the bitterness of our condition, we won’t have reason or motivation to change.
It’s only by slowing down our pace that we can feel the bitterness of our slavey and take actions to free ourselves.