Passover tells a great story and the seder meal can be the most anticipated and delicious of the year. But the holiday’s rules and regulations are also the most exacting, and while our ancestors, happily, went from slavery to freedom, on the way they invented matzah — the bread of affliction. Every celebrant can vouch for that description.
So are we supposed to suffer along with our ancestors or celebrate? Is it to be matzah or macaroons?
The answer, according to those interviewed for this article, is both. And in that order.
“In some ways, that’s the mode of the seder,” said Rabbi Michael Werbow, of Tifereth Israel Congregation in Washington. “To see ourselves moving from a low place of deprivation to a place of praise and joy. We do that through the telling of our ancestral stories and of our modern-day stories.”
Rabbi Leibel Fajnland, of Chabad of Reston, said we should keep our ancestors’ suffering in mind, but not at the expense of the celebration of their gained freedom from servitude.
“The story is such an important part of us. We ourselves have to experience the bitter taste of slavery and sympathize with those who are still enduring t,” Fajnland said. “At the same time, there’s an awareness that it culminates with a great freedom, and that’s what we’re celebrating as well.”
Our ancestors had to suffer and wait, said Rabbi Gilah Langner of Kol Ami: Northern Virginia Reconstructionist Community and Shirat Hanefesh in Chevy Chase. It’s something many people have learned to do in the last year.
“That’s what we’re all dealing with right now — how to stay patient to get to the end of this pandemic. If we can relate to our ancestors and the waits that they endured, we will have a little less impatience,” Langner said. Whether it was waiting for Moses to come down from the mountain or the 40-year trek through the desert, “there was no instant gratification anywhere.”
In our day, during Passover, fresh, warm bread, favorite desserts and cocktails are out of reach. The LEAVENING makes them unfit for the holiday week. Must we deprive ourselves of food that we actually like and attempt, instead, to finish that last box of matzah?
Susan Barocas, a Jewish chef specializing in Sephardic cuisine, says her goal is to make Passover a separate experience from the rest of the year. During Passover, Barocas focuses on fresh and healthy foods and ingredients for her dishes.
“To me, it’s a mistake when people try to replicate what they have the rest of the year,” she said. “This is not the time to be thinking, ‘I have to have my pasta’. You should be thinking, ‘What can I eat instead?’”
And the answer doesn’t have to be matzah.
“There’s no commandment that says you should eat matzah 24/7 during Passover,” Barocas said. “It says to taste matzah at the seders. People have this thing where they think they have to eat a ton of matzah. Go for fresh, go for healthy, add in some matzah if you want. All the gluten free things are wonderful for Passover.”
Passover, Werbow added, can be a festival of freedom from processed food.
“I would question whether we need it and whether we can get back somewhat to the basics by doing a lot of things for ourselves and not buying products that are already made,” Werbow said. “It gives us time to reset a little bit.”
“To those who feel that they can’t survive without it, I think that we’re fortunate that we live in a society where much of that can be replicated kosher for Pesach,” Fajnland said. “For me that doesn’t float my boat, but for somebody that needs it I’m glad that it’s out there.”
Added Langner: “I’m very much in favor of very basic foods, whole foods and not the processed stuff for Passover. I know people enjoy having Cheerios, and when it comes to kids, whatever they’ll eat, that’s great. But I do think of simple foods as being much more in the spirit of Passover.”