Thursday, April 12, 2012

Random Musing Before Shabbat–Pesach 8 5772-The Bread of Freedom

Ok, let’s face it. It is a challenge to pick a parasha or haftarah about which to muse this week because there is some variation in practice not just between liberal and traditional practice, but within each of those communities respectively. (Plus the additional complication of what’s read in Israel.)

Because they only celebrate 7 days of Pesach, the Reform movement, in order to help keep their cycle of Torah readings reasonably in synchronization with the rest of he Jewish world has determined that they will read only a part of Sh’mini, and read the remaining part of the parasha on April 21 when the rest of the Jewish world reads Sh’mini. In more traditional communities, some are reading the 8th day of Pesach when it falls on a weekday readings from Deuteronomy chapter 15,  and some are reading the 8th day of Pesach when it falls on Shabbat readings, which are actually the readings for Shemini Atzeret from Deuteronomy chapter 14. Though I don’t know the background or the reasons for the dispute, some orthodox communities follow one minhag and some the other.  The haftarah from Isaiah chapter 10, at least, is the same. However, since the Reform movement has moved on to Sh’mini for both Torah and haftarah, I’m not comfortable committing to a specific reading about which to write this week.

So instead I’ll take this opportunity to write about something that has been tumbling around in my brain of late.

I like matzah. I know I am not alone in this, although I’m probably a member of a small minority.  I eat matzah at other times of the year, too. I’m not talking about special, contemporary types of matzah, with flavors and other ingredients, that aren’t approved for Pesach use. I’m talking plain old machine-made 18-minute Passover matzah. At Pesach, I’ll usually spring for a box of hand-made Shmura matzah – and I do not buy it because of any desire to eat matzah made from flour that is guarded against any hint of moisture and fermentation. I buy the shmura matzah because I actually like the taste more than machine-made Pesach matzah! The bubbles, imperfections, burnt spots, etc. make it taste even better to me. Go figure.

I don’t find it onerous to eat matzah for 8 days. I’m happy to eat sandwiches made with matzah for lunch. And while there are some pretty incredible baked goods that can be made or bought these days made from Passover flours including matzah flour, I still prefer the plain old matzah to anything else made from it (with the exception of a good matzah brei-something I truly crave.)

I also don’t seem to suffer from the same binding effects as badly as most people. My 8 days of Pesach remain pretty “regular.”

Sometimes, I do believe my taste for matzah interferes in my ritualistically seeing it as the bread of affliction, lekhem oni. When it comes time for the matzah at the Seder, my thought is “bring it on!” So how am I to act as if I myself had come out of Egypt? Simple, I tell myself. The Torah doesn’t say that the Israelites didn’t like the matzah, only that they didn’t have time for the bread to rise and so had to eat the matzah. Besides, they ate this on their way out of Egypt so why is it lekhem oni, the bread of affliction? Matzah is also the bread of freedom!  Did we eat matzah when we were slaves? Sounds like we definitely ate it in the moments right after when we were freed. Now that I think about this, I find it could be a major flaw, an epic fail, of the Pesach ritual! Of course, this has not escaped the notice of the rabbis and scholars, many of whom (especially the Maharal)  have written at great length working to reconcile matzah as being both the bread of affliction (generally because, as it is devoid of all but two ingredients, flour and water, and is effectively tasteless, it might be a fair representation of the food of a slave, or at the very least, of the lack of excitement and variety in the life of a slave) and, as is obvious from the circumstances, the bread of freedom. How odd it seems that, as we tasted freedom of body, mind, and spirit, our mouths were tasting the plain, bland taste of matzah! (There’s also the whole issue of “chametz” and the fact that as matzah is not puffed up we should not be puffed up.)

The Hagaddah teaches us that matzah is the bread of affliction because it is the bread that we ate in Egypt as slaves.  I don’t buy it. There’s no good reason to assume that, once enslaved in Egypt, we were no longer permitted to eat real bread. The Egyptians may have been stern taskmasters but it seems unlikely they would somehow enforce a ban on leavening!

So why do I like matzah so much? Is it that, in a world where my taste buds are under the constant assault of flavors (many of them quite unnatural) that matzah is my liberation – a simple, plain taste?

Whenever I eat matzah, at Pesach or other times, I am reliving my escape from Egypt. Why limit this act of anamnesis to just one short period each year? Matzah. Bring it on!

Chag Sameakh and Shabbat Shalom,

©2012 by Adrian A. Durlester

Other musings about Pesach

Shabbat Hol HaMoed Pesakh 5771-Admat Yisrael
Shabbat Hol HaMoed Pesakh 5769 - Valley of the Dry Economy
Pesach VII 5768 - Department of Redundant Anamnesis Department
Hol HaMoed Pesach 5767-Not Empty
Intermediate Shabbat of Passover 5766-A Lily Among Thorns
Pesach VII 5761 (Revised 5765)
Hol HaMoed Pesach 5764-Dem Bones & Have We Left Gd behind? (5578-60)
Hol Hamoed Pesach 5763-No Empty Gestures (Redux 5762)
5761-Pesach VII-Redundant Anamnesis

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