Thursday, April 12, 2012

A Passover Confession

I have a confession to make. I really like Passover. And, although I realize that I may be banished from the “cool table” at lunch for admitting this, I even like matzah. I like the crunch, the simple flavor, the nostalgic memories of childhood seders that it evokes as the subtle umami washes over the back of my tongue. I like the horseradish root (usually raw) and the biting mixture of sweet and spicy in Hillel’s sandwich of charoset and bitter herbs. The man hit upon a great idea. Why no one has commercialized it is most likely an unfortunate residual stigma of its religious time and place. “Yeah…uh…I’ll have a Hillel sandwich, small fries, and a diet Coke. To go, please.” No, I can’t see it happening either.

I suppose I’m still riding the glow of the seders. With any luck, I’ll be able to ride that glow through the rest of the week.

Riding that enthusiasm all the way to the end is definitely a challenge. Despite my love of the holiday, by day four I have re-evaluated all my personal values, I have taken stock in all my blessings, I have squeezed every bit of relevancy out of the book of Exodus , and, most importantly, I have eaten up all the good leftovers. Suddenly, I am faced with flagging enthusiasm matched with diminishing creativity, and, as I stare at the carton of eggs in the refrigerator, I am left with that nagging thought, “Is this all really worth it?”

For those of you who have never kept Passover, or never kept it beyond reducing your donut intake from three per day to two, Passover is not simply about unleavened bread. The laws of Passover have evolved over the millennia to not only include breads made with wheat, barley, rye, spelt, or oats, but basically any product made from the grain that has not been baked and processed as matzah. The Ashkenazi (Eastern European) tradition could never leave well enough alone, and added corn, rice, millet and legumes to the list, along with all of their associated products. If you ever wondered why there is such a booming Passover food industry, just consider all the commercial foods that contain corn starch, corn sweeteners, or grain vinegar. Even if you mix and match traditions (allowing legumes but not allowing corn or rice, allowing corn and rice but not allowing wheat, barley, rye, spelt, or oats), keeping kosher for Passover is a major ordeal. It takes commitment, planning, and BELIEF. Not necessarily a belief in a divine covenant or retribution, but rather a belief that you are tapping into something spiritually important. Correction…something spiritually critical.

At its core, Passover is about freedom: freedom from slavery, freedom from oppression, freedom from absolute control. And yet, it isn’t until maybe the fourth day, the spiritual hump day of the Passover week, do we truly start to understand the meaning of the holiday. It is only after we start fantasizing about thick crust pizza, only after we find ourselves slowing our pace as we walk through the bakery aisle at the grocery, only after we consider pulling the bottle of Karo corn syrup off the shelf, ripping off the top, inserting a straw, and going to town, do we realize that we are still slaves ourselves. We are slaves of convenience, slaves of habit, slaves of routine. We have relinquished control of our lives, and we rarely stop to appreciate our connection to the world until we do something as simple as remove all grain products for a week. The more complex your world, the more you will be thrown for a loop.

So, stop. Take note. Feel the world spinning out of control for a minute. Then pull yourself out of your complacency, and reach deep into yourself for that spark of creativity and that resurgence of enthusiasm.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go prepare dinner. I have no idea what I’m going to make, but I’m sure it will come to me in time. And I'm sure it will be delicious.

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