Perhaps no holiday in the Jewish calendar comes with as much preparation. Cleaning. Shopping. Getting rid of certain foods. Stocking up on certain foods. Suddenly so many foods and products are off limits.
For some folks, a strict Passover celebration is a cherished tradition. If this describes you, there are many resources in print and online to help guide you through the steps to a joyful, and fully kosher, Passover.
However, there are others for whom an intense focus on the rules is either overwhelming, or, quite frankly, off-putting. If you find yourself in this camp, I encourage you to take a different path to your Passover celebration.
Remember the meaning behind the foodways: The special ways we eat at Passover are tangible reminders of the message of the holiday itself: the story of how we were redeemed from slavery in Egypt by a Mighty Hand and an Outstretched Arm, an eternal story of the need to bring an end to injustice and oppression.
The two main Passover food traditions – eating matzah and avoiding (and getting rid) of chametz (food with leavening) can both be tied directly to this story of liberation. Remembering the reason why we celebrate can help keep things in perspective.
Matzah, called the “bread of affliction,” reminds us of the oppression our ancestors endured as slaves in Egypt. It also connects us to the night our ancestors left Egypt in such haste they did not have time for the bread to rise. Now that we eat matzah in freedom, it can even be seen as a symbol of liberation.
Similarly, avoiding chametz (food with leavening) has a spiritual meaning. In his post Rabbi Eric Berk describes it this way:
“Have you ever watched dough rise in the oven, or have you ever just seen bread? Dough rises, and what results is ‘puffed-up,’ bigger than before. Full of air – or perhaps full of itself. That is exactly what chametz has come to symbolize. Philo, a Greek-Jewish philosopher, described chametz as ‘pride,’ because leavened bread is ‘puffed-up.’ Removing chametz on Passover from our homes, our lives, our families, is a struggle between who we really are now and who we can be once we strip away all the trappings of self-importance.”
(His article also does a great job of clarifying the complicated question of what, exactly, constitutes chametz.)
Take a few steps into Passover at a time: Passover need not be an all or nothing proposition. Instead, choose a few practices that you feel comfortable trying out this year.
You might start by eating matzah at seder or by having matzah available throughout the holiday. You might choose to remove all chametz from your kitchen, or you might decide to simply avoid foods like bread and pastries that are obviously leavened. You might experiment with matzah sandwiches at lunchtime. Or there might be another Passover food practice you’d like to try out.
Above all, create traditions that you cherish: For most of us, the connections that matter aren’t found in scholarly writings. We remember Passover not because it is an intellectual idea, but because it is a lived experience. Finding your own Passover foodways can be a powerful way for you and your family to connect with the foundational story of our people.