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Passover: A Matter of Taste?

by Rabbi Naftali Silberberg

  

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“In every generation a person is obligated to regard himself as if he had come out of Egypt” - The Haggadah.

Though the Seder traditionally features many tantalizing dishes, the Torah-mandated foods which take center stage on Passover Night are the Matzah and Maror. The rabbis completed the obligatory seder menu by adding four cups of wine to the carte du jour.

The event organizer apparently neglected to choose a “taste theme” for this evening’s gathering: Matzah is flavorless. By design. Matzah is “pauper’s bread” and may not be seasoned, nor is one allowed to add eggs, sugar, or oil to its dough. Downing the mandatory ounces of dry matzah at the seder is never an easy task! Maror has a taste - a very distinctively bitter taste. Wine possesses a rich taste especially savored by those with a refined palate. We imbibe this noble beverage to celebrate the exquisite “taste” of freedom we acquired on Passover.

In the year 2448 from Creation (1312 BCE) our ancestors left the immoral and corrupt Egypt and embarked on their journey towards Mount Sinai and the Holy Land. Pharaoh’s slaves were now a free people; free to receive the Torah and realize their immense potential of being a “Light upon the Nations".1 On this night, we, too, relive this monumental event and endeavor to escape our personal “Egypt” – our enslavement to our egotistical impulses and immoral tendencies which impede our growth – and serve G-d as “free men.” The specialized cuisine consumed at the seder is intended to assist us in achieving this holy night’s grand goal.

We endeavor to escape our personal “Egypt” – our enslavement to our egotistical impulses and immoral tendencies which impede our growth – and serve G-d as “free men”
So, what is the true taste of personal redemption? Is liberation supposed to be tasteless or tasty? And if you have chosen the latter option, is redemption supposed to have a pleasant taste or is it meant to leave a bitter taste in your mouth?

Perhaps the seder menu is teaching us that there are different roads to redemption. Each one of the seder foods and drink is symbolic of a valid path to this desired destination.

Matzah: No one wishes for a dry and tasteless life; we all want to feel gratification, fulfillment, and delight. However, Egypt typically leaves us with ruined taste buds; with a destructive appetite for unhealthy tastes… More importantly, Egypt ascribes inappropriate primacy to taste. Matzah represents redemption which is achieved through prioritizing and understanding that ultimately life is not about “taste”, but about the end game-serving G-d. In truth, a Torah-life is tastier than all alternative lifestyles (which also leave their adherents with an empty and aching stomach) but that is a fringe benefit. Egypt cannot function without “taste,” and pleasure, and thus “deprioritizing” taste is a one-way ticket out of there.

Earnestly contemplate the possibility of enjoying a holy and meaningful life; a life dedicated to an ideal infinitely more important than your stock portfolio
Maror: The Egyptians embitter our lives. While the corrupting influence of Egypt may be disguised as “enlightenment”, “progress”, or the “right of self determination”, it is downright painful for the Jewish soul. Allow yourself to feel your soul’s pain. As Jeremiah pleaded:2 “know and see that your forsaking the L-rd your G-d is evil and bitter". Go ahead, this anguish has therapeutic benefit. Feeling this pain will send you dashing from Egypt. You’ll run so quickly that the dough won’t have time to rise…

Wine: Instead of dwelling on the bitter taste of slavery, focus on the rich intoxicating taste of freedom which is entirely within reach. Earnestly contemplate the possibility of enjoying a holy and meaningful life; a life dedicated to an ideal infinitely more important than your stock portfolio. Dwell on this thought for a while and suddenly the Egyptian delicacies will lose much of their allure-and you’ll be well on your way towards Mount Sinai. 

Choose your favorite path. Or do as the great sage Hillel did-make a sandwich and eat them all together!

Have a happy and tasteful Passover!

Footnotes

  • 1. Isaiah 42:6
  • 2. Jeremiah 2:19

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RELATED CATEGORIES

Chassidism » Chassidic Concepts
Holidays » Passover » Seder » The Seder Plate
Holidays » Passover » Seder » The Wine

Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Matzah
(pl. Matzot). Unleavened bread which is eaten on Passover, especially at the Passover Seder (feast), commemorating the Matzah which the Jews ate upon leaving Egypt. It consists of only flour and water and resembles a wheat cracker.
Passover
A Biblically mandated early-spring festival celebrating the Jewish exodus from Egypt in the year 1312 BCE.
Haggadah
Text read at the Passover Eve feasts. The Haggadah recounts in great detail the story of our Exodus from Egypt.
Seder
Festive meal eaten on the first two nights of the holiday of Passover (In Israel, the Seder is observed only the first night of the holiday). Seder highlights include: reading the story of the Exodus, eating Matzah and bitter herbs, and drinking four cups of wine.
Jeremiah
1. Jewish prophet who lived in the 5th century BCE. 2. One of the 24 books of the Bible, containing the prophecies of Jeremiah. The book is replete with prophecies concerning the destruction of Jerusalem and the Holy Temple.
Maror
Bitter herbs consumed at the Passover Seder, commemorating how the Egyptians embittered the lives of our ancestors.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.