No Chametz please, it’s Passover!
Nothing that comes from wheat, barley, spelt, rye, and oats, five species collectively known in Hebrew as chametz.
The only exception is Matzah, a flat bread made from one of these five kinds of grains in a supervised process to ensure that the dough doesn’t rise at all before it is baked.
Given that the average American consumes 200 pounds of wheat and other grains every year, the prohibition against chametz can feel restrictive. Add to this that Ashkenazi Jews, like most Jews in North America, also avoid kitniyot like rice, lentils, and beans, all these laws about what we can eat on Passover begins to take on the appearance of a punishment. That we get the impression that this is a punishment is reinforced by the other name we call Matzah, the bread of affliction.
Yet overemphasizing negative commandments like what can’t be eaten on Passover too often leads to dread and hatred of the holiday. This is unfortunate, considering that the purpose for celebrating Passover is positive: to remember our redemption from slavery in Egypt and delivery into freedom.
Even the laws concerning Matzah and what we can eat on Passover are first presented in the Torah as positive commandments:
“And they will eat the meat [of the Passover sacrifice] on that night roasted over fire, and Matzah; with bitter herbs they should be eaten.” (Exodus 12:8)
“And it will be, that this day will be for you a remembrance, and your celebration will be a festival for the Lord; for your generations, forever decreed that you will celebrate. Seven days Matzah you will eat.” (Exodus 12:14-15)
Many holidays have a traditional food. Think latkes at Chanukah, hamantaschen for Purim, or apples and honey for Rosh Hashanah. Far from being a punishment, the Torah is telling us that eating Matzah ensures that our celebration will be a festival for the Lord. The prohibited foods are just commentary to reinforce the positive. Being mindful of what we eat on Passover is how generations of Jews have made and will continue to make it a remembrance of the miracles performed for us.
Once a year, we have the opportunity to change our diets for a week to commemorate Passover. Don’t be upset about all of the food that can’t be eaten. Celebrate the Matzah and all the special dishes you will be eat to remember the Exodus.
What will be on your menu?