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Longing for Leavening - Passover 2024

04/28/2024 07:00:25 AM


Michael Greenfield

Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, the Torah tells us, neglecting to mention that by day six it will feel a lot longer than that because, of course, we start missing something the moment it's gone. You shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread throughout the ages, the Torah adds. Feast? Well, yes, Shulchan Orech, The Festive Meal, makes the Seder a feast, but as the week moves along, some of us struggle to find meals that bring the same joy to the holiday which the Four Cups of Wine brought earlier in the week. Sure, Wine gladdens the heart, says Psalm 104, but the end of that verse tells us that bread sustains life. And so I'm looking for both inspiration and sustenance not just in the kitchen but also in these waning days of the Festival of Freedom.

Long before King David's Psalms, Abraham greeted the three visiting angels saying, "Let me fetch you a morsel of bread that you may refresh yourselves." Bread, even a morsel, is the beginning of rejuvenation. And Matzah, well, it's the Bread of Affliction. In his Mishneh Torah, Maimonides calls it the Bread of Poverty. It's okay to like Matzah, by the way. There are no laws against that, but it's clear that the Mishneh Torah has made a different assumption when Maimonides tells us that we must eat at least a K'Zayit, a piece the size of an olive, of our People's suffering.

Knowing our love of loopholes, Maimonides adds this caveat: if you are going to eat only a K'Zayit of Matzah, then it must be the last thing you eat at the Seder so that the taste lingers on the tongue. Judaism, especially at Passover, pushes us to incorporate into our very being the essence of the symbols. We taste the tears of the slaves. We eat the bitterness of their hardship. And for an entire week, we replace the breads that refresh us with the Bread of Poverty and Affliction. How very like Judaism to demand that the pain of any one Jew live in the bodies of all Jews.

To be a People who eat metaphors is to be a People who live by them. We are desperate for leavening right now. Not levity, which helps for just a moment, but true leavening. We celebrate the joy of freedom, but we mourn its incompleteness. We may gladden our hearts for a night, but we are not refreshed for long, and certainly not rejuvenated. Still, Pesach teaches hope, as does every other element of Judaism. During Chol HaMoed, the name for these days that follow the Seders, the Hebrew greeting is, Mo'adim L'Simcha. You could translate it as Festivals for Joy. Or, May Your Times be Happy. Or, and this is the one I have in my head when I say it this week, Destined for Joy. In these days of yearning for leavening, may we find opportunities to stand with the People of Israel while that K'Zayit of bitterness remains on our tongue until we can say with greater certainty, Mo'adim L'Simcha! 

We are destined for joy.

Sun, May 26 2024 18 Iyyar 5784