For the week ending 28 March 2015 / 8 Nisan 5775

Jewish Gastronomy - There's Nothing Quite Like It

by Rabbi Reuven Lauffer
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Ask any chef and they will tell you that as far as ingredients go, flour and water may be the basics but they are not exactly the most exciting options around. And yet in the Jewish world, flour and water are perhaps the most anticipated ingredients in the whole year. Why? Because they are the sole components from which matzah is made. Matzah is the special “bread” that is not allowed to rise and leaven, and is eaten throughout Pesach. There are many details that have to be fulfilled so that the matzah that makes it to our Pesach tables is kosher, but the most fundamental feature is that it can only be made with flour and water. Nothing else.

Why just flour and water? Rabbi Moshe Sofer, known by the seminal work that he authored called the “Chatam Sofer” (1762-1839), explains that the importance of matzah is found in the fact that it is completely “spiritual”. No additives. Just pure flour and water that — when mixed together in the correct way — elevates us and draws us upwards to G-d. It is not coincidental that the Sages teach us that both flour and water are essential to our existence. But, if that is case, asks the Chatam Sofer, why don’t we eat matzah all year long? If it is so powerful and has the ability to connect us to G-d, surely it would make sense to eat it every single day.

The Chatam Sofer answers that as human beings we are comprised of two disparate parts — a physical part and a spiritual one. On Pesach, which is the beginning of Jewish nationhood and the beginning of our eternal connection to G-d, we eat matzah so that we can internalize what it means to be spiritual and what it means to be the “chosen nation”. But G-d does not want us to remain detached from the physical world, so we prepare ourselves by eating matzah on Pesach so that we will be able to eat regular leavened bread for the rest of the year. Because Pesach is not just about connecting to G-d for a week – it is about remaining connected afterward as well.

But it does not happen by magic. It doesn’t just take place without preparation. I remember as a child waiting with the most incredible anticipation for the matzot to be delivered to the house a few weeks before Pesach and, after they arrived, going to look at them constantly, wishing that it was already Pesach so that I could eat them. Even today, many years later, that aura in my mind still exists. The matzot arrive and I wait (and wait!) to be able to eat them. I know that flour and water is not normally a very tantalizing combination, but on Pesach it takes on mythological proportions. There really isn’t anything that comes close to the taste…and the anticipation. And I truly hope that my children and grandchildren feel that frisson of excitement that I experience each time I look at the boxes of matzah, waiting patiently for Pesach to begin. Why? Because, perhaps the most important dimension of Pesach is passing that incredible sense of anticipation and excitement to the next generations.

Unbelievably, in the impenetrable darkness of the Holocaust in Bergen-Belsen the saintly Rabbi from Bluzhov, Rabbi Yisrael Spira, managed to bake matzot. After having managed to grind the wheat and bake the matzot without being discovered, he then had to hide them away in a place that they would not be found. And then the Rebbe had to make Solomonic decisions as to whom would get the matzot (possibly the most difficult part of the whole process). Logic dictated that they should go to as many of the adults as possible because eating matzah is a Torah obligation and that is what the Bluzhover Rebbe thought to do. Everyone concurred with the Rebbe except for a certain widow. She argued that the children should receive the matzah because they are the future. “If we ever get out of this ‘Egypt’ the children need to have tasted what it means to be a proper Jew!”

The Rebbe was swayed by her eloquence and ruled that, due to their unique situation, the children should be given the matzah.

Who would have thought that two such simple ingredients could have such everlasting repercussions? And yet they do. And that should serve as an impetus to us when we sit at our royal tables this Seder night to try to project to everyone present (yes, ourselves as well) just how excited we are to be eating unadorned, simple flour and water because, as we do so, we are really internalizing the ultimate sign of Jewish spiritual gastronomy!

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