Josh and I like to joke that every meal is “Kosher-for-Passover” in our house. This isn’t true, of course … but with a gluten-free (for me) and dairy free (for both) diet, it often feels like we are living a specific form of kashrut every day of our lives. Marketing has become easier but is still an adventure; we think we know exactly what “secret ingredients” to look out for but still approach our shopping trips like ninjas. We know when something homemade tastes too good to be true, it probably is. And, when this time of year rolls around, the groans we hear over that dry, binding, cardboard-like matzah make us laugh; have you ever tried gluten-free bread?
How quickly we forget the symbolism of the matzah: just flour and water with precisely eighteen minutes to form. How often we disregard the message, found in this week’s Torah selection, of that heavily emblematic food: “remember this day, on which you went free from Egypt, the house of bondage, how Adonai freed you from it with a mighty hand: no leavened bread shall be eaten … and when Adonai has brought you into the land of the Canaanites … which was sworn to your fathers to be given you, a land flowing with milk and honey, you shall observe in this month the following practice: seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, and on the seventh day there shall be a festival of Adonai. Throughout the seven days unleavened bread shall be eaten; no leavened bread shall be found with you, and no leaven shall be found in your territory.” (Exodus 13:3-7).
Matzah is a centerpiece of our Passover narrative and our seder table; matzah, at once completely malleable and wholly unique. From matzah pizza to matzah brie to shmears, sandwiches, and chocolate – matzah adapts to whatever it finds itself dressed in. Matzah is the chameleon taking on the identity of its consumer, subject to the whims of appetite of he or she who controls its fate. And yet, matzah is still matzah, recognizable even beneath the dressing.
In this way, matzah is a true symbol of our people’s story. Matzah tells of a people – our people – who once were slaves, but now are free. Who emerged from the borders of the Promised Land following the destruction of the Second Temple and spread out into the diaspora, setting up roots in different countries around the world. A people so unique in temperament and appearance who quickly adapted to cultures, assimilated, and incorporated new traditions, flavors, and narratives into their family’s story but still retained that connection to the past, to identity, to God.
This weekend, as we sit down at seders around the city and throughout the world, there is much to recall. We recall the story of our exodus, the melodies of “Dayenu” and the “Four Questions,” Bubbie’s famous matzo ball soup recipe and, hopefully, the location of where we stashed our Hagaddot last year. But above all else, let us remember the power of the matzah, for it is the matzah that truly tells the story – our story, and the story of generations to come.
Rabbi Jaclyn Cohen