“Why Is This Night…..”

A few days before Passover, Yduj and I stopped at a supermarket near my house upstate to buy, among other things, some Matzoh. We couldn’t locate any so Yduj asked a young woman who worked there, if there was any in the store.  A blank look appeared on the girl’s face as she asked, “What’s Matzar?”  That wasn’t the response that we expected.  Yduj offered, “You know, flat bread?”  Even I didn’t know what she was talking about.  So then I gave it a shot, “You know, we were slaves in Egypt and decided  to make a run for it.  We  had to leave in a hurry;  so, what we’re looking for is unleavened bread.”   I was about to go into the business about the plagues and at least one of the four questions when a manager came by and told us that there was a small display of Passover items tucked away at the far end of the sore.  We scored a box of Matzoh and were on our way.

At this point, this story could go in one of several directions:  I could talk about the provincialism of a town only two hours from  New York City.  Or I could, instead, write about another aspect of  the Passover story that has always bothered me.  Which is what I’m going to do. 

Apparently, there is a grain grown in Peru and Bolivia, quinoa, which has become a bit controversial as to whether it should be classified as chumetz (not kosher for Passover) or not.  There are lots of foods that aren’t bread or even leavened that fall into this category.  I’m not an expert on these matters but, for example, I believe that rice is chumetz but potatoes aren’t; why– I don’t know. For now, quinoa seems to  an acceptable passover food.  In a rarity in these matters, innocent until proven guilty.  But there are a bunch of rabbis on the case who have plans to visit South America to inspect the grain in its natural habitat.  This promises to be exactly the kind of deliberation that Talmudic scholars have thrived on through the centuries. For them, this kind of moment doesn’t come around that often anymore.  It may be their equivalent of a basketball player who’s been practicing  his entire life–hoping that one day, with the game on the line, he would sink the winning basket.  And this may be the finals of the State Championship.  I wish them luck.

But the part about all this that annoys me is the idea of ignoring the spirit of the law while making sure that the letter of the law is followed. There are now lots of foods available that try to simulate the taste and quality of chumetz, which to me, seems to miss the symbolic point of the holiday. If General Mills was somehow able to come up with a “kosher for Passover” bread that was rabinically embraced, I know it would be a  huge hit–the Passover equivalent of Pfizer developing a pill that grows hair. Something about that doesn’t seem right. 

Maybe I’m being way too traditional about this. Too much of a stickler.  It’s possible that in the not-too-distant-future, when the question, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” is asked,  the answer might well be :  “Because on this night, we eat quinoa”.

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