Ha Lachma Anya

I approached the end of Pesach with some reluctance this year. To start with, I’m one of the strange people who like matzah. I ate mostly whole wheat matzah, which really does have some taste and texture. So that helped. And I like to eat whipped butter on matzah … whipped cream cheese and apricot jam on matzah … whipped butter and honey on matzah …

But you know, it’s more than that. The special Pesach foods come around only once a year. And while there’s a special ritual in our family for the end of Pesach (Italian food! Pasta! Bread, pizza), I almost didn’t want to leave behind the discipline of Pesach. It’s a simpler eating. Just as the house is cleaned, our regular dishes are put away, and a smaller number of special Pesach dishes are brought out, the palate of foods is simplified. Chicken (or whatever you ate for seder); gefilte fish; lots of dairy. Melted cheese on matzah; melted cheese with mushrooms with a little nutmeg (bought new for the chicken recipe); melted cheese with pizza sauce. The kosher-for-Pesach yogurt cheese with herbs that I buy every year. A salad with kosher-for-Pesach vinegar and virgin olive oil.

In the haggadah, matzah is called “the bread of affliction” or “the bread of poverty.” Ha lachma anya — this is the poor-bread that our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt. It’s the bread of poor people the world over (though I imagine that the first matzah was more like tortilla or pita than the cracker that is matzah today). And just ask someone who’s just eaten 7 or 8 days worth of matzah: that can be a kind of affliction too.

But it’s also the bread of freedom, the bread eaten during the great escape. And the rabbis of the Talmud associated matzah with good things. Leavened bread is puffed up: When we get all puffed up, all full of ourselves, we really don’t leave a lot of room for other people. So matzah represents simplicity of spirit as well as simplicity of victuals. It reminds us of appropriate humility which leaves room for the feelings and needs of others.

And somehow I didn’t want to leave it behind. It’s been a couple days now, I’m getting used to my bread and lasagne. But there was just something lovely about eating more simply. Maybe it goes with gathering the eggs in the morning and giving the goats their grain and hay; holding Mama Goat so that her rejected baby can nurse and tucking the chickens in to bed at night. Maybe it’s because with the end of Pesach, I’m mostly off the farm and back to work. Life stops being so simple.

So we’ll finish putting the kitchen back together, but some dishes will probably stay in storage; this is when we find out that we didn’t really need them. Eventually we’ll remove the extra tables from the living room, but I don’t think we’ll put the couch back in the middle, at least for summer; this is when we rearrange and try out new configurations of furniture. Pesach comes to shake us up, to challenge us to live outside of our regular routines and rhythms for a whole week.  It’s voluntary simplicity.  And I’m reluctant to see it go, reluctant to re-enter the indulgence that belongs to the rest of the year.