Pesach has long been my favorite holiday. It speaks to me. The idea of celebrating our freedom–of considering what that means–makes sense to me. The fact that its a home holiday is something I embrace. And the idea that the seder is as individual as the family I think is wonderful. In rabbinical school, a professor remarked that the seder was the original example of experiential education–I think that professor (I unfortunately can’t remember who it was) was correct and that’s something that certainly speaks to me.
And, I admit it, I even like the dietary restrictions. I mean, it’s annoying on some levels. And it was hard as a kid to bring matzah sandwiches for lunch. And discover on an annual basis that corn syrup apparently holds the world together, as it seems to be an ingredient in everything. But at the same time, it makes sense to me. To sacrifice something for a week once a year, in memory of our shared history…to do something that differentiates me from other people…it makes sense to me…it is even a powerful act.
There are years where I’ve been extremely strict…getting rid of every crumb of chametz in my home and scalding my pots and pans with boiling water so I could use them, as I covered every inch of my countertops. And other years during which I cleared a corner for myself and knew in my mind that it was my Pesach corner. But, regardless of how I treated the tools, I’ve always been strict with the food.
I don’t insist on a label (I’m not big on labels in general…it basically comes down to not wanting someone who doesn’t consider me to be a rabbi, and may not consider me Jewish at all, to determine what it is that I can and cannot eat–not to mention the political meshugas that goes along with certification). But I read ingredients thoroughly. And if I’m not sure, I don’t eat it.
But this year is different.
This year, I’m doing something new. This is the year that I’m finally allowing myself the freedom to eat kitniyot.
I have long intellectually accepted the idea that legumes and such were not hametz. That it made historical and contextual sense to eat these items in our day and age. When in Israel during Pesach, I’ve even allowed myself to do so, as it’s what’s generally done there (when in Sephard, do as the Sephardics, as they say). But I could never let myself make an active choice to do that in a general way when in my own space, in my own land.
It never felt right. Not eating any of that connected me to my past–the way I was raised–the way I was taught made sense. But, within the past year, I realized that my heart isn’t how I make decisions that feel the most right to me. I’m rational (perhaps to a fault). I decide most things in my head. Sure, my heart has a vote–but generally not a veto. So why should this be different? Thinking about it, over and over, I couldn’t come up with a compelling argument for why it made sense to continue this restriction for myself.
Not to mention, that as a vegetarian, allowing myself hummus and tofu makes healthy eating a much more realistic possibility…and that’s an important value to me, as well.
So, this year, I’m going for it. I’m eating soy, I’m eating peanuts, I’m eating beans.
And I feel good about the decision. It feels more active to me. Instead of doing what was passed on to me, I’m making a decision that’s mine. One that makes sense in terms of history and even in terms of tradition.
Don’t get me wrong–I’m not going whole hog (pun only partly intended). Corn just doesn’t feel right. And corn syrup certainly doesn’t. I’m undecided about rice. But soy and mustard and black beans and quinoa and chick peas…I’ll happily eat all of those.
I still remain on the fence about fake bread products. The cake mixes hit my gut in the wrong way. And the cereal is just wrong–and offends my sense of taste. But my mom’s matzah farfel cookies and Passover rolls are part of the flavors of the holiday to me. Maybe I’ll place the line on homemade vs mix. It’s arbitrary, sure. But aren’t all boundaries arbitrary, in a way?
At any rate, I feel good about this choice. I’m excited to experience Pesach in a new way. And who knows…maybe I’ll figure out something new for next year. For the moment, I’m going to enjoy my legumes.
Which reminds me…all this talk about food…I need to make sure I have all the ingredients for matzah crack.