Monday, March 15, 2010

Bread Alone

With Passover only a few weeks away, I find myself craving bread; also pizza, but pasta, not as much and desserts, not really. It is unusual for me to be so focused on hametz; the excesses of Purim usually quell any cravings (especially for sweet things) and make me feel prepared for the freedom/denial of Passover, when eight days stretch far longer in the mind. Depriving oneself seems to do that, slow down time, quite effectively.
My best strategy for Passover is quite simple. I eat as little matzah as possible; usually a maximum of one piece once we have cleared the seders. I continue to eat foods that are kosher at all times: fruit, vegetables, potatoes, cheese, meat, eggs and nuts. I avoid as best as possible all of the fake “bready” foods, desserts included. By the end of the holiday I usually feel better than ever and each year I wonder if I could continue to live bread-free, all of the time forever more. How much variety do I need in my food anyway? And what exactly is essential about bread?
Man does not live by bread alone. The famous quotation seems absurd in that it flattens into the one simple term a stunning array of food items, crossing cultures, eras, culinary imaginations, different grains and an endless variety of additional ingredients. What culture or nation does not have at least one bread that is considered an identifying staple?
But bread of course is a metaphor for the basic physical needs of our survival and that is the gist of the Biblical citation. In Deuteronomy chapter eight, verses two and three, it says (I am using the Jewish Publication Society’s translation):
Remember the long way that the Lord your God has made you travel in the wilderness these past forty years, that He might test you by hardships to
Learn what was in your hearts; whether you would keep His commandments
or not. He subjected you to the hardship of hunger and then gave you manna to eat, which neither you nor your fathers had ever known, in order to teach you that man does not live on bread alone, but that man may live on anything that the Lord decrees.
The flatness of the matzah reminds us of the speed with which the Israelites fled Egypt. The learning that life is about more than bread anyway reminds us of the forty years it took those same Israelites to die out in the dessert, so that their children could be prepared to live in allegiance to their Lord, albeit freely in their own country. In each miraculous set of events the power of the divine is paramount. We humans are asked to be incredible jugglers, appreciative of the delights of our physical world while yet attuned to the gifts of God as well as to our own limits. It is exhausting to think about. It should be making me hungry. What constitutes freedom and what slavery? What serves as basic sustenance for you, your bread? And what reminds you that life is a gift symbolized by bread, the work, nourishment and creativity that we knead into it, and yet rises above it, into the ether like the scent of yeast looking to meet the airiness of enlightenment. When we are blessed, it rains back down on us in transmuted gifts. ©2010 Leah Strigler


chayaruchama said...

Beautifully put !

My eating strategy is very like yours.

Alas, we recently discussed our varying views of this holiday....

May time bring a healing , my beloved.

Ask Leah said...

Thank you!
The ways in which events and anniversaries imprint on holidays and effect how we think about them... that is worth its own post someday. Our views are shaped both by those and by the metaphorical meanings we find in the rituals. All meaningful and that is the point of rituals, or should be, mais non?

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