Aired April 23, 2016 on Dave’s Gone By. Youtube clip: https://youtu.be/9e-dOyy_cQA
Shalom Dammit! This is Rabbi Sol Solomon with a Rabbinical Reflection for the week of April 24, 2016.
Among the great inventions of mankind are the wheel, the lever, the polio vaccine, and the computer microchip. But let’s not leave out one of my favorite all-time creations. Something so simple yet so perfectly imperfect. Something both great and crummy — pun intended.
You take flour and water, mix them together, roll it flat flat flat—flatter than a ten-year-old’s training bra—poke the dough with tiny holes, and push it into a super-hot, dry oven. After a couple of agonizing minutes, shazam! Matzoh! Somehow, this flour-and-water combo doesn’t turn into pita bread, it doesn’t become olive loaf, it doesn’t blossom into a Pepperidge Farm cookie. It just stays matzoh, and that’s good enough for me. Almost.
See, you can get Streit’s or Horowitz-Margareten or Manischewitz and other commercial brands of matzoh, and they’ll get you through the Passover holiday just fine. You make matzoh brei, where you dip it in egg; you can crumble it and make matzoh meal pancakes, which iHop would not be remiss in adding to their international breakfasts. Dear God, they make chocolate-covered matzoh, which sounds gross, but hey, if they can do it with crickets and bumble bees, why not the bread of affliction? (Chocolate-covered matzoh is not to be confused, by the way, with chocolate matzoh, which is just a giant chocolate bar made into the shape of a matzoh. In other words, a thousand times better. Chocolate-covered matzoh is to chocolate matzoh as a gold-plated watch is to a Rolex. If you promise your grandchildren chocolate matzoh, but you give them the chocolate covered, don’t expect them to visit you in the nursing home years later.)
But I digress. Matzoh is a tasty, non-nutritional but sustaining food meant to remind us of the bread our ancestors ate when they high-tailed it out of Egypt. `Cuz when you’re leavin’ hasty, you ain’t got time for pastry.
However, my reflection today is not just about matzoh; it’s about a special version of matzoh. The platinum standard, if you will. And I will. When I’m conducting a seder, or kicking back watchin’ baseball during chol hamoed, I want me some shmura matzoh! That’s the stuff! That’s the bread of affection! It’s the same flour and water, the same procedures. But with shmura matzoh, the harvested grain is guarded from the very first second it’s plucked to the moment the Rabbi slides it and its compadres out of the oven.
Shmura matzoh is the ultimate homemade bread. No machines, no slicer cutting the edges into right angles. No opening a box where every piece looks like a ceiling tile in a suburban office. Shmuras are individually mixed, rolled, and baked. And they don’t look beautiful or symmetrical. They’re lumpy, they’re brittle, often overcooked, and the burnt parts are all over the place. In fact, shmura matzohs are so ugly, they could replace Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill.
But oy my God, are they delicious! There’s something so real and so pure about them. Everything else you get in the store is machine-pressed, dye-cut, flushed with preservatives, and so far away from actual food, you’re not even sure what the hell you’re eating. With shmura matzoh you taste three things: flour, water, and Rabbi sweat.
Now there’s all sorts of hoo-ha/doo-dah rules about using shmura matzohs. You’re supposed to eat them only at the seder and no other time — not even the rest of the holiday. I’m sorry, but at $17 a box with six pieces of bread in it, I’ll eat it on Christmas if I want to. Also, since the matzoh is utilized during the seder ceremony — including breaking it for the afikomen, the bread has to be complete, unbroken. You think it was tough for the Jews to cross the Nile out of Egypt? Try getting a one-millimeter cracker from a Brooklyn factory to a Staten Island dinner table without having a few oopsies.
Still, it’s worth it because shmura matzohs are the bomb. Yes, they’re impossible to butter, and they don’t actually break in half; they splinter — leaving shards of crumbs everywhere you look. But I don’t care; their deliciousness trumps all. I mean, on Passover, we have to eat raw horseradish, and then we have to take yummy charoset and ruin it by mixing it with horseradish, and then for eight days: no pizza, no pretzels, no ravioli, no danish, no muffins, no waffles, no wafers, no hoagies, no heroes, no oatmeal, no beer. So if I want a piece of homecooked unleavened bread that looks like a manhole cover but tastes like Judaism, I will seek no further than shmura matzohs. Mmm mmm flavorless — and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
This has been a Rabbinical Reflection from Rabbi Sol Solomon, Temple Sons of Bitches, in Great Neck, New York. A zissen Pesach to ya.
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