Sunday, March 28, 2010

Empowered Judaism in Action (Updated!)

After an unanticipated, too-long hiatus, I knew I had to come back with something spectacular. Luckily, on Friday morning I had the opportunity to host shmura matza baking in my apartment, under the supervision of Rabbi Ethan Tucker. It was a surprisingly powerful experience to actually be able to connect with the essential part of this chag in a physical way. We may have had more technology, but it was the first step in recreating the Exodus experience, which is such an important part of what Pesach is. It’s not just telling the story, but living it. And demystifying some of the scary Pesach preparations in the process.

One of the most intense parts of the process—aside from the constant fear of doing something to render everything into chametz, and attempting to avoid the 550-degree oven while maneuvering the matzah within it—was how all-consuming it needed to be. For each stage in the process there were instructions to ensure that the matzah would be made properly. We had to constantly manipulate the dough so that it wouldn’t ever be left unattended and start the dreaded 18-minute countdown. Each finished piece had to be checked for folds and soft bubbles. Hands had to be constantly washed with cold water to prevent the proliferation of chametz from the dough that was on our hands and fingernails. But the most important part was having to keep in mind the purpose of the baking. Before each batch was kneaded, and at various intervals through the process, we declared “L’shem matzas mitzvah” (depending on who was saying it, the phrase was more or less Hebraisized). We sang niggunim, pieces of Hallel. Every moment was a reminder that we weren’t engaging in any kind of baking experiment, but that this was something important, and even a little spiritually transcendent.

I hope everyone who was there enjoys their matzahs, and feels proud of seeing the matzahs they made themselves on their seder tables. And regardless of where your matzahs come from, may you all have a chag kasher v’sameach!

UPDATE: We are famous!

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