Passover is probably the most famous Jewish holiday. The matza is so ubiquitous that you will find it in any kosher food aisle in the world all year round. It seems the Jewish people have retained something deep about this holiday: it is, indeed, the birthday of our nation.
We all know the famous narrative: they tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat. But Passover is a tad more complex. They enslaved us for hundreds of years in Egypt; but we came down to Egypt voluntarily, when Jacob’s seminal family visited Joseph. We won; but it took a full year of ten plagues, one month each, while the Jewish people were liberated from their concentration camps to watch the miracles unfold. We escaped; with a strong Arm and outstretched Hand and the famous miracles of the splitting of the Red Sea. Let’s eat; but wait, we’re kind of limited in that department.
What is the deeper meaning of Passover? It’s easy to get distracted by the cultural jokes about matza and digestion, about the frogs and blood and lice, but our holidays are deeply embedded with meaning, with relevance, and with inspiration. What can Passover tell us?
The Talmud says that the leavening in the bread is symbolic of the ego within each of us – that puffed-up voice that wants us to rise up in the eyes of others and that desires honor and glory. Our work leading up to Passover is to “clean out” the chametz – to scour not just the home, but the heart, of its fermented yeast that sours everything. Our service of Passover is to emulate that flat, humble bread known as matza. So maybe it’s no coincidence that matza has become emblematic of the Jewish identity – we must remember to remain humble in the face of our host cultures; we must remember to remain humble before God who saves us, as we say in the Haggadah, in each generation, from the harsh enemies that rise up against us.
But there’s another empowering message encoded in this most core Jewish holiday, and that is the message of freedom. The ancient kabbalist Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato taught that each holiday has its energy field, and that when we enter the time of that holiday, we likewise enter that energy. In that season, we have a greater opportunity to drink in and strengthen ourselves with the energy of the holiday.
What’s the energy of Passover? Freedom.
Each person has her own enslavements and limitations. For some it may be materialism; for others envy. Some are imprisoned by low self-esteem and doubt, and others by the need to always be in the spotlight. Some are stuck in bad habits and others in bad relationships. Passover is the season for liberation.
Many are familiar with the custom to “burn the chametz” prior to the holiday of Passover. I remember as a small child crowding around my grandparents’ metal garbage can at 2451 Barnes Avenue in the Bronx. My uncle would be grating horseradish for the maror on the porch (to get the smell out of the kitchen) and we’d be in the backyard under the sour apple tree burning the chametz.
Now we usually go over to my in-laws and burn the chametz in their backyard. My husband taught us to think of the thing that most imprisons us, write it on a small piece of paper, fold it up, and take it with us to the burning of the chametz. Then, as the fire crackles, we close our eyes, whisper a small prayer to be freed of it, and throw it passionately into the fire.
Last year I taught a group of high school kids this concept. I passed around small pieces of paper and encouraged each one to privately write something down – something they felt addicted to or attached to that they wished to be free from. We crowded into the kitchen, turned on the stove burner, and threw those papers into the small flames. It was the holiest barbecue I had ever experienced.
Symbolically, physically, and spiritually, we free ourselves of that which imprisons us. Passover gives us the added boost that we need to achieve the liberation we so desire.
So whether it’s the national identity or the family traditions; whether it’s the humbleness of the matza or the liberation of the habits, Passover has something important to say to you and me. I am proud to be a Jew in this season of freedom. I pray for the liberation of all Jews and all peoples. I am grateful to God in this season of freedom that I am Jewish, that I have freedom of worship, and the freedom to write these words without fear. Amen, may it be so for many happy years to come.
This holiday’s recipe is brought to you by Becca Guralnick. Becca is a Momentum sister who lives in Bayside, Wisconsin with her husband and children. The Owner and Executive Chef of Cooking From The Heart, Professional Chef Services, Becca believes that simplicity is key to creating delicious dishes. On Passover, she loves using fresh herbs and a lot of colors and flavors to make dishes interesting and to keep everyone feeling comfortable.
Passover Meatballs with Charred Pepper and Pomegranate Tomato Sauce
Makes 4 servings
1 large red pepper
1 shallot, minced
1⁄4 cup pomegranate juice
1 teaspoon packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1⁄2 teaspoon chili flakes (or to taste)
1 cinnamon stick
1 can (15 ounces) diced tomatoes
1 shallot, finely minced
1/8 cup matzo meal (optional)
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon dry mint leaves
1⁄2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1⁄2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1⁄2 teaspoon ground black or spicy Aleppo pepper
1⁄4 cup fresh chopped parsley
1 pound ground turkey, chicken or lamb
2 T. olive oil
1 large bunch curly or lacinato kale
1 tablespoon olive oil
Pinch of kosher salt
Pinch of sumac (optional)
Spiralized vegetable noodles:
1⁄4 cup pine nuts
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
21 ounces vegetables, spiralized
Salt to taste
1/3 cup chicken broth or water 1⁄4 cup raisins
1⁄4 cup minced Italian parsley
Make the sauce: Preheat broiler to high. Place whole red pepper on a foil-lined baking sheet and broil 20 to 25 minutes, flipping halfway through, to char each side. Remove pepper and cover tightly with foil or invert a bowl over pepper to allow charred skin to loosen about 10 minutes. Carefully peel and discard charred skin, stem, and seeds. Roughly chop remaining flesh.
Coat a medium saucepan with olive oil, add diced shallot and cook until translucent and beginning to turn golden. Deglaze the pan by adding pomegranate juice, allow it to reduce by about half. Add brown sugar, salt, chili flakes, cinnamon stick, diced tomatoes, and pepper flesh. Cover and simmer over low heat about 15 minutes, then puree in a blender or with an immersion blender.
Make meatballs: In a large bowl, lightly beat egg. Add remaining ingredients except for meat. Combine thoroughly. Add meat and mix until blended; do not overmix. Using a heaping tablespoon and wet hands, form meatballs. Preheat skillet with the oil. When oil starts shimmering, brown the meatballs, shaking to flip. When evenly browned, remove from pan and add to the sauce. Simmer meatballs in sauce about 10 minutes, until thoroughly cooked and heated through.
Make kale: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. De-rib bottom half of each leaf, leaving thinner ribs on the upper tender part. Chop leaves into 1-inch ribbons. Toss kale ribbons with olive oil until they glisten, and sprinkle with salt and, if using, sumac. Line a baking sheet with parchment and spread kale in a single layer. Roast in preheated oven about 15 minutes until crisp but still green in the center. Set aside.
Make spiralized noodles: Toast pine nuts in a dry pan over low heat until golden brown. Remove to a plate. Heat oil in a pan and add garlic. Stir continuously until garlic begins to brown. Add spiralized vegetables. Stir, scraping up the garlic. Season with salt. Add chicken broth and cover, allowing vegetables to steam for a couple of minutes, until al dente. Stir in pine nuts, raisins, and parsley.
Assemble: Place spiralized noodles on a plate. Top with saucy meatballs. Sprinkle with kale.
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