Opting for the Mesorah

A harried housewife, exhausted from long days and nights of cleaning, walks into the local kosher supermarket to buy her Pesach order.

She walks up and down aisles lined with familiar food products. Lasagna to lokshin, mandelech to macaroni, and even pizza pies… Huh?

She looks, and looks again. Her eyes are not deluding her. All these items are labeled Kosher L’Pesach, most of them are non-gebrokts and they bear some of the best hechsheirim.

She starts piling up her shopping cart with these items — and then a wave of memories engulfs her.

She recalls the foods her grandparents purchased before Pesach. It was not a hard list to remember, for other than fruits, vegetables and nuts (all carefully peeled before use), chicken, fish, sugar, salt and wine, and of course matzos, almost nothing else was allowed into the home.

Yet the tantalizing aromas could not possibly be replicated, nor could the atmosphere even be described. The food may not have had any of the dozens of spices used during the rest of the year, but it could not have tasted better. The variety of delicacies that her grandmother managed to create using only eggs and potatoes never ceased to amaze her, nor did she ever tire of them.

Everything was made from scratch and everything had that heavenly taam of Pesach. Every detail had carefully been handed down through the generations, and with every bite, there was a firm connection to the world of yesteryear.

Slowly the housewife starts putting product after product back on the shelf. When only a handful remain, a seemingly irresistable thought comes to their rescue. It will make my life so much easier if I cut just a couple of corners…

She approaches the checkout counter. She halts, and turns back. A realization sets in:

If I buy these items this year, then add a few next year, what memories will my grandchildren be left with?

She replaces the last of the offending items on the shelf. The work that awaits her is tedious and exhausting, but she realizes that in order to recreate the atmosphere of her grandparents, she has to emulate their approach.

* * *

One Erev Pesach a devoted Chassid brought to Harav Yissachar Dov, the Belzer Rav, zy”a, a sack of fresh cucumbers that he had just picked from his garden. “The Rebbe can use them for karpas,” the Chassid suggested. The Chassid had barely left when the Rebbe instructed that the cucumbers be burned at once. “What could possibly be the matter with cucumbers?” the Chassidim in the court wondered.

Oblivious, the Chassid returned home. Encountering the non-Jewish worker who tended his garden, he commented how particularly large the vegetables had grown. “I will tell you my secret,” the worker said proudly. “I watered the garden with water mixed with beer.”

Beer! Chametz!

The Chassid rushed back to the Rebbe to let him know.

“The cucumbers have already been destroyed,” the Rebbe reassured him.

“How did the Rebbe know?” the Chassid marveled. “It must be ruach hakodesh!

“It is not ruach hakodesh, the Rebbe responded. “I did not know that the cucumbers were watered with beer. I did know, however, that my father and grandfather never used cucumbers for karpas. It is forbidden to change any minhag of one’s forefathers. I therefore suspected something and instructed that the cucumbers be burned.”

* * *

Keeping family minhagim is often not a matter of halachic stringencies but of mesorah, of adding another link to a golden chain. Tzaddikim tell us that by exerting oneself to keeping this mesorah one merits Heaven’s protection.

We are fortunate that there are so many kosher l’Pesach products available, but if we are able to continue a mesorah that has been so faithfully guarded for so many generations, it is a sacred privilege to do so.