The Hidden Ingredient

As a child, I would wonder about the special taste of Pesach foods. I was fortunate to grow up in a home where I enjoyed delicious meals every day of the year, but there was something extraordinary about what we ate on Pesach. It seemed almost incomprehensible how the very same fried eggs — which all year would have been an ordinary, nutritious omelet — when cut up into strips before Pesach and served as Pesachdig lukshen, somehow had the taste of Gan Eden. Again and again I would ask, what is being added to these eggs to give it this most remarkable taste? How is it possible that something as simple as a piece of boiled potato — something I wouldn’t have considered eating all year round — suddenly became a mouthwatering delicacy?

Year later, I learned a powerful teaching by the Piaseczner Rebbe, Hy”d, which shed a great light on how Klal Yisrael approaches the glorious Yom Tov of Pesach. He explains that Pesach is a time when ahavas Hashem instinctively pours forth from every Jewish soul. Pesach is a time when we show the Ribbono shel Olam the longing in our hearts and the infinite ahavah we have for Him. We are eager to do more and more, like a son desperate to show his love and appreciation to his father. That is why, as we seek to rid our homes of ­chametz, the scrubbing and cleaning go much farther than what halachah requires.

Pesach is a time of family minhagim detailing various stringencies that were faithfully passed down through the generations. Even when the original reasons for the particular chumrah no longer apply, the minhag is carefully adhered to nonetheless, for this is how our ancestors showed their love for Hashem, and so do we. Some abstain from eating fish during Pesach; others don’t eat carrots and cucumbers.

One of the most broadly accepted minhagim was to — as much as humanly possible — eat only products made in one’s own home. In many homes, coffee, milk products, or even potato starch are not used. In stores throughout our community, fruit juicers are in high demand before Pesach, as in many homes children and adults spend long hours cutting, squeezing and straining homemade drinks.

Pesach is a time when we prove that we have the ability — and the willpower — to rise above animalistic temptation and desist from eating everything that we want — even if those products are perfectly kosher. For we are driven by the power of our love and gratitude for Hakadosh Baruch Hu, a force we inherited from our forefathers.

Not everyone has the possibility to make everything at home. Some, due to circumstances beyond their control, have no choice but to buy ready-made products. But through trying to limit the use of such items as much as possible, they too are exhibiting ahavas Hashem to the best of their ability.

The reason Pesach foods taste so special is not because of the products we use, but because of what we don’t use. This restraint, this exhibition of our ahavas Hashem, adds to the food a most lofty ingredient, a spiritual component that makes the simplest food a most wondrous delicacy.

It is therefore highly disconcerting — to put it mildly — to see recipes and advertisements for kosher l’Pesach products that look and taste the same as chametzdig ones.

For one thing, as a prominent Dayan pointed out to me, one of the primary reasons the poskim for ­Ashkenazic Jewry prohibited the use of kitniyos was because these items could be ground into flour that is similar to wheat flour.

On a deeper level, on Pesach, chametz symbolizes the evil inclination and the powers of impurity. Why in the world would a Yid want to eat something on Pesach that looks and tastes like chametz?

It would be unfair to throw all the blame on the companies making these products or the ad agencies who create these ads. Their only goal is to make a profit so they can support their families and pay their employees, and the reason they promote this unsettling concept is because they somehow think that this would appeal to potential customers. It is up to us as a community to send a clear message that — regardless of whether we consume these gluten-free products before, during or after Pesach — the last thing we want is a kosher for Pesach product that tastes or looks likes chametz. These companies and advertising agencies would be perfectly happy to stress instead the level of hashgachah they have and how much their products taste like what their bubby made — if they knew this would help them sell their wares.

First and foremost we must inculcate in our hearts the fact that Pesach is a time when a Jewish heart is overflowing with ahavas Hashem, and that all our activities — every family minhag and every chumrah — are a manifestation of that ahavah. We must recognize what chametz represents, and that as we rid our homes of chametz we are also cleansing our souls. Once this has been internalized, we will all be motivated to do all we can to make Pesach like our great-great-grandmothers did, and relish the special taste of Pesach foods, a taste elevated by boundless love for Hakadosh Baruch Hu.