Well, I'm sure everyone is busy preparing for Pesach. I went to three (that's right - three!!) kosher supermarkets on Sunday, and baruch HaShem, they were all PACKED with all kinds of Jews. I'm always excited to shop for Pesach because I like food, and it fascinates me to see what all the new Passover recipes/food ideas that companies come up with.
This year, one of the supermarkets brought in special stuffad0o0o from Israel for the Sefardim who eat kitniyot. So, Sefardi Gal's household contains techina and humus this year...and chocolate covered nuts. Sweeeeet! (For all the Ashkenazim - don't worry. I saw a lot of tasty cakes, too :D)
I looked around and even though I had to wait on the long line, I was smiling. I was (and am) so happy and proud to be Jewish. Pesach is one of the holidays that many not-yet-observant Jews celebrate. Klal Yisrael is putting in hishtadlut to keep Pesach! We're willing to wait on long lines, pay a lot of money, empty out our fridges and freezers, clean, cook, search our homes, burn the chametz, tovel our dishes/buy new dishes, have a seder, invite guests, eat matzah, etc.
I heard a beautiful and moving shiur by Rabbi Wallerstein about Pesach. (If anyone has 48-50 minutes, like while you're cleaning, cooking, or setting the table, I highly recommend the shiur. Even 10 minutes of it will inspire you!)
Chazal teach us that there are a few types of "new years" throughout the year. Tu b'shvat is the new year for the trees, Rosh Hashana (Tishrei) is the new year, and Pesach (Nissan) is the new year for the months.
On both Rosh Hashana and Pesach, we have special foods and blessings that we make. The foods are often put on a special plate, and IDK about y'all, but sometimes I get confused and need to be reminded about which foods are used for which holiday.
These foods are called "simanim" - signs.
So, what's the point of simanim (the various foods we eat on Rosh Hashana and Pesach)??
Suppose there's a Jew who did tons of averot all year long: he broke Shabbat, ate non-kosher, often gossiped, lied, spoke LH, cheated, etc.
And then comes Rosh Hashana...and he takes the apple, dips it in honey, and says "l'shana tova u'metukah!" -- so ummm...just because he dipped the apple in the honey, he's going to have a sweet new year?? If he doesn't do teshuva and continues with his sinful ways, is his year automatically going to be sweet just because of the apple and honey? What difference does an apple dipped in honey make in his life?! It's just food!
A man wanted to buy something beautiful for his wife. He heard about a bird called the mynah bird. The mynah bird was known to be quite expensive, and the rich and important people all bought the mynah bird. The man looked at the bird - pretty, small, delicate. He decided to save up enough money and surprise his dear wife with this extravagant gift. He went up to the seller and asked "tell me, sir, how much does this bird cost?"
"$5,000" responded the seller.
$5,000 was quite a high price, but the man resolved that he would buy it because his wife is worthy of such a gift.
So, he saved up the $ and bought the bird. He happily walked home with it and came home with a huge smile. "Honey, I bought you a wonderful gift!"
His wife saw the bird, and her husband proudly told her "cut and clean this bird up, stick it in the oven with your delicious sauce and lemons and potatoes!"
He set up a beautiful candle-lit table with their finest china and silverware, and there was a rich aroma in the house. He was so excited for his wife to taste the bird that he saved up so much for. All for her enjoyment.
She put the dish on the table, and it was evident that there wouldn't be any second portions because without the feathers, and especially after being cooked, the bird was tiny.
Her husband anxiously cuts the bird in half, gives the bigger half to his wife, puts some for himself and waits for her to take the first delicious bite. She places a piece into her mouth, and within a second, spits it out. "Ugh! Blech! This bird tastes awful! It's sweet and gooey!"
Her husband couldn't believe what he was hearing! How can the $5,000 bird, that is enjoyed by so many emperors, kings, and important people, taste so horrendous?? He takes a bite and also spits it out. He was shocked!
The next day, he angrily storms into the store where he bought the mynah bird. He begins to yell at the seller "what kind of defected bird did you sell me?! I demand my money back!"
The seller looked surprised. "Sir, are you not enjoying the mynah bird's singing? It should be singing beautifully!"
"SINGING?!?! What are you talking about?! We cooked it and ate it!"
Suddenly, the man had a rush of realization. The mynah bird was admired for its' singing. It is not a bird that is meant to be eaten.
He left the store feeling embarrassed; he knew that he completely missed the point of the bird's true value.
At the Seder, what do some people do?
They eat the matzah and then comment "awww man! The shmura that you bought last year was so much tastier."
They eat the charoset and say "mmmm how sweet." or "Eh. I like the apple charoset better."
They eat the marror and say "ugh! I hate romaine lettuce!" or comment on the texture/crunchiness.
While a Dvar Torah is going on, they might tune out and just think "hey, when can we eat already?"
Much like the man who ate the mynah bird, instead of listening to it sing, they are MISSING THE POINT.
The point of the simanim is to awaken ourselves spiritually. Food has a certain unique strength -- it has the ability to change our taste. It's able to somewhat shift an individual's mood. Food can bring a certain dosage of simcha to a person's life (think about how cranky some people can be if they don't have their morning coffee, or if they skip 1 or 2 meals). Researchers have shown that chocolate, for example, triggers feel-good chemicals in the body. (Post-break up chocolate brownie fudge ice-cream, anyone?)
Food enters our body through our mouthes/taste buds, our throats, and then enters our stomachs. We can literally feel it, and therefore, the connection is very tangible.
So, Chazal instructed us to eat. But we eat in order to FEEL it. What is "it"? "It" = the proper thoughts we're supposed to be thinking when eating the simanim. The right kavanot (intentions). Simanim are a tool for us to feel and think about the proper emotions and thoughts pertaining to the holiday.
When we eat matzah, we should close our eyes as we're chewing and think about the Jews rushing to leave Egypt and not having enough time for the bread to rise. Matzah's purpose is to remind us of that! The Jews were being redeemed and leaving Egypt. Egypt was THEIR galut -- but what is our galut? Our galut is whatever problems we have...be it financial, marital, spiritual, physical, etc.
We need to think about our own issues and think -- just like G-d helped the Jews leave Egypt, G-d can help ME leave my own personal Egypt! He can help me get through this difficult time!"
When we eat the marror, we're supposed to think about their pain and bitterness. The Jews were enslaved, their babies were murdered...
can you imagine their tefillot? Their tears? Did they ever think they would get through it? Did they ever think they'd be free?
How about ourselves -- do we pray? Do we cry? Do we believe that if HaShem brought us to it - He can bring us through it?
When we eat the egg, we should remember the Korban that we're not able to bring because WE DON'T HAVE A BEIT HAMIKDASH! HaShem does not have a home. We should close our eyes and for at least a few moments, think about HaShem's pain. We should think about how awesome it would be to have a Beit HaMikdash...to see the Kohanim dressed in their beautiful clothing, to hear the Leviim singing and using their angelic voices to praise HaShem, to see the open miracles, the avoda, to see all of Klal Yisrael united...
(There are many, many literal and mystical reasons for each siman. The above concepts are just a few of many incredible explanations. I recommend reading the commentary of a Hagaddah -- if you still have time, purchase one with commentary! It can really completely change your Passover for the better.)
Bottom-line: It's not just food. Simanim are tools for us to grow closer to HaShem. The main point is NOT just to eat them. They're there to serve as facilitators for our spirituality and closeness to HaKadosh Baruch Hu. The simanim should make somewhat of a change in our lives and make us more aware. It's upto YOU - how much of a difference to you want the simanim to make in your life? If there's a will, there's a way!
May HaShem redeem all of us from our personal galuyot, and of course, from our national galut. May He please send us Mashiach Ben-David and Ben-Yosef speedily in our times in a peaceful way!
Wishing you all a Chag Kasher v'Sameach!