Passover is here again. Eight days of unleavened fun starring everyone's favorite flatbread, matzo!
A little schmear of this, a little spread of that. Try some chopped liver, or finish your charoset. And the rest is a yummy balancing act as we try to eat an open faced matzo sandwich or squish a food of choice between two pieces of the crumbly matzo.
Yes, it's that time of year again, when we rejoice in our ancestor's hasty retreat from Egypt and do without leavened products for the whole Pesach holiday.
You say matzo, I say matzah, but you can also write matzoh, matza or any other combination of similarly sounding letters. And whether it is plain matzo, whole wheat, spelt, machine-made square or handmade shmuraround, it all pretty much crumbles the same way. But how much do we really know about why we eat these flat "breads?"
Well, most people know the Passover story. No time to let the traditional bread rise, so a quick throwing together of the main ingredients instead: Ladies and gentleman, introducing ... matzo! On one hand, eating matzo reminds us of our deliverance from a formidable adversary (Mr. Pharaoh—booh!) and getting out of Egypt. But, like many other Jewish celebrations (think wedding), we are not only rejoicing, but must also be reminded to remember our suffering and remain humble, lest we forget what it was like to be slaves. Some folks refer to matzo as the "bread of affliction" because it represents our suffering as slaves, or as lechem oni, "poor man's bread" in Hebrew.
As Rabbi Pinchas Stolper of the Orthodox Union writes: "Bread is the staff of life, but matzah is the most basic bread, the simplest food made by man. Matzah involves the amalgamation of the three most basic elements which define civilized man; grain, water and fire. Matzah is a food which man makes and bakes, no external element beyond flour and water defines or influences its form."
The commandment to eat this unleavened bread states that Jews must eat matzo prepared from one of the five types of grain. Most folks know about wheat and many now recognize and enjoy spelt, barley, oat and rye (attention gluten-intolerant or celiac disease sufferers, these are still no-nos; they don't contain wheat, but they do have gluten). Apart from matzo form, these grains are NOT permitted during Passover. Remember guys, it is only eight days! (Seven if you go to live in Israel ....!)
Matzo will not be considered Kosher, or acceptable for Passover use, if the “dough” is not put in the oven before 18 minutes has elapsed, the 18 minute counter begins from the moment the flour touches the water until the matzo enters the oven. (There are those who set the 18-minute standard to include complete baking time as well.) Leave the mixture longer than that and it will start to rise and bye-bye matzo. Some matzo connoisseurs eat special shmura ("watched" or guarded from the Hebrew word "to guard") matzo, which is made from grain that has been supervised, watched, guarded—the whole shebang—from the time it was harvested in order to make sure that absolutely no additional moisture contaminates the grain.
However you slice it (Don't even try!), matzo is representative of everything we have come to know, love and yes, admit it, often just tolerate during the annual, Passover celebration (listen, no one said redemption was going to be easy). And if we didn't have our matzo, we wouldn't have a need for those cute, table-crumb-sweeper things and dried fruit to ease our tortured insides!