For the past few weeks I’ve been teaching a Judaism and Baking class to our TBH kids as part of our youth education program. This year we shook up our education program, and so rather than year-long classes based on grade, our kids can sign up for quarterly multi-age electives based on topic. I taught a group of 6-11 year olds about holidays, kashrut (dietary laws), blessings, different Jewish cultures, and maybe some baking techniques.
For our last class, we focused on Passover, and rather than bake (though we did bake matzo the week before) I taught about haroset, the sweet, fruity mixture that adorns our Seder plate. And rather than use a specific recipe, I brought in a variety of ingredients–fresh and dried fruits, various types of nuts, juice, coconut, cinnamon, etc.–and invited the kids to create their own recipes.
We had fun and after a few missteps–one was too liquidy, another had too much cinnamon–we came out with some great combinations and had a great time tasting each other’s creations.
For my own Seder, I made two types of haroset. A classic Askhenazi version that I grew up with, a combination of apples, walnuts, cinnamon and wine, and a Moroccan “truffle” version, a blend of dried apricots, dates, pistachios, raisins and honey, rolled in a ball and dipped into cinnamon and sugar.
Thus haroset is a beautiful display of the diversity of Jewish culture, a myriad of ingredients and textures that capture the symbolic requirements of the food: that it be mortar-like to represent the acts of slavery, and that it be sweet, to represent the joy of liberation.
As I was cooking with the kids, and making some in my own kitchen, I’ve had the opportunity to sit with the depth of the meaning of this food. Haroset symbolizes more than just slavery and freedom. It represents this paradox itself, that the same thing can represent two opposing forces. And by doing so, reminds us of a very real truth: that we are continuously navigating the both/and, rather than the either/or.
We see this at other times during the Seder: we dip the greens of new growth in the salt water of tears. Matzo is both the “bread of affliction” and the “bread of freedom.” The Seder is a study in contrasts, in conflicts, in contradictions. Even the story itself: Egypt represents tyranny but also stability, while the wilderness on the other side of the Red Sea represents freedom but also chaos.
How then to resolve them? We don’t. At least, not around the Seder table. Around the Seder table we tell the story and name the fact that life itself is a study in contrasts, conflicts, and contradictions. We end the Seder with a note of hope, of the potential for a future wholeness and redemption and resolution. In the meantime we commit to doing what we can to bring about change, and ease the path from the narrowness to the expanse.
And at the same time, a message of Passover is that we are continuously navigating the bitter and the sweet, the past and the future, what holds us back and what compels us to go. We are invited to accept the reality of living with both at the same time. And the promise of liberation comes not despite this fact, but because of it.
Wishing you a sweet and meaningful Passover.
Thanks for continuing the conversation!