Rabbi Jonathan Gewirtz – Let Them Eat (Pesach) Cake

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Operation Inspiration

When told that the French peasants had no bread to eat, Marie Antoinette is reputed to have said, “Let them eat cake.” Intended to show just how out of touch she was with the population, leading to the angry feelings of the populace during the French Revolution, this phrase was actually not cake, but “brioches,” a type of enriched bread with eggs and cream. The idea was that when they had no plain bread to eat, she suggested they should eat better bread. It’s kind of like saying, “My Honda broke down,” and someone responding, “So take the Tesla.”

To be fair, this story was originally said about “a certain princess” who was unnamed in the publication, and first written in 1765, when Marie Antoinette was nine years old and had never been to France, so the likelihood of her actually saying it is pretty slim. It may never have happened at all and just been a story made up by the author.

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However, this concept popped into my head when someone asked me why it is that on Pesach we eat all sorts of “delicacies,” with great gusto, but the minute Pesach is over we don’t want to touch them. I wouldn’t say that’s entirely true, as we had a package of rainbow cake in our freezer from last Pesach that we dipped into every so often and it was only finished very recently. However, I think that is more the exception than the rule.

All those delicious shehakol cookies and the crackers that are “really not bad if you eat them with dips,” aren’t first on our lists when we can have anything we want, but on Pesach, we all tend to go a little crazy for them.

The analogy was made to Shabbos, and we all know the famous story of the king who smelled fragrant aromas coming from a Jewish home one Saturday and was invited to partake of the meal. When his chefs tried to recreate the food in the King’s kitchen, they were unsuccessful. The man told the King that the Jews have a spice called “Shabbos,” which cannot be bought or sold and that’s what gave the food its divine taste.

I had a friend who used to say cholent was just for Shabbos, because during the week you don’t have a neshama yesaira to protect you from it. ? Indeed, some foods are fantastic on Shabbos but somewhat lacking other times.

I think the same applies to Pesach foods. We do the best we can to make enjoyable items for the holiday, and when we do, we appreciate them. They’re the best we’ve got, and we recognize that. We appreciate the spiritual goals of ridding ourselves of chametz and it adds to the enjoyment of these items. Inherently, though, they may not be as good, and unless you have gluten issues, you will probably choose something else when it’s not Pesach.

What this said to me, though, is that we can change our objective feelings with a decision to do so. Making the most of what we have in any given situation and being happy with it leads us to overall happiness in life. Sitting there at the Yom Tov meal lamenting that the chocolate chip cookie bars you made with almond flour are not as good as your Bubby’s chocolate chip cookies will not make you happier. It will only steal the happiness from the moment because you will be unable to enjoy what you have, thinking it’s inferior to what you could have had, if not for Pesach.

This is a slippery slope, because you will also likely lose some of the pleasure and appreciation of the festival itself, and maybe even “blame” Hashem, chas v’shalom, for not being able to enjoy yourself to the fullest by having leavened foods. So many people don’t enjoy Shabbos for the same reasons, because they look at it as a day when you can’t do things you want to, instead of appreciating the special sanctity, beauty, and enjoyment that only Shabbos can offer.

If you make a conscious decision to enjoy what you have, though; to appreciate whatever Hashem has given you in the moment, then even the cake which falls apart because it’s made of potato starch can compare to the finest baked goods at other times. When we say the bracha of Shehechyanu, thanking Hashem for bringing us to “THIS” time, we should remember that each day we live, and whatever is in that day, should be special and enjoyed to the fullest.

That’s the secret of enjoying Pesach foods today, even if next week we’ll opt for the pizza. In fact, it’s the secret of living a good life, content that there’s nothing else we’d rather have at this precise moment in time.

 

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