By Rabbi Daniel
Fermentation, catalysed by yeast and lacto-basili microorganisms naturally present in the air or on the surface of food, is foundational to our ability over thousands of years to not only transform food - as when grape juice becomes wine, and flour becomes bread - but also to preserve food such as when cucumbers become pickles and cabbage becomes sour kraut.
At our recent conference of rabbis, my colleague Rabbi Shulamit Ambalu intrigued me as she explained, while holding a jar of her 2022 marmalade, how food preservation is simultaneously preservation and transformation.
As the month of Nissan arrives and the yeast-transformed-crumbs at the back of our kitchen cupboards, at the bottom of our toasters and behind our ears cry out to be disposed of, the Torah is calling us to pay attention to the interconnectedness of transformation and preservation.
Exactly half a year ago Rosh Hashanah/Yom Kippur invited us to spiritual/verbal transformation. Pesach invites us to material transformation.
The flavour of the oranges preserved as marmalade are transformed by the presence of cinnamon or cardamom; the taste of cucumbers preserved as pickles are transformed by the dill or bay leaves.
As we embark on this radical spring clean once again we might begin with frustration: did the prayer at the start of the Haggadah for the destruction of chametz not work? Do I have to do it again?
And then as we move the sofa to sweep underneath it we might just notice how the position of the sofa preserved certain patterns of behaviour this year. As we pay attention to our material environment we might ask: how are the pictures on our walls, the orientation of our kitchen table and the objects on my bedside table flavouring my life? Perhaps the cucumbers are now calling out for a bit of garlic in addition to the dill and the oranges are curious about what it would be like to switch cinnamon for ginger? Perhaps that particular lamp is still delicious or maybe the flavour could be improved?
Pesach itself is a model for us. The story of the Exodus from Egypt has been ingeniously preserved and yet manifest in an infinity of Haggadahs that tell the story preserved in different flavours. At a time when Russia is fighting a war to violently preserve a nationalist story, Pesach calls on us to consciously preserve a story that affirms the right of all humans to flourish.
As we prepare the flavours in which we will preserve our people’s story for another year, may our Pesach cleaning transform our homes, offering our lives new flavours, new possibility and new hope.