The Passover seder is a child-centered ritual, designed to elicit questions, providing openings for parents to teach about what it means to be a free person and to be a Jew. Pesach is the ultimate family holiday because it is centered around the interaction between generations, the active passing down of tradition. But what do we pass down?
That's the other thing I love about this holiday. It's a mitzvah - each of us is actually commanded - to see ourselves as if we personally left Egypt. At face value it's bizarre. How can we see ourselves as if we left a place where we literally never were? We have to find a way, metaphorically, to connect to this narrative, to find what we've been enslaved to, or how we've been limited in oppressive ways, and how we have undertaken the project of becoming more free. Once we figure that out, that's what we can truly pass on in a meaningful way, along with the story of our ancestors in Egypt. In a good year, I'll come through Pesach feeling more free personally, and like a more empowered role model for my kids. Specifically, how do I do it? Well, that's a long story. ...
A few years ago, it occurred to me that one of the reasons for eating matzah is that it is simple bread. Everyone knows that matzah is flat because our ancestors didn't have time for it to rise in their hurry to leave Egypt. But the flatness of the bread also represents simplicity and modesty. Pesach is a time for letting out all the hot air that puffs us up like leavened bread and getting back to our basic modest selves. It's a time to think about what we need to be truly free, not enslaved to the false gods of material things that make our lives comfortable. It didn't make sense to me that Passover, when we're supposed to eat simple bread, would be a time to buy all sorts of highly processed foods with a special kosher for Passover label and ingredients that I wouldn't use the rest of the year. I decided that for me, Passover could provide the inspiration to try to cook with simple fresh ingredients whenever possible and make delicious simple foods.
So with exceptions for a few indulgences, we cook our own food on Pesach. Our side dishes are mostly vegetables roasted with olive oil and salt. My favorite Passover dessert is chocolate-dipped fruit. And the simpler we manage to get with the cooking, the closer I feel to fulfilling my ideal of the holiday. This may not be the attitude for everyone, and if complex recipes are your thing or there are processed foods you can't live without, go ahead. But if you're looking for a way to make your Seder less overwhelming and just as festive, look to the matzah, the bread of simplicity, and make a meal of delicious, simple foods.