While your neshamah is filled with excitement for this upcoming Pesach, your guf may give you great concern. For many people, Pesach—or more specifically, eating on Pesach—can be downright scary. “What am I supposed to eat?” is a common refrain this time of year. How much matzah, eggs, and potatoes can a human being be expected to consume?
What’s most interesting about this phenomenon is that it seems to exist in all tiers of observance, from the most stringent to the more lenient ones. While some families have a tradition with very limited ingredients on their Pesach menu, others have an ever-growing list of non-grain berries (like quinoa and millet) and the latest factory-made bread facsimiles, yet still the fear remains that they will have nothing to eat come Pesach. Often, we try to assuage this problem by attacking the menu—changing this, adding that, trying something new.
The broadness of this fear seems to indicate that it doesn’t come from a place of real scarcity but rather a perceived lack. We generally eat the same things over the course of the year with slight variances here and there. The thought that some major staples of our diet will disappear for a week can be overwhelming.
This feeling often results in a need to make copious amounts of food for Pesach. Despite being only eight days long, some people buy special freezers just to handle the Pesach overflow. We create endless desserts and side dishes and mains because everyone seems to be so unnaturally hungry over Pesach. Yet if we have all this food around, why is everyone still so agitated and dreaming of that annual Motza’ei Pesach pizza?
In previous columns, we have addressed how diets and food plans can actually undermine our eating habits by placing us in a restrictive mindset. Our instinctive reaction to that is to break free by eating without boundaries. On Pesach, we may also feel this way, but the difference is that we will never eat chametz from that feeling of restriction. We know that, despite how the diet industry presents it, eating one cookie isn’t going to make it or break it when it comes to the health of most people, but Pesach restrictions come from Hashem and we know that breaking them is an absolute “no.”
The way the problem manifests itself instead is that the more we focus on all that we are missing, the less we appreciate all that we have.As an answer to this problem, let’s borrow some key concepts from Intuitive Eating to bring freedom into our eating this Pesach.
What I would like to recommend is that before you touch your menu, think about how you can change your mindset. Instead of looking at these mitzvos and minhagim as restrictions, how you can look at them as privileges? Since the central theme of this Yom Tov is freedom, how can we break the feeling of being enslaved by food?
The first place we can start is by reminding ourselves that there is a reason that Chazal give for the prohibition against eating chametz: The leavening in the dough represents the yetzer hara. Pesach is a miraculous time when we can connect to powerful revelations that encourage us to grab on and live without our yetzer hara for one week of true freedom. On the positive side, matzah represents a simple life, lechem oni, free from the burdens of gashmiyus.
On a simpler level, we can just spend time while we eat matzah with the thought that each bite is the fulfillment of a positive commandment. What a chessed! Or, at the very least, we can think that all the challenges of a Pesach menu are our way of showing Hashem that we love Him.
If all of that is far too lofty, we can simply recognize that at least we don’t have to work too hard trying to decide what’s on the menu.
With these thoughts, and whatever others you can come up with, we can begin to approach the restrictions of Pesach as opportunities. When we are able to find a positive side we’ll be less obsessed over what we don’t have, and we’ll also be far more open to being creative with the options we do have.
In borrowing another of the basic principles of Intuitive Eating, we can also make sure that we are allowing all foods into our menu and avoiding adding extra restrictions over the week of Pesach (just like the rest of the year). Whatever your minhagim are, take advantage of whatever foods you can have. Simchas Yom Tov is fulfilled by eating delicious foods. If you can focus on truly enjoying special foods this Yom Tov, you are less likely to overeat them.
And even though it may sound strange, it is important that you stay well-fed during the week of Pesach. We generally sit down with our families for a meal twice a day over Yom Tov and Chol Hamoed, and the meals tend to be not at our regular mealtime hours, often much later. Most of us are not used to only eating two large meals a day, and this can lead to overstuffing yourself at the table. Make sure you take the time over the course of the day to prepare and eat enough small meals and snacks during the day. That way, you will be more attuned to your hunger and fullness signals when you sit down to eat the seudos.
Finally, if you are aiming to feel unrestricted with food, then feeling satisfied during meals is of utmost importance. That doesn’t just mean having a variety of foods. Pesach meals should be something to look forward to, whether you’re a “five-ingredient” family or you buy everything with a good hechsher that modern technology has enabled us to eat.
Food has several factors that satisfy us—only one of which is taste. Texture plays a large role in our enjoyment of food, and a variety of textures can really enhance enjoyment. Foods can be roasted, stewed, fried, grilled, poached, pureed, shredded, and on and on. This Pesach, try to find a way to bring adventure into your food preparation. You’re spending lots of time in the kitchen anyway; you may as well make it fun!
And finally, your food will be more exciting if it looks beautiful. Take the time to plate thoughtfully this Pesach. Sure, that takes time and effort, but when you can bring more satisfaction and excitement into the menu and avoid the focus on what’s not on the table, then you can truly bring “zeh Keili v’anveihu” into your mitzvah of not eating chametz this Pesach.
Sounds pretty liberating, doesn’t it?
(This article originally appeared in The Voice of Lakewood.)