An icon of freedom on the day before Passover.
On the morning before the first seder, I went to my local supermarket to pick up some last-minute items for Passover. Down one of the aisles, a blue-jeaned biker girl stood before the granola bars, concentrating on choice.
She was in her early 20s, with a smooth, inward face. Untamed blonde hair fell onto the black leather of her biker jacket. She wore the jacket open, its straps and silver buckles hanging free, and under it a black sweater tastefully cut to reveal a swell of upper breast. She was striking in appearance and yet there was something self-contained, even modest, about her.
She was, in short, a terrific tough chick.
In an earlier time of my life I might have tried - or at least wondered how I might try - to strike up a conversation with her. Now I merely admired her from afar while attempting to imagine the life out of which she had strolled into my neighborhood supermarket - whose bike she rode the back of, what rooms she ate granola bars in, what the secret fears and hopes of her life might be.
Later, while I was considering egg matzah, I saw her, granola box in hand, find her place in the check-out line. From their perches in neighboring lines, elderly matrons threw her looks considerably less loving than mine. But my admiration for the Biker Girl derived, really, from not so different a source than the sense of threat I read in the eyes of the respectable shoppers. We both recognized her, whether favorably or not, as an icon of freedom.
An icon of freedom on the day before Passover.
I was, of course, concentrating on freedom that morning - the responsible, well-regulated freedom of communal life, freedom by seder, the ordered liberation to which Judaism restricts us. But the Biker Girl seemed onto some larger freedom than that - American freedom, the freedom of the expanding ego inventing itself as it flies.
I did not know if the Biker Girl was even intelligent, let alone wise, but the knowing grace with which she carried herself suggested to me that she knew something I had forgotten about living carefree, like a cat, relaxed and totally alert.
So I had to compare myself to her in front of our separate displays in the supermarket. She chose granola bars; I chose egg matzah. I did not know what criteria she applied, or how much soul searching was necessary to her choice, but I knew that, for me, the simple act of putting a box of egg matzah in my shopping cart on the morning before Passover carried with it the baggage of ancient arguments and community responsibilities. Even so small an act as buying egg matzah was not quite free for me.
You may not have known that there could be any deep issues about egg matzah, but in my home (or maybe just in my mind), the equivocal freedom of Passover has become entwined in a minor way with the question of whether egg matzah is "permitted."
I digress here, then, for a report on egg matzah.
When I was growing up, we routinely ate egg matzah on Passover - not, to be sure, as the matzah of the seder, but all the rest of the week, slathered with butter and strawberry jam. Even after I had shifted my allegiance to observances more traditional than those of my Reform family of origin, I continued happily to eat egg matzah. Then, a few years ago (the cognoscenti no doubt knew it all along), the word began filtering down from Religious Headquarters that egg matzah is acceptable on Passover only for the very young, the old and the sick. It is not chometz
, leavened bread - that is, it doesn't treif
your dishes - but neither is it fit Passover food for healthy adults.
The rationale for the prohibition of egg matzah, my rabbinic advisor explains to me, is that matzah is meant to be a "poor bread" made of flour and water, while egg matzah, made with eggs and juice, is "enriched bread," a kind of anti-matzah, not chometz
, but somehow adulterated - the matzah of compromise, instead of the matzah of freedom.
A lenient minority opinion, however, posits that if you understand egg matzah as cake, it may be okay. That is my view: egg matzah isn't matzah, it's dessert or a muffin with dinner. That was why, after serious thought about Jewish law and the preferences of my family, I dropped two boxes of egg matzah into my cart.
By then, of course, I had lost track of the beautiful Biker Girl. I knew I would not see her again. Icons of this kind are gifts, like visitations from Elijah the Prophet, who (so they say) roams the world in ordinary guise, appearing when he is needed with some lesson for ordinary folk. This Biker Girl was my Lady Eliahu, giving me a glimpse into the clarity and freedom of another life.
A freedom you can imagine is a freedom of which you are capable, to be sure. But there was a sadness in all this, too, a longing for that time when I might actually have become the wild and woolly lover of the Biker Girl. Now domesticated, I would have to cultivate the freedom of the mind, the power of metaphor - and I feared I might have trapped myself in arcane speculations about the significance and religious status of egg matzah.
I paid for my egg matzah and went home to prepare the seder. And on the eighth day of the festival, which is a holiday only by rabbinic enactment and we are less strict about certain matters, I ate a flat sandwich of buttered egg matzah, thinking of the beautiful Biker Girl.