A Shabbat Message from Rabbi Bob Freedman:
Almost all rituals that initiate candidates into a defined group involve saying something. When someone comes forward to be a citizen of the United States they take an oath of allegiance. New police swear an oath to never betray their badge, their integrity, their character or the public trust. To become a Moslem a potential convert pronounces a ritual phrase acknowledging the primacy of Allah and Allah's prophet Mohammed.
Jews, being the food-obsessed nation that we are, have a different idea. Instead of speech coming out of our mouths, each year we confirm our Jewish-ness by putting food into our mouths. I'm thinking, of course, about Passover. It comes from this week's Torah portion. "Exodus 12:8 - "They shall eat the flesh [of the Pesach lamb] that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire, with unleavened bread and bitter herbs." And after that, 12:43 and 47 - "This is the law of the Passover offering: no foreigner shall eat of it... The whole community of Israel shall offer it."
Later on we learn that the Torah is quite adamant about this. Numbers 9:13 - "If a person who is [ritually] clean and not on a journey refrains from offering the Passover sacrifice, that person shall be cut off from his kin, for he did not present the Lord's offering at the set time. That person shall bear their guilt." In other words, a quick way to lose citizenship in the Israelite tribe is to skip Passover!
So it is no wonder that of all the Jewish festivals, the Passover meal is one of the two most celebrated. (The other one is lighting Hanukah lights.) Each year we sit down to the redemptive citizenship feast of freedom, eating matsa and maror, AND vast quantities of eggs, gefilte fish, matsa ball soup, haroset, brisket, fish, kugel, sponge cake, chocolate covered matsa, and all the other family favorites.
Lest you think that I am making light of this very basic and serious commandment, consider this. A person can say an oath without really meaning it. But to eat all that food requires true commitment. I'm hungry already.