Paean to an old-fashioned Pesach | Harav Y Reuven Rubin Shlita

Paean to an old-fashioned Pesach

By Harav Y Reuven Rubin Shlita


I have Boruch Hashem come to that age where I can hold forth and schmooze about the “good old days” with some sense of validation. After all, to most youngsters my youth was spent somewhere in the misty days of yesteryear, long before rockets flew to the moon, or telephones were nestled in everyone’s pocket. Yes, those were the good old days, and lived in sepia tones that inhabit our memories.


Obviously though, it wasn’t always all that good and much of what we did then has now been shown to be unhealthy and downright dangerous. When I was fifteen years old I started smoking. A cigarette in hand was a passbook into the Beis Medrash of every yeshiva. I remember watching a cloud of smoke over a group of talmidim circling their Rosh Yeshiva, deep in learning. There was nothing I wouldn’t do to get accepted into that exalted club. No one told us this was harmful; in fact cigarettes were sold as healthy for the lungs. Now I sit typing these words with the knowledge that I ruined my lungs to the point that I just don’t have the capacity to breathe that I should, and asthma is now a companion that I have to live with.


“There should be things we just don’t do on this brilliant Yom Tov, not for any other reason but that it just doesn’t fit”


Pesach as well had its warm memories of actions that were later found to be dangerous. In my younger days, we all ate schmaltz (chicken fat) over Pesach. Who can forget the strong aroma of the fat being rendered on the stove for hours before Yom Tov. Schmaltz on matzo, liberally salted. Ah, the taam of Gan Eden! If only we knew how close this was taking us expeditiously to that very destination!


There are other such indications of how things have changed for the better thanks to a clearer understanding of medical matters. This is all for the better, and I would be the last to say it is not so. My cardiologist would have something to say if I did.


However, there are changes that are not so good. In fact, they are a hazard to the health of our spirituality, especially at the Yom Tov of Pesach.


Many years ago I wrote a column about the then new fashion of jetting off to hotels to spend Pesach. I was, and am, against this fad for many reasons, and anyone wanting to read the column can find it in my first book: A Rabbis Journal, page 163. Part of the danger is that we have forgotten what Pesach is about and feel somehow deprived if we have to exert ourselves or otherwise do without. At the time I wrote the column I was criticised by some as being alarmist and that “heimishe” frum Yieden weren’t really the clientele that the promoters of these “Passover Programs” were looking for. I believe time has proven me right, and just a casual glance through any of the glossy weeklies aimed at our olam will prove my point. Everything is now non gebroks, cholov Yisroel, glatt by the standards of any hechsher you seek, with wall to wall shiurim plus chazanim aplenty. All this is not being put on as a quaint wink towards the “old ways.” It’s about getting the heimishe Yied out of his shtiebl and into their pre-warmed swimming pools.


But, I don’t want to rehash old columns, nor crow “I told you so.” Rather, I am setting the stage for what I see as the incipient encroachment into our very homes of products that speak of a foreign understanding of what Pesach is all about.


Pesach is not about Jewish Independence Day cerebrations; it’s not a huge dinner party to express our freedom as other nations have. Our leaving Mitzrayim is about becoming servants of Hashem. Our entire being revolves around our connection to Hashem and the central understanding that nothing happens without His Will. One of the reasons we abstain from chometz is because our sense of freedom must be built upon a foundation free from arrogance and false pride. Chometz is a metaphor for over-inflated egos, those that think they control their destiny.


So, the heimishe Pesach should be celebrated with understanding that we don’t need to have everything we have during the year. Yet, in heimishe stores we find Pesach Pizza, pecan pie shells, pancakes and more. Is this all necessary? Is this how we teach our young that Pesach has a meaning beyond figuring out how to get around it?  Slowly we are allowing the hotel attitude to creep into our homes. Chumras that once made each family’s celebration unique in their own charm have become slowly discarded.


As a young talmud I remember the Bobover Rebbe Rav Shloma ztl telling me that we don’t eat “Pesakdika” cake because it looks like chometz. There should be things we just don’t do on this brilliant Yom Tov, not for any other reason but that it just doesn’t fit.


There is no harm in letting youngsters know that on Pesach there are things we don’t eat or do. Pesach is a Yom Tov specifically geared for teaching the young. They ask questions, and their answers take an entire meal to answer. What they experience today will be their memories tomorrow. What do we wish those cherished thoughts to be? Make-believe pizza dough and wannabe bread?


We are a generation that seeks answers to rapidly changing circumstances. We would be doing our young a huge favour by sharing with them the sense of sacredness within which we hold our kedusha, and we should do so with no excuses. Some of what we do should be old fashioned, and we should do this with pride and love.