Before The Seder Plate – Rachel Belth

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Charoset

From the kitchen of: Grandma Marge

Ingredients

  • ½ cup walnuts or pecans
  • 2 tart apples
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon sweet wine or grape juice

Directions

Place the nuts in a food processor.

Nuts for the sand and clay, fine as a young girl’s hair. Shallow pits of it, the stuff of mortar and bricks, dented and pummeled by the feet of a thousand men as they gasp for breath in the sun-stroked heat of the day.

Peel and core the apples and add them to the food processor.

Apples for the trees under which the Jewish women give birth—“I raised thee up under the apple tree: there thy mother brought thee forth.” Its spangled shade, their only blanket, wrapping them secure from Egyptians’ roaming glares. An apple in the mouth to keep from screaming—“shhh, they’ll hear you.”

Chop the apples into slivers.

Bare feet knead soft mud. The mud swells between toes, splashes up shins, dampens hems of tunics.

Transfer to a bowl and fold in cinnamon.

Cinnamon for the straw Israel is forced to gather. Backbone stoops painfully in the morning before the sun rises. The cool air holds its breath for the sound of creaking chariots, the full moon a sinking ship in the west.

Add honey.

Honey for the sweat that sticks between swollen fingers, clings under breasts and armpits, sits on eyebrows, slides down long noses stained with mud, hangs a moment before it drips to mingle with the mortar underfoot.

Add wine.

Wine for the blood of the lambs that Israel kills, begging God to pass them by. Crimson paint for doorpost lintels.

Blood sloshes into the ground, turns dry dirt to mud, splashes out the side of the bowl, sticks to hands, cakes fingers, stiffens sleeves. Lintels turn maroon in the sunset.

And remember grace. Grace that God did pass them by that night and led them out the next morning. Grace that He kept those women alive after giving birth under apple trees at midday. Grace that they did not die in Egypt slow, rasping deaths. Grace that we are here together to sit and remember and savor along with the maror of bitter shackles the sweetness of the slavery that ended.

 

Matzah

1

Poor-man’s bread. Flour and water, kneaded till pliable, roasted till the corners blacken. Eat instead of toast with the breakfast scrambled eggs, spread with butter or jam or almond butter or leftover charoset.

2

The Bread of Affliction, symbol of slavery. Flour and water, kneaded and toasted, all within eighteen minutes lest any leaven taint it. Actively watched, vigilantly guarded, as we must guard our souls from the leaven of the World.

3

The Bread of Redemption. Redemption from the wheat fields of Egypt, from the screaming deaths of firstborn sons, from the glistening helmets of Pharaoh’s neighing cavalry, from the desert’s gritty heat, from the stomach’s furry ball of hunger.

 

Pesach

1

Let us remember
the paschal lamb.

Comb our fingers
through fine black fleece.

Touch its right horn,
hard as a seashell,
streaked marble
curled around his ear.

Touch his velvet nose,
watch him flinch away.

Pat his head as it bobs away,
feel rough tongue
on our palms,
wipe them on our pants.

2

Let us remember
how we kill him.

Hold his head to the ground,
heel of palm against horn.

Sit on his flank
to keep him from thrashing.

Saw into his fleecy throat
with a hunting knife
till the blood spurts;
tendons burst out his neck.

Watch the blood flood.

Soak the ground.

Stain it red, sticky mud.

Plunge the knife
into the faucet and twist
to stop his twitches.

Still the blood comes.

3

Let us remember
the death that replaced our deaths.

Hold the shank bone
aloft for all to see:
ram’s arm stripped and naked,
clean hard bone,
acute angle where ram bone
intersects human wrist.

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