Doesn’t kosher for Passover bread defeat the purpose of Pesach?
To answer this question, I’d like to quote a 1973 episode of The Brady Bunch, “Greg Gets Grounded.”
When Mike and Carol Brady discover that their oldest son, Greg, was driving irresponsibly, they decide to ground him as follows (all episode dialogue quoted verbatim):
Mike: I think you better spend a little time thinking about your driving habits while you don’t use the car for a week!
Greg: A week? Dad, that’s not fair!
Mike: Well, it’s a lot fairer than not using it for two weeks.
Greg wants his father to make a one-time exception so that he can buy concert tickets but Mike is adamant:
Greg: Please, just this one exception. There’s no way I can get tickets without driving the car.
Mike: Greg, when I said you were grounded, I meant it.
Greg: But the tickets will all be gone in a couple of hours. Dad, I’ll drive straight there and I’ll come straight right back home.
Mike: You can not drive the car for one week. Period.
Ultimately, Greg borrows a friend’s car to buy the tickets. When Mike finds out, he’s angry that Greg violated his curfew. Greg disagrees with Mike’s point of view:
Greg: You didn’t tell me not to drive.
Mike: Yes, I did.
Greg: You said not to use our car.
Carol: Greg, we told you not to drive.
Greg: Our car. You didn’t say I couldn’t drive any car.
The episode stacks the deck in that viewers are meant to take it for granted that Greg knew exactly what Mike meant and is intentionally seeking a pretext to get around it. Well, I call shenanigans on the writers because I have seen this episode many times – and I just read the script – and I have always taken Greg at face value. Not using the family car for a week seems to be a perfectly reasonable punishment. I see no reason to assume that Mike means all cars, nor do I see any reason for Greg to act as though he does.
I was pretty confident that any right-thinking person would agree with me but when I mentioned this article and my premise to the missus, it turned out that she’s on Team Mike! Ah, well. Such is the stuff of which horse races are made.
So why am I talking to you about The Brady Bunch? Because this episode illustrates the difference between the letter of the law (not to drive the family car for a week) and the spirit of the law (not to drive at all). The question is, does Judaism have a concept of “spirit of the law” and, if it does, does this concept apply to Pesach pasta, pizza and cereal?
As far as “the spirit of the law,” Judaism has two concepts that I think apply and one that doesn’t. The most germane, I think, is the concept of a “naval birshus haTorah,” one who acts disgustingly without violating any Torah laws.
The Ramban (Nachmanides) introduces this concept in his commentary on Leviticus 19:2 – “You shall be holy because I, Hashem your God, am holy.” Basically, there are forbidden foods and sexual pairings, and there are permitted foods and sexual pairings. The Torah prohibits the former but that’s not to say that people should indulge every urge regarding the latter. Restraint is called for even in permitted matters. For this reason, the Torah commanded us to act holy in regard to permitted things.
Here’s an example of acting as a naval birshus haTorah. Let’s say that one were to get up in the morning and wash for bread. Then that person eats continuously throughout the day, bentching only before bed at night. This person violated no laws but he was certainly gluttonous and definitely a poor role model. He acted disgustingly within the boundaries of Torah. This violates the spirit if not the letter of the law.
The other side of this coin is acting “lifinim m’shuras hadin,” beyond the letter of the law. By definition this is more than the law requires but we all should try to exceed the bare minimum, in particular those of us on higher spiritual levels.
The Talmud in Baba Metzia (83a) tells a story of Rabbah bar bar Chanan. On a certain occasion, he hired porters to transport his wine and they broke a barrel. Rabbah bar bar Chanan took the porters’ cloaks to pay for the damages, so they complained to Rav. Rav told Rabbah bar bar Chanan to return the cloaks. He asked if this was the law and Rav cited Proverbs 2:20, “…so that you might go in the way of good people.” Rabbah bar bar Chanan gave the porters their cloaks but they had a further complaint: they worked all day and had nothing to show for it! Rav then told Rabbah bar bar Chanan to pay the porters their wages. He again asked if this was the law and Rav cited the rest of the verse, “And keep the paths of the righteous.”
Now, Mishlei (Proverbs) is not a legal text. If you or I are ever in a small claims case in beis din, such a thing is unlikely to be cited. But you and I aren’t Rabbah bar bar Chanan. He’s on a higher level and expected to adhere to a higher standard. You and I might argue in the minutia of the money but he’s at a place where such things as “keeping the paths of the righteous” are equally immediate concerns. As Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik was known to say, “Halacha is the floor, not the ceiling.”
The thing that I think isn’t relevant is that people refrain from certain behaviors in order to honor Shabbos. For some reason, people think that not planning on Shabbos for after Shabbos or not talking about business matters on Shabbos is a higher level and that keeping things “Shabbosdik” is about the spirit of the law. It’s not. These things are actually “letter of the law,” codified by the prophet Isaiah, and therefore not really pertinent.
So what’s the letter of the law regarding bread, pasta, etc. on Pesach? The Torah says, “you shall not eat chometz,” i.e., leaven (Exodus 13:3). Pretty straightforward. If I eat a steak, a baked potato and a side salad on Passover, I’m perfectly in compliance with this law even though it might be exactly the same meal that I might eat on Succos, Shavuos, Purim or a random Tuesday. Nothing requires that this meal be different from a non-Passover in any way other than one thing: it may not include chometz.
So let’s add a couple of slices of kosher-for-Passover bread to the menu. Have we violated the letter of the law? Absolutely not. Have we violated the spirit of the law? That’s your call to make. If you ask me, you haven’t. After all, what’s the spirit of the law? If it’s to make Passover different, ask yourself: is this bread really identical with normal bread? I doubt it. I think it’s pretty obvious that it’s a Passover substitute, which should still serve to set your meal apart.
The Talmud in Chulin (109b) teaches that for every prohibited item, there’s a permitted substitute. We can’t eat blood but we can eat liver, which has the taste of blood. We can’t eat milk-and-meat combinations but we can eat udder, which has the taste of milk. (I’ve had udder and I can attest that it does!) We can’t eat pork but we can eat the shibuta (presumably the Barbus grypus), a kosher fish that tastes like pork.
But no one has to eat these things. If you think that artificial bacon bits or fake shrimp aren’t in the spirit of keeping kosher, don’t eat them. Similarly, Pesach bread, pasta and cereal may not be your thing. (They’re not mine but it’s because I find them to be unnecessary, overpriced and simply not very good.) Whether or not you choose to eat such things is ultimately up to you.
Rabbi Jack Abramowitz
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