Passover/Easter Nutrition Tips

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There are several times during the year when we know that whatever good nutritional habits we have built up are going to be challenged. July 4, Thanksgiving, New Years, Super Bowl, etc., are all times when the rituals are accompanied by food…and lots of it.

Passover and Easter fall into that same category, but Passover has its own challenges. The Seder feast is two nights, not one, and the holiday itself goes on for a total of 8 days (7 in Israel). Typically during the rest of the year, I find that whatever progress I make during the week gets dented by Friday night; our typical Shabbat dinner is several courses of delectable food with delicious wines. If I “backslide” each Shabbat, how can I succeed at being healthy when the Seder meal goes on for hours and has lots of ceremonial foods that accompany the telling of the story of the Exodus from Egypt? And then there are the four mandatory cups of wine (or grape juice). What strategy is there to not overdo it?

As always, a little planning goes a long way. It makes sense to go easy during the day leading up to the big meals. Don’t fast, though, or you’ll come to the table famished and overeat. Rather, eat light meals and plenty of water.

At the actual meal, set some simple rules for yourself. At the Seder, it might be to drink four cups, but have them be small cups, or fill the plate once but don’t go back for seconds, or choose one dessert. This year, with social distancing we may actually get a break; there will be less food on the table since most families are celebrating in small groups. We may also get through the Haggadah (the book that contains the Seder ritual in the correct order) a little more quickly. Even so, we will still need to plan ahead so that we do not overdo it–especially two nights in a row.

During the week of Passover, there is a tendency to eat lots of carbs. Remember that much of what we eat during the rest of the year is fair game: fruits, vegetables, legumes (if you eat those on Passover), lean meats, poultry, and fish. No one says you have to eat tons of matzoh; as a matter of fact, according to Jewish law, we are only required to eat it at the Seder. Our psyche, however, tells us that we are being deprived of certain foods so we may snack a little more to make up for it. Don’t fall into the trap of grazing; those Jell Rings, Tam Tams and dried fruits add up.

Finally, if the week is not as successful as you had hoped, don’t get discouraged. Instead, hop right back on the good nutrition path. There are always occasions that are difficult when it comes to eating right. It is a part of life. Plan ahead, do the best you can, stick to it…and stay at home!

Happy Passover and Easter…or whatever you may or may not celebrate!

Not the Yeast Infection that was Expected

Passover @ Marilyn's 2007

This Shabbat is the last Shabbat Hagadol–the last Sabbath before Passover. The weekly Torah portion is Tzav, the second portion in the Book of Leviticus.

There is an interesting connection between Passover and the Tzav. Last week we were introduced to a number of offerings and sacrifices that were to be brought to the Tabernacle (and later to the Temples) for various occasions. That theme continues into this week’s Torah reading.

One of the offerings discussed is an offering of unleavened bread–matzoh! This is, of course, what we eat for the 8 days of Passover (7 in Israel) since we cannot eat anything with leavening in it. Lev. 6:10 notes that this offering for the priests is “most holy.” What makes it so holy?

A commentator, Kle Yekar, notes that matzoh is symbolic. In the rabbinic mindset, yeast is equated with sin and transgression. If you have ever used yeast, you know that when you put it in warm water to activate it, it begins to bubble. This is just like sin. It takes just the right mix of circumstances and it begins to bubble up too. Matzoh is, in a way, “sinless” bread and therefore most holy…and a symbol to the priests.

Kle Yekar explains that a truly righteous person is one who has never experienced sin; there are not a whole lot of people like this. Our tradition teaches that such individuals are actually at a lower level than those who have transgressed and then atoned. The act of atonement–of cleansing one’s self and reaching a higher level–brings one greater holiness and merit. This is reassuring to those of us who have faltered over the years.

Typically, we eat bread. The priests also used bread as part of the rites performed in ancient times. This matzoh offering, though, represents that the yeast has been removed. It has been “cleansed” in a way and that is what makes it most holy.

This idea also has parallels in the fitness world. It is always impressive when we strive to be physically fit. Some people are active in sports and exercise since youth; that is awesome! They are like bread. Many others, like myself, only came to it later in life after being out of shape; we are like matzoh…we have gotten rid of the leavening of bad habits, a sedentary lifestyle, and poor nutrition. Our accomplishments are all the more impressive.

As we approach Passover and get rid of the literal leavening in our lives, we should be inspired to remove the spiritual “yeast infection” too. We should never think that it is too late or that there is too much inertia working against us. On the contrary, the more spiritual yeast we remove, the greater the reward!