I miss the ice cream sessions we shared, my sister and I. As many of you know, my 26 year-old, special-needs nephew, a”h, was niftar shortly before Pesach. For the two years prior to that time, my sister spent more time in Shaarei Zedek Hospital with her son than out of it. Before the pandemic, I would visit her almost daily. After Covid 19 broke out, I was no longer able to spend time with her within the hospital premises, so we would meet just outside the hospital to chat and to afford her a break in the medical routine. And, nearly always, we had ice cream. Good ice cream. None of that Rio stuff!
I have the distinct impression that I ate more ice cream in the last two years than in the previous (many) years of my life. Ironically, I have never been much of an ice cream lover. But I have definitely developed a distinct affinity for it now. I wonder how this developed. What was it about the ice cream that acted as a relationship binder, conversation stimulus, and mood soother?
When I think of comfort foods, what usually come to mind are warm and filling comestibles such as thick soups, stews, and fresh bread. One of the necessary qualities is most definitely that of warmth. Soothing and warm appear to be synonymous. Yet, ice cold ice cream apparently fit the bill extraordinarily well. So, perhaps there was an additional qualification. If this is true, then the extra element, I believe, was love.
It would appear that the association of comfort and warmth is due to the fact that, for nearly all humans, our first food, associated with love and caring, is our mother’s milk (or, alternatively, a warmed bottle). It’s also been postulated that the predominance amongst humans of a “sweet tooth,” is similarly connected to the sweet nature of our earliest “food.”
Consequently, the comforting nature of the ice cream which we enjoyed is more powerfully connected to the love and caring we shared than with the intrinsic nature of the luscious, sweet, creamy, and gourmet deliciousness of the ice cream, (OK, OK, the substance itself was pretty good, too!) So, ice cream can actually be a “language of love,” communicating affection and compassion in a non-verbal way. By associating our ice cream eating with the intense emotions we were sharing, the sweet cones and bars bound us together and warmed our hearts.
It’s now erev Shabbat as well as erev the last day of Pesach, the day that commemorates the great climactic event that completed our exodus from Mitzrayim, i.e. the Splitting of the Sea. The final phase of Hashem’s liberation of His beloved people from the generations of harsh slavery which they had endured. Yetziyat Mitzrayim is likened, by our Sages, to the courageous and loving rescue of the distressed maiden by the Brave Hero.
There are several foods that are part of the “love language” of Pesach. The first, and most prominent, of those is, of course, matza. Those crunchy boards are to remind us of our being freed from servitude. Interestingly, Jews refer to the holiday as Pesach, a name that emphasizes Hashem’s love for us in redeeming us from slavery and specifically sparing us from the final plague, the death of the firstborn. However, the Torah refers to Chag Ha’Matzot, which emphasizes our loving willingness to follow Hashem into the howling and unknown Wilderness with such speed that we didn’t even allow our dough to rise. So, when you crunch your matza, remember the loving relationship that began at that time. (After the seder, putting some chocolate spread on the matza might help.)
Then we have karpas, the vegetable meant to remind us of the springtime of our eternal union with Hashem. It’s true that the karpas is dipped into the tears of servitude. Still, the freedom that we experienced in the past and continue to experience is enhanced by the “seasoning” of the previous hardships. Similarly, the element of sweetness in the charoset, which ironically represents the bricks of our backbreaking labor, is not inappropriate. The harshness of our slavery was a necessary prelude to our deliverance. In fact, our Sages posit that the severity of the slavery was what led to the shortening of its duration, from 400 years to 210. There is certainly sweetness in that!
There is assuredly a great emphasis on Pesach connected to the elements of food and eating. Even more than the usual feasting associated with each of our festivals. The cuisine constitutes a celebration of the senses. However, it can, and should, also be a “language of love” experience, the foods reminding us of our eternal relationship to Hashem and the mutual love that binds us.
Matza or ice cream, chocolate or charoset. It’s not so much the nature of a food that gives comfort, or spiritual and emotional sustenance. Rather, the summoned memories of loving relationships and warm associations make each food another letter, syllable, or word in the redolent, rich and evocative “language of love.”