As an executive chef, my Uncle Larry gets culinary inspiration from a variety of places, including my Nana’s recipe box. Of course in order to use family recipes for commercial purposes, he has had to make some serious measurement conversions. This means that when I want to make one of Nana’s famously delicious family recipes at home, Uncle Larry sends it to me with instructions like: “Divide by 40 to get a reasonable size recipe.” Somehow I still always end up with enough food to feed an army.
Maybe it’s the stereotypical Jewish mother in me that’s to blame, but whenever we host a dinner or event, I stress over having enough food. “I’ll just make one more side dish to go along with the other four, just to be safe,” I’ll rationalize. Inevitably, we have leftovers for days.
Oddly enough, there are leftovers in the Torah. It makes sense when you think about it. When you’re feeding an entire Israelite nation, there’s no way to anticipate the precise needs of every meal. Our parshah this week, parshat Bo, is notable for containing the commandment to observe Passover, but it also contains helpful hints about what to do with seder meal leftovers. The narrative picks up with the final plagues that God is sending to Egypt and continues with the holiday of Passover, teaching the Israelites what it means to build a community, beginning with the first laws of their calendar. The text ends with arguably one of the most important commandments we have – that of telling the story of the Exodus in every generation.
In Exodus chapter 12, God gives the commandments for the Passover sacrifice, specifying that each family is to sacrifice their own lamb. But in verse 4 God states, “But if the household is too small for a lamb, let him share one with a neighbor who dwells nearby, in proportion to the number of persons: you shall contribute for the lamb according to what each household will eat.” The Torah teaches that Passover, like a great number of our Jewish traditions, is a family celebration. Specifically, it is meant to be celebrated communally, not in isolation. An abundance of food is simply another reason to share the celebration.
According to Samson Raphael Hirsch, the paschal sacrifice teaches that we are to “let those whose households are too small to absorb all the blessings that God has given them seek out their neighbors and share the bounty with them.” It is our responsibility to sustain others in our community with our “leftovers.”
Nowhere is there a better reminder that we celebrate best when we celebrate together. Every time I make one of Nana’s recipes (thanks to Uncle Larry’s assistance), it takes me back to the big dinners I remember with family and friends. These shared experiences are just as much a part of living Judaism as anything else. By the way, does anyone need two kugels and a challah?