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Engage in the vital Jewish custom of maot hittin through Project N.O.A.H.

Let All Those Who are Hungry Come and Eat

Dear Friends,

There have been a number of humorous moments throughout the history of the Ohriner family seder, as I am sure there are in most other family seders. If you haven’t heard my story of a ninety-year-old man gleefully hitting an young attractive college student with a bunch of leeks remind me to tell you about it sometime! However, each year there is one moment that always receives a somewhat uncomfortable laugh. Just as we begin the Maggid section where we tell the Passover story, we recite Ha Lachma Anya while holding a plate of matzah:

This is the bread of affliction that our fathers ate in the land of Egypt. Let all those who are hungry come and eat. Let all who are needy come and celebrate Passover. This year we are here, next year may we be in the Land of Israel. This year we are slaves, next year may we be free.

The awkward laughter comes when we open the door to our home, just in case there is a hungry individual waiting outside our suburban, single-family domicile waiting to come in and join us. For most of us, it is hard to imagine a situation in which  someone would actually be waiting outside our house, without anywhere to go for seder and nothing to eat. We probably wouldn’t know what to do with ourselves if there was, in fact, someone standing there! So we open the door and awkwardly close it, wondering about the symbolism of this seemingly empty ritual.

Yet, our tradition provides us with an opportunity to imbue this moment of our seder with meaning, removing the awkward chuckle that normally accompanies it.

The Or Zarua, a 13th century Halakhic compendium, cites a statement in the Jerusalem Talmud in the name of Rabbi Yossi bar Bun establishing the custom of giving wheat to needy Jews so they could take it to the mill and make  matzah for Passover. As the times changed and commercial bakeries became prominent, the method of providing this Passover assistance shifted. It was more convenient to give money to the poor, who in turn bought wheat and baked their own matzot or had them baked in a commercial bakery. This form of Passover assistance became known as maot hittin (money for wheat). Today, Synagogues and Jewish communal organizations throughout the world collect money, generally during the process of selling hametz, and distribute food packages to Jews in need.

Most Jewish law codes do not consider the fulfillment of maot hittin to be a normal act of tzedakah (charity). Rather,  it is considered a “communal tax”. In this sense, there is a second level of obligation to provide for the poor during Passover  beyond the general requirement to give tzedakah all year-round. The 20th century halakhic commentator, Rabbi Israel Meir Kagan Poupko, wonders about this special obligation during Passover. He writes that it is an extraordinary affront to God for us to allow other Jews to be bound by the shackles of hunger on Passover. How can the celebration of our people’s freedom permit those with means to recline and dine in joy while others find themselves without the means to even buy matzah and wine for seder?

Thankfully, we all have the opportunity to bring a greater sense of freedom to Jews in our community, fulfill this custom, and symbolically open our doors during seder with pride. Congregation Beth David is once again partnering with Jewish Family Services of Silicon Valley to feed over 1,100 people through Project N.O.A.H. The Project N.O.A.H. (“No One Abandoned Here”) Food Assistance Program seeks to decrease food insecurity and hunger in Silicon Valley by providing food packages, prepared kosher meals, and supermarket gift cards to those in need. The Passover food drive is a critical component of the program and helps ensure every Jewish person in Silicon Valley has food for Passover.

There will be a bin in the Beth David lobby for the rest of the week to bring your maot hittin, and you can always send a check to JFS earmarked for Project N.O.A.H.

This year, as you recite the words of Ha Lachma Anya and symbolically open your door to those who are hungry, replace the awkward chuckle with a prideful smile that will come in knowing that you helped fellow Jews in need right here in Silicon Valley by giving maot hittin. Tell seder attendees about JFS and Project N.O.A.H. Do your part during our festival of freedom to bring an end to food insecurity so that we may all recite the following words in earnest this Passover:

Let all those who are hungry come and eat. Let all who are needy come and celebrate Passover. This year we are here, next year may we be in the Land of Israel. This year we are slaves, next year may we be free.