Poor Man’s Bread?
Devarim 16:3: “You shall eat no leavened bread with it: seven days you shall eat matzos, the bread of affliction…”
As my family sat at the Shabbos table this past week, the question arose as it does every year shortly after Purim. Why do we pay so much money for handmade shmura matzo, a product made of water and flour? Today, we pay $13 to $30 for a pound of handmade shmura matzo. But is that really right? Did God really intend for us to spend so much of our hard-earned money for this mitzvah?
In a past article written by Rabbi Yair Hoffman, run in The 5 Towns Jewish Times, he tried to explain why this mitzvah directly from the Torah was costing all of us so much money to fulfill. The article explained that the making of handmade shmurah matzo is a labor-intensive process. Many of the people who are involved in American shmura matzo making are flown in from Israel, because they have the expertise. Once in America, they have to be paid, fed, and housed in the area. Also involved are salaries, rent, and ingredients.
As we sat at our Shabbat table discussing this issue and the article, we were left unmoved by Rabbi Hoffman’s article. As far we were concerned, this matter has become a crisis. How and why should poor people who barely make a living spend this much money on matzo (flour and water) and then still have money to have a nice or even decent Seder?
We all agreed that the Bergen County Community, our community, does a wonderful job collecting money to make sure that every family has the matzo they need to fulfill this mitzvah. But doesn’t it make more sense to have a lower price and then more people could afford matzo on their own? Doesn’t it make more sense that if the handmade shmura matzo was a more reasonable $8 or even $10 a pound that more people could be served and in a better way? Did we ever think that maybe more people might actually get the satisfaction of buying their own matzo, instead of needing help?
So, the question was out there, just hanging out there. What to do? How to lower the costs? We need manpower, ingredients, expertise, and a place to work….
I asked my parents, “With all the yeshivot in the Bergen County area and all the wonderful rabbis in our community, there must be some way to tap this resource and solve this problem?” And while sitting at the Shabbos table we came up with this thought: Maybe one or two or maybe even all of the yeshiva high schools in our little corner of the world would want to take on this challenge, for one or even two school years, teach their students about all the halachos for preparation, baking, and boxing of handmade shmura matzo. In Gamara, Halacha, Economics, Home Economics, and every other class where it might apply, make all the high school students experts in handmade shmura matzo-making. And then, when the yeshivot feel these students are ready, use their own facilities or raise money to rent the facility to make handmade shmura matzo. Then, don’t give it away, sell it at as cheap a price as they can, so that the bills are paid and the people can afford it. Let our rabbis supervise the students and the process; let the parents who are business people crunch the numbers and let’s all make this happen. Maybe we won’t solve the whole problem, but at least we can feel like we are doing something about it, instead of just throwing our hands up in the air and grumbling a lot.
I know that many of the high school yeshivot in our area have a chesed requirement for their students during the school year. Wouldn’t this be a great way to fulfill that requirement? And, if the rabbis feel that the high schools are not equipped to take this idea as far as I suggest, may I suggest that at least the yeshiva take the time to teach this important and very relevant subject in depth so that any future rabbinical students from our community can take this further in their learning and then we will not have to import people from Israel to do this work?
The Torah tells us that B’nai Yisrael carried the matzo out of Egypt on their shoulders. We ask why they did that. The B’nai Yisrael, while leaving Egypt, had many animals that could hold all of their stuff, even the matzo, so why say they carried the matzo? In response, we are told that they were all so excited about the mitzvah and wanted to participate, that they held the matzo themselves. Why can’t we do the same? Instead of hurting ourselves by having these high prices, why can’t we all work together and be a part of this mitzvah?
Thanks and have a wonderful Shabbos.
Carly Rosenblatt is a Moriah 7th-grade student.
By Carly Rosenblatt