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03/16/2018 10:18:31 AM

Mar16

Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld

The Story of Our Rashi Matzah

A few months ago a friend of mine passed away.  His name was Rabbi Yehudah Bohrer.  He dedicated his life to the state of Israel.  He loved every stone and blade of grass in Israel so much that he took extra joy in showing visitors all around the land.  One year a group from our shul traveled together to Israel and Rabbi Bohrer was our guide.

Rabbi Bohrer had a brother who ran a matzah factory in Bnei Brak.  We were told that this matzah was so special that it was the only matzah that R. Chaim Kanievsky would eat.  Rabbi Bohrer took us to see his brother’s matzah factory.

It was the middle of January but the matzah factory was working hard.  We saw many people hard at work.  This was nt a regular matzah factory, but a shmurah matzoh factory.  Shmurah means that the matzah was watched from the moment of harvest so that not a drop of water touched the harvested grain.  And it was a hand matzah factory, which meant that all the dough was kneaded by hand and placed into the oven by hand.

Off of the main room there was a side room – more like a closet. – a small windowless space.  We opened up the door to see a yeshiva bochur hard at work and sweating profusely.  He was grinding the grain by hand and turning it in to flour.   It was called RaSHI matzah.  RaSHI stands for reichayim shel yad – milled by hand. 

I had never seen this before.  I had never tasted Rashi matzah.  But I loved the dedication of this man towards grinding the flour.  I loved the way he was sitting there in the month of January and sweating profusely out of a passion for the hiddur mitzvah of eating Rashi Matzah.

I knew then that I also wanted to make Shmurah Rashi Matzah in our shul in Washington, DC.

Rabbi Bohrer said to me, “No problem.   It’s easy.”  Rabbi Bohrer gave me a few metal kneading pins and told me that I should find someone who has experience baking matzah.

Luckily we found an amazing man named Yehuda Fishkind.  He used to own a matzah bakery.  He came to our shul on a Sunday morning and gave us a lecture on how to harvest the wheat and turn it into flour and then bake the matzah.  We made a list of all the things we would need and it was overwhelming.

For starters we didn’t even have a matzah oven.  And we weren’t exactly farmers.  And where were we going to get spring water?

For the first year we decided to buy a izza oven and then simply buy the Shmurah flour from a matzah bakery.  It was still a huge project as we needed to learn how to bake the matzah.  

Eventually we got the hang of the baking and some of our matzot even looked professional.  I loved the intensity and the dedication and the effort involved in the baking of matzah that it became an integral spiritual part of my preparation for Pesach.  Every year we bake for hours and hours so that everyone in the community can have home baked matzah and so that we can serve this shmurah matzah at our communal seder.  Last year one hour before Pesach I gathered my children together and we made fresh matzah for the Seder.  It was the most delicious thing I have ever tasted in my life.  I grew to love matzah so much that I even got a matzah suit and I also wrapped my car to look like a matzah.

(Not to say that this whole process was not without ups and downs.  Last year two days before our first matzah baking our matzah oven died.  We quickly had to scramble to get another oven, but that’s a whole separate story.) 

Still, in the back of my mind I felt something was missing.  I wanted to be part of the process in an even greater way.  I wanted to plant and harvest and mill the grain myself.  The more preparation I could do for the mitzvah of eating matzah the more connected I would feel to the service of Hashem.  There is no spirituality without preparation.  I wanted to begin the process of celebrating Pesach --the holiday of redemption – at an even earlier time.  

It’s not so easy to harvest your own grain.  We use just a few hundreds pounds of flour and none of the major farms wanted to mess around with us.  There are many careful laws involved in the harvesting of the wheat for Pesach.  For example, the wheat can only be harvested when the moisture is a very specific amount.  The wheat cannot be harvested in the morning.  The combine that harvests it must be super clean and inspected.  We also needed the expert guidance of a rabbi who knows these highly technical laws very thoroughly.

Suffice it to say that this was very intimidating.  Luckily, we had an intern in the summer of 2017, named Eli Eisenman.  Eli called all the local farmers in Maryland and Virginia to see if any had wheat that they would be interested in letting us harvest.  It was a tough sell.  But finally we found one farmer named Heinz.  

When I called Heinz on the phone he sounded skeptical.  He said something like I have dealt with your rabbis before.  There are many things you demand in order to make it kosher and I am not sure I can meet your needs.  But come out and we will talk.

Eli and I drove out to Heinz’ farm.  We drove two hours out there and we had an amazing afternoon with Heinz.  It rained so hard that day but Heinz showed us every inch of his farm.  He was so nice and willing to accommodate.  I figured we would give it a try.  Heinz told me he would call me when the wheat hit the right moisture level.

A few weeks later Heinz called me and told me to come the next day at 2 pm.  I drove out there and I got on the combine.  Within a few minutes however, the combine broke.  Heinz said I would have to come back another time.  He needed to fix the combine.  I knew then I needed a better plan.

Luckily I was connected to R. Yosef Hertzmark of Migrash Farms.  He actually has a small farm near Baltimore and he was growing wheat in order to make flour for matzah.  He told me to come out one day as Rabbi Heinemann and other rabbis were coming to direct the process.  I drove there and watched as R. Heinemann tested the grains to see if they were ready for harvest.  Then we began the harvest.  R. Hertzmark was kind enough to let me drive the combine.  While driving the combine I was sure to say, le-shem matzos mitzvah; I was driving the combine for the purpose of making matzo in order to fulfill the mitzvah of eating matzah on Seder night.

I found a place in Montana that sells hand mills and I ordered a hand mill to help us grind the grain.  The salesperson told me that for an extra $25 I could personalize our mill.  I said, “Let’s call it, The Matzah Maker.”

Once the grain was harvested R. Hertzmark completed the process of winnowing the grain so that we were left with only the wheat berry.  He brought us 200 pounds of berries and we began the process of milling the grain into Rashi flour.

This past week we have milled 100 pounds.  

It has been a great communal effort. From young to old, everyone who walks through the doors of the shul has stopped by for a turn of the wheel.  I loved seeing the joy on the children’s faces as they shouted, le-shem matzos mitzvah.  I loved seeing the commitment on the faces of parents as they kept turning the wheel till their pile was done. I loved seeing the communal spirit of the folks who got in a few extra spins before and after each minyan.

Each time I turn the crank of the mill I declare, le-shem matzos mitzvah!  Every crank of the wheel brings us one moment closer to the holiday of Pesach.  Pesach will certainly not sneak up on us this year.  We have been looking forward to the Seder for months.  We can't wait to sit at our meal of redemption.

But wait, first we have to bake our matzah.  

Our first baking will be in this coming week with children from Chai Lifeline, an amazing organization that helps children with cancer.  I can’t wait to bake RASHI matzah with them!!!

Fri, November 22 2019 24 Cheshvan 5780