Sunday, March 29, 2015

#blogExodus: Bitter

According to scientific research, our tongues can sense at least five tastes: sour, sweet, salty, umami or glutamate and bitter. However, unlike previous arguments, the tongue does not have designated areas for taste, and instead can sense all of these various tastes wherever there are taste receptors.

In this way, the tongue is also a great metaphor for the human condition. We are capable of making the most or the worst of just about any possible situation. How we choose to frame our psychological understanding of events impacts greatly how we perceive and navigate the world.

This is why, I think, the Passover seder chooses to incorporate all of these various tastes into the experience. Freedom is sweet, like the Passover wine, especially Manischewitz. However, enslavement is bitter like the maror, bitter herbs usually represented with horseradish. Tasting the bitterness does not embitter us, but it does overwhelm all the other senses of taste, at least for a time. Thus it reminds us not just of our ancestor's enslavement, but the continued enslavement and suffering of peoples throughout the world.

In this way our tradition balances celebration with sadness just as life is filled both with moments of joy and sorrow. The question is: do we heed the call of the bitterness to act, or do we simply let the taste fade so we can enjoy something more sweet?

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