“It is a tradition to buy wheat and distribute it to the poor for Pesach.” So writes Rabbi Moshe Isserlis (the Rema), a 16th century rabbinic leader of Ashkenazi Jewry. This custom is called either by its Aramaic name kimcha d’Pascha (flour for Pesach), or maot chitim (money for wheat) in Hebrew. Of course, the obligation to provide for the needy continues throughout the year. However, on Pesach, it is especially important to think about those who are struggling to prepare for the festival. Pesach is expensive — even if you are not going to Nice or Honolulu. It can be stressful if you are on a tight budget. Taking time to distribute the fundamental element of Pesach, matzah, reminds us what is important in this festival.
In the early 20th century gloss on the Rema, Rabbi Israel Meir Kagan mentions in his Mishnah Berurah that kimcha d’Pascha in his land (Poland) meant distributing flour as well as paying for the expense of baking it into matzah. Both the Rema’s description of handing out wheat berries and the Mishnah Berurah’s of handing out flour are so different from our prepackaged, supermarket diets. Even if our matzah comes out of a box, we should remember that Pesach is also about the freedom of simple, meaningful food that connects us to each other.