It is impossible to get Matzo in our small town. We have to drive an hour to a small city to buy it. I remember the Passover about 20 years ago when we found the Matzo supplies depleted in the city, so I tried my hand at making Matzo myself. It was through doing this that I came to understand that the stories about the Jews of Egypt not being able to wait to leave until their bread rose couldn't be correct. The whole point of making Matzo is to do it quickly enough so that the dough doesn't rise. You prick it all over so that the moisture escapes quickly in the oven. This is hard to do in a modern midwestern kitchen with nothing but a rolling pin and a fork. A few "loaves" came out well, but for the most part it was truly the bread of affliction.
Yesterday I was out and about in the city in search of a sheep shank for a seder plate. I went up to a the meat counter in a grocery store and asked if they had any sheep shanks. The woman behind the counter said, "You mean seder bones?" She asked me how many I wanted, and gave me two at no charge. Wow.
The day before I saw a few large legs of lamb in the meat department of an in-town grocery store, and I remember thinking that lamb would be great to make for a seder, except for the fact that it was a leg of lamb, and there was no way of knowing if it was a front or a back leg. Hind legs would be inappropriate for a seder.
Yesterday, with my free sheep shanks in hand, I started thinking about the fact that those bones come from intact legs of lamb, and are then rendered boneless by the grocery-store butchers because their customers prefer boneless leg of lamb.
My father once explained to me that Shtetls in Russia and Poland needed to be established within walking distance (or carting distance) of decent-sized cities so that the Shtetl butchers could sell the hindquarters of their animals. The inhabitants of their villages would, of course, not eat hindquarters because of Kosher laws.
Yesterday's adventure in the city reminded me of that kind of relationship, though twisted around a bit. People who celebrate Passover need to obtain shank bones for their seder plates, and butchers in the city who want to sell boneless legs of lamb are happy to give away the bones.