GREAT SHIT TO KNOW ABOUT THE PASSOVER SEDER
Grousing about how matzo tastes like cardboard is so 1997. This list is your one-stop-shop for updating your knowledge, assembling trivia, and getting inspired about the Festival of Freedom.
- •The Passover Seder is inspired by (and a polemic against) the Roman "Symposium"Romans would sit around for hours and nerd-out over sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh water system and public health. We, on the other hand, nerd-out for hours over freedom. No offense to any modern Romans in the house.
- •The Seder Plate is originally inspired by the Roman version of a TV trayIn the way-olden days, each guest would have a mini-table with all the goodies on it. Now, it's a single, awkward piece of Judaica from a gift-shop. My take: we need to do things in life to ensure that we "own" our own growth and learning and not expect someone else to take care of it for us.
- •The "Four Questions" is a misnomer. A better translation of "Arbah Kushiot" would be: "The Four Statements of Shock and Wonder."The Talmud makes a big point of doing all sorts of crazy shit to stimulate children who would otherwise nod off. The irony is that leaning, dipping, maror, matzo -- that's what they did 2000 years ago to wig-out the kids. Now, it's old hat. We need some radical, new ideas. I suggest: dousing all your guests with chicken soup or lighting the tablecloth on fire.
- •The loooong-ass part of the Seder, the telling of the Exodus (known as "maggid") is not derived from the obvious place: the book of ExodusRather, it's an elaborate parsing of a much shorter "nostalgic" speech that Israelite pilgrims would recite, once they'd established their home in the Promised Land. Why? The Exodus story is too complete and does not encourage the creative, interactive jousting that the seder is designed to. My take: the gaps in the nostalgic speech are there to encourage us to fill it with our own stories and ideas.
- •Freedom = ResponsibilityA traditional seder features an enigmatic section in which Rabbis multiply the number of plagues (Bible has it at 10) until it's in the hundreds. This is absurd until you count them up and they equal 613: the code-number for Mizvot (commandments). My interpretation? For each one miracle, we earn one obligation. Freedom is not freedom FREEDOM FROM...it's FREEDOM FOR. Fun fact: this connection is not made for us. The Haggdah writers planted it there for us to unearth and make meaningful.
- •Moses's name is not mentioned in the SederDespite being the most mentioned character in the bible, the Haggadah (seder play-book) leaves him out. My take: this is not a holiday about him. It's a holiday about us.
- •Whip your neighbor with a leek?Yes. During Dayeinu (a song), Persian Jews whip each other with leeks. My take: in the book of Numbers, the now-free Israelites cry because they don't have the food they supposedly ate in Egypt, including leeks. They forget the whole slavery thing. This absurd nostalgia is a psychological reality: when growth is painful, we trick ourselves into believing that slavery was better than freedom. The Persian Jews use humor to remind the seder-goers: don't forget the lessons you have learned.
- •You know how we eat a piece of parsley and an egg and then starve for 30 minutes until the meal arrives?Doesn't need to be like that. Original intent is to serve lots of salads and dips to hold everyone over. I prefer to serve the whole meal except the matzo and main course! No more complaints about hunger pangs = better seder!