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I gave my tenth and last performance of the Ma Nishtanah during the second night of seder at the age of ten. Friends and family gathered around the table to witness the final impassioned rendition. You see, when you're the son of a Cantor, people expect a lot of you. And I delivered year after year. Question after question. That night was no exception. Some children need the crutch of transliteration. I didn't even need a Hagaddah. Going completely off book, I begged of the table: "Ma nishtana ha-laila ha-zeh mi-kol ha-leilot?" Without a script, I had the freedom to gesture, to look into their eyes and demand to know why we were dipping our herbs twice that evening. To my recollection there was applause. But truth be told, the glory of the four questions is short lived. There's always someone younger, cuter, just waiting to take your place. And quite literally, with a baby sister who was turning five, I was getting too old for it.
I haven't sung that song in 16 years. So this year, I created a new set of questions that have been on my mind:
1. If the purpose of engaging the children during the seder is to fulfill the duty of passing the story down, wouldn't it make more sense just to plop them in front of a television and pop in "The Prince of Egypt?" The story itself is far less convoluted than the one in the Haggadah. Not to mention the fact that it is told through a medium targeted at children, complete with modern animation and an award winning sound track. I'm an adult and still have trouble wrapping my head around the part about the five rabbis and difference between anger, wrath, indignation, trouble and messengers of evil.
2. I know that it's not particularly Jewish, but being as it is probably the most famous seder, I can't help but wonder: who sang the Ma Nishtanah at the last supper (I would assume it was John as he was the youngest disciple)? Furthermore did they have an afikoman? And if everyone present was eating matzah why are they never depicted with crumbs all over their robes? Also, at the end did they bother saying 'Next year in Jerusalem?'
3.When do we eat?*
*In the interest of the third question, I have removed the fourth.
The Well of Tradition and Miriam's Well
One of our people's greatest strengths is using our tradition as a wellspring to renew our heritage as we pass it down from generation to generation. As Jews we have a living relationship with our past. Jewish history, Jewish traditions, and Jewish memories are not placed in museums and libraries for scholars to research. They are part of our people's daily lives. When we...
Slaves eat quickly, stopping neither to wash nor to reflect. Tonight, we are free. We wash and we express our reverence for the blessings that are ours.
Pass a bowl of water, a small cup and a towel around the table. Everyone pours three cupfuls over their fingers. There is no blessing over this washing.
God brought ten plagues upon the Egyptian people as part of the Israelites’ journey to freedom. Tonight we read ten modern plagues that result from unfair, inequitable, and excessive practices in the criminal justice system. As we read each plague we remove a drop of wine from our glasses to symbolize our anguish at the suffering these plagues have caused.
Together as we wash our hands, they move into the bowl of water, and back out of the water. Why do we do this? Are our hands really getting clean without soap? We won’t be eating for some time, why do we do this so early?
The washing of our hands suggests that we are open to question. One question that is always asked is about hope.
Rick Recht answers in his song:
This is the hope that...
If there is a hard, high wall and an egg that breaks against it, no matter how right the wall or how wrong the egg, I will stand on the side of the egg. Why? Because each of us is an egg, a unique soul enclosed in a fragile egg. Each of us is confronting a high wall. The high wall is the system which forces us to do the things we would not ordinarily see fit to do as individuals . . . We are all human...
The central imperative of the Seder is to tell the story. The Bible instructs: “ You shall tell your child on that day, saying: ‘This is because of what Adonai did for me when I came out of Egypt.' ” (Exodus 13:8) We relate the story of our ancestors to regain the memories as our own. Elie Weisel writes: God created man because He loves stories. We each have a story to tell — a story of enslavement, struggle,...
As we remember this struggle, we honor the midwives who were the first Jews to resist the Pharaoh. our legends tell us that Pharaoh, behaving in a way common to oppressors, tried to get Jews to collaborate in murdering their own people. He summoned the two chief midwives, Shifra and Pu'ah, and commanded them to kill newborn Jewish males at birth. He threatened the midwives with death by fire if they failed to follow...
Maimonides urged us to care for our bodies so that we would be free to concentrate our energies on God. In the modern world, one of the greatest threats to our physical health is mental stress. Stress causes insomnia, digestive problems, heart disease, autoimmune disorders, depression, memory impairment and countless other complications. As women, we are particularly vulnerable to the stress caused by multiple and...
Praising as a spiritual practice
How is this Hallel on seder night different from all other Hallels?
What are we aiming to accomplish in this Hallel of seder night?
Unlike every other holiday Hallel, the Hallel of the seder (and in synagogue) is sung at night. Unlike other Hallels, it is sung without an introductory blessing, and it is recited sitting down. Unlike every other Hallel, this Hallel is...
Water is refreshing, cleansing, and clear, so it’s easy to understand why so many cultures and religions use water for symbolic purification. We will wash our hands twice during our seder: now, with no blessing, to get us ready for the rituals to come; and then again later, we’ll wash again with a blessing, preparing us for the meal, which Judaism thinks of as a ritual in itself. (The Jewish obsession with food is...
Rumi, the Persian poet of the soul, understands the meaning of love in this way:
Your task is not to seek love
But merely to seek and ﬁnd all the barriers
That you have built against it.
The same can be said of freedom; we build barriers against it, barriers born of fear-fear of death, fear of not having enough, fear of not being enough, fear...