Two Interpretations of Order
Adapted from The New American Haggadah
Reading 1. The Passover seder is conducted in an orderly fashion, with each ritual performed at a certain time, in a certain way, according to thousands of years of tradition This is surprising, as the Jewish people do not have a history of being particularly well organized. Look around the table. Soon things will be spilled. You might be sitting with people you do not know very well or do not like very much, so your own emotional state is somewhat disordered. Nobody likes everything served at the Passover dinner, so there will be chaos within people’s plates, and the room is likely to be either too hot or too cold for someone, creating a chaos of discomfort. Perhaps there is someone who has not yet been seated, even as the seder is beginning, because they are “checking the food,” a phrase which here means sneaking a few bites when they’re supposed to be participating in the ceremony.
This is as it should be. Passover celebrates freedom, and while the evening will proceed in a certain order, it is the muddle and mess around the order that represent the freedom that everyone deserves. With that in mind,
Feel free to let your hosts know ahead of time about anything – i.e., eggs in salt water, gefilte fish, matzo ball soup – that you definitely DO NOT want to eat. We don’t mind, and as Jews, we hate to waste food.
Feel free to excuse yourself in an orderly fashion at some point in the ceremony to check on the food.
Reading 2. Judaism, particularly in its American expression, is not thought of as a law-and-order religion. But it very much is, if not in the string-‘em-up sense of the term - punishment in Judaism is accompanied by the promise of mercy. We are, of course, a people of laws, and we are also a people of order, of seder. Our foundation story, in the book of Genesis, is a tightly organized account of the making of order out of chaos.
In Judaism, law is holy. But not all laws. The laws of man must be subjected to a vigorous test: whether or not they conform to moral law as set forth by God.
Passover is the most politically radical of all holidays in part because the book of Exodus contains the first known example in ancient literature of civil disobedience. In the Egypt of the Exodus, Pharaoh was the law, and he ordered the midwives Shifra and Puah to kill the sons of the Israelites. But the law was just. So these two heroic midwives broke an unjust law and most likely risked their lives to honor a higher law and allow the boys to live. Their bravery causes us to ask ourselves: Are there times when we should have resisted an unjust man-made law, and did not?
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