Maybe this night shouldn’t be so different

Religion, April 2011

By Rabbi Haviva Horvitz, Temple Beth Sholom, Middletown

The Passover Seder is more than simply an excuse to bring the family together for a nice meal. It is intended to be an educational experience as well.


That is one reason for the special book with step by step instructions. In addition, the evening is full of a variety of unusual experiences to help encourage thought-provoking questions and, for those children who don’t know what to ask, four questions are specified. Then, the rest of the evening is spent answering those questions.

Although being given the questions and the answers certainly makes the evening easier, when was the last time you took a close look at those four specific questions?

There are so many different elements of the evening to scrutinize. Why these specific inquiries? Did you ever notice that three of the Four Questions focus on the food? The whole week is about food.

Even those who don’t keep kosher during the rest of the year often find it important and meaningful to keep kosher for Passover during this one week.

We are pleased to note that there will be a kosher Seder at Temple Beth Sholom of Middletown on the second night of Passover.

The first question (based on the traditional order) asks: on all other nights we eat bread or matzah, tonight why only matzah?

The answer given details how quickly we left Egypt; so much so that our bread did not have enough time to rise. Since the Israelites ate matzah on their way out of Egypt, we must eat matzah now.

The second question asks: on all other nights we eat a variety of vegetables, so why tonight do we eat the bitter herb?

The answer given again connects us with our ancestors who left Egypt. Their lives were embittered by the Egyptians and, through the use of food, we remember their experiences as if they were our own.

The third question asks: on all other nights we don’t dip our food even once, so why tonight do we dip twice? The answer to this one focuses on what we are dipping into — the charoset — a mixture of foods which looks like the mortar and bricks the Israelites used, and salt water: resembling the tears of our ancestors.

These first three questions have connected us with those who left Egypt. Like them we eat the matzah; we are embittered via the herb; we remember their work and taste their tears. Then, we (unlike those in the Passover story) relax as we sit at the table.

Thus, the fourth question, indirectly related to the food, asks: on all other nights we eat sitting upright or leaning, so why on this night do we lean?

The simple answer is that we once were slaves and now we are free. Free people, it is understood, may eat leaning and relaxed. We do this symbolically using a pillow during the Seder, but do we incorporate this idea of reposing on a daily basis?

Let’s focus on the last question; does the answer still ring true? Do we eat leaning and relaxed any more? We rarely eat at home, around the table, as a family. So many of us eat in the car on the way to somewhere. We grab a quick bite and eat on the way. We stop at fast food places because we need to eat quickly.

Often, family members are eating in different rooms, in front of computers, doing work, talking on their cell phones or texting.

Somehow, eating dinner while sitting on the couch and watching television — although some may find this relaxing — is most likely not what the rabbis had in mind.

As free people, we have the ability to come and go as we please. However, we also have the ability to stop, to take a break from the rat race and everyday pressures. Maybe we need to stop more often.

This would benefit our health and our relationships with our loved ones. If we can slow down and eat together without rushing through the meal to get to the next event, we might find that we enjoy the meal and the company all that much more.

There are many lessons we can learn from the Passover Seder. Even though the readings are the same every year, how we look at them and what we each bring to the table changes from year to year.

Hopefully this year we will learn to enjoy and appreciate the moment, the family and the food.

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