If I invited you to do a Jewish program for Passover — and asked you to please bring a mattress, a bottle of wine, and some kind of aphrodisiac — you would probably look at me askance. Maybe even consider having me investigated.
But what do we do on Passover Seder night? We drink 4 glasses of wine, recline on pillows, and eat everyone’s favorite “aphrodisiac” — charoset — which is made from apples, wine, and nuts — the ingredients mentioned in the Song of Songs, the love song of the Bible.
What were the Rabbis who compiled the Haggadah thinking?!
It would have been so easy to create a simple Haggadah recounting the sudden and miraculous exodus from Egypt — quoting the appropriate verses and simply retelling the story. But those who invented the Haggadah apparently had something else in mind. They didn’t want us to present an historical recounting of what happened. And they didn’t want us just to “relive” it sensually — by eating the bread of affliction, tasting the bitter herbs, and drinking to our redemption.
There is something more going on here.
More than “re-live” the exodus, they wanted us to “re-love” it.
They wanted us to focus less on what happened and focus more on how we feel about what happened. They wanted us to dive into the “love relationship” of thousands of years ago — when the love was new.
How is this night really different from all other nights?
This is the night for love — for feeling God’s love for us. And it is easy to miss the moment. So the writers of the Haggadah tried creatively to help us recapture its essence in the events of the Seder:
What do people do when they fall in love? What do new lovers do? They are romantic: Four cups of wine, reclining, and charoset sets the mood.
They are large in spirit, generous: “Dinner on me tonight!” “Drinks on the house!” How do we open the Seder? — “Let anyone who is hungry come and eat!”
They exaggerate: “He is the most loving, the most caring, the most giving.” What do we read in the Haggadah? — “There weren’t 10 plagues — but 50! Not 50 — but 250!”
They stay up all night talking: What do we do at the Seder? Stay up talking late into the night.
They talk about their common visions, about starting a family, and about their ideal future together: At the Seder we talk about visions of leaving Egypt and being led to the Land of Israel, we talk about family — the 4 sons, and about our ideal future as a people — ‘Next year in rebuilt Jerusalem!’
They write poetry to each other: How do we conclude the Seder? By reciting the love poetry of “Shir Hashirim” — the Song of Songs.
What’s going on? It would have been so easy to simply recite the verses in the Torah about the Jewish people leaving Egypt. Why all this carrying on?
Love evokes love. God’s act of bringing us out of Egypt “on the wings of eagles” — was an act of love. On Passover, we respond to God’s love with love of our own. The events of the Seder are meant to evoke our feelings of love. God’s act of love for us evokes our love for God. So we respond by drinking wine, reclining, and eating an aphrodisiac.
By singing, exaggerating, and reading poetry. This is the night we rekindle our love for God. I’ve been married for many years, but looking back at our wedding album and reminiscing about those moments always rekindles the love I have for my wife.
The Haggadah is like the wedding album evoking love all over again. The Seder night is the sensual reminiscing. It is easy to miss the moment. But if we don’t miss it — it can be a night unlike any other.