A Seder of Contradictions

Morris calls his son in NY and says, “Benny, I have something to tell you. However, I don’t want to discuss it. I’m merely telling you because you’re my oldest child, and I thought you ought to know. I’ve made up my mind, I’m divorcing Mama.” The son is shocked, and asks his father to tell him what happened. “I don’t want to get into it. My mind is made up.” “But Dad, you just can’t decide to divorce Mama just like that after 54 years together. What happened?” “It’s too painful to talk about it. I only called because you’re my son, and I thought you should know. I really don’t want to get into it any more than this. You can call your sister and tell her. It will spare me the pain.” “But where’s Mama? Can I talk to her?” “No, I don’t want you to say anything to her about it. I haven’t told her yet. Believe me it hasn’t been easy. I’ve agonized over it for several days, and I’ve finally come to a decision. I have an appointment with the lawyer the day after tomorrow.” “Dad, don’t do anything rash. I’m going to take the first flight down. Promise me that you won’t do anything until I get there.” “Well, all right, I promise. Next week is Passover. I’ll hold off seeing the lawyer until after the Seder. Call your sister in NJ and break the news to her. I just can’t bear to talk about it anymore.” A half hour later, Morris receives a call from his daughter who tells him that she and her brother were able to get tickets and that they and the children will be arriving in Florida the day after tomorrow. “Benny told me that you don’t want to talk about it on the telephone, but promise me that you won’t do anything until we both get there.” Morris promises. After hanging up from his daughter, Morris turns to his wife and says, “Well, it worked this time, but what are we going to do to get them to come down next year?”

Some might be thinking that Pesach should wait a few more weeks, others might have been planning since the Purim festivities wrapped up, I, personally have been planning for Pesach since Channukah! But what does it mean to begin planning for Pesach? Sure, we have the dreaded cleaning, ridding our homes of chametz, and then the cooking, but there has to be something more?

We have two types of planning – the first is how we engage with the Seder, and the second is how we engage others.

The Shulchan Aruch, the codification of Jewish law, provides us with an insight to our planning with two halachot, the first is found in Orach Chayim, Siman 429

One should ask questions about pesach, thirty days before pesach. Rema:   We also have a minhag to purchase wheat to give to the poor for their pesach   needs. Whoever lives in the city for twelve months, should give to this fund.

שואלין בהלכות פסח קודם לפסח  שלשים יום. הגה: ומנהג לקנות  חטים לחלקן לעניים לצורך פסח. וכל מי שדר בעיר  י”ב חודש צריך ליתן לזה

The second is found in Siman 430,

The Shabbat before Pesach is called Shabbat HaGadol, due to the   miracle that occurred on that day. We have a custom to read the hagaddah at   mincha, starting from avadim hayinu (we were slaves), to lechaper al kol   avoteinu (to attone for our sins, which is found after dayeinu)

שבת שלפני הפסח קורין אותו שבת הגדול,   מפני הנס שנעשה בו. הגה: והמנהג לומר במנחה ההגדה, מתחלת עבדים היינו עד לכפר על   כל עונותינו


It is not enough that after all the cleaning and cooking, that we sit down and open up the hagaddah for the first time since we closed it at the end of the second seder last year. The Halacha mandates us to begin preparing the month before, reminds us again that Pesach is upon us with the recitation of last week’s additional Torah reading, with Parashat Hachodesh, and then as one final sales pitch, we are told to at least re-familiarize ourselves with the text of the hagaddah the Shabbat prior to the Seder.

I would like to draw your attention the end of the first Halacha, where the Rema spoke about what should be done for the poor.

Rema:   We also have a minhag to purchase wheat to give to the poor for their pesach   needs. Whoever lives in the city for twelve months, should give to this fund.

הגה: ומנהג לקנות    חטים לחלקן לעניים לצורך פסח. וכל מי שדר בעיר  י”ב חודש צריך ליתן לזה

Part of planning for Pesach is about thinking how we engage those that are not within our inner circle, especially those who are without the means for a seder. The seder contains a hypocritical statement, of Ha Lachma Anya, so how do we reconcile this statement with this key halacha?

This is the bread of affliction, the poor bread,
which our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt.
Let all who are hungry come and eat.
Let all who are in want, share the hope of Passover.
As we celebrate here, we join with our people everywhere.
This year we celebrate here.
Next year in the land of Israel.
Now we are still in bonds.
Next year may we all be free.

הָא לַחְמָא   עַנְיָא דִי אֲכָלוּ אַבְהָתָנָא בְּאַרְעָא דְמִצְרָיִם.   כָּל דִכְפִין יֵיתֵי וְיֵיכֹל, כָּל   דִצְרִיךְ יֵיתֵי וְיִפְסַח. הָשַׁתָּא הָכָא, לְשָׁנָה הַבָּאָה בְּאַרְעָא   דְיִשְׂרָאֵל. הָשַׁתָּא עַבְדֵי, לְשָׁנָה הַבָּאָה בְּנֵי חוֹרִין.

Jonathan Safran Foer in his truly outstanding 2012 hagaddah, entitled the New American Hagaddah, describes this paragraph as a way in which the Hagaddah is giving us a message at our own expense. It is not only on Pesach that we are commanded to feed the needy, and invite the poor into our homes – we are commanded to do this every day, but unfortunately we don’t do it nearly enough. Comes Pesach, the festival where we go all out, inviting all of our family and friends, creating a meal and a spectacle like no other found in our calendar, and when we should be setting aside a place or two for guests who find themselves with nowhere to go, we brush it off by saying that they will find somewhere else. Comes the hagaddah and tells us to embarrass ourselves by calling out ha lachma anya, whoever needs come and eat, giving us a lesson that this year we are too late, but this is the impetus for change. This coupled with the halacha of giving to the poor, shows us that we have to take the time prior to the Seder to make sure our community is engaged and connected to the festival and its rituals.

The Seder is the most important ritual that we have in the modern day. With complacency and assimilation being our public enemy number one, the seder is a chance, if properly executed to engage with our families, our children, our community, our rich, our poor, our engaged and our unengaged, in a way that provides them with an authentic and thought provoking experience. Seder is a time to draw people in, bring people close, and make them feel the warmth of our laws, our people, our culture and our heritage. To sit down at the seder and open up the hagaddah for the first time without any preparation; to say ha lachma anya without having gone out the weeks before the festival to fill our home with our loved ones and ones we can learn to love; to only use the prompting questions of mah nishtana without thinking of new ones to supplement the traditional text; and to read by rote the text without re-imagining it for a new generation; is a disservice to what the seder is about.

It is our duty to take the time and ready ourselves not just physically with the cleaning and the cooking, but also spiritually with preparing how our Seder will look, how our text will be read and who will grace our table. Don’t let words be said just because they are written in the hagaddah, make sure they come alive and mean something.

About the Author
Rabbi, community developer, father; living life and shaking it up!! Originally from New Zealand, lived in the Big Apple, short stint in Canberra and now residing in Sydney. Alon is the Rabbi of Or Chadash Synagogue and the Director of Programs at Shalom, as well as a doctoral student at LaTrobe University. He writes on the daily study of Daf Yomi on Instagram @insta_talmud Website:
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