“One is asleep but not asleep, awake but not awake.”
I have written throughout this Tractate of the Passover gatherings from my childhood, which was the last time I attended a complete seder. My paternal grandparents were very religious and traditional, and my grandfather would lead the Haggadah reading which went on for hours. I remember the impatience and hunger of waiting to get to the actual meal and stealing a corner from the matzah under the cover of a cloth on the table in order to hold me over. I could smell the brisket from the kitchen, but it was hours before it made its way to all of us.
The Daf Yomi today reads like an acknowledgement of the length of the seder in its discussion of what to do if people actually fall asleep. We are told that if only some people fall asleep during the seder – perhaps the children sitting at the extra card table or an uncle who is just plain overworked – then it is permissible for them to eat the Paschal lamb or my grandmother’s brisket when they awake. However, if the entire table falls asleep – perhaps through some kind of spell that broke through the protection of the special night – the meal is over, and they cannot eat any more. The later example is characterized as a “complete interruption” and a resumption of the meal would violate the prohibition against eating in two different places.
The reality is that some of the participants might fall into a light doze while the Haggadah is being read rather than a deep sleep, with spurious attempts to open their eyes from time to time. You know that look in someone who can barely keep their eyes open as they blink repeatedly in an effort to maintain attention and a fight against the drossiness that is descending upon them. Rabbi Yosei said that if one is simply dozing, they may eat from the Paschal lamb, but if they fall fast asleep, they may not.
The Gemara explains what is meant by dozing, which is being “awake but not awake.” We are told that in such a state someone could answer if their name was called out. If they were fully asleep, there would be silence. This resonated with me after living over a year in some state of lock-down, because it feels as if I have been “awake but not awake.” I could answer if you called my name, but at times it feels like I have been living in a state of twilight, where I have not been fully present as I conducted my life mostly online.
There is also the issue of time to consider, as the reading of the Haggadah can go on forever. I remember eating sometime around 9 pm, which as a child seemed like the middle of the night and an endless wait for a taste of brisket. It is not permissible to eat the Paschal lamb after midnight when a new day is ascending and the allowable time to eat the meat would have expired. A passage from Exodus is quoted to substantiate the claim that eating after midnight is not permissible: “And they shall eat the meat on that night.”
Rabbi Akiva disputed the midnight rule by quoting a passage from Exodus indicating that one should eat in haste and presumably while on the move out of Egypt as an indication that the meat could be eaten until dawn. This suggests a seder that could stretch throughout the night and into the daylight hours, which is almost too long to imagine.
I do not have a lot of experience leading Seders, since mostly over the last few years I have gone out to dinner on Passover to a restaurant owned by a well-known Israeli chef. I led my first Seder last year with my Mother and cousins on Zoom and it was the “lite” version. I remembered the song Dayenu from my childhood and the pure joy of singing it as a family – Da-ye-nu, da-ye-nu, da-ye-nu. I played a video by the group the Maccabeats at my seder last year that was rather silly, but captured the spirit of the dozing children who were suddenly awakened by the upbeat lyrics.
It was a simple and not very elaborate Passover last year, but as the song Dayenu suggests, it was enough.
Here is the Maccabeats video: