Thursday, April 17, 2014

Seder Wrap up

What follows continues my longstanding tradition of documenting all that was odd, interesting or otherwise noteworthy about my seders. As always, you are invited to use the comments to tell us what made your seders memorable.


Time finished
Around 1 pm both night. Most years seder is like a symphony, with all the different parts - food, conversation, ritual, music - coming together to form a harmonious whole. This year, the metaphorical music was choppy and somewhat out of tune. Nothing seemed to meld. For a change, seder wasn't entirely enjoyable and the warm, happy feeling I remember from previous years did not arrive as the meal melted into the concluding songs. If I can figure out what caused this failure, I'll let you know.


Long time readers know that potato is the DovBear family's one-true karpas instrument, but did you know the word itself appears at the begining of the Exodus story? Sort of. It's in Rashi's comment on Genesis 37:3:

פסים: לשון כלי מלת, כמו (אסתר א ו) כרפס ותכלת, וכמו (שמואל ב' יג יח) כתונת הפסים, דתמר ואמנון. ומדרש אגדה על שם צרותיו שנמכר לפוטיפר ולסוחרים ולישמעאלים ולמדינים:

At our seder, we made much of the fact that the Exodus story also starts and finishes with a dip. First, that trouble-making coat made from what Rashi compares to כרפס ותכלת takes a quick swim in some goat blood; years later, as the story comes to its climax, a hyssop branch is dipped in the blood of some other goats and splashed on the door posts. The brothers erased Yosef with a dip; their descendants brought themselves back into existence the same way.

Main Courses
We're not going to dwell on this, but the food put in front of me on the second night of the holiday may have been the worst holiday meal to ever disgrace a table. The lady of the house tried, but everything failed spectacularly. If the dish wasn't too cold, it was too bland. If it hadn't been freezer burned it was soaking wet from having been defrosted incorrectly. The soup was tepid, fatty and flavorless. The main courses wore disconcerting notes of honey and came in textures I never imagined existed in nature.There were no vegetables. I feel bad telling you all this because the woman certainly gave it the old college try. Recipes were consulted. Quality cuts of meat were procured.  There were attempts at artistry in the presentations. But just as some men can't sing, I suppose some women can't cook. Call it tongue deafness.

Books I Read
I re-read the Yiddish Policeman's Union. Six years later, I see Chabon's criticism of settler tendencies all the more clearly. Chabon puts a great line on every other page, but the cake is taken by this one, as the main character objects to Jews and Christians who have allowed their eagerness for the end of days to permit murder :

“I don't care what is written," Meyer Landsman says. "I don't care what supposedly got promised to some sandal-wearing idiot whose claim to fame is that he was ready to cut his own son's throat for the sake of a hare-brained idea. I don't care about red heifers and patriarchs and locusts. A bunch of old bones in the sand. My homeland is in my hat. It's in my ex-wife's tote bag.”

I also finished a few magazine articles, and several chapters of Lincoln at Gettysburg by the great anti-Papist Gary Wills. It is Wills thesis, that Lincoln's address changed the way we understand the constitution by successfully attributing his own - let's call them modern - values to the founding fathers. V'hamayvin yaavin. 

Best Observation
Paro's daughter didn't die during the Death of the First Born Sons. You may say that this was because she was not, in fact, a first born son, but that's too simple. Regarding the woman of valor, Proverbs 31 says "She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night." Without doing very much violence to the text, the Hebrew can be construed as "She who saw [that Moshe was] ki tov will not be extinguished at night." To clever by half? Yes. Yes.

Winning moment
At the end of a long digression about the power, flexibility and fundamental subjectivity of interpretations, one of the young men at my seder challenged me to compose a homily on the spot. He pointed to one of the props on my niece's plate and said, "Tell me what that frog says about the spirit of Pesach." I took a breath, and something like the following drasha came out:

That frog isn't any frog. That frog is Kermit, king of the frogs. And what is Kermit's anthem? A song called: "Its not easy being green" Have truer words about Pesach ever spoken? What is our seasonal struggle if not the fight to make the events of  Exodus seem new? Every year we struggle to toss off the dust and the spiders. We struggle to make it all seem new again. To let the songs touch us again. To see the rituals with innocent eyes again. But its hard. Its hard because "It's not easy being green." As spring turns to summer we ripen and rot. We fall to the ground and the bugs and bacteria do their dirty work on us. By the time spring returns we're all but a husk. Its not easy being green. Its not easy to begin again. But that's the challenge of Pesach.

Yes, of course this blows, and blows hard. But it proves the point: With enough creativity, just about anything can be put into the service of anything else.

One more great interpretation
Who Knows One, the seder's last song but one, is a confession of how the Seder has changed us. Before sitting through the story of the Exodus, I might have unreflectivly given secular replies to the song's questions. Who Knows Two? Two is the number on Jeter's back!  Who Know's Three? Three are the goals in a hat trick! But after hearing the great story, and participating in the great rituals, I'm a new man. All I think are holy thoughts. Everything I see in the Rorshak ink blot is divine.

This is certainly a retro-reason, by which I mean something a clever person produced to tell us how he imagines something else got started. But you listened anyway.

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