Nu? What Time Did you Finish?
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: I admit that I approached the Seder this year with both Dread and Concern as we were feasting with people who had stated a desire to finish everything before halachic midnight. Not just the aphikomin. Everything. As those of you who have been here since 2009 certainly remember, my ideal Seder is a long, relaxed conversation. I don't like sermons, and will block you with my body if you're older than nine and try to come to the table with any books other than a hagadah, but snippets I adore. I love it when everyone, regardless of station, age or education, spends the evening adding his or her two bits as we slowly make our way through the liturgical text. But could this be accomplished with a deadline hanging over our head? Probably not, but in the end it didn't matter as the other guests and I prevailed upon the host to relax a bit. We got to the aphikomin around halachic midnight and finished on both nights at around 2 p.m on both nights.
Food: While we guests were able to convince Mr. Host to relax his rules, Mrs. Host did not preview her menu, giving us no opportunity to offer advice or corrections. As a result, we saw matzo concoctions at every meal. Why do people feel the need to add matzo to otherwise perfectly good dishes? Matzo with cauliflower is no improvement over roast cauliflower. If matzah kugel was a winner it, like matzo balls, would be on the table year round. Also, Mrs. Host, like many people, cooks in advance and freezes her food; however, unlike many people she freezes vegetables(!) and fruit(!) and while I can vouch for the fact that she is an expert at freezing food, she hasn't quite mastered unfreezing yet.
Terrific Torah: Apparently Exodus 13:8 works as a summary/memory aid for the entire hagadah. I don't remember the details, but each section of the hagadah relatedsto a piece of the verse. From the beginning to the end of the Four Sons is "והגדת לבנך"; the part that starts "From Rosh Chodesh you are able" corresponds to "ביום ההוא" and so on. This was credited to the Malbim. And while I usually consider such games to be to cute by half, I liked this one.
If this was all that had happened it would have been enough: Another guest let me know that James Kugel is now publishing a weekly parsha sheet. You can find it on his new website, where you can also subscribe to receive it by email. While I have often joked about putting my Parsha Notes on the pamphlet table at our local shuls, I can actually see myself doing it with the Kugel Page. It's written with the wry tone for which Kugel is justifiably favorite, and he's true to his training as a world class critic and scholar of rabbinics, but its all harmless. I don't mean to suggest there is something insidious about this project. Kugel is a brand name, who isn't pretending to be anything other than the believing, Orthodox Jewish, bible critic, quasi heretic that he is. He's not trying to fool anyone. But at the same time the few examples I consulted look like ordinary divrei Torah that - unlike ordinary divrei Torah - manage to tell the truth without (and this is key) offending - or even overtly challenging - mainstream Jewish beliefs.