4/16/2008

AddeRabbi’s Pesach FAQ

[News: An article that I wrote, which originated as a shiur I gave on Shavu’ot 4 years ago, then adapted for this blog (link), was published in the most recent volume of the Journal of Halakha and Contemporary Society. I submitted it almost 2 years ago (back when I was still a rabbi ;)]

Q. Why do we drink 4 cups of wine (i.e., not any other number)?

A. Because there are 4 occasions during the course of the meal which mandate a ‘kos shel bracha’: Kiddush, Sippur Yetziat Mitzrayim, Bentching, and Hallel. Everything else is drash.

Q. According to those who are makpid not to eat a ke-zayit of karpas because the hefsek before the meal would be too long without making a bracha acharona, why does the issue not arise regarding the first cup of wine? What happened to its bracha acharona?

A. I have no good answer, but I do have 2 more good ways to solve the ‘bracha acharona’ issue so you can load up on karpas:

a. Just make a bracha acharona if you want.

b. Keep eating karpas all through magid.

Q. How many parts does the Seder have?

A. Four: The beginning of the meal, sippur yetziat Mitzrayim which interrupts the meal, the rest of the meal (incl. birkat hamazon) and Hallel. Each section is punctuated by a cup of wine at its beginning or end. This is the division articulated in the Mishna. The cute poem that we all love (kadesh urchatz…) was composed in the 13th Century.

Q. Did Hillel really make a sandwich in the times of the Beit ha-Mikdash?

A. No. Otherwise a ‘sandwich’ would be called a ‘hillel’ since he predated the famed Earl by over a millennium. Seriously, though, Hillel had it right. He wrapped (‘korech’) his matza around some marror and some korban Pesach. Clearly, his matza was soft and flexible. The Mishna’s marror was lettuce. Thus, he basically took a lafa and put on some lettuce and roast lamb, wrapped it up, and chowed down. We commemorate this by eating horseradish on a cracker and saying “This is what Hillel did”, on the very night that we ostensibly preserve and transmit our collective memory.

Q. Does Eliyahu Ha-Navi really come to every Seder?

A. I could answer that question in a way that explains the significance of Eliyahu’s invocation at the Pesach Seder and at circumcision ceremonies, but I’ll just go with ‘no’. My negativity and cynicism stems from the commercialization of Pesach in Israel, in which Eliyahu ha-Navi has basically become the Israeli Santa Claus. He goes from Seder to Seder on his white donkey, asking kids what they want for afikoman. Ladies and gentlemen, the Jewish State.

Q. How important is it to say every word of the Hagaddah?

A. There is no mitzvah to recite the Hagaddah. The mitzvah of sippur yetziat Mitzrayim is to narrate our founding story to our children (and ourselves) in a manner appropriate to each of them. The main text used should be the vidui bikkurim in Devarim. Make sure that you tell it over in a narrative format (beginning, middle, end, starting with the bad parts, ending with the redemption), and use the objects on the table (matzah and marror, not the ‘Bag O’ Plagues’) to characterize and punctuate the various parts of the narrative. That’s the mitzvah. The rest is, quite literally, commentary.

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