Dear Aunt Ellie,
We are so excited that you and Uncle Harry will join us for Seder again this year, even though we woke up Uncle Harry last year when we began singing “Had Gadya.” (In fairness, he was snoring loudly.) And yes, I know that I didn’t grow up in a family where Seder dinner wasn’t served till 11:00 p.m., but if you remember to have a snack before you come and haven't fainted from hunger by then, my Pesach brisket marinated in red wine is worth the wait.
I know that I didn’t grow up in a family where Seder dinner wasn’t served till 11:00 p.m
Last year you asked why we all had to talk so much during the Seder – good question! We Jews are good talkers for a reason: Pesach actually means “talking mouth” in Hebrew (“peh” = mouth; “sach” = discussion). The Four Questions jumpstart the conversation, but it's all meant to help us connect to our miraculous Exodus from slavery to freedom more than 3,300 years ago. (Heads up: All six kids are eagerly looking forward to explaining different parts of the Seder, and I've offered prizes to any of them who can keep their explanations down to less than 10 minutes each. This might do the trick.)
I know it can take a long time to get through the Haggadah, but after the weeks of preparation, we are gung-ho to retell the amazing story of our birth as a nation. After all, we live with some Pesach consciousness every day, since we mention the Exodus during our morning prayers, during the Birkat HaMazon after meals, and during Kiddush each Shabbat. But I know, the Seder can sometimes last as long as the Superbowl, without any commercial interruptions or halftime shows, so I took your suggestion and bought new Haggadahs with more updated translations. No more archaic “thou” and “thy” references, and in case you get bored anyway, this one has better pictures, too. And stay tuned: we've retired the old Styrofoam balls and rubber frogs that we've been throwing at everyone for years during the 10 plagues and have some exciting new props, to keep your attention "ribbeted." (Oy, I know that was bad, but I couldn't resist. All this cleaning must be making me a little punch-drunk.)
It takes practice to learn to feel free when we are obligated to eat so much matzah measured out according to a diagram and while the egg timer has been flipped over. But look at it this way: The “puffed” nature of chametz symbolizes the ego that can trap us all (well, not you, Aunt Ellie; I’m only speaking of myself) and can keep us from focusing on what really matters in life. On the other hand, the simplicity of matzah reminds us of our essential Jewish identity, values, and purpose. Hey, any people who can eat this much matzah for an entire week and still outlast every other civilization in history is a people you can be proud to belong to, don't you think? Don’t worry; no one’s watching to see if you eat the full amount of matzah, except for Moshe, but you'll forgive him, since he's only 7.
Last year Uncle Harry also asked why the Seder has to have 15 parts, a whole “gantza megilla,” as he called it. That's another good question, and the answer is counterintuitive: We are really only free if we have structure. A society without rules would not be “free” – it would be terrifying and chaotic, kind of like the mall the morning after Thanksgiving when everything goes on sale. The right rules can keep us from losing our way in a world of too many wrong options; that's why the Torah is like our spiritual GPS. The 15 parts of the Seder also relate to 15 different perspectives on freedom that we can explore; the fact that Pesach is on the 15th of Nissan, when the moon is full; and the idea that personal growth also happens in 15 gradual steps. Yeah, I know: we Jews have an answer for everything.
I have to get back to cleaning now, or shopping (actually, both), but as a reminder, please try to have naps and snacks before coming over. You know I'm not a fan of letting Seders go to 2 a.m., but factoring in letting everyone say their piece -- within reason -- and to get to my special flourless chocolate cake (not to be missed) I’m guessing we won’t get to Had Gadya again till around midnight or a bit later. I’m putting a very comfy pillow on Uncle Harry’s chair – just in case.
We can’t wait to see you both on Seder night – bring all the questions you can think of!