By Joe Bobker

The peak of Egyptian oppression occurred under the 67 year reign of Rameses 11. The Jews rejoiced at his death, prematurely it seems. For it was under the tyranny of his successor, Mernephtah, that "they cried to God," ii in an agonizing period of serfdom that lasted from 1522 to 1312 BC. iii This Pharaoh was a phony Pharaoh: according to the Midrash he would study the times of the tides of the Nile, and enter the water precisely the moment that the water began to rise, so that it should appear to be rising to honor him.

But how did the Jews get to Egypt in the first place? As a result of a famine which drove them there. How many Jews actually left for Israel? 603,550 males, exclusive of Levites, women and children. iv Was this a guess? No. The Book of Numbers owes its very name to a God-ordered "counting" via the submission of shekalim, "coins," the results serving as the basis of the future division of Israel. vi Is ‘600,000’ coincidental? viii The number of Jews who left Egypt for the holy land is approximately the same number of Holocaust survivors who left Europe for Palestine, and the same number of Jews who left the Soviet Union for the Third Jewish Commonwealth in Operation Exodus I (the proportional equivalent of moving the entire population of France to the United States). ix

Pesach is the only Jewish holiday whose title Jewish parents still use to name their sons. Think of it: who do you know names Succas, or Shavuos? x The Torah crowns Pesach the first of the shalosh regalim, the "three pilgrimage festivals," when Jews ascended en masse to Jerusalem on a regular basis, to ha’Makom asher yivchar Hashem, "the site God chose to make His Name great," not just for shalosh r’galim but also to eat and share ma’asrot, "tithes;" to ask judgment or get guidance from the Kohanim; or to gather for the mitzva of Hakhel. xi

This festival has three precise designations: Hag haMatzot, ("Feast of the Unleavened Bread,") Hag ha-Pesach, ("Festival of the Paschal Offering") and Zeman Herutenu, ("Season of Our Freedom"); each name linking the Spring wheat ‘n barley harvest season to a people’s redemption from slavery. xiv Although some use the term hag ha-Pesach this is technically incorrect: it is simply "Pesach," a reference not to a yomtov but to a day, the 14th of Nissan, the time of the Pesach sacrifice.

In English, we know this festival as "Passover," a word derived from the Hebrew pasah – as in "the Lord will pass over" any Israelite home whose doorpost has been sprinkled with the blood of a sacrificial lamb. Ironically the term passover was introduced into the Jewish lexicon by a die-hard 16th century anti-semitic Bible scholar, William Tyndale, a talmud of Martin Luther, the fierce Jewhater. Tyndale’s King James English translation of the Torah is now universally accepted, and is responsible for such theological expressions as "let there be light," "salt of the earth," and "am I my brother’s keeper?"

Pesach is a 7-day festival in Israel, 8 in the diaspora, with the yomtov days falling on the first, second, seventh and eighth days (first and seventh in Israel), with chol hamo’ed "intermediate" days in-between. The Hebrew term chol (from which comes the modern Hebrew adjective hiloni, "secular") means "workaday," and mo’ed means "holy time." Thus chol ha-mo’ed (pronounced kholemoyed in yiddish, with the stress on the next-to-last syllable) is the "secular" section of Pesach (and Sukkas). On the 10th day of Nisan, the Jews were commanded (at great personal risk) to gather unblemished lambs for an afternoon sacrifice on the 14th day. Why a lamb? Because the Egyptians worshipped it as a sacred animal. xvii When the public display of Jews killing the local deity passed by without Egyptian wrath our rabbis declared the Sabbath of the 10th of Nissan the first Shabbas HaGodol in history, literally the "Great Sabbath." xix A perusal of the Jewish calendar shows an oddity: the second day of Pesach always falls on the same week day as the first day of Shavuot. A coincidence? No. It does so because of a mnemonic rabbinic device known as at-bash, whereby the first and last seven letters of the Hebrew alphabet are matched up (thus alef = tav, bet = shin, etc). Since every Hebrew letter has a numerical value, you take the letters alef to zayin, representing the first seven days of Pesach, and link them with the letters tav to ayin, the last seven letters taken in reverse order, to indicate which day of the week seven other Jewish festivals will fall. xx

Although the term Passover has become the commonly accepted one, it is a regrettable mistranslation of the Hebrew. It presupposes the Hebrew root a-v-r as meaning "to pass through" instead of the verb root p-s-ch. Remember: The Hebrew language is based on verbal roots and vowels that evoke the idea and nuance behind a word’s desired meaning. Hebrew is thus both a visual as well as a spoken language. Since the Israelites literally lived side-by-side with their Egyptian neighbors in Goshen the Angel of Death would not have passed "over" but "up-and-down," and/or "in-between," the doorposts.

Linguistics aside, the festival of Pesach has a magnetic allurement, a fascinating appeal, a powerful attraction. It towers mightily and majestically in the Jewish calendar over all the other holidays. As one of the three festivals devoted entirely to Jewish national liberation (the other two? Chanukah, Purim) it reigns supreme because it is the only one anchored in the Bible itself. As a source of Judaic inspiration Pesach is fons et orgio, exquisitely preeminent, a window through which the vastness of all of Judaism can be glimpsed. Unlike the multiple Shavuos and Succas Torah injunctions of vesamachta be’Chagecha, "rejoice on your festival," there is no similar halachik dictate for Pesach. But not to worry. It is a generally accepted principle that the inclusive mood of each yomtov is to be s’meach, "happy."

The catalyst of Pesach cheer is a marvelously enticing work known as the Haggadah, a separate "stand-alone" Hebrew manuscript, an ancient piece of narrative pedagogy that, according to Rashi "captivates the heart" of a daring, daunting drama. Those flipping through it in search of a logical coherent structure will be disappointed. Since this is a night of questions, one may be forgiven for asking ma ha-seder she-baseder?, "What order is there in the Seder?"

There is none.

The Haggadah is not a "book," as we understand a book to be, but a mosaic of passages, a tapestry of images, a whole-cloth of borrowings. Its ingredients are a mixed menu from the Old Testament, enhanced and embellished with sayings from the Midrash and Mishnah, pesukim from Tanakh, stirred with blessings, prayers and songs ("a great and mighty Divine poem," per Rav Kook) xxii – all accompanied by such a myriad of Pesach halachas that an entire tractate of the Talmud is named after it. Yet these bits ‘n bytes of Scriptures, so seemingly diverse at first, come together in a perfect union to comply with the order to "expound the whole section."

The epic grandeur of the Haggadah was first transmitted verbally from fathers to sons ‘n daughters. Eventually, the Wise Men of the Great Assembly had its original luster reduced to writing and ordered Jews to sing the Song of Exodus daily in their morning prayers, attracting a rare Zohar reward: "Whoever reads the Shira daily with devotion will have the merit to read it in Olam HaBa [the World to Come]." The sweet lyricism of Shir ha-Shirim, "Song of Songs," expresses the joy of love and Spring and is an exquisite fixture of the Shabbas that falls within Pesach. The 7th day of Pesach is marked by the immutable lyrics of the soaring Shirat ha-yam, a self-abnegatory "Song of the Red Sea," that Rav Hertz calls "the oldest song of national triumph still extant." It is an eternal music of modesty, a poetic and dramatic recollection by an emotional people of its liberation, brimming with poetry of gratitude that glorifies the Name of God. Song permeates the choreography of Torah: we find Jews singing on the night they depart Egypt, and when a well of water springs up in the wilderness. Before he dies Moses sings a song of comfort; Joshua, Devorah, Barak, King Yehoshaphat, and David, the "sweet singer of Israel," all burst into song when they vanquish or rescape their enemies, whilst Solomon can’t help but sing-along with his Temple’s dedication. Yes, there were many songs, but only one Shirah! xxvi

What does ‘Haggadah’ mean?

On the surface it means thanks, but it is more than that, much more. It is a symphony of gratitude, a chorus of appreciation, composed from the verse, "I acknowledge [higgadeti] today to God." This is a salute to the Mishnah’s aggadeta, a multi-compilation of midrashic sayings and homiletic stories designed to fulfill a direct Torah command: "You shall tell [vehiggadeta] your son on that day." This luring format, based on our rabbi’s instinct that "the soul of man yearns to hear legends," has made Pesach the most aggadic of all Jewish festivals. But is aggada binding, halachikally? No. Yet every text, Biblical, Mishnaic or Talmudic, does not hesitate to use it as a powerful vehicle to lead Jews to predetermined moral truths and spiritual conclusions, hoping, along the way, to inject emunah, "faith," as the Torah’s sole Weltanschauung. xxx It is easy to see why: aggadah’s imaginative narrative, free-floating metaphors and heavily annotated parables flow with such dazzle, that it is a Judaic teaching tool par excellance.

God’s presence in history is felt right at the seder table, making the Haggadah’s commercial demand seem inexhaustible, its audience unlimited. It is by far the Number One top seller, and most illustrated xxxi, of all Jewish books. The 1454 Rhineland haggadah of the scribe-artist Joel ben Simeon is the inspirational epitome of hiddur mitzvah, "beautifying a commandment," with wild animals, domestic beasts, and crouching figures all supporting elaborate decorative double arches, festooned with fantastic towers and figurehead medallions, in which are listed the laws of Pesach. More Torah commentaries exist on the Haggadah than on any other Jewish text, including the Bible. From the day it made its first appearance (1482) in Italy’s Reggio di Calabria, Judaica collectors have amassed more than 3,500 separate editions. Consider: during the entire 16th century only 25 Haggadahs were printed; by the 19th century publishers were churning out 1,269 Haggadahs a year…and this record was broken in just the first half of the 20th century! Its scholarly lure is underlined by a startling fact: in comparison to the oldest-known, 13th or 14th century Haggadah manuscript (currently in Russia’s Leningrad Library that consists of only four leaves (8 pages), the early-20th century Otzar Peirushim veTziyyurim, "Treasury of Commentaries and Illustrations," xxxii was bursting with over 300 pages, and growing.

When Chaim Herzog made history by being Israel’s first president to officially visit the United States, President Ronald Reagan searched for an appropriate gift and gave Chaim, yep…a Haggadah. xxxiii It is the perfect gift because, throughout history, its variety fits all sizes, ranging from the rare illuminated 15th century First Nuremberg Haggadah xxxiv to the elegant Sarajevo Haggadah (by far the best-known Hebrew illuminated manuscript extant), xxxv to blue-and-whites (Maxwell House), to a rarity that depicts Jews with heads of birds (to avoid drawing human images), to Holocaust survivors (a reproduction of the first haggadah used after liberation), xxxvi and to hare hunting drawings (the famous medieval Ashkenazi Haggadah) that illustrate the Kiddush. Is this last one bizarre or not? No. It derives from a legitimate question as to which order, if Pesach starts on motzei Shabbas, should one say the Kiddush and make Havdalah. Our rabbis "summarized" the sequence of brachot in the Talmud – yayin (wine), Kiddush, ner (candle), Havdalah and z’man (as in "time" of the festival) – into yak-n’-haz, an expression which sounds like jagt-den-Hasen, German for "hunt the hare." This led some Haggadot and Machzorim to illustrate the relevant page with hunting scenes (despite the fact that Judaism frowns on animal hunting for pleasure). I have seen Haggadah’s specifically printed for war, women’s rights, vegetarians, xxxvii yiddishists, xxxviii Christians – and even for impatient Jews who can’t wait to eat their meal. It is the most hijacked sefer of all times. Bizarre "politically correct" groups have brought out so-called multi-cultural Haggadah’s dedicated (inappropriately) to the rights of gays, Palestinians, Tibetans, even atheists. America’s guru-rabbi Arthur Waskow invented "Shalom Seders" for the Dominican Friars in the Nevada desert to protest the H-bomb ("the ultimate Pharaoh") and "Freedom Seders" for African-Americans (with such soul-stomping heartfelt harmonies as "Rock my Soul in the Bosom of Abraham," and "By the Waters of Babylon").

It is therefore not surprising, with so much exposure and saturation, to find that nearly every Jewish child knows the adventures of the Jewish people off by heart; how Moses led the Children of Israel from Egyptian slavery, molded them from a loose rag-tag group of tribes into a nation in the holy land, securing a position in the religious consciousness of all humanity. xxxix For what purpose? Ta’avdun et ha-Elokim al ha-har ha-zeh, "to worship the Lord upon Sinai." xl But wait! Moses’ name is hardly even mentioned in the Haggadah; in fact, it only appears once and even then only casually in a quote. That the tale is so well-known is a tribute to the Torah’s stunningly succinct snapshot of Jewish history; first via the Bible, secondly via the Haggadah, starting with its singular most prominent verse, Arami oveid avi, "My father was a wandering Aramean," changed, by using different vowels, to Arami iveid avi, "an Aramean sought to destroy my father [Jacob]," thus going back even further in Jewish history; to Genesis, wherein a forefather "went down to Egypt," but only temporarily, to "sojourn there." His optimism was ill founded, as the Jews became a community oppressed, laying painful paving stones over centuries waiting for their future liberation.

The sensational success of the flight from Egypt fulfilled several Divine promises, starting with Abraham ("Your seed will be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, where they will serve for 400 years…and afterwards they shall come out") and, two generations later, to Jacob ("I will go down with you into Egypt and I will bring you up again"), xlii and finally to Moses ("I will deliver them from the Egyptians, and bring them into the land flowing with milk and honey.")

Moses was raised not as a Jew but as an Egyptian, in a highly cosmopolitan multi-lingual society. His name is Egyptian, derived from the verse, ki min-hamayim meshitihu, "taken from the waters." xliv It is unlikely that his savior Princess Bithyah, one of 59 of Rameses II’s daughters, would use Hebrew rather than Egyptian to name her newfound infant. Therefore the name ‘Moses’ is more likely to be derived from the Egyptian mes or mesu, which mean "child, son." Later, when Moses addressed Pharoah he referred to his people as ‘Hebrews,’ but he spoke to them fondly as ‘Israel.’ The word Yehudi ("Jew") would soon come to symbolize not just a man (Judah, the son of Jacob and Leah) but also a mighty tribe (the Judeans) and a holy land (Judah).

All of God’s pledges would have been pointless if the Heavens had abandoned the Jews of Egypt to permanent slavery, certain assimilation and unimpeded Jewish infanticide. They would have been empty unkept promises, a deceitful sham and a cruel fraud on God’s part. Pesach is a mandatory annual celebration because God made good on His promises; the miraculous escape and the successful military conquests vindicating and exonerating the pledges from Heaven. But there is an obvious question: if God hardened Pharaoh’s heart then what good is the concept of free will? And was it fair to subject the Egyptian people themselves to the terror plagues? xlviii

The Rambam claims that by "oppressing strangers, and tyrannizing them with great injustice," Pharaoh had already exercised his own (evil) free will. God simply withheld the power of repentance in order to administer the punishment which justice required. Wait, doesn’t this contradict the entire thrust of tshuva, that "up to the day of a person’s death God waits for them to repent." Yes. The only conclusion is this: some sins, whether burying Jewish children in pyramid walls or gassing them in crematoria, are so evil that no repentance is possible.

Rabbinic commentary is full of concern for the Egyptian citizenry ("Rejoice not when your enemy falls; be not glad when he stumbles") xlix and a famous Midrash describes how God rebukes the joyful angels ("The works of My hands are drowning in the sea, and you want to sing?"). Jewish mystics, concerned that Jews not be seen as gloating at Egyptian discomfiture, claimed that the plagues attacked not the populace but a legitimate spiritual target: their false gods. Since the Nile was worshipped as the source of life and prosperity, its waters were turned to blood; because frogs were regarded as sacred they were chosen to spread devastation; the earth and its crops were worshipped, so locusts swarmed to eat up every piece of vegetation; because the sun was a god, it was neutered by a plague of darkness; and finally the first-born son of Pharaoh, who considered himself a deity, was killed. li

I remember how my mother, in one short sentence was able to summarize, in yiddish of course, Pesach’s most important lesson "God will help; meantime help me, O God, until God helps." This means God helps those who help themselves, confirmed by the Haggadah’s account of frightened Jews wedged between a raging sea and 600 Egyptian chariot troops. Naturally, they turn to Moses. Who else? But their leader, once so determined now stands disabled; frozen, immobile, paralyzed in prayer. God responds, but not the way Moses expects. The Heavens admonish him for wasting precious time by praying. Miracles are suddenly withheld, but only temporarily. It takes the courage of a single Israelite, Nahshon son of Aminadav, chief of the tribe of Judah, to affirm that "there is nothing greater than faith." The daring Jew steps out into the waters and forces the "great hand and outstretched arm" of God to make a homa, a wall, and part the waters. By forcing God’s hand, Nahshon’s tribe is rewarded with the messianic Davidic dynasty. liv To my parents, Polish-Holocaust survivors both, it was Nahshon of Aminadav that represented the timeless Pesach key to Jewish history. He was proof incarnate: that "one must not rely on miracles alone;" that individual Jewish courage means communal Jewish liberation; and that the faith of one liberates all. lvi

The Hebrew word for miracle(s), nes or nissim, appears a lot at Pesach time; its English is derived from the Latin mirari, which means "to wonder," or "to marvel at, be amazed by;" or to see the common in an uncommon way. lviii It is a deep article of faith that one believes in the Red Sea miracle, even more so than Revelation at Sinai. In a famous yiddish legend a woman in Safed becomes possessed by a dybbuk as punishment for not believing in the miracle of the Red Sea. According to the Rambam belief in miracles, ancient or modern, is so axiomatic in Judaism that to deny them is heresy, "A miracle does not prove what is impossible; rather it is an affirmation of what is possible." lx To ask why miracles only happened in antiquity is to fail to see God’s Hand in modern history, whether it be the creation and ongoing survival of Israel to the collapse of Communism. When David Ben Gurion asked Rav Herzog, the chief rabbi of Israel, why God did not send a miracle to preserve the new State, the rabbi replied, "I regard you as one of God’s miracles!"

The word nes in the Torah doesn’t automatically mean miracle; it might be referring to a "sign" (ote), or a "test" (nissa, as God did to Abraham), lxi or something simply to "marvel" or "wonder" at (pelleh), whether Divine or not. It is a common myth that a "miracle" must have some supernatural or virtuoso magical component. This is not so. What turns a natural everyday event into a nes is not the act itself, but its timing and consequence. That a waterway in Egypt parted is not a miracle in and of itself; that it parted just at the right time and resulted in the saving of Jewish lives made it one. By the Torah’s own admission its impact lasted only three days, proving that sometimes "even the beneficiary of a miracle does not realize that it is happening." lxiii Is the "Red Sea" and the "Sea of Reeds" the same? No. The former is an inlet separating the western Arabian Peninsula from the east coast of Egypt; while the latter is one of the lakes between Egypt and Sinai, and is the one in Exodus. How then did the "Red Sea" get into the Hebrew texts? From a tortured mistranslation route that went from the original Hebrew (Torah) into Greek (the Septuagint, the oldest Bible translation in the world, dating back to the 3rd or 4th century BC) then to Latin and finally into English (the popular King James’s Bible of 1611). The translators took the term ‘yam suf’ from I Kings 9:26 and misapplied it to the ‘yam suf’ in Exodus 13:18, despite the vastly different contexts; the former talks about King Solomon’s navy on the shore of the Red Sea [yam suf] "in the land of Edom." This was a genuine mistake. They thought that the Hebrew words ‘Edom’ (a geographic location) and adom ("red") meant the same.

The month of Nisan is Judaism’s an all-time favorite month, its festive merry status nicknamed the "Month of Great Miracles," an adulation that our Sages even extend to Jews named "Chanina, Chananyah or Yochanan." Why? Because they are spelt with two "nuns." So? This stands for nisei nissim, meaning "very great miracles." Nisan’s unique status in the Jewish calendar derives from its being a beginning, a priority, in compliance with the first post-Exodus mitzvah that the Jews receive as a people, "This month shall be your first month." lxv The result? Pesach is the first Jewish holiday the Jews celebrated; a yomtov so significant that it even changed the basis of the Jewish calendar, from BE to AE. The former stands for "before Egypt," when the Jewish year began in Autumn in Tishrei, the month in which the New Year still stands. And then came "after Egypt," with a Torah dictate that Jews "observe the month of Spring and keep Passover" (beginning on the evening of the 15th day of Nisan), which forced the Sages to count their months from Spring (Aviv), the end of the rainy season. In Israel this is the season when the fig tree is in bud, grain is starting to ripe, fruit trees begin to blossom, wheat stalks harden, wild fowers carpet the fields and kernels across the holy land begin to fill with harvested grain. This explains why it we say a special prayer for dew (tal) on the first day Pesach, whilst the prayer for rain (morid ha-geshem) is suspended. Menachem Mendel of Koznitz breaks the word Aviv into two: av ("father") and y’v (whose gematria is "twelve"), to arrive at Nisan being the "father of the twelve months (of the year.)" lxvii

On each of the first twelve days of Nisan, one member of each tribe offered a sacrifice at the Tabernacle, causing each day to be designated as a festival. Then, starting on the 15th, the next eight days were the joyous Pesach days. The month was void of any remorseful prayers (tahanunim) or fasting, except for first-born sons on the day before Pesach, known as Ta’anit Bekhorim, a reminder that God spared elder Jewish boys as against the Egyptian first-born (however those who participate in a seudat mitzvah, a religious meal following a siyum, the "completion of a tractate of Torah," are exempt from fasting. lxviii

Pesach is synonymous with symbols that overflow and merge one into the other in such rapid pace that we hardly have time to catch our breath. This roller-coaster ride takes place at the seder tisch, a festively laid-out table on each of the first two nights where a ritual interactive reenactment of the Exodus takes place. In the first century of the Common Era, Theudas, the leader of the Roman Jewish community, wanted his community to actually sacrifice a lamb but was ordered by the rabbinate to cease ‘n desist, on the basis that without a Temple there could not even be the appearance of a sacrificial animal. lxx

Why must the seder be at night?

A father, standing in a blackened cellar, called out to his little son to jump through an open trap door; but the little boy was scared. He couldn’t see anything, just blackness.
"Jump, jump," yelled the father, "I’ll catch you!"
"But I cannot see you."
"Never mind, I can see you! Jump."
And so the little boy jumped, into and through the murky darkness, and found himself in the safe arms of his father.

After the pained prophet Isaiah called out to the Heavens, "Watchman what of the night?," lxxi Rashi described "nighttime" as the "domain of the destroying agencies," whilst the Zohar referred to it as a "barren dust that rules over Israel, who are prostrate to it." lxxii Our rabbis composed the Hash-kiveinu prayer that God protect us from the terrors of nightfall, a plea based on pure precedence: all 13 events listed in the yomtov song of Vayehi bachatzi ha’layla take place on Pesach eve, at night. lxxiii This convinced our mystics that the final redemption, an event which will be U’keor boker yizrach shemesh, "as clear as day," would appear during the darkness, when all hope seems lost; at a time of heightened fear, insecurity and anxiety. Why? So that we could awake to the light and confidence of a new world order, and know no more of the dark inauspicious "it-came-to-pass-at-midnight" dread.

The seder tisch is the single most important meal in the entire Jewish calendar; even more than the three Shabbat meals. Did you know? Pesach not only begins with a feast, it also ends with one, a light merry meal in the afternoon of the last day. The litvags (Lithuanian Jews) call this "the Meal of the Gra," named after the famed Gaon of Vilna who taught that it was a mitzva to honor the "departure" of matza; Chabad chassidim know it as a Seudat Mashiah, the "Messiah’s Feast," to demonstrate faith in his imminent arrival; yiddishists are more direct: this "final supper" is simply begleiten dem yomtov, which means "escorting out the festival."

Our Sages wisely made the premier Pesach activity, the seder tisch, "a family affair," one held at home, at night, rather than in the synagogue. This festival thus became one of sharing and kinship, brilliantly bonding Jews not only internally (to their own families) but externally as well to the larger family of their scattered people. This Judaic camaraderie made it inconceivable that one would stay home alone for a seder, or leave one’s own family to attend another’s seder, even though both are halachikally permissible. Rabbi Eliezer once rebuked his own pupil, Rabbi Illai, for leaving his family to spend time with him, his teacher. lxxiv It is this emphasis on togetherness, of belonging, the most intimate of all human experiences, that has contributed to Pesach’s longevity and explains why 92% of unaffiliated American Jews still attend a seder every year, despite the otherwise rampant apathy to all things Jewish. (David Ben Gurion once admitted that the only novel he had ever read was the popular blockbuster book Exodus. When asked why, he replied, "I forced myself to read it, because I wanted to know what influences the Jews of America.") lxxv

All Jewish adults, regardless of their level of religiosity, carry and pass on, a fond opium of warm childhood memories of parents, brothers, sisters and children at a Pesach table. "Sometimes a color, a sound, a strain of music evokes remembrances of things past," reminisces Richard Yaffe, "For me it is smells, the delicious aromas of childhood Passovers." lxxvii Ruth R. Wisse agrees: "All pleasures spring from the seders of my childhood, the excitement of which I adored." lxxix Pesach’s remarkable fascination grabs us with a tremendous tenacity and attracts not just wise ‘n wicked sons, but also scoffers, sinners, cynics; even those "who," according to Heinrich Heine "have drifted from the faith of their fathers" (Heine being a Jew who knew all about "drifting away" from yiddishkeit).

On Pesach, we, as children, starting with the youngest amongst us, are prodded and prompted to talk about the nature of freedom as though we had "personally come out of Egypt." Why? So that we, as adults, can care compassionately about slaves, widows and orphans within the philosophy of tikkun olam, lxxxi which means literally, "to repair, or restore," an expression found in the second paragraph of Alenu. Tikkun, the climactic redemption of humanity, is a messianic concept, derived from the notion of sh’virat hakelim, the "breaking of the vessels," in that mankind’s task was to put Creation right after the earthly "vessels" shattered in their inability to contain the intense Heavenly light that caused the world to go awry. lxxxii Yet the Mishna turns its back on this abstract component and gives tikkun olam a here-and-now connotation, a road map of local social ordinances mip’nei tikkun ha’olam, lxxxiii "for the common good of society."

This is why the Haggadah bypasses God’s own language (Hebrew) lxxxiv and begins its story telling workshop in Aramaic, lxxxvi the lingua franca of the Jews of Palestine and the Mid East from about the 8th century BC to 700 CE, when it was supplanted by Arabic. More than 3 chapters of Ezra, 5 chapters of Daniel, one verse in Jeremiah, and 2 words in Genesis are all in Aramaic. lxxxviii With its opening invitation ha-lahma anya, "all who are hungry come and eat," in Aramaic the Haggadah sought to use the language of the masses to spawn the erev-Pesach custom of giving charity to the poor, known as maos chittim ("money for wheat") or kimcha d’Pesacha ("flour for Pesach").

Is there any doubt then that the "fairness" component within the seder’s universal message ("abhor not an Egyptian, for you were a stranger in his land") is not the factor in why there is such a high emphasis on social causes among Jews? xc Remember: it is on Pesach that Isaiah dazzles mankind with his insistence on social justice, inviting us to close our eyes and imagine a perfect utopian earth where wolves and sheep are friendly neighbors, where nations beat swords and spears into spades and plowshares." xcii It was this "jewish" trait that led Clarence Darrow to advise defense attorneys to pad their juries with Jews; xciii and when a White House visitor once remarked to Woodrow Wilson what a pity it was that a man as great as Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis should be a Jew, the President replied that Brandeis would not have been so great a man if he wasn’t a Jew! xcv

The moral upgrading of human rights, although not the primary goal of Pesach, has inspired countless Jews in their search for a better world, spiritually lifted by that breathtakingly courageous demand to "Let My People Go!" That is when Zechariah looked into the future and saw a proud Jewish nation, with its defiant "prisoners of hope," marching forward, yearning for freedom and craving for equality, with an utter contempt for slavery and for man-made deities. It was Pharoah’s arrogant outburst, "I know not the Lord!," that stirred the Jewish God into a series of plagues, designed to affect all of Egyptian society: water and earth, air and vegetation, animals and humans.xcviii Rashbam points out that the first 9 plagues come in three groups, summarized by their mnemonic initials d’tzach adash b’achav, and that, in each group, the first two plagues are preceded by a public, then private, warning. Since neither of these approaches work, the third plague in each group comes suddenly, publicly and with no further warning – except for the tenth (and worse) plague. This one is announced twice. c

The dramatic mano a mano Moses-Pharoah confrontation represented an unprecedented revolt. It was mounted for mankind’s liberty and was different from every previous insurrection. How? Because all the earlier rebellions had been selfishly motivated by one ruthless self-absorbed man, or one country’s urge for power, plunder or prestige. And yet, not all Jews participated; the lure of freedom was not enough to move the entire Jewish community out of Egypt. The Torah truthfully admits: only one in 5 were sufficiently adventurous to take up the challenge of emancipation. Included in the journey from Raamses to Succot were an "eirev rav," a Hebrew expression whose root meaning is "to mix," or "mingle," a term that occurs only once in the entire Torah. ci Who were they? No one knows. The Torah refuses to identify them, but such is the beauty and mystery of the am segula that only a handful, a bare minority, an insignificant statistic, dramatically changed the course of history. ciii

"Just as a nation creates its own history, so, too, is it created by it," wrote the martyred Jewish historian Simon Dubnow. The Jews were the first to carry this captivating Theology of Liberation through the gateways of generations. They stand guilty in the dock of world history for aiding and abetting an immutable power of the spirit that has moved underdogs and scapegoats, victims and losers, coram deo. By demanding that freedom be an inalienable right for all folk, the Jewish people are inseparable from such lofty declarations as "Proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants" (Torah); "The destiny of Israel depends on the establishment of universal freedom" (Judah Leib Magnes); "Since the Exodus, Freedom has always spoken with a Hebrew accent" (Heinrich Heine); and "The first step toward liberty is to miss it; the second, to seek it; the third, to find it" (Leopold Zunz).

"Pharaoh died, but his deeds live on" observed the articulate Ahad Ha’am, simply echoing Russeau from 1762, "Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains." Was it a coincidence? Rabbi Akiva planned his struggle against the Roman yoke of oppression around Pesach time; it was on Pesach that young Warsaw Ghetto Jews rose up in a historic act of defiance against their own WW II taskmaster; cv the remnants of Adolf Hitler headed for Palestine on board Exodus ’47; cvi years later brave Russian Jews found their liberation via Operation Exodus whilst Ethiopian Jewry were freed from their own bondage with Operation Moses. cvii It was the theme of Pesach that inspired the Bastille, the Fourth of July and Emma Lazarus’ poetry carved into America’s Statue of Liberty.

No wonder the Zohar calls matza "the bread of faith," based on the similarity between the words ‘mitzva’ and ‘matza.’ cix Some Jewish communities have used matza as a good-luck amulet charm, others hang it in their home, some carry it in their wallet or purse, whilst Italian Jewish women would bite into it during childbirth for good luck. cx When Rabbi Israel Spira led 70 Bergen-Belsen Jews to demand flour for baking matza, it was a demand so audacious in the SS Valley of Death that a stunned Adolf Haas, camp commandant, acquiesced. Before the Iron Curtain collapsed it was matza that visibly symbolized an individual’s involvement in Judaism at a time when one dared not mention its name out of fear and referred to it as "diet bread." cxi In 1939 Rabbi Levi Zalman Schneerson, Ukrainian father of Menachem Mendel and chief rabbi of Dnepropetrovsk was sentenced to exile in Central Asia, where he died, for the "crime" of distributing matza.

What exactly is matza? The term is derived from the Babylonian ma-as-sa-ar-tum, which means barley, the first grain harvested in the Mid East that was replaced centuries later by wheat. It is crisp, flat and unleavened, made of flour and water, and baked before the dough has had time to rise. When I was a child matza was round, today it is square. Why? Because machine-made matzah is easier to bake and pack if it is square. It is preferable to eat the traditional round shape, a custom based on the Torah’s description for cakes of unleavened bread (uggot matzot), wherein the root ug means "round" or "circular," and thus indicative that round matzot, symbolic of our forefather’s "bread of affliction" is probably what our ancestors ate when they left Egypt. cxiv

The Egyptians are credited with "discovering" the first bread. At first they used to crush acorns, beechnuts, wheat or barley kernels, mix with water to make a flat cake (dough), then bake. One day the yeasts in the wind landed on the pre-baked dough and voila!, to the surprise of the world’s first baker, a light, soft loaf appeared instead of the customary thin, hard cracker. And so they left the dough outdoors in the warm air to rise, and then put it in the oven. This mysterious "rising of the dough" quickly attracted the mystics and the weavers of superstitions who blamed the rise on the Angel of Death plunging his sword into the dough; causing families and neighbors of lost loved ones to throw out all the dough left in their homes. cxv

In their rush to leave this non-flat "bread" behind the Jews displayed a swift urge to get away from the radical Egyptian pageantry; a desire to leave it all, including the yeast, behind. cxvi This is why the Maharal of Prague compares matza with freedom, since matza is the most "simple" of all foods lacking any artificial additives, as freedom should be; a reminder of vigilance, since the only difference between chometz and matza is not the ingredients (they both have the same type and amount of flour and water), the method of baking (both cooked in the same oven) but Time (they are one second apart); in other words the freedoms we cherish can, as Jewish history proves, be snatched away from us at any moment. The difference in linguists is just as astute: the words chometz and matzah are apart only by a tiny fraction of a line, one small stroke of the pen, that turns a "hey" into a "chet." The moral? There is no way to make up for lost time: a second lost remains irreplaceable, forfeited for eternity, able to cause irreparable harm – something the Sage Nachum Ish Gam Zu found out to his dismay by leaving a hungry beggar waiting as he slowly unloaded his donkey. By the time the rabbi was finished, the poor man had died.

Matza qualifies as the primal Jewish fast-food; a flavor of flight, a bread of haste, its bumps and perforations indicative of the future agony and ecstasy of the Jewish experience. Perhaps this is another reason to celebrate Pesach? We went from eight days of eating slave "matza" to 3,000 years of chicken soup, gefilte fish, potato latkes, chopped liver…and bagels! Despite its entree into the Jewish kitchen as a bread of "affliction," Jewish women have managed to create exquisite Pesach cuisines by using matza as a flour replacement to get matza pie (a round meat lasagna with softened matza acting as the noodles); matza balls (kneydlekh); and matzo brei (gefrishte matzo). It has never ceased to amaze me: each year there are more inventive foods, wines and recipes for Pesach than all other Jewish festivals combined. With two full seders and many high-fat leftovers, dietitians recommend eating more fresh fruit ‘n vegetables and less eggs ‘n meat. Every year pharmacies in Israel report a 50% increase in the sale of digestive stomach medication during and after Pesach. Is Pesach fattening? Yep! A typical seder meal adds 3,000 calories: remember, one single matza is equivalent to 140 calories (the equivalent of 2 pieces of bread) even though its fiber content is much lower. Sweet red wine and grape juice are also fattening, with 170 calories per standard wineglass. The world of Pesach-kashrut can become very confusing: some Jews avoid cakes baked with matza, others are careful not to eat matza brei (fried matza soaked in milk and eggs), some request "no gebrochts" (gebrochts is yiddish for "broken") which refers to cooking or baking with matza or matza meal mixed with liquid (this is a concern that matza, although properly baked, may contain unkneaded bits of raw flour that, upon moistening, can become chometz).

If Judaism has a Pesach-mania, chometz is it. And if matza, being flat and, homiletically speaking, a symbol of lowliness (lechem oni means "bread of humility"), then chometz was a symbol of haughtiness and selfishness, and thus not only forbidden on Pesach, but its removal from the home, called bedikat chometz, required meticulous attention through every nook ‘n cranny. This pre-Pesach procedure (summarized as clean, sell, hunt, annul, burn) is done the night before seder, and is mainly symbolic. Why? Because the house should already be "chometz-free." The head of the house uses a candle for light, a wooden spoon to gather the chometz and a feather to sweep it into the spoon. Accompanied by children the "search party" goes room by room seeking 10 (a symbolic number) pieces which have been pre-placed (technically, "hidden"). This is followed by saying bittul chometz, a legal formula in Aramaic which declares all chometz "ownerless like the dust of the earth." The final step is biur chometz, done no later than 5 hours after sunrise by burning the 10 pieces of chometz. But what exactly is chometz? I thought you’d never ask.

During the entire festival, chometz is assur bemashehu, "forbidden even for the smallest crumb." It cannot be eaten, owned or benefited from. cxxi The forbidden edible-fermented grain products are any one of the 5 species of grains (wheat, barley, spelt, rye and oats) although for some reason the grains themselves are permitted. Ashkenaz-rabbinic authorities later extended this prohibition to include the legume family of rice, beans, peas, maize and peanuts. The chometz fever is most apparent in Israel between Purim and Pesach. During a national cleaning frenzy stores sell more cleaning supplies than they sell all year round, drycleaners extend their hours, Municipal trash collectors work around the clock, Israelis air out blankets and rugs, hang mattresses over balconies, and donate old clothes and unwanted furniture to charity. Getting rid of chometz is an organizational challenge: from books, pockets, toys, cosmetics, medicines. Entire kitchens are taken apart and their screws, nuts and bolts are soaked in special liquids; whilst pots, pans, toasters, ovens and stoves are scrubbed of chometz – even the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo is thoroughly cleaned and the animals are fed only kosher-for-Pesach food.

The sole purpose of all Passover symbols is to prod, probe and provoke Jewish children, on "whom the world exists." cxxii Why? Because the Torah seeks active participants, not mute bystanders.

In order to ensure that this seder barter of ideas be a cathartic experience with, adds the Rambam, "all the eloquence we can muster," our rabbis, knowing that stories are the lifeblood of Judaism, mandated the concept of "up close and personal," known as the mitzva of maggid, of "story telling." This is an explicit Biblical duty for parents to engage in ve-higadeta le-vinkha, a creative dialogue with their children, for "When your son asks, what is this?" the reply must be long. Why? Because "the more a person dwells on the Exodus, the more praiseworthy it is." cxxv Even the plagues are stretched to ten so that "you should tell your son and grandson;" otherwise logic has it that the Heavens would have brought the tenth plague (makos) first and be done with it. The Torah itself, which is usually concise and parsimonious in its use of words, mentions "Exodus" 30 times, each time with an inherent passion and excitement. Even the word Pesach is a linguistic clue: in Hebrew pe means "mouth," sach means to "converse." The Targumic translator Unkolus adds that it is akin to the Hebrew word chos, which means to have mercy and pity. In other words, Pesach literally "speaks," mouthing the Jewish right to replace the Egyptian "dictatorship of the mind" with the freedom of self-expression, granted courtesy of God’s mercy. And in reverse: the name Pharoah is spelt peh ra, meaning "a bad mouth," indicative of his deceit, defiance and false claims (eg: li y’ori, v’ani osisini, "the Nile is mine for I made it.") cxxvi

The seder is thus conducted in a disputatious question ‘n answer format, derech she’eilah u’teshuvah, in order to get everyone involved. Listening is passive and stagnant; far better to inquire, probe and analyze. This creates an energy and enthusiasm that is fresh, jolting, interactive, invigorating, rejuvenating; emotions that Rabbi Zadok Hacohen of Lublin (the "Pri Tzadik") claims helps us shift gears from reality into the refined catacombs of memory. This oscillates from obligation to aspiration, between ritual and nonritual: the former confronting us with the juxtaposition of wealth (dippings, wine, reclining) and poverty-suffering (matzah, bitter herbs, etc); the latter a combination of such traditional activities as guilt (turning lily-white table clothes into wine-spilt stained momentos of clumsiness); cxxvii annual k’neidel cxxviii (matza ball) controversies (between grandmothers and mothers: it’s too soft, too hard, too big, too small, not "bouncy" enough, too bouncy), and a rise in our cholesterol level as our dietary habits receive an onslaught from such gastronomic traumas as horseradish and beets, known in yiddish as chrain. I never understood why chrain had to be eaten with gefilte fish; surely one of the strangest anomalies of Jewish culinary art. Who takes sweet gefilte fish and then drowns it in a substance designed to destroy taste buds? Not I. cxxix Where does this word come from? It beets me! Perhaps from the Hebrew selek, which means "to get rid of," an inference of the conditions of the Exodus? cxxx

The "seder" of the Seder consists of 15 sections of spiritual awakening (hit’oreut), starting with kadesh (kiddush on the first cup of wine) cxxxi to nirtzah (singing "Next year in Jerusalem"). Our rabbis hoped that length would help restless children query, in order to absorb, the vast national drama of our inherited past. With a word-play on the Hebrew word oni, whose root meaning is "to reply," they turned the traditional matza’s lechem oni, "the bread of affliction" into "the bread of answering;" even relying on such rollicking speed-driven melodies as Dayyenu, a 15-line poem that lists 15 boons which God bestowed on His folk. Why 15? Who knows? Answers range from the 15 steps that led up to the Temple, to King David’s 15 Psalms of Ascents, to the 15 stages that lead the righteous to perfection. The "Dayenu" is one of the original parts of the Haggadah, penned by an unknown author from the Second Temple era. When it was first discovered in its present form in the early Middle Ages it was not an exclamation but a question: if God had only given us one good fortune, would it have been sufficient? – to which our answer is a resounding "yes!" Why? Because we must be thankful even for small mercies and not expect ongoing miracles.

The idea that ignorance is bliss is alien in a religion that believes every "why" invites a "because." Centuries of religious literature shows an overwhelming index of challenging questions and humble answers. To help prepare we are even encouraged to begin asking questions about the laws of Pesach thirty days before. "If the other does not know how to ask," teases the Haggadah, "ask for him!" Why? "Because the finest quality of Man is asking questions, since his wit is judged better by his questions than by his answers." cxxxvii

That is why the seder immediately opens with the first of four ma nishtana halayla hazeh mikol haleloth, "Why is this night different from all other nights?", sung in the same melody that students use when studying the Mishnah, in order to kick-start the inquisitive element of childish curiosity. These particular questions are only samples; in fact, the Mishnah lists only 3 questions, one of which is not included amongst the traditional four found in the Haggadah.

The obvious question is why the emphasis on the number "4," the most repetitive symbol of Pesach. We actually have 5, not 4, cups, if one includes the cup of wine for the prophet Elijah, known as Eliyahu HaNavi. It is here that Jewish mystics delight with gematria: the Hebrew word for cup is kos, whose gematria is 86, the same as "Elokim" (one of God’s names). Five cups times 86 is 430, the gematria of nefesh, the human "soul," which happens to be the number of years the Jews were in Egypt. cxxxix Yet the number "4" predominates throughout the evening: there are 4 sons, 4 questions, 4 cups of wine, and 4 expressions of God’s promise to redeem Israel (vehotzeiti, vehitzalti, vegoalti, velakachti). Why four? Reasons abound. The medieval Talmudists connected the number to the four "legs" of Torah known as Pardes, which means "orchard," a word formed from the acrostic of the four levels of understanding the Torah: Peshat (the straightforward, literal meaning); Derash (the midrashic-homiletic meaning); Remez (the allegorical, philosophical meaning) and Sod (the mystical, esoteric meaning.)

To infuse an atmosphere conducive to peek the curiosity of fidgety and impatient children isn’t as easy as it sounds. This task has been the longest running laboratory in Jewish history, to see what works, what doesn’t. A rare 15th century Haggadah suggests, by way of drawings, the following: suspend a curtain across the room, hold it up in two places from behind, letting it hang in three festoons, each at a different level to indicate openings to solve the "mystery" of Pesach on the other side of the curtain. Did this work? I don’t know. Rabbi Akiva had a better idea: he would hand out candies in shul to keep the kids in good spirits. He even sent his entire Bet Medrash staff home early with the advice, "Now is not the time to review another halakhah, but to attend to your child, so that he or she will participate actively in the seder." cxli Rabbenu Manoah, a medieval commentator, was more aggressive: he got attention by starting the meal backwards. The sight of desserts first was a sure-fire attention winner, until the desserts were no more. A custom amongst Afghanistan Jews was to strike the person they were sitting next to with a green onion stalk during the singing of dayenu, which means "enough already!" This must have easily got the attention of aggressive children. In Iraq and Kurdistan Jews began their seder with a dramatic dialogue. One of the children goes outside, knocks on the door, and then answers a series of questions from the head of the household.

"Where have you come from?"
"Where are you going?"
"To Jerusalem."
"What are your supplies?"
The child’s final answer is reciting the Ma Nishtana.

Yemenite Jews perform a symbolic reenactment of the Exodus as the family head throws a knapsack over his back containing the afikoman, walks around the room leaning on a cane, and begins to reminisce on how he had just come out of Egypt. The Talmud offers up its own suggestion: that of akzrat hashulhan, which required removing the fully-set table from the room. Apparently this worked for little Abbaye who asks Rabbah, "why are you removing my table? We haven’t eaten yet!", to which his uncle jubilantly replies, "You have freed us from the Ma Nishtana!" and then begins telling the story of the Exodus. cxliii

This is why the seder is designed to start with a series of unusual, and hopefully attentive steps. The head of the household drinks the kiddush wine sitting, after arranging pillows in order to eat derekh haseiba, in a "reclining" manner, freely as in an aristocratic style. He then washes his hands without a blessing and without leaving the table, and starts to dip (an unconventional table etiquette) assorted vegetables (lettuce, parsley, potatoes) into salt water. Just in case none of this has worked he then resorts to the can’t-fail-formula of hide ‘n seek, with prizes for the winner. The middle matza is broken in two and the larger portion (afikoman) is "hidden" for the children to find. The word is derived from the Greek Epi Komon, which means "after-meal deserts, songs, entertainment." cxlv The Rishonim were the first to use the term but disliked the whole "game" idea although they tolerated the activity under a different rational: "We snatch away the matza from the children, in order that they should not stuff themselves with it and become drowsy and then, no questions will be forthcoming from them." cxlviii By introducing the afikoman "game" at the beginning of the meal our rabbis kept the young awake, alert and interested enough to continue asking questions until the end of the meal, since the seder could not end until the afikoman was "found," a prize negotiated – and then eaten. But wait! What then? The seder is "rounded out" with songs and melodies that try and keep the young ‘uns awake. My favorite was the delightful tongue-twisting Chad Gadya, the swansong of the evening that first appeared anonymously in a 1590 Prague Haggadah. Many Jews view this as some sort of light-hearted children’s rhyme ‘n riddle. Not so. The Kotzker Rebbe regarded the song as the holiest of all the Pesach piyyutim, tracing its theme, that life is a vicious circle, to Hillel’s comment when he saw a skull floating on the water: "Because you drowned others, they have drowned you; and in the end they that drowned you shall themselves be drowned." cxlix

All these bizarre maneuverings had one purpose: to fulfill the halachik requirement to motivate Jewish children to ask questions, and ask them again, and again – and hopefully get answers. But what exactly is the message we’re trying to "pass on" on Passover? Is the mission only to be celebatory, joyful, blissful? No. The Talmud insists that we begin with the unpleasant details and finish with the pleasant; from negative to positive, from ruination to salvation. To begin with the not so flattering, explains the Slonomer Rebbe, makes the story more potent, uplifting and liberating; which is why the Haggada opens with memories of Abraham’s idol worshipping family and bitter recollections of slavery. cl

The seder tisch provides the main assault of symbols on our senses with a varied imagery of matzah, maror, karpas, zeroa-shankbones, eggs, salt water, dipping, haroset – and wine whose very color is regulated as being red, symbolic of the great quantity of Jewish blood spilt by Pharaoh. clii The town’s wine seller once complained to the rabbi, "If I had been Moses, I would have improved upon the Passover arrangements. I would have given the Egyptians only four plagues and I would have provided for the Jews ten cups of wine."

The list of symbols and customs seems endless, continuous, even infinite, nevertheless the diversity is intended to make the whole equal to the sum of the parts.

The Hebrew word seder in seder tisch means "order," and although the Earl of Sandwich is credited with inventing the "sandwich," in fact it was one of our great Sages, Hillel, cliii who made the first sandwich by eating paschal lamb and bitter herbs placed between two pieces of matza. (According to Chaya Burstein’s "Jewish Kids’ Catalog", Roman Jews invented pizza when they put cheese and olive oil on matzah). Not surprisingly, more than any other Jewish festival, Pesach requires the most expenditure of time, money and effort. Halachists were so concerned at the costs of this yomtov that they positioned the law of kimcha depischa as an introduction to the Laws of Pesach (this demands that a communal charity assist Jews who could not afford such essentials as matza, wine, etc).

Like all other Jewish festivals, the seder begins with the kiddush, chanted in the same tune as the kiddush for the other two pilgrim festivals. Participants are informed, in the name of Rabban Gamliel, the obligation to discuss the lamb, matza and maror. Why these three? Because they represent the first seder in the land of Egypt.

What is maror? "Herbs" that commemorate the harsh conditions of slavery, consisting of either romaine lettuce or horse-radish (because of its sharp, bitter taste). According to the Magen Avraham if the numerical value of karpas (celery or parsley) is read backwards, we get the "60 myriads" of Hebrew slaves. clvi What does the shankbone symbolize? The Pascal sacrificial lamb, z’roa in Hebrew, that was slaughtered at the time of the Exodus: the z’roa netuyah being the "outstretched hand" with which God led the way. And the roasted egg? A symbol of the chagigah ("festival offering"). In my home we eat hard-boiled eggs right at the beginning of the meal. Why? I don’t know. The egg is a religious symbol in nearly every culture and the Talmud even has a tractate called Betzah ("egg") which deals with the use of eggs laid on Jewish festivals. The size of an egg is often used as halachic guides to measures (eg; the kiddush cup must have the capacity of one and a half eggs). When my mother would shop in pre-war Poland she would search for a "betzah," an egg size of oil. Saltwater is a symbol of the tears that were shed, and a reminder that the first day of Pesach always coincides with Tisha B’Av. Dipping of green vegatables (karpas) into salt water at the beginning of the meal symbolizes hope associated with Spring, whilst haroset is a brownish relish (usually made of fruit, nuts, spices and wine) that is eaten with the maror, to symbolize the clay and mortar used to make bricks from the mud of the Nile

But why do we need a special "retell" meal if the Torah has already commanded us zekhirat yetzi’at Mitzrayim, to "remember the exodus from Egypt" every single day of the year? clvii Rav Chaim of Brisk is quick to answer: ‘remembering’ is a private act in contrast to ‘telling’ which requires a public presence, and a sharing with others (although this command is surprisingly absent in the Rambam’s list of mitzvot.) clix

The interactive symbolism includes a cast of children, four to be exact, listed in descending order of intellectuality – the wise (and his mirror image, the wicked, who is clever but antagonistic), the simple (ranging from foolish to simply uninformed), and the one who does not know how to ask. This fourth son may be too young to ask questions, or perhaps an adult for whom the occasion is overwhelming and strange. From wise, wicked, simple and inexperienced…to for some, the sadly absent Fifth Child – the child lost to assimilation, to foreign cultures. The Haggadah contemplates no more than four brothers, including the one who knew not what to ask (included, as our yiddishists would say, because es is besser vi gornisht, at least it’s "better than having nothing"). Today, it is more likely to find the father who knows not what to answer. Interestingly when the Haggadah tells the parent, at p’tach lo, "You open the subject for him," it uses the feminine tense for "you." Why? Because the command is addressed to the mother who is usually the child’s first teacher and the greatest influence on his moral and Jewish awakening.

The Haggadah’s pedagogic use of The-Four-Sons teaches us the importance of taking into account the knowledge, and personality, of the questioner in order to gear a befitting and respectful response. Remember: many a wrong demeanor to an innocent question has driven a Jew away from his Judaism. The great 20th century American halachist, Rav Moshe Feinstein, often pointed out the similarities in the questions asked by the wise and wicked sons, in order to highlight the fact that sometimes, in real life, it is hard to distinguish between the two. That is why Judaism is super sensitive and careful not to define the wicked son as "wicked," but as tinokos shenishbu, a "child captured and raised by non-Jews" – in other words, these children are not to be judged on their lack of knowledge since they were raised in Jewishly-ignorant homes. And more: a close reading of the text shows that the son who is "wicked" is not because he doesn’t observe the commandments, but because of his attitude, language and tone of voice. "What is the meaning of this seder to you," implies "you" and "not me;" an exclusionary statement, one of division, making him an enemy of Judaic unity, a kofer be-ikar, a "denier of the foundations of Judaism." But wait: doesn’t the "wise" son also use the same directive, "What are the testimonies which God has given you?" Our rabbis see a difference: the latter "you" is directed to the father by an underage boy not yet obligated to observe mitzvas; thus his is a sincere quest for knowledge, in contrast to the former’s use of "you" as a tool for internal destruction.

Rabbi Yehudah Leib Chasman, the great musar teacher, does not see these "four sons" as four boys with distinct personalities, claiming that the traits the Haggada exemplifies the struggle within each Jew: one moment we are wise, the next wicked; in one instant we can become a laissez-faire simpleton, the next moment we are unable to ask. The Pri Tzaddik sees the inclusion of the wicked son as a sign that no Jewish child is ever irretrievably lost. Unfortunately, this is not so today. The chances are that the missing "fifth" son is irretrievable by his very absence. Rabbi Isaac Schneerson once compared the four sons to the history of American Jewry: the first "wise" son represented the first generation out of Europe (the learned father, or grandfather), the second son was the next generation ("wicked" in his desire to assimilate); they were followed by a generation whose son grew up confused (torn between father and grandfather), finally the fourth son suffers from amnesia (he doesn’t remember his bubbe and zeida from Europe, and has no knowledge of anything). The fifth son, the one that is "absent," is so because, as the offspring of the fourth, he has totally assimilated and no longer even calls himself Jewish.

Strange, isn’t it? Weeks before the seder, we meticulously prepare all the holiday symbols, except one. The most important one. The most precious one.

The one elementary Pesach requisite that no one prepares for in advance, yet whose absence is conspicuous at the seder, is the presence of a child – any child, for only Jewish children can accelerate the maggidization of the tale of the Exodus by their imaginative interaction.

In 1946, the first year following the liberation of Adolf’s death camps, some of the U.S. Jewish military personnel stationed throughout the world found themselves in Germany over Pesach. A thoughtful U.S. government had provided everything for their seder, except for a Jewish child. Realizing that they had no one to ask the Ma Nishtana foursome, a frantic and agitated search throughout all of Berlin was launched. It failed. Adolf had been thorough, sweeping, determined. Whilst stalking the land of Europe he had gratuitously slaughtered millions of God’s first, second and third born so there was not a single solitary Jewish child to be found. That missing Jewish-Germanic child (the "Fifth Child") had disappeared alongside one-and-a-half million other tortured European Jewish children into the deep black hole of history. At that particular time and place, any child would have been sufficient. Wise, wicked, simple, inexperienced – no matter. In the end, they settled on an American barmitzva boy who had just arrived with his father, a chaplain.

Pesach without children is like a cantor without a song; like an actor without an Oscar, or a storyteller without an audience. Why? Because Jewish children are the ultimate yomtov symbol. They represent victory over disaster. Their presence shouts destiny over destruction. They make Pesach both whole and wholesome; enjoyable and enduring.

I remember, as a child, that the best part of my father’s seder tisch was not the songs, nor the food, nor the four cups of wine, nor the reclining. Not even the search for the "hidden" afikomen. The part that awed my sister Chanala and I came just before the thanksgiving prayer of Hallel.

Our childish imaginations were awed and stirred by the mystery of that omnipresent Fifth Cup; a goblet of wine, known as the koso shel Eliyahu, that just sat there all night, untouched by human lips. The cup belonged to Eliyahu Ha-Navi (which means "my God is God"), the invisible Prophet Elijah, a man of great mystery, a phenomenon sui generis, defender of God, and champion of monotheism, who lived during the 7th century BC in the northern kingdom of Israel. Elijah appears in the Bible out of nowhere and after years of revolutionary leadership persistently battling religious leaders and such monarchs as King Ahab and his foreign wife, Jezebel, for their worship of pagan gods, he is miraculously "taken" to Heaven "in a whirlwind," thus ending his incognito good deeds on earth as a nomadic protector of the underprivileged and oppressed. We never hear from him again until the very last words of Micah, the very last prophet, who promises Jewish history that Elijah will return as the unifier of generations, the reconciler of parents and children.

In the antique Mantua Haggadah of 1560, reflecting the iconographic minhag of German and Italian Jewry, a shofar-carrying Elijah is shown walking in front of the Messiah riding on his donkey, with men, women and children being carried on the donkey’s tail. In a 15th century version, the illustration shows how grim were the times: next to the messianic expression of hope, "Next year in Jerusalem," is written, "or in Bruenn."

Elijah is not mentioned once in the Torah nor in the Book of Prophets clxi and, chronologically, has nothing to do with the Exodus since he lived some 600 years after the time of Moses. What then does he have to do with Passover?

When the rabbis of the Talmud couldn’t agree whether Jews should drink four or 5 cups of wine, they decided to pour a fifth cup that would remain full – and defer the answer until the future when, according to tradition, Elijah, expecting to return before the Messiah, would prepare his way by settling all of history’s open-ended rabbinic disputes. clxii (I imagine that his first answer will be whether his own cup should be drunk or not). Whenever these "hard questions" appear the Torah text concludes with the word teyku which is derived from the Hebrew root kum which denotes, "let it stand," or from tik, a "file;" thus the term teyku suggests, "File it away." Jewish mystics see teyku as the synonym of Tishbi y’taretz kush’yot v’bbayyiot, "Elijah the Tishbite will resolve all problems and difficulties" (Tishbite referring to Elijah’s birthplace, the village of Tishbe in Gil’ad, north of the River Yabbok).

In the meantime, Jewish tradition had assigned to Elijah the task of upholding brit ha’drot, the "covenant between the generations," the unseen prophet-guardian of the people of Israel whose miraculous presence attests to this time being leil shimmurim, the "night of Divine watchfulness." It is in this role that the prophet injected tension, bated breath and anticipation into our seder. Would he show? Would he drink? From the filling of Elijah’s cup to the entrance of the invisible prophet, our childish eyes remained frozen on the level of Elijah’s wine. He was the enigma of Pesach; the conundrum of the wine-stained pages of the Haggadah. He was responsible for the sudden hush, the silence around the seder tisch, the anticipation. I watched my father strain his ears in the hope of hearing footsteps. My mother held back tears of hope that Judaic redemption was, finally, about to enter her home.

With such a near-impossible task in his portfolio, Elijah becomes something more than mortal, something larger than life. The prophet who will accomplish the miracle of warming the hearts of the generations to each other becomes endowed with even more qualities, with a range of universal to very personal implications. The figure of Elijah transforms into an invitation – to ultimate redemption, to peace and reconciliation in this pained world.

He is seen as the front-runner of the Messiah, the one who will announce that better days are coming for all of us. But his powers are not limited to that vast application. In talmudic literature, we see a figure who appears, inexplicably, in all variety of situations: a synagogue, a study hall, a rabbinic discussion. Always, Elijah acts as a wise man, a counselor to the rabbis, a dispenser of special insights. But Elijah’s mysterious appearances do not stop there. Throughout our literature and lore, the prophet has been known to show up even in unlearned circles, in the streets, homes and businesses of the common man. Stories abound, granting him numerous cameo roles as mystery guest, miracle worker, guardian angel, agent of God. For thousands of years, mortals have encountered Elijah, realizing only after the fact that the quiet visitor, the beggar at the door, the magical man – often lining up help for the poor and suffering – was Elijah himself.

He is a richly textured and multidimensional character. Bringer of the Messiah and guardian of orphans. Many parts of a complex whole. But what’s he doing at our seder? Jewish tradition imbues Elijah with the job of heralding the ultimate, worldly redemption. And Passover night, with all its sights, sounds, words and images, is a celebration of redemption. But there is even another reason for Elijah’s nocturnal visitation. In the Talmud, when there are matters of debate that cannot be solved by mortals, Elijah is invoked: the Rabbis declare "Teiku," an acronym for words which mean "Elijah will someday come and resolve all difficulties and problems." Through Elijah, stalemates will end. Impossible questions will be answered. And the darkest recesses will be illuminated.

On Pesach, the night of redemption also is a night of questions. From "Ma Nishtana" through the song "Echad Mi Yodeia," the act of questioning, of pointing out problems and inconsistencies, defines the seder ritual. Questioning and redemption are two sides of the same coin. A sense of Israelite redemption can be experienced only through a process of rigorous asking, through hours of seeking. "Where is he?" my son wants to know. "When is Elijah coming?" Perhaps he is here already, happy to fulfill his many tasks as long as we seek him with our questions.

One could cut the tension with a knife when I was sent to open the front door (a task I demanded each year), and then rushed back to the dining room to watch the rim of the wine. It had to move. That was like halachah in my home. It was predestined, foregone, inevitable. And Elijah always obliged me, always; each year he would slip in and out, taste the wine, participate with us in our annual celebratory evening of freedom and birth as a holy nation.

The wine? Yep. It always moved. I saw it with my own eyes.

During his seder, Rabbi Menahem Mendel Morgenstern of Kotzk once opened the door to welcome Elijah. As he left the room one of his thirsty guests drank the wine from Elijah’s cup. When the Rebbe returned and saw the cup empty, he turned to his guest and, not wanting to embarrass him, said, "My dear friend, both you and Elijah are welcome guests in my home. As the prophet did not appear to drink his wine, you are certainly entitled to it."

The punctual prophet honored our family with his imbibe drinking habits, with his majestic and mysterious presence; just as he had honored thousands of other Jewish homes for the past 3,000 years; invisibly passing over Auschwitz arches and through Gulag gates, blood libels, Christian stakes, task masters and slave lords all. clxvi

Eliyahu is closely tied to the unity of families, based on the verse "He will return the heart of parents to children, and the heart of children to their parents." clxvii This is why, since he is regarded as the protector of young children, a special chair (called kisse shel Eliyahu) is brought in at every circumcision for Eliyahu.

Relief was the highlight of my seder; a relief that Elijah was consistent in his zealousness to visit my family, my home, to sip from my, (sorry) his, goblet. His silent presence stirred my childish imaginations. His stubborn insistence at showing up each year, just at the right time, was reassuring. That is why so many yiddishe folk songs have been composed in his honor as the harbinger of unity, salvation and consolation, expressing love and longing, sung when the Pesach doors are flung open or at the closing of the Sabbath.

When the prophet exited our home he may have exited incognito but he left behind something very tangible: hope, a quality that if "deferred maketh the heart sick." clxix That hope springs eternal in the human breast is why Elijah’s annual comings ‘n goings left in their wake a contagious symbol of enthusiasm and expectation for a better world, for the light of liberty, for an indomitable Judaic optimism.

Hope, in the home of Holocaust survivors, was better than life; and it was "hope" that began our seders with hashatta avdei, l’shana h’ba’a benei chorin, ("currently we are subservient, but we can envision our liberation") yet also ended them, around midnight, via the soft lyrics of Nirtza that yearned for the swift arrival of Mashiach tzidkenu.

I confess: Sometimes, when I watched my four sons’ eyes fixed on the full goblet of Isaiah, I bumped the table ever so slightly to make the wine move. I’m sure my father, my father’s father and his father never resorted to such cheap trickery – and the wine still moved.

I feel guilty. I’ll try not to do it next year.


ii Exodus 2:23 (back)

iii Whether 210 or 430 years the Torah uses the word vayagar, "temporary dwelling," which seems way off for either stretch of time. The transitory expression is used because the Jews never considered themselves Egyptians, and always looked ahead for the permanence of their own homeland. (back)

iv Numbers 1:46 (back)

vi Exodus 1-4; 26; 30:11-16; 38:26; Numbers 26:53 (back)

viii The number of Israelites who left Egypt is more or less the same as the number of Hebrew letters in the Torah; as evidenced by the letters of the word "Yisrael" (Israel) which are an acrostic for the phrase, yesh shishim riboah l’Torah ("there are 600,000 letters in the Torah"), and yesh shishim riboah anashim l’Yisrael ("there are 600,000 Jews.") The Baal Shem Tov compared each Jew to one of the Torah letters and the Jew who falls away from his people as causing harm akin to a missing letter disqualifying the entire Torah. (back)

ix How many years from Creation to the Exodus? 2448 years. How many years from the Creation to the building of the Temple? Add 480 years to 2448 to arrive at 2928. Then deduct 2928 from 3760 (the year the Common Era began) to get 832 BC (Rashi Sanhedrin, p 97, Maimonides of Shmita Yovel, p.10; Kings 1, p. 6). (back)

x There have been times in Jewish history where "Shabbas" inspired the name Shabtai. Jewish parents basically dropped this name in the 17th century after Shabbetai Zvi stepped into Jewish history as one in a long line of phony messiahs that began in 431 CE when Paul of Tarsus spread the "messiah" line to Greek Jews in Salonika and Rhodes. (back)

xi Deut 12:5-14; 16:1-17; 14:22-27; 17:8-11; 31:10-13. (back)

xiv Exodus 23:15; 34:25 (back)

xvii Exodus 8.22; 12:3-6 (back)

xix Tosefot, Shabbat 87b. (back)

xx Thus you get the following pattern: Alef (1st day of Pesach) = Tav, Tisha B’Av; Bet (2nd day) = Shin, Shavuot; Gimel (3rd day) = Resh, Rosh HaShanah; Dalet (4th day) = Kof, K’riat HaTorah ("Torah reading", i.e. Simchat Torah); Hay (5th day) = Tzaddi, Tzom ("Fast", i.e. Yom Kippur); Vav (6th day) = Pay (Purim). Whilst the general concept of "at-bash," as applied to the first 6 days of Pesach, was well known for centuries, it was not until 1947 and the birth of the State of Israel that the newly-formed Yom Atzmaut became attached as the calendrical partner to the 7th day of Pesach as represented by Zayin (7th day) = Ayin, (Yom) Atzma’ut. (back)

xxii Daniel Goldschmidt, Introduction to the Pesach Haggada, Mosad Bialik, Jerusalem 5737. (back)

xxvi Pesachim 10:4; Megillah 31a, 10b: Mechilta, Beshalach 2; Soferim; Shmuel II, 23:1; Deut 26:3; Exodus 10:2. (back)

xxx Psalms 119:86; Abraham Maimon, Introduction to the Aggada, S. H. Glick ed., (En Jacob: Aggada of the Babylonian Talmud, Vol. 1, 1916). (back)

xxxi For a fabulous book on Judaic-Haggadah art, see La Haggada Enluminee. Etude iconographique et stylistique des manuscrits enlumines et decores de la Haggada du XIIIe au XVIe siecle, by Dr. Mendel Metzger, preface by Rene Crozet. E. J. Brill. Leiden, 1973-4. Vol. 1). (back)

xxxii Compiled by J. D. Eisenstein, NY, 1920 (back)

xxxiii The Moss Haggadah, designed in 1980 by artist David Moss. (back)

xxxiv Very few works of Jewish art by Jewish artisans survived from the late Middle Ages in Europe. One is this richly decorated First Nuremberg Haggadah, with its naïve charm, is handwritten in Ashkenaz Hebrew script in sepia ink on parchment, embellished with gold and vibrant red, blue, green and yellow paint. It was produced in Germany in 1449 by scribe-artist Joel ben Simeon (aka Feibush Ashkenazi), known as "the Leonardi da Vinci of Jewish illustrators" and dedicated to Rabbi Nathan ben Solomon. (back)

xxxv The famous 14th century 109-page Sarajevo Haggadah is a lavishly illuminated masterpiece, considered one of the most precious and priceless Jewish manuscripts in the world. Produced in northern Spain, it was brought to Bosnia via Salonika in the 16th century by Jewish-Spanish refugees from Spain and, for many centuries, belonged to the Sephardic Koen family in Sarajevo until it became the property of the Sarajevo National Museum in 1894. The three coats of arms displayed shows it comes from the Kingdom of Aragon; its style, replete with full-page miniatures, relates to the Gothic school prevailing in 14th century Catalonia. It resurfaced in 1894 when a little Jewish boy brought it to school for sale after he had been left penniless by the death of his father. During World War II, just before the Germans entered the city, it was smuggled to a Muslim professor who hid it in a mountain village. It resurfaced again in 1995 when Bosnia’s then President Alija Izetbegovic produced it to "prove" it had not been damaged during the 1992-96 siege of Sarajevo. It now resides in an underground bank vault in the heart of the capital of Bosnia. (back)

xxxvi A Survivors’ Haggadah, published by the American Jewish Historical Society 50 years after the war, is a reproduction of a Munich-based Displaced Persons camp haggadah which features the work of Lithuanian Yosef Dov Sheinson, who wrote and decorated the pages; another survivor, Miklos Adler, created the woodcuts. (back)

xxxvii Haggadah of the Liberated Lamb, Micah Press, Marbelhead, MA (back)

xxxviii Haggadah for a Secular Celebration of Pesach, Sholem Aleichem Club of Philadelphia, PA, 1975. (back)

xxxix The Jewish exodus from Egypt has, like all the Biblical sagas, no shortage of skeptics – especially when there is no mention of any Exodus-type event in any Egyptian records or chronicles. However, historians are well aware that most ancient cultures, especially those of the Middle East, were engaged in historical propaganda, simply ignoring any self-failure, flaw, or such unfavorable-humiliating events as military defeats or perhaps, successful slave rebellions? The Egyptians themselves were oppressed for 150 years under the Hyksos, yet there is hardly a mention of this in Egyptian historiography. In the archeological records of the Hittites vs Ramses II battle of Kadesh on the Orantes River, both sides record it as a major victory. The British Museum displays military inscriptions and graphics from the 8th century BC palace walls of Sancheriv, the Assyrian Emperor, showing destroyed enemies. What is conspicuous is the absence of any dead Assyrians. Unfortunately, the earliest known objective historian, the Greek Herodotus, the "father" of dispassionate historical records, wasn’t born until 800 years after the Exodus. What is amazing about the Torah is its willingness to display the Jewish people with all their faultiness and failures, warts and all: which is why Israel Zangwill would comment, "The Bible is an anti-Semitic book. Israel is the villain, not the hero, of his own story. Alone among the epics, it is out for truth, not heroics." (back)

xl Shemot 3:12. (back)

xlii Genesis 12:1; 46:3: Deut 26:5. (back)

xliv Exodus 2:10 (back)

xlviii Deut 26:7; Exodus Rabba 1:16; Exodus 4:21; 7:13. (back)

xlix Proverbs 24:17 (back)

li If the "boys" were killed why does the Torah use the feminine expression mahcat bihchrote instead of mahcat bihchoreem? Because in Hebrew grammar "bechorot" is the generic, plural form of bechor, "first born," regardless of male or female. Is the "smiting of the firstborn" just a metaphor? No. The Hebrew verb used is "hee-ka" whose root is clear: "to smite," in Aramaic "to be defeated (or) to inflict an injury;" even the Egyptians cry out, "We are all dead!" (back)

liv Exodus 14:15; Mivhar Hapeninim; Sota 37a. (back)

lvi Pessahim; Psalms 118:5 (back)

lviii Noah benShea (back)

lx Guide to the Perplexed, 2:25, 29; the Eight Chapters on Ethics, Ch 8; commentary on Mishnah Avot 5:6. (back)

lxi Genesis 22:1. (back)

lxiii Exodus 15:22; 16:1; Nidda 31a. (back)

lxv B’rochos 57; Exodus 12:2. (back)

lxvii Binath Moshe (back)

lxviii Orach Hayyim 429.2; Exodus 12.27 (back)

lxx Berachot 19a. (back)

lxxi 21, 11 (back)

lxxii Rashi, Shemot 12:22; Baba Kama 60b; Tehilim 90:14; The Zohar, Vayishlach 169b-170a, p. 151, Rebecca Bennet Publications. (back)

lxxiii The Beit Halevi lists several Pesach-night "redemptions;" ranging from Abraham defeating the four Canaanite kings; the destruction of Egypt’s first born at midnight; Jacob triumphing over the angel; God warning King Abimelech of Gerar regarding Sarah; Laban’s warning not to harm Yaakov "in the dark of night;" the armies of Sisera and Sancherib were defeated; the collapse of Nebuchadnezzar’s giant idol Bel; Daniel’s revelation and deliverance from the den of lions; Haman’s ultimate downfall; Belshazar’s assassination, etc (also see Artscroll Haggadah pp. 201-204; Rabbi Nosson Sherman, ed., Haggadah Treasury, Zeirei Agudath Israel of America, pp. 174-5; The Vayaged Moshe Haggadah, from the writings of Harav Moshe Feinstein, Artscroll Mesorah Publications, NY 1991; M. M. Gerlitz, ed., Haggadah shel Pesach MiBeit Levi (Brisk), Jerusalem 1983.) (back)

lxxiv Succa 27b (back)

lxxv TIME, December 10, 1973, p. 62. (back)

lxxvii They Don’t Make Passovers Like That Anymore, Jewish Digest, April 1976. (back)

lxxix Ruth R. Wisse, Between Passovers, COMMENTARY, December 1989, p 42. (back)

lxxxi Gerald J. Blidstein, Tikkun Olam, TRADITION, Winter 1995. (back)

lxxxii Gershom Scholem, Kabbalah, Keter, 1974, Ch 3. (back)

lxxxiii Gittin (back)

lxxxiv Modern-day "Israeli" Hebrew is spoken with the Sephardic pronunciation despite the fact that its revival by Hebraist Eliezer Ben-Yehuda was European Ashkenaz based. This is because a Sephardic-accented Hebrew was the lingua franca of Palestinian Jews in the yishuv and newly-arriving Ashkenazim adapted their way of speaking, instead of vice versa. Even Ben-Yehuda, the first Palestinian Jew to raise his children in Hebrew, picked up the language from their schooling, which was Sephard. (back)

lxxxvi This early Proto-Semitic language reveals many Hebrew to Aramaic parallels in vocabulary, grammar and phonetic systems. Many times one need only replace the Hebrew shin with a taf to get its Aramaic equaivent. For example, "ox" in Hebrew is shor, in Aramaic tor or tora; similarly, Hebrew’s "eight" is shmoneh, in Aramaic tamnei, etc. (back)

lxxxviii 31:47 (back)

xc Deut 23, 8; Lawrence H. Fuchs, The Political Behavior of American Jews, Glencoe, Ill., Free Press, 1956, pp. 173-191. (back)

xcii Isaiah 11:6-9; Micah, 4:1-3. (back)

xciii Clarence Darrow, Attorney for the Defense, ESQUIRE, October 1973. (back)

xcv Stephen J. Breyer, Zion’s Justice, THE NEW REPUBLIC, October 5, 1998. (back)

xcviii Zechariah 9, 12; Exodus 2:15; 5:2. (back)

c Abravanel (back)

cii Exodus 12:38 (back)

ciii Jewish history doesn’t belong to the majority vote. When given choices, most Jewish communities and their leaders have made fatal errors. When King Cyrus encouraged Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild it as a Judaic metropolis with a new Temple (Ezra 1:14) only a few (42,000) went back. When England released its Balfour Declaration in 1917, promising the Jews sovereignty over Palestine, only a few rose to the challenge. After 1948, when the State of Israel finally became a reality, the majority of World Jewry reacted with apathy and avoided aliyah. (back)

cv Tribuna Wolnosci (back)

cvi Aviva Halamish, The Exodus Affair, transl by Ora Cummings; Vallentine Mitchell, 1998. (back)

cvii David Kessler, The Falashas: The Forgotten Jews of Ethiopia, Holmes & Meier, 198). (back)

cix The most successful matza manufacturer in the world was an orthodox Jewish schochet from Lithuania called Dov Behr Manischewitz who arrived in Cincinnati in 1886 and founded B. Manischewitz Baking Company. (back)

cix What is "sh’murah" matzah? Matza produced with more care in its manufacture to ensure that moisture does not cause fermentation, as per the command "You shall watch over [ush’martem] the matzot"(Exodus 12:17). (back)

cx Edda Servi Machlin, The Classic Cuisine of Italian Jews 11, Giro Press. (back)

cxi Nearly all matza produced in the Soviet Union then was non-kosher because it was made with regular flour, however the rabbinate OK’d it as "kosher" because it was the only matza available. (back)

cxiv Deut 16:3. (back)

cxv How does yeast come about? Its enzymes convert starch to sugar, then breaks the sugar down into alcohol and carbon dioxide gas whose bubbles make the dough rise as the alcohol evaporates. These gas bubbles remain "trapped" inside and give bread its light, airy textural appearance. (back)

cxvi Exodus 12:39 (back)

cxxi Deut 16.3, Exodus 12.9; 13.3, 7. (back)

cxxii Shabbat (back)

cxxv Sefer HaMitzvot Positive Mitzva #157; Exodus 13.8; Haggadah (back)

cxxvi Yecheskel 293 (back)

cxxvii I know some families who consider it bad luck to spill the "plague-wine" down the sink so they throw it onto ugly weeds in the garden, hoping the cursed wine will keep the weeds. Kids, don’t try this at home: it’s an old wives tale, "unJewish" – and it doesn’t work either. (back)

cxxviii A yiddish word derived from "to test food test (before eating)." (back)

cxxix I also cannot eat garlic, despite the Talmud’s suggestion to make it a Shabbas delicacy because "It satisfies hunger; warms the body; illuminates one’s face; increases seed, and destroys intestinal parasites." Garlic was fed to the Jewish slaves by the Egyptians who thought it possessed magic powers and would increase Jewish stamina in shlepping 2-ton stones. So accustomed were the Jews to garlic that they named it (Numbers 11:5) as one of the foods they grieved to leave behind (together with leeks and onions, two more of my most unfavorite foods). (back)

cxxx One year before Pesach the Jews of Spain panicked: there was no horseradish to be found in the land. So they imported a planeload from Israel but the cargo was blocked because of the complexity of agricultural permits. Turning to his congregants the rabbi sighed, "the chrain in Spain stays mainly on the plane". (back)

cxxxi Kadesh and kiddush derive from the same word "kadosh" which means "distinct," or "holy" (back)

cxxxvii Alcalay; Pesahim 6a; Megilla 29b; Sanhedrin 12b; Avoda Zarah 5b; Mivhar Hapeninim; Mishle Yehoshu’a (back)

cxxxix What’s the significance of "5?" According to kabbala there are five parts of a man’s body over which he has no control: 2 ears, 2 eyes, and the "Os Bris Kodesh." (back)

cxli Pesahim 109a; Rashbam. (back)

cxliii Pesahim 115b. (back)

cxlv Shmuel Pinchas Gelbard, Rite And Reason: 1050 Jewish Customs and Their Sources; Mifal Rashi Publishing: Petach Tikvah, 1998, Vol. 2, pp. 367-371, 393. (back)

cxlviii Tosafot Megillah 21a; Pesachim 119b; Pesahim 109a; Hak Yaakov 472:2. (back)

cxlix Avot 2:7 (back)

cl Pesachim 117a (back)

clii Shulchan Aruch 472:11. (back)

cliii 60 BC – 9 CE. (back)

clvi 473:4 (back)

clvii Deut 16:3. (back)

clix Minchat Chinukh, #21; Hilkhot Keri’at Shema 1:3, Berakhot 21a. (back)

clxi Elijah, like Elisha and Nathan, don’t have their own "books" because, as "pre-classical" prophets they did not write down nor have their words recorded. (back)

clxii Not all Sages agree: "Should Eliyahu appear to inform us that we may not conduct the chalitza ceremony with a sandal, we would not listen to him" (Yevamot 102a; Rabbi Zadok Ha-kohen, Resisei Layla, 11; Rabbi Elimelekh Bar-Shaul, Ma’arkhei Lev, p.14.) The Mishnah quotes other rabbis (eg; Rabbi Judah) who claim that his role is not "to declare clean or unclean" but "to bring agreement where there is matter for dispute" in order "to bring peace in the world" (Eduyyot 8:7; I Kings 17:1; Mal. 4:5). (back)

clxvi In Jewish exile, Pesach became cruelly synonymous with the frightening Blood Libel, an absurd yet deadly ritual-murder-accusation that Jews eat and drink the human flesh and blood of Christians. This hideous accusation started with Antiochus, King of Syria, who, during the Maccabean struggle spread the lie as part of a propaganda blitz to discredit Judaism. Antiochus’ charge lay dormant for several centuries until 1144, when it reappeared in Norwich, England and quickly spread to Germany and Blois-France where anti-Semites used it as a convenient excuse for pogroms or theft of Jewish property. This is where the custom of opening the door after the seder meal began. In the Middle Ages several families would sometimes gather in the home of one of them to hear the Haggadah. When the time came for the meal, they would go home to eat. In some cases a more learned person would go from one house to another to read the Haggadah for those who could not do so for themselves. He would then proceed to his own house to eat his Pesach meal. Since Pesach attracted anti-Semitic attacks, it was not always easy for people to return for the second section of the Seder, and the door would be opened in the hope that God would protect them and they would get back safely, an opening accompanied with the Biblical verse, "Pour out Your anger upon the heathen who know You not" (Psalm 79:6). NonJews pointed to this verse in the Haggadah to "prove" the immorality of the Jews. In fact this is not a prayer at all but a collection of four Psalms-Lamentation verses written during the 13th century when medieval persecutions evoked bitter anguish and the yearning for the Heavens to remove evil from the earth. Since Jews could not strike back they instead "prayed back" for Divine assistance. Some Jews would "expose" their seder tisch with open front doors so that all could see they have nothing to hide; and to make sure that no mischievous anti-Semite planted a body near the house as blood libel "evidence" (Cecil Roth, History of The Jews in England, Oxford University Press, 1941; (The Conflict of the Church and the Synagogue, Soncino Press, London, 1934, p.16). (back)

clxvii Malakhi 3:24 (back)

clxix Proverbs 13, 12. (back)