Pesach Seder – You’re Not Alone
The long and winding road that leads to your door
Will never disappear
I’ve seen that road before
– The Beatles
Tonight begins the chag/holiday of Pesach. It is a unique one this year given our inability to be with family and friends. But even so, we still have the commandment to relate the story of the Exodus of Egypt via the Haggadah, this being one of the 613 mitzvot. Jewish tradition states that this mitzvah applies even if we are all by ourselves, which many of us will be this year. I am sure when the rabbis wrote that law they could never have imagined our present-day circumstances.
There has always been something glaring about Seder night that has forever bothered me. And to understand this it is best if you can get hold of a Haggadah. Take your time to fetch one, I’ll wait… Ok, we’re back. So we call this a Seder and the word Seder literally means Order because there is an order to the evening, 15 steps in fact which your Haggadah nicely outlines at the outset. But when we step back and look at the “order” of the evening it is anything but. In fact it seems to be quite disorderly, a hodgepodge in fact.
The Haggadah is supposed to be the vehicle in which we tell the story of the Israelite’s Exodus from Egypt. (That’s where it gets its name since LeHagid means “to tell over”.) But when you look at it, it doesn’t do a very good job of that. It’s a lousy story teller.
A story has four basic components: Firstly an introduction. Secondly the main part where there is development of the characters and drama between them. The third act is the climax and finally the fourth and final part, the resolution. But we don’t follow this script at all in the Haggadah.
The evening starts with Kiddush, ok I get that, we do that on all holidays. Then we do a few things, apparently to get the kids involved and their curiosity piqued – wash hands even though we aren’t really eating now – a fake-out of sorts. Then we eat a tiny piece of vegetable, Karpas which is called an appetizer but a lame one at that. We then break the middle matzah (Yachatz) and hide the afikomen which of course every kid loves. Still no story though.
We then arrive at Magid which means “to tell” which sounds like we are going to get down to the business of telling this story and maybe get to the first part, the intro. It does that somewhat by mentioning that they ate matzah in Egypt. But we don’t get very far before we do a very non social-distancing invitation to anyone who wants to join us. So basically a one line intro. At this point, the kids get up and ask the famous four questions.
After that we are at Avadim Hayeeni – “We were slaves to Pharaoh…” and we think maybe we will get to the story in earnest here. But noooooo, instead we’re told we really need to talk a lot about this event like those Bnai Brak rabbis did. Then we read about four different types of kids (and all the kids are looking at one another wondering which of them their parents think they are) followed by some Talmudic blurb telling us when we ought to celebrate Pesach. Still no story.
And now we finally get to some historical narration. But wait, it’s not about the Exodus from Egypt. No, it takes us way back before then, to Abraham the first Jew and gives us a prequel about the generations leading up to going down to Egypt, with a detour about God’s promise to Abraham about this Redemption and future ones as well.
After this we really do get some narration about the event, but even then it gives us another prequel about Laban and Jacob. We finally get a summary of the story through expounding four verses from the Torah leading to a climactic emphasis on the plagues, followed by that odd Dayenu song which declares any one stage would have be enough, even though it would not have been, as if to emphasize the unimportance of the whole story in its totality.
Finally we talk about the main symbols of the day, the Passover offering, Matzah and Maror, we are told that we should see ourselves as if we left Egypt and end off by praising God and drinking another glass of wine before we eat matzah and have dinner.
Like I said, not exactly a neat and tidy narration. But perhaps this is exactly the point the Haggadah is trying to get across. We are not here to tell a story. This is not a recollection of an ancient dramatic occurrence but something far greater and ongoing. This is about Redemption – the salvation, deliverance, definition and purpose of Am Yisrael. Redemption is not a one-off event that we memorialize and toast and merely recount. It’s an ongoing experience that we are all a part of and that continues to this day.
The main clue to tip us off to this is the phrase, “In each and every generation one is obligated to see him or herself as if he or she left Egypt.” We’re all part of this. It stretches back to our very beginnings right up to and including today, in the here and now. That’s why the Haggadah brings in Abraham and Laban and Jacob. Because they are all part of the ongoing saga that is the Jewish people – past, present and future. Redemption isn’t just about getting out of Egypt. That was certainly a big and pivotal part of it, but Redemption in its true sense is the long and winding road both to and from Egypt and beyond.
This also answers the Dayenu dilemma that claims that any stage of the Redemption would have been enough. Exactly – we don’t need to personally be part of the whole saga. Being part of any one element is enough, meaningful, significant and momentous and gives us that grand sense that we have a role in the greatest drama in history – the drama of the Jewish nation.
And finally that’s why there is no resolution to this story. Because we have not reached one yet. The final chapter of our people has yet to have been penned. We end off by declaring, Next Year in Jerusalem because it’s still Next Year – it hasn’t arrived in its fullest sense. It may have, more than at any other time in our history, but Mashiach is not here and we are still waiting for Next Year.
So when you sit at your Seder tonight, and many of us will be sitting alone or with just immediate family, realize you’re not alone. You are part of the longest, largest and most significant people and dramatic story ever told. You’re part of God’s people – Am Yisrael. And you’ve got a story to tell.
I suddenly had this feeling that everything was connected.
It’s like I could see the whole thing, one long chain of events that stretched all the way back.
I felt like I could see everything that happened, and everything that is going to happen.
It was like a perfect pattern, laid out in front of me.
And that’s when I realized that we’re all part of it.
–Inspector Finch, V for Vendetta