Seders went well, thank-you very much. The menu:
Deviled Eggs with Horseradish
Butternut Squash Soup with Red Pepper Puree and Matzoh Balls
Artichoke Bottoms Stuffed with Fish
Beef Rib Roast with a Roast Garlic and Horseradish Crust
Chicken and Pearl Onions Stewed in Wine
Potato Kugel with Mushrooms and Cabbage
Roast Vegetable Medley
Chocolate Cake with Blackberry Coulis (provided by my sister)
Recipes available upon request, as always.
As a separate matter, I’m working on a Haggadah, to be called “The 104 Questions Haggadah.” I have no idea whether I’ll ultimately have something together that is publishable, but regardless, I thought I’d query my few and deeply disturbed readers about the questions I’ve assembled. The idea is to get a good mix of questions, ranging from basic to very sophisticated, from practical questions about running a seder to critical questions about the formation of the text. Any of these strike you as particularly good? Particularly bad? Is your favorite question missing, and, if so, what is it? Comments – and questions – emphatically invited.
Herewith the 104 questions:
5. Why are you starting with question 5?
6. Fine. So let’s start with basic questions. What is a haggadah?
7. And a seder?
8. And when does one have a seder?
9. I’ve noticed a lot of other haggadot include information on how to prepare for Passover. So: how does one prepare for Passover?
10. Great. I understand candles are generally lit before the holiday begins?
11. Marvelous. Now, if a seder means order, what’s the order of the seder?
12. I notice this is only the first of four cups. Why do we drink four cups of wine?
13. Why are we washing our hands now, when we aren’t making motzi until much later?
14. Why do we eat this vegetable before the meal?
15. And what is the significance of the vegetable itself?
16. Why do we have 3 matzot?
17. Why do we split the middle matzah?
18. In this first song, matzah is called the poor bread that we ate in Egypt. I thought matzah was what we ate when we left Egypt because the dough didn’t have time to rise before it baked in the sun on our backs. Which is it?
The Four Questions
1. Why on all other nights do we eat matzah or chametz, but tonight only matzah?
2. Why on all other nights do we eat all vegetables, but tonight bitter herb?
3. Why on all other nights do we not dip, but tonight we dip twice?
4. Why on all other nights do we either sit or recline, but tonight we all recline?
19. Why are these the four questions that the kid asks? What about all the other oddities? How did the rabbis pick these four?
20. And what are the questions doing so early? Most of this stuff hasn’t happened yet!
21. And why doesn’t the haggadah answer the kid’s questions directly like this haggadah did?
22. Who are these five guys yakking all night?
23. Why don’t they know it’s morning?
24. What is the point of this passage about telling the story at night? Why is it so weird to tell the story at night that it took Rabbi Elazar until age 70 to solve this puzzle? We read Megilat Esther at night. We read Eicha at night. What’s the big deal about reading at night?
The Four Sons
25. Why does the “four sons” bit begin with “baruch hamakom” – where does that benediction come from, and what does it signify?
26. And what’s the deal with all these “4”s tonight, anyhow? 4 cups, 4 questions, 4 sons – this is getting to be kind of a pattern, no?
27. The wise son’s question is a quote from the Torah. What’s the original context?
28. Well, that’s not the answer the original context specified. In fact, that’s a strange answer to give the wise son, isn’t it? Why is that the answer given?
29. The wicked son’s question is also from the Torah, I see. What’s the original context?
30. Wait a second! That answer isn’t the answer specified in the original context either! I notice, though, that the answer is also a quote. What’s the original context for the answer?
31. Now, hold on a second! What is going on here? Why was the context changed? Why were these two verses spliced together? What’s the deal?
32. I notice the simple son doesn’t get a quote, but gets a paraphrase of the answer that the Torah gives . . . to the wise son’s question. Coincidence?
33. Now, this is interesting: the son who doesn’t know how to ask gets the same answer as the wicked son. What is that about?
34. What, in fact, are these four sons supposed to represent?
35. Why would one think that the haggadah should be recited from the first of Nisan, two weeks before Passover?
36. Why are we suddenly looping back to talk about Abraham?
37. And why mention that once we were idol-worshippers?
38. What is the covenant between the pieces?
39. Yikes! That’s a weird scene! And yet, there’s something funny about this piece. Were the Israelites in Egypt 400 years according to the text? I seem to recall not. And if not, then why not, if the prophecy was that they were supposed to be there 400 years?
40. Why do we lift our cup for this song?
41. And what is the deal with this song anyhow? This song is kind of, well, I don’t know how to put it – it’s kind of paranoid, no?
Arami Oved Avi
42. Now why are we looping back to Laban – not only looping back to him, but calling him worse than Pharaoh. That’s a stretch, isn’t it?
43. What is the original context of this text from Deuteronomy?
44. And where does this commentary come from?
45. Okay, but this commentary seems really . . . dim-witted. I mean, it kind of says the obvious. What’s the significance?
46. Why is it important to stress that Jacob was compelled by decree to go down to Egypt? And that it was only to sojourn?
47. How was Israel able to multiply in Egypt?
48. How was Israel able to remain distinct?
49. What is the original context of the quote about Israel having firm breasts and long hair? And is this really appropriate for a family haggadah?
50. Why is the text about Pharaoh’s rationale an interpretation of “vayareiu otanu hamitzrim”? And was Pharaoh’s concern about a possible Israelite uprising rational?
51. What does “bepharech” mean?
52. Why does the cry of the Israelites arise only after the death of Pharaoh?
53. What does “anyeinu” mean?
54. How does this business about conjugal separation derive from the proof text, to say nothing of the text itself?
55. What does “amaleinu” mean?
56. How does this proof text relate to the text?
57. What does “lachatzeinu” mean? And does this proof-text say anything at all?
58. This proof-text for “vayotzieinu” seems pretty important. Am I right?
59. The rest of this commentary seems like a very literal attempt to define each part of God’s action as corresponding to a particular event in the Exodus narrative. Is that right? What is the purpose?
60. Hey – what happened to the end of the bikkurim text?
61. And why do we end with an apocalyptic quote from Joel?
62. Why do we remove drops of wine when we say the plagues?
63. It’s very nice that Rabbi Judah made the plagues into an acronym, but why?
64. This business about multiplying the plagues is very funny, but is there any serious purpose here? I mean, are these the same guys who were up all night yakking about the seder in b’nai brak? How many cups of wine had they drunk by the time they came up with this stuff?
65. Why are there 15 stanzas about the 15 wonderful things God did for us in dayeinu? Is 15 a significant number?
Pesach, Maztah, Maror
66. Am I right in assuming that, in Raban Gamliel’s view, the next few paragraphs are the obligatory part of the maggid, while the rest is less obligatory? Could we have made this seder a whole lot shorter by skipping right from yachatz to this point?
67. Why do we not eat lamb at the seder? Wouldn’t it be really appropriate to eat lamb, given that we’re remembering a lamb sacrifice?
68. Is it my imagination, or is the involvement of matzah at the seder over-determined? I mean, the holiday is called “the holiday of matzah” but we can’t even agree on why we eat it!
69. Everyone I know uses horseradish for maror. But horseradish is neither bitter nor an herb. What gives?
70. What does it mean to say that I myself went forth from Egypt?
71. This sounds like we’re about to sing Hallel. In fact, we are about to sing Hallel! But we’re not saying the traditional Hallel blessing. And it’s night. Why are we doing this?
72. And now we’ve stopped singing Hallel after only two psalms. Why did we stop?
73. Why do we say another blessing on wine, when we already said a blessing? We don’t say a blessing on the maror because we already said a blessing on karpas. Why doesn’t one wine blessing count for all four cups? Or at least the first two?
74. Do we really believe there will be animal sacrifices at a rebuilt Temple in the future?
75. Why do we wash our hands with a blessing before eating matzah?
76. Why don’t we speak, apart from the blessings, between the washing and the eating?
77. Why are there two blessings over the matzah?
78. Why do we hold all three matzot for the blessing of motzi?
79. Why do we put down the bottom matzah before making the matzah blessing?
80. Why don’t we put salt on the matzah the way we put salt on challah?
81. Why don’t we recline while we eat maror?
82. Matzah is not the optimal sandwich bread. How did the Hillel sandwich ever catch on? And why don’t they offer one at the Carnegie Deli?
83. Why do we start the formal meal with an egg?
84. Are there any other traditions of the seder meal that aren’t articulated in the haggadah?
85. Why do we hide the afikoman from the children?
86. Why is the afikoman the last thing we eat?
87. Why is it called “tzafun” instead of “afikoman” in the seder table of contents?
88. Why do we say this long blessing after eating?
89. Why does it begin with Psalm 126?
90. Why do we thank God for so many things that have nothing to do with eating as part of the blessing after meals?
91. Why do we insert the special paragraph “ya’aleh v’yavoh”?
92. What are all of these “harachamans” about?
93. Why do we drink a third cup of wine right after bircat hamazon?
94. Why does Elijah get his own cup of wine?
95. Why do we open the door for him?
96. Where did this horrible “pour out thy wrath” text come from? Why do we say it?
97. Wait – now we’re doing Hallel. Or are we doing Hallel again? No, we’re starting 2 psalms in, presumably because we sang the first two before dinner. But we’re still not reading the blessing. What is going on?
98. Whoa! Now we’re going into Psalm 136, which is from bircot hashachar! Why?
99. And now we’re doing nishmat kol chai, which is the intro to the morning service! We’re even doing shochein ad! We’re even doing yishtabach! What’s going on? Are we about to do barchu, too?
100. Apparently not. But we’re doing the blessing after Hallel, when we never did the blessing before Hallel. I’m still confused.
101. Why is there a special blessing after the fourth cup?
102. Why does Nirtzah begin with a song saying that the seder is over, and then go on to more songs?
103. What are the thirteen attributes of divinity according to Maimonides?
104. Is it true the Vilna Gaon wrote ten different interpretations of Chag Gadya? Did he have a lot of time on his hands or something?