Guest Author - Lisa Pinkus
Passover is all about asking questions, and I thought I’d ask some questions not about the Seder but about how the Seder was arranged.
Our ancient sages had no conception of what the world would like today. If you had mentioned the notion of a telephone or a cell phone or a computer or any of our modern day conveniences – they would not have been able to comprehend this world that we live in. How were they able to create a timeless Seder – one that would withstand any future evolution or advance?
With the greatest of foresight that one might muster, they designed the Seder. Today, we may question some of these rituals, and we might also wonder what – if anything – would they change if they could see the world as it is today.
I’m not talking about rewriting the Haggadah. Plenty of people have done that, and there are versions to satisfy any preference of observance. I’m not talking about changing Passover either. You cannot rewrite history. I’m merely exploring some of the ideas they might reconsider if they were guiding us today.
For the pleasure, ongoing curiosity, and engagement of our children, might they have considered a lunchtime Seder? Jewish days – and subsequently – Jewish holidays follow the cycle of the moon and begin in the evening. Festive meals run throughout the holiday. Would it have been possible to have the first Seder on the first day of Passover?
During the Seder, we want to engage the children and the adults. It would not make sense to run two separate Seders because we also want the intertwined interactions of mixed generations. But, were children back then able to stay up until the wee hours of the night? Sometimes our Seders don’t begin until nearly 10:00 PM, and our youngsters end up missing most of the Seder. Was this designed intentionally? As you get older, you achieve ‘higher’ levels of the Seder?
Were Passover preparations purposely created so that we‘d experience (however mild) a form of enslavement prior to the holiday of liberation? I think our acclimation to modern-day conveniences has impacted this experience to our detriment. The amount of household appliances we think we need, the size of our kitchens, and the common use of utensils that are not able to be kashered for Passover make it more time consuming and stressful to prepare a kitchen for Passover. Or, does it? What would the rabbis of old say to us today?
Would the evolution of our food choices have any impact on the rabbis’ decisions regarding our Passover celebration? Might it have changed the length of the holiday? The seven days (eight outside of Israel) represent the time from the Exodus to the splitting of the Red Sea. But, is eight days too much time to ask our children to consume matzah-derived kugels, cookies, and ‘sandwiches’? Would G-d have been pleased with the rate of poor eating habits that rises during this holiday? How about what it does to the delicate digestive systems of our offspring?
Let’s talk about the creative aspects of the Haggadah for a moment. Might the voice of women have inspired a different expression of creativity? Many families today bring in their own ideas to inspire and engage their children throughout the Seder. Rabbi Rachel Kobrin’s family extends the dipping of karpas into salt water by dipping many vegetables into many dips in order to keep guests from feeling hungry.
How about modern day examples of slavery? From our domination by technology to actual instances of slave labor going on in our world, there is much to be done. Would the rabbis have encouraged us to educate our children and ourselves and to make change in the world?
Might G-d’s presence take an even stronger role today than it did when the Seder was created? If the rabbis of old knew that so many people would feel disconnected from G-d, would they have changed anything? What might they have changed?
I am playfully questioning the bones of the Passover Seder, but I wonder – what would the institutors of the Seder say about it today? More than any other holiday, Jews experience the Passover Seder. While their experience of it varies, it is still a part of their Jewish story. What do you think? Would the rabbis have made any changes to improve the bridge connecting history with today?