Notes to afternoon class on Pesach Seder 3-14-09
(I was asked to post some short notes from today's class for those who couldn't take notes. This has most of the ideas we discussed)
1. The Poem “Kaddesh, Urchatz, Karpas..”
a. Many other medeieval poems with similar purpose. Rabbi Menachem Kasher brings 14 examples of similar poems about the structure of the Seder.
b. These poems give in short verse the structure of the “Seder”. The term “Seder” not used in Talmud – medieval term.
c. several authors note the need for these poems – as a mnemonic device - because there are so many details in the Seder.
d. Rav Soloveitchik – concept of Seder – all elements integrated. Teshuvot HaRosh – telling the story of Passover an outgrowth of eating the food.
e. Idea of Seder – order – profoundly meaningful on evening of Passover. Redemption the opposite of believing that everything is happenstance – that there is no guarantee of a happy ending.
2. Ha Lachma Anya
a. Written in Aramaic – perhaps to be understandable to children. Probably, because it was the contemporary vernacular, Aramaic the language understandable to guests.
b. Intended as an invitation to guests. Otzar Hageonim cites custom to open door before Ha Lacham Anya.
c. What does the words “poor man’s bread” mean? A. most opinions – a bread poorly baked, eaten on the evening the Jews rushed out of Egypt. B. our preferred opinion – Ramban on the Torah – Jews in Egypt, harried, little time to bake. Matzah (probably originally similar to laffa) quick food (Similar evidence – Lot bakes Matzah when the angels appear as last minute guests – because it’s fast bread). C. Avudraham – tells story about Ibn Ezra, that when incarcerated in India, was served matzah – it is a more filling bread, and the slaveowner has to bake less. (but who fed the Jews at the end of the day?)
d. according to Ramban – it turns out there’s an exceptional connection between phrase of “this is the poor man’s bread our ancestors ate” and the invitation to the Seder – a way of making every guest feel comfortable – so we say, “don’t worry about your poverty – all Jews were once poor slaves”.
e. “this year we slaves.. next year in Jerusalem” – remembering the bread of slavery (as per Ramban) reminds us that we have overcome slavery in the past.
f. emphasis on slavery in Hagadah. Here are two lessons of why that is emphasized – sensitivity to those in need, a reminder that even in bleak times, there can be another redemption, there was one in the past.
3. Mah Nishtana
a. Idea of asking questions. For the child to parent (which is why we do several strange things, like remove seder plate, so the children ask questions.) and for any Seder – even when alone, Seder must be in question and answer form.
b. Rav Chaim Soloveitchik: What’s the difference between the nightly mention of leaving Egypt, and the special mitzvah to tell the Exodus story on the evening Seder? Several elements. This is one – the need to tell the story in question answer form.
c. Idea behind this – Seder meant to encourage engagement – people to relive the story of leaving Egypt – and to intellectually challenge us – so we explore the themes of the Seder ever more deeply on a yearly basis.
d. An additional idea – questioning an act of freedom – slaves cannot ask questions.