By now, you may or may not have completed all of your Pesach cleaning and self- or family-tradition-imposed slavery. If you are still struggling with the concept of ever getting everything done in time, please feel free to read this post. It’s okay. I’ll wait for you…
Now that you’ve allowed yourself to focus on getting rid of chametz rather than doing a full spring cleaning, you have time to think about the Seder (or Seders, if you’re still temporarily stuck in the Diaspora). Even when we were still living in the States, we only had to plan for one Seder, as we found it educational and fun for the kids to spend one Seder at someone else’s table.
I used to cook piles of food for Seder night, because that is what I learned. Besides lots of wine and matzah, and well-stocked Seder plates, one for each person, there were boiled eggs and gefilte fish and soup with potato starch noodles and meat or chicken and a vegetable side dish and potatoes and dessert… But over the years, I discovered that my family doesn’t want to eat enough food to feed a small nation at ten o’clock at night. I’d end up with far too many leftovers that no one wanted to spend two weeks eating. (One must, after all, have room for Pesach lasagna and Pesach pizza and that deadly Caramel and Chocolate Matzah Crunch. And yes, if you ask, I’ll give you recipes.)
Now I make only gefilte fish and two soups, one for the family vegetarians, and one for the folks who still feel that Pesach ain’t Pesach without a chicken soup filled with vegetables and homemade potato starch noodles.
That’s it. Since we’re still losing the pounds we gained over years of too-much too-muchness at Pesach and other holidays, not to mention the weekly Shabbat feasts, dessert might consist of a little fresh fruit, at the most.
I have fewer dishes to wash. More time for the family. We feel lighter when we go to bed, and less regretful the next day.
Then there’s the Seder itself. When we were first learning, we did what everyone else did. This was back in the days before the Box of Plagues. So while everyone was expounding all the Torah he or she wanted to share from the stack of books each adult guest brought for the purpose, we would bribe the kids to stay at the table with far too much candy. You can imagine how well that worked as the night wore on…
At last, we were blessed to hear a cassette tape lecture about Rabbi J.B. Soloveitchik’s Seders. He and his wife might host 30 or 40 people at a Seder. He would announce to his guests that he would be happy to spend well into the wee small hours discussing all of the wisdom they wished to share, but that the Seder itself was for his son and daughters. The Rav proceeded to give over the Seder at whatever level his children could grasp at their ages. After all, the mitzvah is to relate the story of our own personal exodus from Egypt to our children (and to each other); and we fulfill the mitzvah best when our children understand what we impart.
As soon as we heard that, the Dearly Beloved began to come up with clever ideas to make the plagues fascinating and fun. Water magically became red gelatin “blood” before their eyes! People and place settings were suddenly crawling with plastic frogs and bugs in bright colors! Wild animals roamed the table. And you should have witnessed the reenactments of the plague of hail, and the Death of the Firstborn. (I always won the competition with my Toshiro Mifune impression, which lasts a good two minutes, with several speeches in faux Japanese.)
As time went by and the lads gained maturity, hunting for plastic locusts hidden by adult guests and being shot with Nerf hail became less effective teaching tools. They were so knowledgeable that they became our teachers. The Four Questions might be recited in various languages, including English, Hebrew, Yiddish, Spanish, Klingon and Elvish. And in recent years, they and their wives have treated us to readings of various passages in a variety of accents from around the world.
The main thing is that the Seder is a time of learning through fun at our table. We all look forward to it — and even though it always winds up at around midnight, the time flies.
After all the cleaning and self-preparation for this most awesome of Jewish holidays, it is a pleasure to have a family-focused adventure that leaves us with palpable memories of our successful departure from slavery to freedom, and me with heartfelt prayers for the Geula, speedily in our days.
Ruti Eastman fell in love with Israel on her first visit, but had to wait 16 years to make aliyah in 2007. She writes about her adventures in Israel, as well as about the family history she wants to capture for her children. She has worked variously as an editor, teacher, artist, radio disc jockey, US army soldier; but her favorite job description is “raises crops of boys.” Ruti writes at Never Ruthless and atKi Yachol Nuchal! Her book of collected essays is due out in 2017.
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