Seder night
Seder nightPM office

We sat down to the Seder this year while our people suffer. Israel faces simultaneous attacks by Hamas, Hezbollah, Yemen, Iraq, and Iran. More than a hundred Jews are still in captivity. Antisemitism is rampant and acceptable again in coffee shops, public squares, public schools, and college campuses.

The saga of Jewish suffering seems endless. The same stories repeat themselves. The same headlines scream the same allegations in a predictable loop. Hamas attacks, Israel responds, Hamas waits till Palestinians are killed, and then cries crocodile tears. The world responds, Israel withdraws, the world funds the rebuilding, and Hamas returns to its tricks. Only each time, more and more Jews pay a price.

How could we sit down to a Seder and celebrate redemption and liberation when our reality is so far removed from this? When will this cycle end? Why has it endured so long?

The Haggadah's Question
This is the very question our children ask on this night. Why is this night longer than all other nights? The night is a euphemism for our exile. Why has this exile lasted so much longer than our previous exiles? The exile in Egypt lasted 210 years. The Babylonian exile lasted 70 years. The oppression under the Syrian Greeks lasted several decades. This exile, however, has been going on for nearly 2000 years. Why?

The Four Answers
The Haggadah presents four questions that are really answers presented in typical Jewish fashion. Jews often answer a question with a question. Let’s review these four questions and find our answers.

  1. On all other nights, we don’t dip our food; on this night, we dip twice. Drenching our food in delicious dips represents culinary pleasure. During our previous exiles, we did not put so big a premium on physical delights and bodily pleasures. We focused on matters of the soul and set spiritual goals. During this exile, we pursue tactile pleasures shamelessly.

If we compare the luxuries we enjoy today to the lifestyle of our grandparents and certainly our great-grandparents, we will see how spoiled and decadent we have become. We don’t even realize how indulgent our culture is. Living space per person has nearly doubled since 1973. We are on a hedonic treadmill, constantly seeking the next dopamine release. Moreover, we demand and feel entitled to every pleasure we fancy. If anyone tells us something is off-limits, we carry on as if in crisis. We dip not once but twice. Indulging our worst cravings over and over again.

  1. On all other nights, we eat chametz or matzah, but on this night, we eat only matzah. Chametz, leavened bread, represents divisiveness. When you add yeast to dough, it rises and expands until it no longer fits in the bowl. If you leave the dough without yeast, it has plenty of space.

Chametz represents discord and disunity. When there is peace, there is enough place in the meeting hall or the synagogue for everyone. When there is discord, we are suddenly tight for space. During our previous exiles, we had times of discord and times of unity, chametz and matzah. During this exile, we are too contentious. There is too much acrimony. It is all chametz.

  1. On all other nights, we eat vegetables; on this night, we eat bitter herbs. Eating vegetables connotes contentment. We might not afford meat and fancy dishes every night, but we are content with simple vegetables. During all our previous exiles, we were content to make do with less. Thus, we had plenty of headspace for prayer, reflection, and study. On this night, it is all bitter herbs—we are consumed with the pursuit of more and more money. The insatiable pursuit of wealth doesn’t bring happiness. It is pure bitterness.

We are too consumed with greed; we want too much. We are not content to make do with less and thus have less time for good deeds and less money for charity.

  1. On all other nights, we sit or recline; on this night, we all recline. Reclining is a symbol of freedom. We have no fears; no one is coming to hurt us; we are at leisure. We are free.

During previous exiles, there were always a few Jews who reclined. They assimilated among the gentiles and considered themselves at home. But this was not the majority. Most Jews did not recline. They were keenly aware that they were exiled from their land and not in a state of freedom.

During this exile, too many abandoned the dream of redemption. We feel at home and are content to remain. We feel secure and stable and are not looking for change. This, too, is a problem.

The Solution
We clearly get it handed to us by the children who ask the four questions. Even they don’t know how deeply they lace into us and show us how shallow we have become. But rest easy. The purpose is not to shame us. The purpose is to show us the way out.

  1. Are we too consumed with tactile pleasures? Not tonight. There is a delicious meal awaiting us, but we are practicing delayed gratification. We will ask, discuss, examine, debate, eat Matzah, and maror. Then and only then will we turn to the delicious repast if we still have an appetite.
  2. Are we too divisive and contentious? Not tonight. Look around the table. We get along with everyone; we love them all. Tonight, we welcome anyone who needs an invitation. We expect disagreements in our discussions, but it won’t be acrimonious. Not tonight.
  3. Are we too greedy and obsessed with money? Not tonight. Behold the silver goblets, gleaming candlesticks, crystal decanters, and plush cushions. Are we thinking about any of it? No, we are focused completely on discussing the exodus. Money is not the focus tonight.
  4. Have we forgotten that we are in exile in foreign lands? Have we become too comfortable in exile? If we are, G-d has already solved it for us. I know many Jews who have discovered in the last six months that exile is not home after all. Too many of their friends and neighbors have turned on them for no other reason than their Jewishness.

The Redemption
As we sat down to the Seder this year, we readied ourselves for redemption. We don’t see the light of liberation just yet, but that is because the light is around the bend, not because there is no light.

This is not my promise; it is G-d’s. In the Torah, we read that “as the Egyptians afflicted us, so did we multiply and gain strength.” Our sages taught that our ascent begins only after we reach the lowest rung. This past Simchat Torah was a pretty low rung. That tells me that this Passover, we are ripe for ascent.

Prepare for redemption. Embrace everyone in your family with love. Focus your mind on the holiness of this holiday and let go of greed and hedonism. This has been a long night, but let’s prepare for dawn. First light is around the corner. It is almost time for the morning Shema.