Tuesday, April 19, 2011


Why is this night different?

Last night began the Jewish festival of Passover, one of several Jewish holidays (as was the recent Purim) whose stories can be summed up somewhat as, Someone tried to kill the Jews. The Jews survived. It’s time to eat. In this case, the someone involved the ancient Egyptians, or at least their Pharaoh and his advisors. Legend has it that the Jews were enslaved in Egypt, Moses led a revolt, with God’s assistance it succeeded, the Jews wandered in the desert for forty years, and wound up in Canaan. Somewhere along the way were a burning bush, plagues on the Egyptians, parting of the Red Sea, a pillar of fire, manna from heaven, and the handing down of the ten commandments. The story is told in the biblical book Exodus, in a 1956 movie with Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner, and every year at two seders — ceremonial dinners on the first and second evenings of Passover.

Tonight, for the second seder, I’ll be joining Murray Spiegel for a very different seder, indeed. That Times article is from 2002, but Murray’s been doing this for years, and continues to. Last year’s theme was the musical Oliver, with bits of the story set to tunes from the musical, clips of The Four Questions spoken in various languages, including Na’vi (from the movie Avatar), and a bizarre puzzle to solve to find the afikomen, the hidden piece of matzah that’s part of the ritual.

We don’t know what the theme will be — we never do, until we arrive — but we know there’ll be about 30 people there, and we’re told to expect a late night.

Why is this night different from all other nights?

On all other nights we eat either leavened bread or matzah; on this night, only matzah.

On all other nights we eat all kinds of herbs; on this night, only bitter herbs.

On all other night, we do not dip even once; on this night, we dip twice.

On all other nights, we eat either sitting up or reclining; on this night, we recline.

מה נשתנה הלילה הזה מכל הלילות

שבכל הלילות אנו אוכלין חמץ ומצה; הלילה הזה, כלו מצה

שבכל הלילות אנו אוכלין שאר ירקות; הלילה הזה, מרור

שבכל הלילות אין אנו מטבילין אפילו פעם אחת; הלילה הזה, שתי פעמים

שבכל הלילות אנו אוכלין בין יושבין ובין מסבין; הלילה הזה, כלנו מסבין

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