Columns - 1999

    March Madness

    by Doug Brook
    Southern Shofar Columnist

    I wasn't sure what there was left to write about Passover. After all, it's all been said. So I decided to ask my wife what to tell you this time.

    Of course, I don't have a wife. However, to get a head start on married life, I will start to presume to speak for the woman to be named later. (Though, unless I end up being one of those 50-year-old men who marries a college girl, it is likely that her parents have already named her as of this writing.)

    Therefore, based on her sage guidance, I present to you the never before seen, real reasons that each part of the Passover Seder exists.


    We begin the Seder with the first of four cups of wine. Why are there four cups? Because there are four sons.

    You might notice that this first cup is the only time the entire kiddush is recited during the Seder. Why is this cup different from all other cups? There are two theories, of course. First, by the time we get to the later cups, nobody is sober enough to remember the whole thing. Second, nobody wants to be.


    We wash our hands. Why was this included? None of the sons ever remember to wash their hands before coming to the table. Shows how wise that wise son really is, doesn't it?


    We eat something green. Why? To remind us that by the time the Seder is over, spring might finally arrive. (Though, at some Seders conducted by bachelors, this is also done to get rid of any remaining food found in the back of the refrigerator while cleaning for Passover.)


    We break the middle matzah. In fact, we didn't used to do this. This is typically the time where the leader of the Seder would notice that, in accordance with the laws of the universe, no three pieces of matzah can exist intact within the same room. This ritualized part of the Seder is the cover story. The sleight of hand involved in making everyone believe the leader is breaking an already broken matzah has been handed down for generations.


    Tell the Passover story. Remind everyone there's another reason to be here aside from mother's brisket. Kind of like the ancient practice of actually having and participating in the bar mitzvah ceremony before the party.


    We wash the hands again. Why? The four sons can't be left alone long enough for one simple story without making a mess again. But we don't say the blessing this time. Why? Because with the kids being restless after sitting through a story that doesn't involve Mutant Ninja Turtles or Jennifer Love Hewitt, you need a means to shut them up.

    Motzi Matzah

    We eat matzah for the first time. Why? It is the most efficient, time-honored means of recycling the cardboard from the new shirt your mother got you for this year's Seder, since she couldn't get out the grape juice spill from last year's Seder.


    We eat the bitter herbs. This is punishment for the kids breaking the silence after the second washing of the hands. (This is also punishment for the adults who break the silence after the second washing, but we're not supposed to talk about that since they're adults.)


    We make a little sandwich containing bitter herbs, charoset (which is Hebrew for "charoset"), peanut butter, jelly, asparagus, and matzah. This is to prepare our palates to be happy with the Passover food to come during the meal, no matter the quality. (Note that the edibility of the meal is often inversely proportional to the strictness of the kosher-for-Passoverness. Note, also, that edibility is not a real word, I made it up, and that you should not try to use it at home without a professional on hand.)

    Shulchan Orech

    We eat. We gossip. We follow the biblical directive from Genesis when, after the first Jewish ritual event, it was commanded, "let there be food."


    We eat the afikomen. We teach the children that sometimes the rewards for their efforts -- in this case finding the afikomen and not summarily inserting it into the VCR -- can sometimes be disappointing, but that we must nevertheless accept what we get.


    We say the grace after meals, thereby reminding everyone at the Seder who bothered to send their children to day school or Jewish summer camp.


    We say Hallel. Two reasons. First, it was part of the contract with Hillel when he loaned out the rights to the Seder to include his sandwich before the meal. Second, and more obviously, because by the time we get to this point in the Seder, they've usually gotten this far in the morning service the next day at temple.


    We sing a bunch of old drinking songs that test our math skills, knowledge of animals, and general ability to drive home safely. Why? Four cups of wine. Four sons. Four hours of Seder. Four mortgages on the house. Four days until you have to file your taxes. Four plagues... (Yes, there were 10. But see if you can remember that by this point in the Seder.) For many, many, many, many reasons. Bon appetit.

    Doug Brook is a technical writer in Silicon Valley. If you have any complaints, questions, or mail bombs in connection with the contents of this column, please save them for my future wife. After all, this is her fault.

    Copyright Doug Brook. All rights reserved.