Columns - 2007

    The Seder Code

    "This is the Pascal Limb which reminds us of Blaise Pascal, the French mathematician and scientist for whom a computer language and his children were named."

    These infamous words are being recited this month at millions of seders worldwide, where the true numerology of Passover is explored. In honor of Pascal's accomplishments, our annual exercise takes us through more numbers than Numbers goes through. And at its center, the seder includes the traditional retelling of Pascal's Wager.

    Also known as Pascal's Gambit, it is the ancient Frenchman's discourse on using decision-making theory to justify belief in the Big G. As you recall from last year, Pascal concludes that it is a better bet to believe in the Big G because the expected value of that belief is always greater than the expected value of not believing.

    It sounds like something that companies such as Manischewitz have proved for many years.

    I'm not sure what it really means, as I took only two years of French. Though I do know that Vegas is taking the Wager at three to one, as of this writing. But this is why we retell it every year: so that some day, some Jew somewhere will finally figure out the answer when the Tragically Misunderstood Son asks, "what does this mean to you?"

    Exploring the original Aramaic, one might confuse Pascal in return, but see clearly for themselves. The Wager shows that if you believe and the Big G does exist, infinite gain. If you believe and the Big G doesn't exist, finite loss. But if you don't believe and the Big G does exist, you're in big trouble. Huge. Like a Barry M*nilow fan and a Y*nkees fan in the same body. And if you don't believe and the Big G doesn't exist, you haven't lost much.

    Still confused? Have another glass.

    While you're sipping what is hopefully squeezed from a grape and not from an expectorate, let's consider the number of numbers swirling around through the seder:

    0: Pages in the typical, well-used hagaddah, that are free of matzah crumbs.

    1: Times a certain columnist fell for eating horse radish cut fresh from the root by the father of a girl he was trying to impress.

    1: Kids that girl has now. With someone else.

    1: Actual questions in The Four Questions.

    1: Chimneys Elijah attempted to climb down during the ill-fated Popularize Passover marketing campaign of 1971. A dramatic counter-assimilation campaign ensued.

    2: Times our forefathers washed their hands before remembering to say a blessing, then came up with some symbolic reason to justify it.

    2: Dollar-bill denomination traditionally awarded to the finder of the afikomen, as directed in the recently discovered Mishnah tractate Bava Gump.

    3: Matzahs on a traditional seder table.

    3: Pieces of shirt cardboard that mysteriously go missing right before every seder.

    3: Sons, on the classic Fred MacMurray sitcom.

    4: Sons. Or children, depending on the number of politically correct hungry who came to eat.

    4: Glasses of wine. One for each child. Or, rather, because of them. (In some instances, if you have two children, each inspires twice the consumption.

    4: PETA violations recounted in Chad Gadya.

    5: Distinct keys in which typical family members simultaneously sing "in unison" during the seder.

    8: "Scrubs" episodes one could watch if they're too sick to sit through the seder. (More if you Tivo through the commercials.)

    9: Hours of the longest seder I've ever attended. Top that.

    10: Plagues recounted in the seder, not counting "that new gourmet Passover recipe."

    13: The least remembered of the items in the "Who Knows One" madrigal at the end of the seder.

    72: Ounces in the Holy Grail of Judaism - the Seven-Eleven Elijah's Big Gulp. This rare Passover table centerpiece is perfect for seders that still practice the tradition of the leader of the seder finishing whatever wine Elijah left behind.

    2: The tablets that Moses brought, for the Elijah's Big Gulp drinker to take the next morning so he can make it through services despite the sledgehammer in his head.

    250: Plagues that Rabbi Akiba postulates were inflicted on the Egyptians. The math works, but we're still waiting for a list. Unconfirmed reports indicate that entries include Y*nkees, M*nilow, A*burn, and Ph*l F*lmer.

    3: Hours to sneak off to Chick-Fil-A between the plane landing and the first seder starting, because there's not one within 60 miles in California despite an ongoing letter-writing campaign. If anyone asks, I'm "picking up some wine."

    Doug Brook is a writer in Silicon Valley who bought too much Passover wine this year, and is getting an early start. For more information, past columns, other writings, and more, visit his website at

    Copyright Doug Brook. All rights reserved.