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It’s All OK, Beseder Mate!

28/03/18 12:05:09


It’s a popular Hebrew response “Hakol beseder” (הכל בסדר), everything is ok, it’s alright mate… You can also translate this phrase as “It’s all in the Seder.” And in a sense this sums-up the essence of those magical first nights of Pesach. Everything you need to know about being Jewish is indeed contained in those nights. The seder experience is unique in its structure, exciting in its vision and visionary in its capacity to excite.

It’s as old as Judaism itself; it has its genesis in the Book of Exodus. “Vehigadeta Levincha” (והגדת לבנך) – tell or teach your child. (This is also the origin of the word Haggadah or ‘The Telling.’) It’s as fresh as a crusty sour dough loaf; it tickles your taste buds, it inspires your imagination and it’s got both crunch or texture and taste or substance, but please don’t bring along the loaf to your Pesach evening! It’s got both the tested wisdom of our tradition and the challenging curiosity of a new-age disruption. Its wisdom lies in its capacity to engage us with philosophical dilemmas and meaningful issues about Jewish identity, history and life.

It gets us to think about the centuries of Jewish persecution and suffering (“In every generation they rise up to destroy us…”). It gets us to talk about what makes us survive as Jews today – how did they hold onto their Judaism in the dark night if Egypt; how did they maintain their identity in the bright lights of freedom. (“Now we are free people”).

It asks us: what’s hardest about being Jewish today: is it the allure of integration, the promise of being like everyone else, or the fact that anti-Semitism is resurgent across so much of the world? And of course the Seder makes you think about your relationship to the land and state of Israel – the purpose of the exodus and culmination of the Haggadah itself (“Next year in Jerusalem”). The Haggadah challenges us to think about our role as global citizens; to address the reality of slavery across our world, to ponder on gender inequality (the girls were spared Egyptian genocide but were made vulnerable to Egyptian exploitation; husbands were separated from wives by draconian Pharaonic rules); to ruminate on the real meaning of freedom and the different kinds of liberation from political to individual: ‘In every generation see yourself as a free agent.’

But the Seder isn’t just a singularly cerebral experience: it’s as real as CNN, as contemporary as the last tweet and fresh as your favourite coffee. That’s because it’s also a very long family meal; it engages all of your senses (auditory, visual, smell, and tactile) and it bridges the generations. It speaks to the youngest at the table with its curious customs – greens and bitters, treasure hunt afikoman and number games: “Who knows one…” It addresses the oldest (“I’m like a man of seventy”) with its curly questions and its challenge of stale assumptions (Are you really free or still chasing your illusions and addictions? Are you still a slave this year?). It challenges the parent and grandparent to reach out and connect to the young matza millennials around the table, to allow them to lead the conversation, to ask the four or forty-million dollar questions. It stimulates us all to think about the fluidity of identity and character: there are ‘four kinds of children’ and probably forty-thousand variations on the questions they ask and the types of meaning they seek.

It’s all in the Seder; it’s all in the orderly unfolding of the evening with its highly stylized and specific stages. So even if your guests are unruly and the family disorderly, try sticking to the outlines of the programme. It’s got something for everyone and is as playful and filled with fun as it is deadly serious and somber. It’s ultimately as fluffy as a soft matza-ball, as crackling as a hand-made matza, bitter as a herb, sweet as a spoon of charoset, it’s got style, it’s got substance, it’s all in the seder “Hakol beseder chabibi” הכל בסדר חביבי

Chag Kasher Vesameach.

Rabbi Ralph

Wed, 13 November 2019 15 Cheshvan 5780