Why IS this night different from all other nights? Four more questions:
1. The wicked child. Much has been made of the wicked one, the one who says, “What’s all this stuff to you guys?” By saying “to you” he or she’s apparently excluding him or herself from the census of the Jewish people. Is that really true, or, even if it is true, aren’t we surrounded by a lot of Jews who exclude themselves from, or at least question their role in the Jewish people? Don’t we as Jews who treasure our peoplehood have an obligation to keep the census of Us as wide as possible, including as many as possible? Even if the wicked child withdraws, shouldn’t we be creating pathways to bring them inside, so that next year the wicked child says, “Hey, not bad in here, you know?”
2. Matza. As I prepare for Pesach by doing what I usually do, namely, talking a great deal about the holiday, I realize anew the great importance of matza as the central symbol of Pesach. It’s poor person’s bread; it’s what you feed your slaves; it’s a simple food, just flour and water, prepared in eighteen minutes or fewer. As the central symbol of Pesach, matza’s simplicity strips down our material reality to its very basic moment: a little flour and a little water, and that’s it. It’s fed to slaves, the story goes, but it’s also a celebratory moment of the highest order for us. When the time in the seder arrives to eat the matza, we’ve been looking forward to it for quite a while, and it’s delicious (how we react to it four or so days later, that’s, perhaps another matter). And as we allay our hunger with that first bite, we are celebrating our liberation from slavery. We celebrate the liberation by eating what slaves eat.
3. Dayyenu. If God had only taken us out of Egypt but hadn’t given us the Torah, dayyenu, it would have been enough, goes the song we rousingly sing somewhere near the beginning of the seder. Really? Would it really have been enough? I don’t think so. The song traces a line of the covenantal deeds God performs on our behalf, the totality of which defines a great deal of who we are as the Jewish people, without which we would be much diminished. So, I think the song is a bit of a self-deprecating appreciation of God’s beneficence, but that beneath its humble words of it would have been enough lies the recognition that each of the deeds mentioned is actually essential. Had God brought us out of Egypt and NOT given us the Torah, it definitely would NOT have been enough.
4. Next year in Jerusalem. So we conclude the seder. But how many of us will be in Jerusalem next year? Or the year after? Not only that, but did the author of that line—I don’t know when it first appeared in a Haggadah, but it was a long time ago—really mean to imply our presence in the physical city that lies twenty-five or so miles from Tel Aviv? Maybe, but I doubt it. More likely the author was using Jerusalem as an easily recognized symbol for a better time, the messianic time, a time when the world will be properly righted and good prevails. That certainly is a sentiment we can all stand behind. So, yes, next year in Jerusalem, the Jerusalem we all crave, when the good prevails and evil is finally defeated.
Rabbi Phil M. Cohen