Not Your Grandmother's Haggadah
I don’t know about you, but I think the Haggadah is kind of a boring, stuffy book. This one’s probably OK; it was at least edited by a novelist, not a coffee company. But it runs into the same problem most Haggadahs face—not enough cats playing piano. I propose we change that. What follows will be a different kind of Haggadah. You can use it at your Seder next year if you want (your “Atheist Jew” cousin will thank you), but first you’ll have to pry it from my cold dead hands.
First, we should probably settle on Passover’s length. Some observe it for seven days, some observe it for eight days—because before the Internet it was hard for Jews in the Diaspora to know for sure when Passover was starting in Israel—and some observe it forever. And the holiday MUST be held in Spring. The calendar nerds back in the day were so insistent on this that, if on the previous year’s start date the barley wasn’t ripe enough, they’d add an entire month to the calendar just so that the barley would be ripe enough for it to not be eaten for a week. Don’t ask me why; I just read the scrolls, I don’t interpret.
But what’s Passover all about, really? Let’s break it down. It starts with Pharaoh having a dream. Unlike his cool ancestor who dreamt of Technicolor cows and sang like The King, this Pharaoh had a much more terrifying dream. It went something like this: The Pharoah is born and everybody assumes he’s the heir, but unknown to almost everybody he’s the son of the queen and her brother who have been doing this crazy incesty thing on the side. The current Pharaoh meanwhile has slept with half his kingdom and has countless sons, quasi-legitimate heirs, floating around his city. Then the Pharaoh dies. The young new Pharoah comes to power and orders the death all his little baby half-brothers—just in case. But one survives! Slips like a boat among reeds into safety right under the Pharaoh’s nose… Or that could be a Game of Thrones episode. Whatever, close enough.
The one that survives is, of course, Moses. He grows up all Cosette to his brethren’s Eponine, but whatever—the Jews don’t mind because Moses is the Boy Who Lived. When this boy is 40, still a dapper chap in biblical terms, he kills a guy and has to run away. Whatever. Forty years later, in his Emerging Adult phase, he freaks out about how he has no direction in life—he’s working a dead end job, living with his girlfriend’s parents, and is a horrible, terrible, no good recreational drug user. How else do you explain why he starts seeing things God? God tells Moses that his people are in trouble and that it’s up to him save the Seven Kingdoms from evil (You really need to start watching Game of Thrones).
So he does. There’s fire, there’s plagues, there’s no time! That’s why we have matzo/matzoh/matzah. It’s cooked fast, tastes like stale crackers, which already kinda taste like stale bread. It’s a nothing food. It’s the bread of affliction and suffering. If this were the Hunger Games it’d be the staple food of District 18. (Heyo! Get it? 18? Hunger Games? Right, moving on.)
We’ve also got plagues, right here in River City, with a capital P that rhymes with B and stands for Blood (Tim Burton’s The Music Man, in theaters fall of 2014). There’s also frogs, fleas, feral beasts, festering wounds, falling ice, flying bugs, a full lack of sunlight, and that last one where they kill a lot of people.
A fun little fact for you: the Haggadah, in all its (up until now) lame forms, has been translated more widely, and reprinted more often than any other Jewish book. It’s the Egg McMuffin of Jewish texts. But you won’t find Ronald in these pages. Oh no, you’ll find Moses, OG, and Aaron, and Miriam, who’s a total babe.
This whole story comes in the middle of what we call a Seder—order in Hebrew—it’s the ritual Jews perform every year on Passover. Family and friends come together to drink wine, eat salty vegetables, drink wine, eat bitter herbs, drink more wine, and so on. The same thing happens every year, with the same relatives, telling the same lame jokes. (Why do you think there’s so much wine involved?)
Yet Passover, more than Rosh Hashanah, more than Yom Kippur, best embodies the spirit of Judaism. In my mind it provides the best answer as to why we continue with this whole Judaism thing anyway. And funny enough, that answer is actually a question.
Why is this night different from all other nights?
It’s different because we ask that question. Actually, we have the youngest able child ask that question. Why do we do this? Why do you make me eat nothing but cardboard for a week? Can I still be Jewish without going to a Seder? If I eat some broccoli can I skip the horseradish? Why be Jewish at all? What the %[email protected]! is gefilte fish?
Be you wise, wicked, simple, or even unable to ask a question in any traditional way, Judaism teaches you, as soon as you’re old enough to understand, to ask these types of questions. You MUST ask these questions. Masturbation is not a sin, but ignorance sure as hell is. Which means it’s our responsibility as adults to help fight this ignorance, answer these questions when we can, explain why when we can’t. With knowledge comes the understanding that you ultimately know very little, which leads to smarter decisions—something Jews have traditionally excelled at. It’s why I’m smart enough to know that most people probably gave up on this article long ago. For those of you still left, thank you. Maybe there is such a thing as miracles. Happy Passover!