4 Sons & Sons

A discussion of Pesah/Passover generally and the Hagadah specifically. Please comment and contribute!

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Details - Bullets

Those of us who are, to some degree or another, shomer mitsvot (observant of Jewish law), put a high premium on details. Every year, we use a laminated piece of construction paper that my cousin made in grade school to determine how much matsah and maror we are required to eat at the seder. Does it really matter if we eat a little less than the requirement? Well, yes. Yes it does. If we eat slightly less than the minimum are all of our efforts in vain? Will God strike us down for that? Well, no. That's silly. The question is where to draw the line.

All of the strange rituals that we go through on Pesah night are for one purpose. To remind us that G-d took the Jewish people out of Egypt. Some would ask, couldn't we do that without all of the arcane symbols? Do the mitsvot have any inherent meaning or are they a means to an end? I think most of us would place the answer somewhere in the middle. But where?

Case in point: Recently, I was shown a hanukiyah that belonged to an aquaintance of mine. (We'll call him Reuven) It was contructed out of spent bullet casings. It had been made for Reuven by an army buddy during World War II. Reuven's company did not have a Jewish chaplain and he had taken on those duties himself. He had kept the hanukiyah and has used it every year ever since. I don't think I'm going out on a limb by assuming that it means a lot to him. I would also speculate that in addition to the sentimental value, the object's history adds to the religious significance of performing the mitsvah of lighting the hanukiyah.

Here's the thing. It's not kosher. Obviously so. (To those of us who went to day school.) There was a part of me wanting to scream that fact out loud. Another part of me was yelling back "Who cares!?" Well, apparently, on some level, I did.

My point, if I indeed have one, is that we need detail-laden symbols. Why read Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man? Why not simply say that racism is bad and be done with it? Hell, why listen to Beethoven's fifth symphony, just play a C minor chord (or a Schenkerian analysis) and go home. Why do we need a whole Torah to tell us to love our fellow human beings? Because that's the way we're wired. That's what makes us human. The details.

Did that make any sense or am I just pulling things out of my butt when I should be in bed asleep?


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