4 Sons & Sons

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

Thursday, December 29, 2005


Lamedzayin relates the baraita of the four sons to the whole Slifkin debacle and the nature of critical inquiry within Judaism. Required reading.

Hirhurim has a post on the nature of darkness which, of course, related to the biblical plague of darkness.

And you thought my blog was overly specific. Check out: http://pesachotels.blogspot.com/

Hirhurim echoes my thoughts on Mi yimalel, but, of course, says it more eloquently.

This great site has many audio clips of different versions of Ehad mi yodea from around the world.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Barukh ha-Makom

I am way too satiated with homemade sufganiyot to be overly cynical about Hanukah. Hag sameah to all!

Now here's a bit on Barukh ha-Makom which precedes the baraita of the Four Sons in the Haggadah.

Blessed is God (ha-Makom). Blessed be He . Blessed is the One Who gave the Torah to His people Israel. Blessed be He.

G-d is referred to as "ha-Makom", the place. This is explained in Bereshit Rabbah LXVIII:9 "He is the Place of the world and the world is not His place" (Schocken) Guggenheimer believes that ha-Makom originally meant the Bet ha-Mikdash and later came to mean G-d as He is worshipped in the Temple. Kasher and Greenbaum prefer the translation "Blessed is He" rather than "Blessed be He", the latter implying deficiency in G-d. "Blessed" is a description.

Now for the homiletics: The Netsiv relates Barukh ha-Makom to the 4 sons. Barukh ha-Makom relates to the Wise Son. He understands that “He is the Place of the world and the world is not His place". Barukh Hu corresponds to the Wicked Son. We do not mention G-d's name because we do not understand why we are praising Him. Nevertheless, we praise Him for evil as we do for good. Barukh she-natan Torah represents the Tam (Simple Son). He follows the Torah simply because it is G-d's word and requires no further explanation. We repeat Barukh Hu for the She-eno yodea li-she'ol (the one who is unable to ask) for the same reason as the Wicked Son. We don't understand the benefit, but we praise G-d anyway. (Toras Emes)

Friday, December 23, 2005

Bah, Humbug! II

Ok, just a little more pessimism and I promise I'll be cheery by the time Hanukkah actually rolls around. Here are two more areas in which Pesach is superior to Hanukkah: Our attitudes to other Jews and to our former enemies.

Pesach is about the Jewish people being united against a common foe, the Egyptians. Discounting the midrash about the Israelites who died during the plague of darkness, we all stood as one. What does the Torah tell us about the Egyptians?

לֹא-תְתַעֵב אֲדֹמִי, כִּי אָחִיךָ הוּא; לֹא-תְתַעֵב מִצְרִי, כִּי-גֵר הָיִיתָ בְאַרְצוֹ.
Thou shalt not abhor an Edomite, for he is thy brother; thou shalt not abhor an Egyptian, because thou wast a stranger in his land. (Devarim 23:8)

When it comes to Hanukah, we were the Makabis vs. the Hellenized Jews. Hanukah sermons and op-ed pieces usually make analogies between the past and our own time. Today's Jews, they say, are too close to their surrounding cultures. Reform, Conservative, Modern Orthodox usually get cast as the Hellenists. This tends to exacerbate the divisions between us rather than bring us together. Modern culture is cast as an extension of the Syrio-Greek enemy of the past.

If we are commanded not to hate our ancient enemy, the Egyptians, then kal ve-homer, we can learn to deal favorably with our fellow Jews as well as the culture surrounding us. This week's parashah featuring Yosef being sold into slavery by his brothers shows us how hatred can lead to ruin for all.

I'll be more cheerful next week, I promise! Shabat shalom.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Wake Up Call

There is an apocrophal tale told about Beethoven that he had a servant wake him in the morning by playing an unresolved progression of chords on the piano. It bugged Beethoven so much that he would have to run to the keyboard and resolve the chord himself, thus waking him up. Le-havdil elef havdalot, my mom did something similar to get me out of bed in high school. We had a collection of these hideous records of Israeli children singing holiday songs. While those are not available online, we have the following from Florida Atlantic University's Judaica Sound Archives. Menorah's Little Seder. Enjoy.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Bah Humbug! or Why Pesach is a Better Holiday Than Hanukah

Ok, I'll ignore the non-existant war on Christmas being waged elsewhere and focus on what's really important: Why I don't like Hanukah and why Pesach is far superior. We'll take this point by point:

The songs: Pesach has Had Gadya, Ehad mi yodea, Avadim Hayinu, Dayenu, the list goes on and on. What does Hanukah have? The Dreidel song. Idiotic drivel! Mi yimalel is a great song, but it's odd to hear religious folks singing such an anti-religious song so joyously. A while ago I heard someone explain that the song takes various verses from Tanakh that praise G-d and changes the words around so it praises the Jewish people instead. Very neat idea in the abstract, but as a religious guy myself I'm uncomfortable with that.

The food: Sufganiyot, latkes, cheese vs. going insane getting rid of all your hamets. I'll let Hanukah win that one.

The focus: On Pesach, the focus is on G-d. So much so, that Mosheh is barely mentioned in the Haggadah and the Angel of Death gets short shrift. On Hanukah, the focus is on the Maccabees. Ok, point taken, you might say, but aren't the Maccabees great? Didn't they kick some Seleucid butt and establish an independant Jewish state? Yes, that's true, but it wasn't just 'happily ever after' after that. The Hasmoneans (or Maccabees) set up a new non-Davidic monarchy. Now, I've always thought of First Temple times as having a system of checks and balances. (Let's ignore for the time being whether or not that's historically true and just work with me here.) You have the monarchy, stemming from David, the priesthood, from the tribe of Levi and the prophets who could potentially be any man woman or child, Jew or non-Jew. This all went into the wastecan when Simeon crowned himself king. In Vienna, this aggravated Beethoven to such a degree that he ripped up the title page to his 3rd symphony ... Ok, ok. Scratch that last bit, but with prophecy having died out, the Hasmoneans now have 2 branches of government as well as the military. Simeon started expanding his kingdom and his son John Hyrkanus started forcibly converting the Idumeans to Judaism. Let's let that last bit sink in. Forcibly convert. To my way of thinking that's as un-Jewish as pigs feet on Wonderbread with mayo. That's what really bugs me about the holiday. Not the miracles and the victory, but the happily ever after. Pesach is about freedom. To my jaded glass-half-empty mind, Hanukah is about taking freedom away. Any thoughts anyone?

Pesach morsels

The Tosefta (Hagigah 1:2) says that a child who is old enough to eat a ke-zayit (measure of an egg) of roasted meat is obligated in the korban.

James Frazer thought that the korban Pesach was related to some early form of human sacrifice. Of course, Frazer saw human sacrifice lurking around every corner (and wasn’t one for double checking facts) and scholars today discount this idea.

Marcus, consul of Jerusalem for Rome in the time of Bayit Sheni (the second Temple) remarked to the Kohanim that it was "neither seemly nor polite" that important people did not get "cuts" in line to bring the Karban Pesach. The Kohanim replied that everyone was equal in the eyes of G-d. (This account is a mixture of fact and fantasy. I don't know what category this particular tale falls into.) (Ibn Verga)

Conversos of Spain and Portugal would often eat an entire roast sheep on Pesach. (Shauss)

The Zohar notes that karban is roasted since the sheep was worshipped by the Egyptians and there is a halakhah that idols should be burnt. (Midrash Says)

R. Levi of Berditchov says that the real miracle of Pesach is that the Jews had the courage to slaughter the sheep worshipped by the Egyptians. It is surprise that G-d, the creator of the universe can perform a miracle, but this act of courage of the Israelites is indeed miraculous. (Schocken)

The Mekhilta de Rabi Yishmael at one point suggests that as soon as someone converts to Judaism, they should immediately bring the karban Pesach. Although the Mekhilta later rejects this idea, the fact that it was even suggested underscores the importance of the karban Pesach. Both the first Pesach and the Pesach with Joshua at Gilgal contain elements of conversion. At both points the men are circumcised and the Israelites miraculously cross a body of water which can be seen as representing mikvah. (Yosef Carmel)

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Eleh Shemot/Shabat Ha-Gadol

Well, the Saintly Woman no longer likes that appellation, so as a last hurrah for that nickname I thought I would reveal the origin of the name and how it relates (as all things do) to Pesah.

Everyone has their own little minhagim (customs). Whether you thank everyone before kiddush, or make the same constipation joke after kiddush each year, everyone does something a little different. At the Tam household, every Shabat ha-Gadol, we read Efrayim Kishon stories aloud. We begin with "A Little Spring Cleaning", his tribute to the insanity inspired by Pesach cleaning even among the secular. We then revisit other old favorites like "Jewish Poker", Shopping at the Super" and the "Silver Frenzy". In our estimation, his best collection translated into English is "Look Back, Mrs. Lot" which we lent to Skully before her move.

To those of you out there who are unfamiliar with Kishon's work, you can get a little taste over at Shai's blog who posted a tribute after Kishon passed away this past year. And those who are in the know will remember that Mr. Kishon would lovingly refer to his wife as "The Saintly Woman."

Anyone else have any favorite Kishon? Or weird Pesach minhagim? Or suggestions on what to call the S.W.?

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Had Gadya

This song first appears in a 1590 Prague Hagadah published by the family of Gershom Cohen . Had gadya is generally thought to have been originally written in Judeo-German (the precursor to Yiddish). The first Aramaic version we have reads "de-zabin aba" "that my father sold" rather than the later version "di-zevan aba" "that my father bought". It is thought that the original translator got mixed up in the difficult conjugations. The first Aramaic version also contains the line "ve-ata shunra ve-akhlah" "there came the cat (m.) and ate (f.). The feminine form could easily make sense in German even when the nickname Katzlein is neuter. (Guggenheimer) (Any dikduk geeks in the audience can confirm or deny this.)

While this song is a late addition to the liturgy based on a German folk-song, there are strong precedents in Jewish literature. From Bava Batra 10a : "Ten strong things were created in the world. A mountain is hard, but can be cut by metal, softened by fire, extinguished by water, clouds bear it, wind disperses them, body withstands it, fear breaks it, wine alleviates it, and sleep removes its influence. Death is the hardest of all." While I think the statement from the Gemara is a bit deeper, Had gadya is a bit more musical.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Boule Deneige

This is the 1st in a series of posts suggested by my Dad called "Pesah recipes you'd eat all year long". Please share your favorites! Not only do we forget year to year what to do at the seder, we also forget what we eat. The 1st recipe is contributed by my very busy sister ShoshyRivky and is perfect for seder nights when you have to walk 2 miles home at 2 in the morning after drinking 4 cups of wine. Take it away, Shosh:

I can't believe I know this recipe by heart, probably explains why I'm SOOOO fat...just found out this is over 1,000 calories per slice!!!! (Editor's note: Unless she's gained a lot of weight since Sukkot, she is not fat)

Boule Deneige

1 bag chocolate chips
1/2 c. water
2 tsp. instant coffee
1 c. sugar
3 eggs
2 sticks margarine
Whipped cream

Line the inside of a medium sized glass or metal bowl with heavy duty foil (nonstick works best). Combine chocolate chips, water, coffee and sugar in a saucepan and stir on medium heat until melted. Turn off heat and add the margarine and eggs to the mixture, beating with an electric mixer until completely smooth. Pour mixture into lined bowl and bake at 350 degrees for 55 minutes. Let cool completely -- the crust will crack when cooling. Cover and freeze overnight. When frozen, flip it over onto a plate and peel off foil. Cover with whipped cream and return to freezer. If taken out at the beginning of the meal, boule deneige will be at the perfect consistency by dessert time! Serves 12-16 (unless you are a member of our family, in which case serves 1-2)

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Drinking Tip

R. Yitschak Berkowitz of Aish Hatorah (I'm not a big fan of Aish, but I like R. Berkowitz) suggests drinking water throughout the seder. This way you won't have to say a berakhah aharonah for the wine. I think there are some folks (Yemenite maybe? I need the Guggenheimer book! Too bad I don't believe in Hanukah presents) that actually do say a berakhah aharonah after every cup. R. Berkowitz's suggestion has the added benefit of keeping you hydrated as you drink all that wine. Especially for an alchoholic lightweight like myself.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Kiddush bits

Just a few things on seder night Kidush: In Yemenite & Djerban families, Kiddush is preceded by Tehilim 116:13, 117:1 and 23. The Yemenite custom is to wash and dry the cup each time it is used. (Guggenheimer)

In Kiddush, it says that G-d chose (bahar) us. The gematria of bahar is 210, the years of servitude. It was after this oppression that G-d chose us. (Emanuel)

Normally, only the one making kiddush is required to drink the wine. On Pesach, everyone is. Perhaps this is a show of wealth since we are free tonight.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Ba'al ha-Turim

I like the Ba'al ha-Turim. For those of you not in the know, Jacob ben Asher (1270-1340) grew up in Germany and moved to Toledo, Spain in his 30's where he would live the rest of his life. I'm not even going to mention his Arba'ah Turim which codified Jewish law for practical use and served as a model for the Shulhan Arukh. (This is where his nickname comes from: Ba'al ha-Turim = Master (or author) of the Turim).

I'm talking about his commentary on the Torah. Let's keep in mind that he wrote not one but two commentaries on the Pentateuch. His major commentary, simply referred to as "Perush al ha-Torah", is rarely studied. Apparently, it heavily relies on the Ramban. The commentary that is studied today and is printed in our Mikra'ot Gedolot is the Rimze (allusions of the) Ba'al ha-Turim. J. ben A. referred to this commentary as parpra'ot, condiments and indeed it consists chiefly of homiletical tidbits based on gematria, odd spellings, tagin and acronyms.

Let's look at a few Haggadah related examples: This first one is Be-reshit (15:13):

יג וַיֹּאמֶר לְאַבְרָם, יָדֹעַ תֵּדַע כִּי-גֵר יִהְיֶה זַרְעֲךָ בְּאֶרֶץ לֹא לָהֶם, וַעֲבָדוּם, וְעִנּוּ אֹתָם--אַרְבַּע מֵאוֹת, שָׁנָה.
13 And He said unto Abram: 'Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years;

He takes the phrase "Ki ger" whose last letters are yud and resh. The gematria comes to 210 the same as the word "redu" "go down". The Egyptian exile lasted 210 years.

And this: Shemot (1:7)
ז וּבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, פָּרוּ וַיִּשְׁרְצוּ וַיִּרְבּוּ וַיַּעַצְמוּ--בִּמְאֹד מְאֹד; וַתִּמָּלֵא הָאָרֶץ, אֹתָם. 7 And the children of Israel were fruitful, and increased abundantly, and multiplied, and waxed exceeding mighty; and the land was filled with them.

This verse uses 6 terms to describe the increase of the Israelites in Egypt. This corresponds to the Midrash that says that the women had sextuplets with each pregnancy.

And here: (Shemot 1:10)

י הָבָה נִתְחַכְּמָה, לוֹ: פֶּן-יִרְבֶּה, וְהָיָה כִּי-תִקְרֶאנָה מִלְחָמָה וְנוֹסַף גַּם-הוּא עַל-שֹׂנְאֵינוּ, וְנִלְחַם-בָּנוּ, וְעָלָה מִן-הָאָרֶץ.
10 come, let us deal wisely with them, lest they multiply, and it come to pass, that, when there befalleth us any war, they also join themselves unto our enemies, and fight against us, and get them up out of the land.'

The gematria of the word havah, come is 12. That is to say, come let us outsmart the 12 tribes.

This is all very nice, but not earth-shattering stuff. Now we come the category of his perush (commentary) that I really dig. He takes a word in the verse and compares it to other occurances of the same word (or sometimes root) in all of Tanakh.

Let's look at Shemot 1:11:
יא וַיָּשִׂימוּ עָלָיו שָׂרֵי מִסִּים, לְמַעַן עַנֹּתוֹ בְּסִבְלֹתָם; וַיִּבֶן עָרֵי מִסְכְּנוֹת, לְפַרְעֹה--אֶת-פִּתֹם, וְאֶת-רַעַמְסֵס.
11 Therefore they did set over them taskmasters to afflict them with their burdens. And they built for Pharaoh store-cities, Pithom and Raamses.

The word anoto, "to afflict it" appears one other place in Tanakh (II Shemuel 13:32) in relation to Amnon and Tamar. There anoto means "violated" "since the day he violated his sister Tamar". Just as there is a sexual context in that place, here we have a sexual context in that the Bene Yisra'el (Israelites) minimized their marital relations. The root ayin-nun-heh is used to imply the interruption of marital relations in other places as well. We'll see Deut. 26:7, quoted later in the Hagadah, is interpreted in this vein. In Gen 31:5, Lavan warns Yaakov not to take extra wives thereby minimizing his contact with the four wives he already had.

I gotta say, I love this stuff. All of Tanakh is one intertextual treasure trove. Let's look at Shemot 1:22:

וְאֶת עֲמָלֵנוּ - אֵלוּ הַבָּנִים. כְּמָה שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: כָּל הַבֵּן הַיִּלּוֹד הַיְאֹרָה תַּשְׁלִיכֻהוּ וְכָל הַבַּת תְּחַיּוּן. "Our burden," this refers to the children, as it is said: "Every boy that is born, you shall throw into the river and every girl you shall keep alive."

The word ha-yilud, "that is born", appears one other place in Tanakh (II Shemuel 12:14) where Natan is reproving David regarding Avshalom. Just as David was punished from within his household, Pharaoh was punished through Mosheh, who grew up in his household.

Now, is that cool or what?

Pogrom? - Racy books

Mobius @ Jewschool starts up some talk by calling the following scene from (last?) Pesach a pogrom. Frankly, I have no idea what's going on here. A little context would help out a lot.

Occasional commentor Dan Rabinowitz has a really neat post on racy title pages in sifre kodesh (religious books). His second post on the topic deals with the Haggadah. Anyone familiar with the text of the Haggadah can easily guess which biblical quote prompts the illustrator to depict a naked woman. (Yehezkel 16:7)

Friday, December 02, 2005

Unfortunate Headline of the Week

From my local Habad newsletter:

"Tefillin Bank: Every Jew a Pair to Call His Own"

The Pesah connection? Well, it reminds me of a joke that involves the reason we eat eggs at the seder and Nahshon ben Aminadav. But it is a bit off-color so I won't tell it here.

Shabat Shalom!

More on the Mamas

Rabbi Michael Unger deals with the question I had raised earlier about Bilhah and Zilpah.

Human Trafficking

New post at Jewschool on the subject.

eXTReMe Tracker