Preparing for Passover, Pt. 2

Are you ready to celebrate redemption and recreate the awe and wonder of that night 3,500 years ago? April 19 is getting closer and closer. Have you blown the dust off your haggadahs yet?

We’re here to help you at Messianic Musings with a series of “Preparing for Passover” articles. The better informed you are at Passover, the better experience you will have at the Seder. This year the first night Seder is Saturday night, April 19. You know what that means: you cannot cook to prepare for the Seder since the day of preparation is a Sabbath. So this year especially you need to be prepared well in advance.

One of the best-known features of the Haggadah is the Four Questions.

One of the first things you should notice about the Four Questions is that there are really five and only one of them is a question. Welcome to Judaism! As David Arnow says in his wonderful book Creating Lively Passover Seders, the Four Questions are really four answers to one question:

Why is this night different from all other nights?
On all other nights we eat either leavened or unleavened bread; on this night we eat only unleavened bread.
On all other nights we eat all kinds of herbs; on this night we eat only bitter herbs.
On all other nights we don’t even dip once; on this night twice.
On all other nights we eat sitting or reclining; on this night we all recline.

Arnow says that in Hebrew these are actually called the Four Difficulties (kushiot) and not the Four Questions.

The Four Questions are part of the commandment to tell the story of Passover to your children. They are one of a number of customs designed to keep the kids interested. Arnow says that one Rabbinic passage (Tosefta Piskha 10:9) suggests the adults should snatch pieces of matzah from each other in a light-hearted way to startle the kids into staying awake!

Interestingly, there were originally three questions. These are recorded in the Mishnah and date back to the time when the Temple as still standing and a Passover lamb was still slaughtered by each family. One of the original three was, “On all other nights we eat meat that is roasted, stewed, or boiled; on this night only roasted.” Since lambs are no longer slaughtered at the Temple, most Jewish families (Ashkenazi) no longer eat lamb at Passover and certainly not roasted whole without breaking any of the bones!

The four questions are a window into the complex history of Passover. Dipping vegetables into vinegar or saltwater is a Roman custom. It was a Roman form of hors d’oeuvres. Reclining was also a Roman custom at a formal meal, reclining on couches. In the Mishnah, it says that on Passover, even a poor person reclines.

The bitter herbs, of course, go back to the biblical command, as does the unleavened bread (Exod. 12:8).

Want to learn the tune? Try this link: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/holidays/Passover/TO_Pesach_Seder/manishtana.mp3

Want to celebrate Passover in Atlanta on the second night, April 20? See the post below.

About Derek Leman

IT guy working in the associations industry. Formerly a congregational rabbi. Dad of 8. Nerd.
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