We had two wonderful Passover Seders this year. Following in my Father's tradition, both David and I came prepared with a number of items to discuss (it's part Seder, part small group study - what can I say, my Dad's a professor). Here's a few items we covered and links to learn more. In no particular order:
Why was Rabbi Akiva's Seder different from all other Seders? - an interesting political take on the Seder we read about during the Seder (whoa, it's an infinite loop of Seders!).
The Malbim Hagaddah - this is a wonderful take on explaining how the Haggadah is structured. It poses a number of thorny, yet important questions, and then deftly answers them. Really insightful stuff. I especially liked the explanation about the need to recite the Passover story, versus just making sure you recall it (or are wise enough to have mastered it). The idea being that the Seder isn't about ourselves, but about forming a chain of remembrance. So great, you know the story, but if you fail to pass it on, it will end with you.
A D’rash on “I Will Harden Pharaoh’s Heart - we had a short discussion about the ramifications of Pharaoh having his free will taken away during the Passover story. The D'Rash covers a number of well known explanations and finishes with this powerful bit of prose:
So here were all these questions running through my mind as I stood in awe and wonder before Rameses II’s statues in the desert in Abu Simble. How much more so must have been the awe and wonder of the ancient Egyptians as they looked up at these statues believing they stood before the god-Pharaoh?
Since the people believed he was a god, his powers must have been unlimited. Pharaoh could loose the bound and bind the loose. This being the case, God wanted to prove that Pharaoh was not a god but a human being, just like his people. If he were truly a god and omnipotent, then he could loosen his heart which God had hardened. But if he were unable to do so, he was not a god and the Egyptians would know that the Lord is God.
Passover Seders During the Civil War - Reading through a number of letters describing improvised Civil War Seders was both amusing and powerful. I learned too that Lincoln was assassinated on the 5th day of Passover, and the Jews observed it as a day of mourning.
I found David's explanation that the verse "Let all who are hungry, come and eat ..." could be interpreted to as a call to those around the table to give the Seder their full and undivided attention to be a moving one.
I thoroughly enjoyed our impromptu discussion of the "Pour out thy wrath ..." set of verses. One take away was this: the Haggadah has us take on many perspectives (the rich free man who doesn't pour his own wine and reclines while eating, the poor slave who takes a bit of bread and keeps the majority of it for later, etc.). To sandwich in the perspective of one who's crying out for G-d's help and vengeance during the joyful songs of Hallel seems both appropriate and meaningful. All those different angles make for a more complete Seder experience. With that context, the verses no longer seem so out of place and jarring.
For the first time, Shira made chicken soup from scratch with her usual batch of home made mazto balls. It was outstanding. So outstanding, that after the soup course I couldn't possible eat another bite. But of course, I did (I had her Pineapple Chicken, Shepherd's pie, Cauliflower Muffins and 3 home made deserts to eat).
I had a vague notion of starting a new tradition this year. Maryn and I enjoy an Arts and Crafts Shabbat when possible, so I was curious if we could do something a little crafty during the Seder. My reasoning: why limit the telling of our story to just words? Maryn ran with the idea and produced some amazing results. Check out what she did with the limited supplies I provided:
You've got: Pharaoh, baby Moses in a basket, the Ten Commandments, a burning bush, 3 of the plagues (hail, frogs and locusts), Moses parting the sea and a Seder plate with a cup of win in the center! I don't know how she's going to top herself next year!
All in all, it was a wonderful time. And such a joy to be at my Brother and Sister-in-Law's first Seder as a married couple.