Four Shorts and a Fifth for Passover

(1) The Passover Haggada is a big on “four”: four cups, four questions, four sons. And yet, each one of these fours, has a hidden, less obvious fifth. The most obvious one is that there is a fifth cup on the table, Elijah’s cup. What do we do with it? Drink it? Save it? Share it? Shake the table with it?? The original four emanate from the four verbs used to describe the process of going to freedom in the Book of Exodus 6:6-8, bolded below:

ו לָכֵן אֱמֹר לִבְנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל, אֲנִי ה’, וְהוֹצֵאתִי אֶתְכֶם מִתַּחַת סִבְלֹת מִצְרַיִם, וְהִצַּלְתִּי אֶתְכֶם מֵעֲבֹדָתָם;
וְגָאַלְתִּי אֶתְכֶם בִּזְרוֹעַ נְטוּיָה
וּבִשְׁפָטִים גְּדֹלִים. 6 Wherefore say unto the children of Israel: I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm, and with great judgments;
ז וְלָקַחְתִּי אֶתְכֶם לִי לְעָם, וְהָיִיתִי לָכֶם לֵאלֹהִים;
וִידַעְתֶּם, כִּי אֲנִי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם, הַמּוֹצִיא אֶתְכֶם מִתַּחַת סִבְלוֹת מִצְרָיִם. 7 and I will take you to Me for a people, and I will be to you a God; and ye shall know that I am the LORD your God, who brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.
ח וְהֵבֵאתִי אֶתְכֶם, אֶל-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר נָשָׂאתִי אֶת-יָדִי,
לָתֵת אֹתָהּ לְאַבְרָהָם לְיִצְחָק וּלְיַעֲקֹב; וְנָתַתִּי אֹתָהּ לָכֶם מוֹרָשָׁה, אֲנִי יְהוָה. 8 And I will bring you in unto the land, concerning which I lifted up My hand to give it to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob; and I will give it you for a heritage: I am the LORD.’

Did you count? Yes, there are actually five. The fifth one is not yet fulfilled. Thus the seder continues to remind us that while everything is proscribed – how to sit, how much to drink, what to eat and when — stay tuned, for while we think we know the whole story, there is a piece that is completely open.

(2) The Haggada is an amazing book: not only does it contain the story itself, but along with “the curriculum”, it includes the instructions how to teach it. And so it tells us: The Torah speaks of Four Sons, introducing us to the idea that there are different learners and those must be addressed differently. The sages took those “four sons” from four verses in the Torah. And yet, how many verses are there which include instructions on how to teach our children? You guessed it: five. Who is the fifth child? Could it be the next generation? Could it be a relevant, untold aspect in those around us? Within ourselves? Our own questions this evening? Yes. Once again, a little subtle reminder: along with telling us everything, the Haggada has a little inside joke, as if saying, you think you know it all? think again.

(3) Slavery is a big one: “once we were slaves in Egypt”. What is the emphasis here? Of course, the favorite is – once we were slaves, now we are free, but then again, are we?? At school we do an exercise: draw a circle, representing a clock, and mark on it how many hours each day do you spend doing things other people /things tell you to do… Think about it and it’s easy to see that there are lots of ways to be a slave.
So maybe a slightly different read: once we were slaves in Egypt – emphasizing the latter, as if to say: Egypt – mitzrayim, which comes from the Hebrew word “narrow” – is the wrong place to be a slave in; that is not a good slavery, but there are times and places to do what another asks or even demands of us. Maybe freedom is mostly, not about any specific labor but about the ability to choose which labor and even more so, which Master to follow.
Here it is in the words of 11th century Yehuda Halevi:

עבדי זמן, עבדי עבדים הם
עבד ה’ לבדו חופשי
על כן בבקש כל אנוש חלקו
חלקי עם ה’ אמרה נפשי
Here is my translation:
Time-bound servants – are slaves of other slaves
The servant of G-d, he alone is free
Therefore, when each human asked for their lot
I am with Hashem, said my soul to me.

(4) Father of the Bride (yes, Steve Martin’s 1991 comedy [please forgive the inaccuracies – paraphrasing from memory]): ‘first, we have to get all these chairs out of here’, says the wedding planner. ‘What?’, cries the alarmed Father of the Bride, ‘What will people sit on?’ ‘Oh, don’t worry about that’ is the planner’s answer, ‘we bring in our own chairs!’
On Pesach too, we get everything out to put everything anew back in, this time, to choose what we bring inside, what we keep out. Pesach, intentionally or unintentionally, becomes a variation on “spring cleaning”, old clothing, books and other accumulated household “junk” gets piled near the door. I spend part of the time cleaning up my computer too, and yes, I know, emails are not halachik (legal) chametz, but then again…? and then, I wish for a solvent to clean up our cognitive, emotional, spiritual hard-drive too.

(5) The four Passover unspoken “competition”: how crazy did you go cleaning; how much did you cook; how many people did you have over; how late did you stay. And my fifth: how late did you write, and still make this holiday somehow come together for you and your family? As with the other ”fifth”, this one too, is still- unknown. And with that, best wishes for a chag (”hug”) same’ach & shabbat shalom.

My mom's childhood Haggada, Germany, 1933

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This entry was posted in four sons, life and some, shabbat shalom, פרשת השבוע לחילוני האדוק and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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