Just Plain Foolish

Just a chance for an old-fashioned, simple storyteller to say what needs to be said.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Freedom and the seder

Last night, I attended seder with my husband, his brother, and a friend at a friend of the family's house. It was, in many ways, a typical family seder - and that was good. It was warm, welcoming, and simple. There were real attempts to engage the text and yet I found myself longing for more, for a real engagement with the idea of liberation and the faithful journey.

Part of my criticism is I think my own discomfort with the way that ritual tends to ossify. For example, the story is often initiated with a ritual set of four questions intended to be asked by a young child.

Four questions that don’t make much sense in today’s food culture. We don’t dip on any other night? My grocery has several different sections of dips and condiments spread throughout - hummous, ketchups, ranch dips, tapenade, mustards, onion dips, guacamole, cheese dips, etc. We have a different posture for the seder? Not really. The particular manner in which the seder is eaten in Ashkenazic households is meant to echo the classic Roman way of eating for free people - reclining and with dips. Later, that foodway went, but the tradition stayed. Now, it feels sometimes as though the question might well be, "Why are we all in the dining room, and why can't I have my ipod?"

I wondered about the whole meaning of the bit where we are to consider the pesach - the sacrifice, the maror - the bitter herb of slavery, and the matzoh - the bread of both affliction and freedom. Has it become just another sandwich? Are we finding meaning in spreading charoset (a fruit and nut spread that is supposed to resemble the morter that the slaves of pharoah were expected to make, but which is nearly everyone's favorite sweet ritual food) on matzo and topping it with the bitter maror (usually horseradish)? Or is it simply the next bit in the prayer book (haggadah)?

I found myself wanting to replace a really beautiful passage from the Song of Songs that didn’t have enough space to be appreciated with a haiku on the beauty of the (already beginning to fall) cherry blossoms and some quiet time to think about the coming of spring, of renewal.
Part of it, I think, is the rush to get fed. Read the service quickly so we can get to the soup. I found myself wanting a more bare-bones ceremony so that it could be done with deliberation, actually thinking about what that trip must have been like. Liberating, yes, but frightening, too. What waits for us and who pursues us?

One of the most beautiful moments of the seder is the taking of 10 drops of wine from the glass in memory of the suffering that the 10 plagues caused the Egyptians. I think it deserves reflection and discussion. But it falls in the “home stretch” just before dinner. And it tends to get a little bit lost. Not wholly, but somewhat. And it shouldn't.

So I think I'm going to be thinking about journeys to freedom this week.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

(Belated) Hag Sameach!

I hope I've used that right ...

Have you seen The Velveteen Rabbi's Haggadah (pdf)? I don't recall where I first encountered it. Heck, you may even have linked to it first. :-) But if not ...

4/04/2007 5:26 PM  
Blogger the laughing gypsy said...

To "journeys to freedom!" I can't wait to read....

4/04/2007 7:49 PM  
Blogger Plain Foolish said...

Ah, jesperada, thank you. Yes, I think I may have said something about that Haggadah earlier and I am so very happy to be reminded of it, since it is close to what I am talking about.

And yes, you've used hag sameach properly, though it's not at all belated. We're still celebrating our freedom.

4/05/2007 5:22 AM  
Blogger Little Black Car said...

Lyle says . . .

But, seriously; I'm for shorter, more mindful ceremonies where ceremonies are required. Much like I'm for smaller, simpler, houses of worship where houses of worship are required: Cathedrals are awe-inspiring but I'm so distracted by the art and the engineering that anything spiritual sort of gets left at the door.

4/05/2007 8:11 AM  
Blogger Plain Foolish said...

I think I'd be more comfortable cutting the ritual down to the bare minimum and using it as a spur to conversation on the topics covered.

I like the idea of the seder, but oddly enough, would like it better if it were more "Quakerly" if that makes any sense at all. I think sometimes that my nature is basically synchretic. I miss the intimacy of Pagan worship (with my huge circle of 4), but I like the simplicity and directness of both Jewish and Quaker worship. And each speaks to me in different ways.

Smaller groups work better for me: too many people and I get distracted.

And yeah, I could probably still draw the intricate patterns on the arch near the altar of the Catholic church affiliated with my gradeschool, because I was always looking at it during school masses. I can remember once being distracted by the feel of the kneeler and wishing I could just kneel on the floor instead. I can't even imagine how I'd cope with the church they held my dad's last coming home ceremony in - it had a huge speaker system, video screens, two choir lofts in front, a main pulpit and a lower one... I would probably have had to spend most of my energy during services tuning most of it out.

4/05/2007 8:55 AM  

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