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Pesach — Matza — Maror:
IntroductionPesach — A Night of Fear and Liberation"When I Left Egypt, I Took With Me"The Last SouvenirsMaror — "All is Not Well That Begins Well"Why This Charoset? Union SoldiersCharoset Taste TestIn Every Generation: Life PassagesMy Invisible Identity CardMy Narrow Prison"When I Went Out"Body Language

Pesach — Matza — Maror: Introduction
     1. The Maggid section (devoted to storytelling and explanations) is almost complete. Before eating the seder’s edible symbols, the Haggadah brings us Rabban Gamliel’s checklist on the three essential foods, whose significance must be understood by all the participants in the seder.
     Why these three? The Pesach lamb, matza and maror constituted the original menu in the Egyptian seder. “They shall eat the meat (of the lamb) ... roasted over the fire, with matza and with maror” (Ex. 12:8).
     2. As in a three act play Rabban Gamliel identifies these foods with three progressive historical moments in the Exodus:
     (1) Maror captures the bitterness of the enslavement;
     (2) The Pesach lamb, represented today by the roasted bone (zeroa), recalls the blood on the doorposts and the terror and anticipation of the night of the plague of the first born;
     (3) Matza stands for the following morning, when Israel was rushed out of Egypt with no time to let their dough rise.

Pesach — A Night of Fear and Liberation
“IN THE MIDDLE of the night the Lord struck down all the first-born in the land of Egypt. Pharaoh arose in the night, because there was a loud cry in Egypt; for there was no house where there was not someone dead. He summoned Moses and Aaron in the night and said, ‘Up, depart from among my people, you and the Israelites with you! Go, worship the Lord as you said! Take also your flocks and your herds, and begone! May you bring a blessing upon me also!’
     The Egyptians urged the people on, impatient to have them leave the coun- try, for they said, ‘We shall all be dead.’ So the people took their dough before it was leavened, their kneading bowls wrapped in cloaks upon their shoulders.
     The length of time that Israel lived in Egypt was 430 years. At the end of the 430th year, to the very day, all the ranks of the Lord departed from the land of Egypt...about six hundred thousand peo- ple on foot, aside from children” (Ex. 12)   top

"When I Left Egypt, I Took With Me . . ."
Try this children’s memory game. Go around the table asking everyone to fill in the blank: “When I left Egypt, I took with me my most treasured possession ................” The participants in turn must repeat the objects mentioned and add their own.   top

The Last Souvenirs
“Just as one sends a letter from place to place, one may send, to one’s self or others, letters through time. Photographs, mementos and journal entries are letters we send into the future; and by writing or speaking about events gone by, we can communicate to some extent with the past. To do this regularly and intelligently is to expand our being in time” (Robert Grudin, Time and the Art of Living)
     Rabban Gamliel identifies the Pesach meat, the matza and the maror as the three essential mementos from the Exodus experience that are to be sent on into the future and revisited annually on seder night. Similarly, each of us keeps heirlooms of our personal past, that one sends into the future for oneself and one’s children; aspects of oneself which ought not to be lost.
     Try the following exercise: select one item that somehow represents your personal Jewish identity, or that preserves some pivotal memories. Explain your choice. If possible, bring those mementos to the seder table and share their explanation with others..

Maror — "All is Not Well That Begins Well!"
THE RABBIS recommended (Romaine) lettuce over all other forms of maror, though horseradish is far more bitter.
     R. Shmuel bar Nachman said: “How is Egypt similar to maror? Just as maror when it first grows is gentle, but it turns harsh and bitter, so the exile in Egypt began gently, but ended harshly.”(Pesachim 39)   top

Why This Charoset?
Why must charoset be so thick? Why must it be made from pungent fruits, like apples?
      The rabbis offered two explanations: one drawn from the construction industry and one from the realm of romance:
     1. Egyptian Bricks
     Charoset mixed with cinnamon sticks simulates Egyptian mud bricks reinforced with straw or papyrus stalks. These sun-dried bricks produced on the Nile river banks constituted the chief building material of Egypt used by the Hebrew slaves. Their “employer” – Rameses II – was the greatest builder pharaoh since the era of the pyramids, built a thousand years before the Exodus.
     2. A Taste of the Song of Songs
     Though its texture may be like mortar, the taste of charoset is sweet like a fruit ambrosia from the Garden of Eden. It reminds us of the apple orchards of Egypt. According to the rabbinic midrash, the Jewish women were heroines in the battle against Pharaoh's attempt to stop the Jews from having children. The women took the initiative to arouse their husbands to procreate. In the Song of Songs the Rabbis detected allusions to this heroic lovemaking in the woman’s open invitations to her lover to come to the garden of fruits and nuts:

“Come, my beloved
Let us go into the open
... Under the apple tree I roused you
It was there your mother conceived you.
I went down to the nut grove ...
The pomegranates were in bloom ...
the figs ... the almonds ... the dates ...
all choice fruits.”
(Song of Songs 7:12-14, 5:11) 

Union Soldiers
ONE OF THE MOST literal yet inventive representations of charoset was conceived during the American Civil War, when a group of Jewish Union soldiers made a seder for themselves in the wilderness of West Virginia. They had none of the ingredients for traditional charoset handy, so they put a real brick in its place on the seder tray. (Ira Steingroot)   top

"Charoset Taste Test"

Though neither the Torah nor Rabban Gamliel lists charoset with the essential “big three” – Pesach, matza and maror, it is still a mitzvah to eat charoset with the maror. In fact the rabbis were very explicit about its ingredients and their rationales.
     Taste and compare two traditional recipes for charoset. Identify as many ingredients as possible. 

In Every Generation
Identifying with the Exodus
“The Exodus from Egypt occurs in every human being, in every era, in every year and even on every day,” said the Hassidic Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav. At the seder we must try to empathize with that original liberation and to discover its relevance throughout the generations.  top

Life Passages

“The Exodus from Egypt occurs in every human being, on every era, in every year, and even in every day.” (Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav)
Think of the many “exoduses” throughout our lives – whether emerging from one geographical place to another or from an experience of “slavery” to one of greater freedom.
How might you fill in the
“Pass-over Pass-port” below? A few people might be asked to share their most important personal “exoduses.” They might even bring their old passports or photographs to illustrate their journey from port to port.

My Invisible Identity Card
Kibbutz Ein Harod’s Haggadah
     Q: On every Pesach one must ask oneself: When was I born? Where was I born? ... What is the historical memory I bear?
     A: I look at my identity card and read what is engraved in invisible script: “My parents were born as slaves in Egypt, when the king of that Egyptian Empire ordered the first planned national genocide in our history. I too was there with them.”.   top

My Narrow Prison
THE HEBREW WORD for Egypt, “Meetzrayim,” means a tight spot or a narrow strait where we feel “boxed in.”
     One day, a few days after the liberation, I walked through the country past flowering meadows, for miles and miles, toward the market town near the camp. Larks rose to the sky and I could hear their joyous song. There was no one to be seen for miles around; there was nothing but the wide earth and sky and the larks’ jubilation and the freedom of space. I stopped, looked around, and up to the sky – and then I went down on my knees. At that moment there was very little I knew of myself or of the world – I had but one sentence in mind – always the same: “I called to Adonai from my narrow prison and God answered me in the freedom of space” (Psalm 118:5).
     How long I knelt there and repeated this sentence, memory can no longer recall. But I know that on that day, in that hour, my new life started. Step for step I progressed, until I again became a human being.
(Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning, lessons from a concentration camp)   top

"When I Went Out"
The Exodus of Three Refuseniks, Three Prisoners of Zion
     NATAN SHARANSKY (formerly Anatoly Sharansky and later Cabinet Minister in Israel) writes: “I, as practically all Soviet Jews, was absolutely assimilated. I knew nothing about our language, about our history, about our religion. But the pride of being a Jew, the pride for our State of Israel after the Six Day War, made me feel free. And, after I turned to Jewish identification, I felt myself really free from that big Soviet prison. I was free even before the very last day of my leaving the Soviet Union.”
     VLADIMIR SLEPAK described his first Israeli morning: “It is like being reborn. Until I die, I’ll never forget this morning, when I woke up and looked out at the sun rising over the Judean Hills, and the Old City in front of me.”
     IDA NUDEL said upon arrival at Ben Gurion Airport: “A few hours ago I was almost a slave in Moscow. Now I’m a free woman in my own country. It is the most important moment of my life. I am at home at the soul of the Jewish people. I am a free person among my own people” (from the CLAL Soviet Jewry Haggadah)..   top

Body Language
Acting the Part
     Maimonides changes one letter in the traditional formula: “In every generation one is obligated to SEE oneself as one who personally went out of Egypt.” He inserts “SHOW” (l'har-ot) instead of “SEE” (lir-ot). One’s posture must show the stature of a liberated person. Freedom speaks a special body language reinforcing feeling with actions. On seder night one must act out the part for all to see and to learn. (Mishne Torah, Hametz-u-Matza 7:6-7)
     The Torah reports that Israel emerged from Egypt with arms raised high. That phrase has become an idiom for triumph – “to gain the upper hand.” The “high five” or the V-sign can also express the sense of personal elation as “I” emerged from slavery.