An Introductory Note from Interleaved host, Netanel Zellis-Paley:
Over the past tractate we’ve gotten to hear from all different kinds of experts and thinkers, and the timings couldn’t be more perfect — as we celebrate our completion of Pesachim, we are days away from practicing so much of what we have learned, with the holiday of Pesach this coming weekend. While we are delighted to share the voices from our modern day Sages with you, in every interview there is tape that doesn’t make it to the final episode cut — but that doesn’t mean there isn’t what to learn from it. So we’ve dove back into our own audio archives to put together ideas, some we’ve shared before and some we’re excited to share for this first time here, to enhance your seder — step by step.
Listener, welcome to the seder.
KADESH / URCHATZ
קדש / ורחץ
Before we even begin — take a moment to look at you Hagaddah, appreciate its existence. Dr. Marc Michael Epstein reminds us that before the printing press and economically accessible books: "people would gather around the person who would be reading it — or the Hagaddah would be turned around and shown". How can you make your reading tonight more communal — is everyone on the same page at your seder?
This year (2021), the first night of the seder begins on a Saturday night, so we must say goodbye to Shabbat while welcoming in Pesach. The Talmud explains:
Does the Haggadah you are using hold a clue to YaKNeHaZ — if not, look at these two that Dr. Epstein references: the first is a straightforward hare hunt, in the second the hare escapes the net.
Be on the look out for commentaries done visually in your own Haggadah— be it Jewish subjugation, or any other topic.
Ethnobotanist Dr. Jon Greenberg investigates the link between the commandment to "remember the Exodus" and the drinking of wine. In his studies he finds the below commentary that focuses on the smell of the wine:
"The sense of smell is unique among our sense in that it is wired directly to the amygdala which is the center of emotion in the brain" explains Dr. Greenberg. So at this first cup of wine tonight, take a moment to breathe deeply — what does the smell of wine prompt you to remember?
KARPAS / YACHATZ
כרפס / יחץ
Many of the actions we perform tonight that stick out as odd to us, are just mimics of Greco-Roman feasting manners, like those picture below:
The act of dipping, Dr. Greenberg tell us, is one of these manners. If you were to incorporate actions into you seder to emulate prosperity today, what would they be?
MAGGID / RUCHTZA
מגיד / רחצה
In beginning Maggid, the telling of the story of Exodus, Rabbi Dr. Vanessa Ochs reminds us of the original commandment:
Rabbi Ochs points out that their is no explanation for how to carry this out and proposes that, "the Torah suggests the possibility that we can figure out how to create holy experience". What is it that you can do tonight to create such an experience?
Dr. Epstein explains how he creates a holy experience, while referencing an important theme of the entire seder, "so that the children should ask":
What questions do you want to ask tonight? What questions are you hoping you will hear tonight?
The main bulk of Maggid, in between the questions and answers, is the First Fruits Declaration:
On the above section Dr. Epstein suggests that this metaphor reminds us that "in order to see the Exodus more clearly this Passover, we need to think of these terrible experience by way of contrast with what was and what could be, and to hope and to pray, and to open ourselves up to the possibility that we will appreciate being taken out, even more, for having in a way ourselves, in a way that hasn't been present in this past generation, been in." What has being "in" taught you this year? What do you hope to "take out" with you in the future?
The next part of Maggid describes the plauges — but Dr. Rachel Scheinerman reminds us of the original focus of the exodus story:
"It seems," Dr. Scheinerman says, "that the sacrifice is really the point." With this new frame of reference in mind we turn to the final plauge, in which the Israelites were commanded to mark their doorposts so that the angel of death would pass over their homes. But what makes this plauge different from the others that their needs to be a physical symbol of differentiation asks Dr. Scheinerman — the answer lies within the text of the story:
From this Dr. Scheinerman concludes: "In some ways that [service of G!d] is really the beginning of the exodus, more than the actual physical departure of the next morning."
By the above passage in the Griffins Head Hagaddah (c. 1300), Dr. Epstein describes the illustration of pesach l'atid la'vo, the Passover of the future, with men and women sitting together, and a pascal sacrifice. As we come to the end of Maggid, we can take this time to consider — how do we imagine Pesach in the future, one year from now or maybe 1,000 years from now. What kinds of symbols of equity and service and celebration do you envision?
Dr. Susan Weingarten invokes this description of the making of matzah:
Who made the matzah you are eating tonight? What kind of appreciation or acknowledgement have you given to the person who prepared all of these foods you are consuming and commemorating with at your seder — take the time now to say thank you.
But what makes maztah so special? Dr. Greenberg brings this commentary on the metaphorical and metaphysical: "To remove the chametz (unleaved products) [is] to remove the yetzer hara (evil inclination) from yourself." Dr. Greenberg suggests a chesbon hanefesh (accounting of the soul). There's a lot of chewing time devoted to matzah— use it to reflect.
"You can also fulfill your obligation with matzah" is a turning point in Tannaitic literature around the centrality of the pascal sacrifice that Dr. Scheinerman reminds us is significant:
The seder has evolved to be some sort of ritual replacement, but not completely. What has changed for you since last year? What kind of ritual have you redeveloped in your life?
MARROR / KORECH
מרור / כורך
In referencing the Talmud's list of suggested maror plant, Dr. Greenberg emphasizes the absence of horseradish:
Why is this plant substitution so important to note? Because, Dr. Greenberg explains: "The concept of maror was completely reinterpreted and misinterpreted." The Talmud states the metaphor the maror is supposed to embody:
The lettuce plant bitters as it stays in the ground, and "the gradual slow creeping increase in bitterness was meant to be symbolic of and a warning against the slow insidious nature of oppression and antisemitism – that's what the point of maror is. But what happened when horseradish took over... the concept became in the popular conception, we're going to compress 200 years of slavery into 30 seconds, and your face is going to turn purple and steam is going to come out of your ears and you're going to say 'Wow that was rough' — that was never the intention." If we recontextualize this metaphor of maror as Dr. Greenberg demonstrates, what kinds of lessons can we take into our own lives?
The other part of maror is the charoset. And while for some apples, nuts, cinnamon, and wine is the standard Dr. Weingarten describes the abundance of variation of charoset recipes across time and space, some of which we include below:
But did you know that charoset is never formally commanded? Rabbi Ochs calls up the Tamludic concept of puk chazi (go see) in examining how the ritual was formally established:
Rabbi Ochs elaborates: "There is no text that is quoted, there is no Sage that is quoted, it's the fact that people are doing it with gusto!" Passover is a special time for family specific ritual — what is something that you remember doing with gusto in relationship to ritual?
This is not just a meal. As Dr. Weingarten identifies: "In Sefer Shemot, Exodus, where the Jews are about to leave Egypt. They are at this critical point between slavery and freedom and what does G!d tell them to do? [G!d] tells them to eat":
The above text ends with the commandment that this meal should be a remembrance for generations. During the meal, share stories of your past seder meals — consider what has changed, and what has stayed the same.
If we were in the time of the Temple, the centerpiece of this meal would have been the pascal sacrifice. Rabbi Dr. Shlomo Zuckier highlights that the most important part of the sacrificial process, unlike with most other sacrifices, was the communal eating of the pascal lamb. Who are you eating with tonight? What does is mean to partake in a meal communally?
At this point in the seder you might be feeling a bit sleepy. You aren't alone, as Dr. Greenberg points out, the rabbis in the Talmud had the same concerns:
Whatever the reason may be for you sleepiness, find comfort in the fact that not everything changes as time passes. Centuries may separate you and the voices recorded in the Talmud, but people are still just people.
TZAFUN / BARECH
צפון / ברך
There is an idea that Dr. Greenberg identifies, that thinks that red wine is the preferred wine to use for the four cups we drink tonight:
Yet on this section, the the Turei Zahav, a 16th century Polish commentator points out that where he lived, everyone knew to use white wine, due to of a fear of being associated with blood libels. Use this third cup as a remembrance for those who came before you and the choices they had to make as you lift your cup and say:
HALLEL / NIRTZAH
הלל / נרצה
Dr. Sara Ronis reminds us that on the first night of Passover after the seder is complete we do not say the prayer of shema before bed as we would any other night, and that the reasnoning behind this practice is found in the Talmud:
"Now," questions Dr. Ronis "What does that mean about why we say shema the other nights of the year? If we don't say it on the night that G!d is protecting us from demons, clearly part of what is going on in the shema is a prayer of protection." Tonight, encourage yourself to be in this world of safety — tonight you are protected. Sleep with that — feel the liberation in your bed.
Dr. Scheinerman brings the closing thought to our seder: "The Israelites were enslaved for 400 years. Redemption didn't come fast, and it doesn't always. It doesn't always and I think that perphas is part of the message of the Pesach seder. And of course the end of the seder is looking towards the future redemption and Jews know that that hasn't come quickly either."
"We added L'shana Ha'Ba'ah B'Yachad — Hopefully Next Year we can be Together. And while that is unlikely to be true for most of us this year, its also often unlikely true L'Shana Ha'Ba'ah B'Yerushalyim (Next Year in Jerusalem). But we can still look forward and hope for it. Jews are good at that. Jews are good at hope. Even in really difficult circumstances, Jews are good at hope."
Dr. Marc Michael Epstein is Professor of Religion and Visual Culture on the Mattie M. Paschall & Norman Davis Chair and Director of Jewish Studies at Vassar College. He is the author of, among other books, The Medieval Haggadah: Art, Narrative, and Religious Imagination and Skies of Parchment, Seas of Ink: Jewish Illuminated Manuscripts.
Dr. Jon Greenberg is an educational consultant and teacher of science at the Heschel School in New York. He received his bachelor’s degree with honors in biology from Brown University, his Master’s and Doctorate in agronomy from Cornell University, and also studied with Rabbi Chaim Brovender at Israel’s Yeshivat Hamivtar. Additionally, Dr. Greenberg publishes TorahFlora a blog devoted to essays on biblical ethnobotany, and a botanical hagaddah, Fruits of Freedom.
Rabbi Dr. Vanessa Ochs is a Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Virginia where she teaches courses in Judaism, anthropology of religion, and spiritual writing. In her research, she investigates new Jewish ritual, Jewish feminism, and Jewish material culture. Rabbi Ochs is the author of many works including The Passover Haggadah: A Biography and Inventing Jewish Ritual.
Dr. Sara Ronis is an associate professor of Theology at St. Mary’s University. She specializes in understanding rabbinic literature using interdisciplinary perspectives. She received her Ph.D. from Yale University in 2015, with a dissertation titled “Do Not Go Out Alone at Night”: Law and Demonic Discourse in the Babylonian Talmud. In her upcoming book manuscript, she explores how late antique Jews thought about demons as part of larger intercultural conversations within the Sasanian empire.
Dr. Rachel Scheinerman is an associate editor at My Jewish Learning where she edits the Daily Dose of Talmud newsletter. She holds an MA in Scripture & Interpretation from Harvard Divinity School and a PhD in Rabbinic Literature from Yale University with a dissertation about The Tannaitic Passover Ritual.
Dr. Susan Weingarten is an archaeologist and historian. As a post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Jewish Studies at Tel Aviv University, Dr. Weingarten began to concentrate on the history of Jewish food, more specifically on food in talmudic literature. She has published over forty papers and is author of the book Haroset: A Taste of Jewish History. At present she is an Associate Fellow of the Albright Institute for Archaeological Research in Jerusalem.
Rabbi Dr. Shlomo Zuckier is a postdoctoral fellow at McGill University and lecturer at the Bernard Revel Graduate School. He recently completed his PhD from Yale where he focused on sacrifice. Previously a member of Yeshiva University’s Kollel Elyon, Rabbi Zuckier also is a founder of The Lehrhaus, and was the past Director of JLIC at Yale.
Interleaved: A Talmudic Podcast is hosted by Netanel Zellis-Paley and produced by Adina Karp. Join us as we take a bi-weekly deep dive into a topic from the Daf Yomi, the daily page of Talmud, with modern-day Sages of Torah and the world who can draw from their unique expertise to share modern and creative perspectives on the text. Subscribe on Apple Podcast, Spotify, or where ever you listen. If you like what we do — leave a review & share us with your friends! If you have an idea or an expert you want to hear about, write to us at [email protected]