Each year, lots of people look forward to getting mad at me over my annual “I hate Channukah” posts. While Hanukah is my least favorite Jewish holiday, Passover is my favorite.
I love the two nights of Seder — a dinner with a service — with family and friends, the constipating food, the terrible singing and The Four Questions.
Every Seder begins with The Four Questions:
Why is this night different from all other nights?
On all other nights we eat leavened products and matzah. Why on this night do we eat only matzah?
On all other nights we eat all vegetables. Why on this night do we eat only bitter herbs?
On all other nights, we don’t dip our food even once. Why on this night do we dip twice?
On all other nights we eat sitting or reclining. Why on this night do we only recline?
If you’re counting, that’s actually five questions, but that’s one of the things I love about the holiday. Another thing I love about it is that during a traditional Passover Seder, those questions are never really answered. (I’ll answer them below).
Passover is the quintessential Jewish holiday because it’s about asking questions. In Judaism, we learn never to accept something because a rabbi or teacher says it. We always question, and I love questions.
Like when anyone asks me, “Do you always answer a question with a question?” I invariably respond, “What do you mean?”
But I digress.
If it were me writing the Passover Haggadah (the book used for the Seder service) instead of Maxwell House writing it, I’d ask different questions.
Like: Why have more copies of the Maxwell House Haggadah been printed than any other Haggadah in history?
Because in 1934, Maxwell House noticed there was a drop in coffee sales during Passover. To encourage sales during that week, the company printed and distributed copies of its Haggadah free.
Why did coffee sales drop? In the original Hebrew, the Torah instructs that during Passover, we can’t eat legumes (string beans, peas, lima beans, things like that). Some languages don’t differentiate between the words legume and bean. In my grandfather’s Ukranian dialect, apparently, that was the case, because I grew up with no coffee or chocolate — both from beans, but not legumes – during Passover.
The good folks at Maxwell House wanted to make sure we knew there was a difference. The Maxwell House Haggadah remains in print, and this year, they came out with a new, gender-neutral version of their Haggadah to keep alive the true spirit of Passover — a time to remember which companies make huge profits stamping kosher for Passover on some boxes and doubling or tripling the price.
Another Passover question for a modern Seder should be:
On all other nights we drink Coca Cola bottled anywhere, why on this night do we only drink Coke from Houston?
The Torah bans a number of grains. Coke is normally made with corn syrup. Now, obviously corn wasn’t a banned grain since it’s native to North America, but it was never declared kosher for Passover, either. So the Houston Coke Bottling plant makes a kosher for Passover version by substituting sugar for the week. Stock up if you find some. It’s much better than regular Coke.
Speaking of grains, the Orthodox rabbis declared quinoa, a grain from South America, kosher for Passover this year for the first time. So even though we have to give up spelt, rye and barley, we can now substitute quinoa.
Some business news just last week might prompt us to ask this Passover question at this week’s Seders: Why is this Passover different from all other Passovers?
Because on all other Passovers, we ate Manischewitz products, and last week, Mitt Romney’s old company Bain Capital bought the food division. The crappy, sticky, sweet wine is made by a separate company.
Us Jews are funny about our kosher food. I don’t know how to explain it to Christians who are fine with Irving Berlin and other Jews writing all their Christmas music sung by Barbra Strisand and Neil Diamond, but Mormon matzo? It just didn’t sit right with me, and that’s the only Passover brand Kroger on Cedar Springs carries. I went to Whole Foods and bought imported, organic, whole wheat Aviv brand instead.
So happy Passover and the answer to the five Four Questions that this night is different from all other nights because we do the things listed in the other four questions. We eat matzo to remind us of the Jews not having time to let the bread rise before making their exodus from Egypt. We eat bitter herbs to remind us of the hard labor in Egypt. We don’t really know why we dip twice, but ask any rabbi and they’ll give you some ferkackta answer. And we recline to symbolize freedom from slavery.