How many years have I been a Jew now? And it's taken me this long to realize that Passover is the holiday best enjoyed by Jewish drunkards? I mean, how many glasses of wine are we supposed to drain over the course of one long dinner? Try FOUR. And in my family, it's never that grody Manischewitz swill. We get good Israeli wines like Barkan and Recanati and savor our wine-drinking obligations. But until last night, I had never before seen such a wine-soaked Passover. It got to a point where my cousin, Debpc and I were sitting there, drinking glass number whatever, and looking around and realizing: no one is eating; it's a bunch of 35 Jews and no one, not a soul, was eating solid food. Normally, a gathering of Jewish folks means that the food is flowing, and the fermented beverages, well, not so much. Between the courses, say, between the matzah ball soup course and the main course, people just sit in their seats and wait for the next platter of food to be presented. And once the food runs out, everyone leaves. Last night, however, was oddly different. In the lull between soup and roast chicken, the wine flowed, the people wandered away from their seats, the wine flowed, the laughter rose, the conversation became unusually animated, the topics veering into the deliciously inappropriate, and no one seemed to care when the next morsel would be offered. When the chicken finally came around, it was like, "Oh, food, yeah, we're supposed to have a festive meal now, okay, whatever." And of course, we're supposed to tell the tale of how the Jews were freed from bondage in Egypt and how they came to reside in Israel. It's not only a mitzvah, but an absolute imperative. You must tell the story and retell the story. Twice each year, at a minimum (at the seder dinners), maybe more. Here's the story in a nutshell: Jacob was a fruitful and prosperous man who had a favorite son named Joseph, whose jealous brothers sold him into slavery in Egypt. Joseph was a hottie who attracted the attention of the Phaoroh's wife, which could have been bad, but Joseph took lemons and made lemonade, predicting some stuff for the Pharoah that actually came to pass. Joseph, and Jews, in general, came to prosper in Egypt, and they made lots of babies. Eventually, it came to pass that a Pharoah came into power who knew nothing about this Joseph and his prophesies, and who really resented the Jews for their successes and felt threatened by their numbers. First, he decreed that Jews would be slaves -building buildings, monuments, cities. When that didn't oppress the Jews sufficiently to suit him, he decreed that all Jewish baby boys be killed. Along came a woman who didn't want to see her baby boy die. This woman put her baby in a basket and sent him down the nile, where he was found by...none other than the Pharoah's daughter, a biblical-times Angelina Jolie, who determined right then and there to take this discarded baby in and raise him as her own. This baby was known as Moses, which means, taken from the water. Moses's birth mother was hired as his wet nurse. Clever one. Quietly, behind closed doors, Moses's mom told him all about his Jewish heritage, and Moses came to know who he really was. One day, when Moses was an old man, God came to him in the form of a burning bush, and told him that he would lead his people out of slavery. It took some convincing, but Moses came to understand that this would be God's will, and he approached the then-current Pharoah and told him, "Let my people go so that I may lead them." No. Threats were made. Miracles were performed. Plagues were sent to prove God's will (not merely for revenge). As the children sing, "One day Pharoah awoke in his bed, there were frogs on his head and frogs on his bed. Frogs here, frogs there, frogs were jumping everywhere." And that doesn't even get to the boils, the cattle plague, the blood running in place of water, the locusts, to name a few. There were 10 in all, and the worst one by far, the only one that really moved the Pharoah to action, was the plague of the death of the first born. Not by soldiers, but by the angel of death. But by the time the tenth plague was brought into play, Moses knew that Pharoah couldn't be trusted to keep his word, even if the death of his first born was at stake. And so, the Jews planned accordingly, getting their stuff ready to flee Egypt on such short notice that they didn't have time to let their bread rise; instead they baked it without leavening, and thus matzah was born, the bread of affliction. When the appointed time came for the Pharoah to either let the Jewish people go or suffer the death of the first born of every Egyptian first born boy, the Pharoah in his arrogance did not let the Jewish people go. His son was one of the first born boys who died. At that point, he appeared to relent. "Alright! I give up! I will let your people go," he whined to Moses. And so the Jewish people fled, and fast, because they knew that Pharoah was lying yet again. When they Jews got to the Red Sea, it miraculously parted so that they could cross it to safety. Right behind the Jews were the Egyptians who, as predicted, chased after the Jews, on the Pharoah's orders. He had no intention of really letting them go. When the Egyptians got to the center of the sea, God made the waters come together again, so that the Jews could flee to safety. After some time, the Jews found themselves on the other side, which is where Moses presented the Jews with the 10 Commandments. Never again would they worship idols. Never again would they have more than one God. And other stuff too. And that's pretty much it, give or take several thousand words, four glasses of wine, plus one for the prophet, Elijah, the festive meal, a pascal lamb, bitter herbs, etc. Gotta run to seder 2. YC
Tuesday, April 03, 2007
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