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The Two Seders, among others

Something that has emerged from some of Josh Waxman’s recent notes on the Haggadah over at the Parshablog (there is a compilation of his Haggadah posts now) has been an image of two competing seders. The first and most famous is that in the cave at B’nai Barak, which is discussed at some detail in the haggadah, and is discussed with much levity at some merry seders of my experience. Mr. Waxman asks why Rabbi Akiva and his buddies are at B’nai Barak at all? It’s Akiva’s home base, yes, but why wouldn’t they have gone to Yavneh? Or Lod? There is another seder in Lod, it turns out, which Rabban Gamliel attended. There is a contrast hinted at in the tosefta between the study in Lod concentrating on the laws of Passover, and the study in B’nai Barak concentrating on the story of Passover. Mr. Waxman also suggests a contrast between Bar Kochba supporters in B’nai Barak and those who have not endorsed the rebellion in Lod. These choices naturally lead to different choices in carrying out the commandments of the seder.

I bring this up, not only to encourage those who are interested to read Mr. Waxman’s notes, which are provocative and educational, but to point out that when we decide what to talk about during the seder, all our choices are political. It is political to put an orange on the plate, or not to. To pass the fifth cup, or not to. To fill Miriam’s cup with water, or not to. To open the door and pour out the wrath of the Divine on the nations is political. To sing that we were slaves of pharaoh in Egypt, and that we are now free—that is political. To choose Akiva’s way, study the story, and rebel against injustice—that is political. To choose Gamaliel’s way, study the law, and conserve the traditions that are of value—that is political.

Gentle Reader Michael wrote about The Bells of Freedom, reminding us that it’s better, after all, to do our inevitably political seder thoughtfully, with understanding of the world we actually inhabit as well as the world we rhetorically inhabit. This year we are slaves; next year may we be free.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,
-Vardibidian.