Passover Amusements – The Feast Without Yeast
By Jonathan Berkowitz
Why is the Passover Seder so long? One reason is that we tell the Passover story three times, using three primary human senses—the visual (the Seder plate), the verbal (Maggid), the active (the fifteen parts of the haggadah). Over the years, I have added a fourth sense, the enigmatic, that involves puzzles, facts and figures, trivia, and more. I envision one day putting these materials into a book, titled The Feast Without Yeast. Until then, I hope you enjoy this small sample from my collection. I encourage you to use parts of it in your Seders. Education and entertainment go hand in hand.
#1. Anagrams, Letter Play, and Puns
At a Seder we tell of the parting of the Red Sea. A SEDER is a rearrangement of RED SEA. But more accurately it was the Sea of Reeds. That works too since SEDER => REEDS.
What mode of transportation was employed during the Exodus? Oxen. EXODUS => USED OX.
Why do we have a feast, and sometimes overeat, to celebrate freedom? FREEDOM => FED MORE
Eating matzah can be dangerous, so wear your hazmat suit. MATZAH => HAZMAT
Perhaps put on parkas for the beginning of the Seder. KARPAS => PARKAS
Everyone needs to be close enough, within earshot, when the haroset is eaten. EARSHOT => HAROSET
Lamb’s blood is used to mark the lintels of the doorposts to prevent the killing of the firstborn. Too bad we can’t observe this by eating lentils; they’re kitniyot. LINTELS => LENTILS
When Moses separated the water, he parted the Red Sea. SE-p-A-R-at-ED contains SEA and RED. Separated also contains a very brief synopsis of the Seder. The Hebrews were spared; let’s eat—S-e-PAR-at-ED.
On Passover we celebrate leaving Egypt, so the LEAVEN needs to LEAVE.
If the plural of man is men and the plural of woman is women, is afikomen the plural of afikoman?
Do vegans eat a paschal yam?
Don’t give a verbal thrashing to the chef. The lamb was basted properly, so the chef shouldn’t be lambasted!
If you eat too much yummy “mortar,” might you suffer from “charoses of the liver”?
#2. Angels, from various angles
The Haggadah tells us, “Then Adonai took us out of Mitzrayim. Not by an angel, nor by a seraph, nor by a messenger. Rather, the Holy One Himself.
Rabbinic lore tells of two kinds of angels: those who are in God’s permanent court, like Michael and Gabriel, and those who are created each day to be daily messengers. We are all God’s messengers.
Let’s play with the letters of the word ANGEL. An ANGEL is a messenger who knows every ANGLE. How do we find out what the messages are? We GLEAN them. Glean means “to find out.” Glean also means “to gather the scattered remainder of grain or straw left after reaping.” It is what the Israelite slaves did to make bricks in the brickyards of the taskmasters. An AGNEL (from Latin agnellus little lamb, diminutive of agnus) was a gold coin of France, issued in the thirteenth to sixteenth centuries, bearing the figure of a lamb. And that reminds us of the paschal lamb, and the word Pesach. We drink a lot of wine at a Seder; LAGEN (from the Latin lagena, large flask) is an obsolete unit of capacity for liquids. And we all trace our origins back to Sinai, so we must all share a genetic code. GENAL is an adjective that means “of, relating to, or caused by a gene.”
#3. Passover Facts or Fiction – True or False?
Here are two sets of statements, one set for adults and one set for children. Answers are given at the end of each set. If you find any inaccuracies or errors, please let the author know so they can be fixed for future use.
Questions for Adults
- The world’s largest Seder takes place in Nepal.
- Maxwell House started giving out haggadot in the mid-1930s in order to advertise that coffee beans are kosher for Passover and to prevent a dip in coffee sales.
- During the American Civil War, Union and Confederate Jews bonded together during Passover, even inviting their adversaries to family Seders.
- Abraham Lincoln was assassinated during Passover.
- The Guinness Book of World Records records the largest matzah ball ever made, weighing in at 488 pounds (222 kg).
- Persian Jews smack each other with green onions when the ninth stanza of Dayenu begins.
- Coca-Cola makes a special batch of kosher-for-Passover Coke.
- A hundred years ago, in Poland, rabbinical authorities allowed sweet tea to be substituted for the traditional four cups of wine during the Seder.
- In Gibraltar, Jews actually mix the dust of bricks into their haroset.
- In eighteenth-century Salonika, Greece, people added chopped stone to their haroset.
- Some Moroccan Jews included grated rock in their haroset.
- The Exodus took place about 5,000 years ago.
- The first day of Passover will never fall on a Monday, Wednesday, or Friday.
- According to the sixteenth-century scholar Rabbi Moses Isserles, it is required that the search for hametz include the checking of one’s pockets.
- The Christmas story The Gift of the Magi comes from the Hebrew word maggid, meaning telling.
- We read the biblical book Song of Songs during the intermediate (Chol HaMoed) Shabbat of Pesach.
- The first matzah-baking machine was introduced about 1857 in Germany.
- Jewish tradition tells us that we begin studying the laws and customs of Passover thirty days before the holiday.
Answers to Questions for Adults
- True. Each year, Chabad holds their “Seder on Top of the World,” in Katmandu. In 2013 they had around 2000 people.
- True. There are now more than 50 million copies in print.
- True. Incidentally, Jewish Civil War soldiers without ingredients for haroset put a real brick on their Seder plate.
- True. The American Jewish Historical Society notes that many Jews were in synagogue when the news broke, and that synagogue bimahs “were quickly draped in black, and, instead of Passover melodies, the congregations chanted Yom Kippur hymns.”
- True. Unveiled in Tucson, Arizona in 2010, it used over 1000 eggs and 125 pounds of matzah meal.
- True. They make it with real sugar instead of high-fructose corn syrup because corn is considered kitniyot. Look for bottles with yellow caps.
- True. During World War I it was very difficult to find kosher wine.
- False. It took place approximately 3,300 to 3,500 years ago! 13th to 15th c. BCE.
- False. It was in Austria.
Questions for Children
- The word Seder means “eat until you burst.”
- The word haggadah means “telling” (like telling a story).
- Passover occurs on the 15th of Adar.
- The first blessing we do is a blessing over the haggadah.
- The first thing we eat at the Seder is matzah.
- Haroset is the bitter herbs since it sounds like the word harsh.
- Maror is the mortar since maror looks like the word mortar.
- Zeroa represents God’s outstretched nose.
- Roasted egg represents thanks for the chicken that we often eat on Shabbat.
- Salt water represents the sweat of the mothers who cook for the Seder.
- We begin counting the omer at the second Seder and stop when we get to Rosh Hashanah.
- The middle matzah symbolizes two kinds of bread: bread of poverty and bread of freedom.
- Ha Lachma is written in Hebrew.
- Moses was already an old man when the Exodus happened.
- Egypt is a country in the continent of Africa.
- The word Mitzrayim (Egypt) occurs over 700 times in the Torah, but the word Israel occurs more often.
- The four children are the wise one, the wicked one, the simple one, and the sleepy one.
- Dayenu means That wasn’t enough!
- The first plague was blood, which is red, so the last plague was darkness which is black.
- Rabban Gamliel requires us to explain three things: matzah, maror, afikomen.
- We open the door for Elijah because he’s too polite to interrupt our Seder by knocking on the door.
Answers to Questions for Children
(Do the adults really need to look up the answer?)
- False; b. True; c. False. (that’s Purim); d. False; e. False (it’s karpas); f. False; g. False
- False; i. False; j. True, maybe; k. False; l. True; m. False (it’s in Aramaic); n. True (Moses was 80 and Aaron was 83); o. True; p. True; q. False; r. False; s. False; t. False (the third is the Pesach, the Passover offering); u. False