Sunday, December 04, 2022

In this week’s article, we’re going to have the big discussion that every couple has at some point—whether you should make your own Pesach seder or have a big extended-family seder.

Now obviously, this question doesn’t apply to everyone. I’m not talking about small families with no kids, such as, for example, newlyweds, who don’t want to have to clean their tiny apartment where there are no little people who dance around when you give them cookies, and for whom an entire Pesach seder would cost about $6, including matzah. They don’t want a quiet, awkward seder where the wife asks the husband the Mah Nishtana and the husband sings Avadim Hayinu alone, off key. If you’re going to sing off key, you want to do it in a group.

I’m talking about families that have kids, and their parents and in-laws also have kids, and some of their kids have kids, and none of the son-in-laws eats what they’re serving. Maybe you want a big family seder where the recycling guy sees how many empty bottles of wine you’re putting out the next week and puts a watch on your house, and where the seder goes until at least two in the morning, which is really not that late, but it feels a lot later because it’s six hours of trying to lean sideways in a chair with no arms.

And with big families, you get to participate in large group discussions, such as about how last year’s matzah was better.

So these sedarim take time. Especially since you have to wait for each kid, in turn, to stand up on a chair and, in front of everyone, refuse to say the Mah Nishtana. Which takes longer than saying the Mah Nishtana.

And then there’s the divrei Torah. All the elementary-school rebbeim give out the same divrei Torah, despite there being literally thousands of seforim on the Haggadah. And the kids don’t even realize they’re saying the same divrei Torah, because they weren’t listening to the previous kid—they were just waiting for their turn.

And if they’re not coming home with the same divrei Torah, it’s not much better. Especially if there’s a huge age variable, like if, for example, one family has mostly little kids who want to answer questions and talk about all the pictures in the Haggadah, and the other family has teenagers who give 10-minute drashos about the halacha of not touching wet vegetables with unwashed hands, which their mother has been telling them for years without the halacha. And the Haggadah makes a very big deal about dealing with each kid on his or her level, and my kids’ level is they want to get to the Mah Nishtana already, because when a kid has a question, he can’t hold it in.

But little kids are going to say they’re bored either way. If you tell them you’re just going to have the seder at home this year, they’re going to say it’s boring too. “It’s just us? How is that different than a regular Shabbos?”

“Whoa, whoa, hold on. Save that question for the seder.”

On the other hand, those same kids are more likely to say the Mah Nishtana when there aren’t 5,000 relatives staring at them.

Also, why do we call it “the Mah Nishtana”? We don’t say “the Avadim Hayinu,” and we don’t daven “the Shacharis”!

“Whoa, whoa, hold on. Save that question for the seder.”

And that’s the other point with big family sedarim: It gets crowded. Especially between all the seder plates and the fake ones the kids made in school and all the matzos that can’t be touching anything and all the salt water that can’t be anywhere near the matzos.

But there are benefits to everyone being on top of each other. For example, if you’re running your own Seder, then, you, on top of dealing with questions and pictures and fake seder plates, have to be on top of what parts of the seder you’re supposed to cover the matzos, uncover the matzos, remove the seder plate, lean, lift the salt water, cover the wine, or lean on the matzos. Oops. We forgot to bring back the seder plate. Whereas if you’re in a group, with all the Totties having seder plates, then at any given point, someone’s matzos are covered, someone else’s are uncovered, one guy’s seder plate hasn’t made it back in since the Mah Nishtana and he doesn’t notice it until he realizes there’s nothing to point at in Rabban Gamliel, and someone ends up drinking from the wrong kos, or possibly the salt water. So all your bases are covered.

Sure, there are other pros and cons. For one thing, Pesach is expensive, because you have to buy things that you normally assume are free, like salt. When was the last time you bought salt? Every Pesach, right? What are you using so much salt on that you have to buy a new one every single Pesach? How salty is your salt water?

Also hand matzah is expensive, because they make them by hand.

But now we finally make our own seder, ever since last year, when we discovered that in order to be ready for Pesach a couple of days earlier, all we had to do was start cleaning for Pesach a month before we used to.

Though I’m still singing Avadim Hayinu alone, off key.

By Mordechai Schmutter

Mordechai Schmutter is a freelance writer and a humor columnist for Hamodia, The Jewish Press and Aish.com, among others. He also has four books out and does stand-up comedy. You can contact him at [email protected]

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