Seder Highlights 2015

  • Time we finished: Between 12 and 1 both nights.
  • Divrei Torah: Many of the usual short stuff from the kids, which is always nice as we moved along. My pieces this year were mostly academic (so as to avoid any heated confrontations with one or two specific relatives). Focused on discrepancies between the Babylonian Haggadah and the Palestinian Haggadah first night, and the Seder in Bnei Brak mentioned in the Haggadah the second night. Also had a nice discussion about why Moshe's name is not mentioned in the Haggadah and, unrelatedly, if factionalization is a bigger problem for Judaism today or back in the early few centuries CE.
  • Most heated discussion: When I mentioned that the tenants of Orthodox belief are: 1. There is an infinite Creator of the universe. 2. Said Creator gave us a set of laws that include both what is written in the Torah, as well as an oral component. 
  • Best food: Meat roast.
  • Haggadah's I used this year: My Rosh Yeshivah wrote a Haggadah that I helped out with a bit. It's not in stores until next year, but I got an advanced copy. Look for it next year, though. It's called "From Despair to Destiny", with a cool white cover. I also used Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks's Haggadah again this year, as I didn't quite finish it last year. I should mentioned I also read a collection of essays by Rabbi J.H. Hertz, and I also started the new Headlines book by Dovid Lichtenstein. 
  • Most unexpected occurrence: My littlest cousin was not shy at all when it came to the 4 questions. She couldn't wait to ask them, actually. 

Responding To Tragedy — An Elaboration On DovBear

DovBear recently published a post addressing a particular response to the tragic death of 7 children by fire. If you haven't already, you should go and read the whole thing now (it's very short). He ends the post as follows:

You can use the fire to strengthen your shabbos observance if you wish - that's fine - but don't allow yourself to become convinced, as Wallenstein has become convinced, that God murdered seven children for the sake of delivering this message to you. God's ways are inscrutable. 

I would like to elaborate just a bit.

The key idea here, really, is that God's ways truly are unknown to us. They are entirely unknown. And throughout any ordeal, this is a key, fundamental point that one must remember. At a core level, our entire religious lives are based on this premise. We don't know why the universe was created. We don't know where it's headed. And we don't know why it's headed there. All we can do, at any moment, is what God wants from us. And that's really it. (More on these points at another time.)

When tragedy strikes, it is impossible for us to know the reasons. But that does not mean that suddenly we can start making things up. As it says:

The hidden things belong to the Lord, our God, but the revealed things apply to us and to our children forever: that we must fulfill all the words of this Torah. (Devarim 29:28)

That sums this entire matter up quite nicely. In short, we simply do not know. Prophecy has been removed from us. There was once a time when we were able to consult people that were able to actually instruct us as to why things happened, and what God wanted from us as a response. That time is long gone. There are no prophets anymore. There is no prophecy anymore. And that means there is no understanding the actions of God anymore. Anyone claiming otherwise is simply a charlatan, or worse. 

Did God have 7 children die to teach the rest of the world some message? All our response can be is: I don't know. Maybe he did. Probably not. But it's possible. But we simply do not know. 

We do believe in learning and growing from tragedy. We do believe that God either causes, or lets, bad things happen when people do bad things. This is all spelled out in the opening halachos to Taanis in the Mishnah Torah of the Rambam. But what we categorically do not believe in, is ascribing any sort of specifics to these things. 

We simply do not know.

Some Random Pesach Trivia

A friend sent me these questions. See how many you can get:

  1. When (in terms of Rabbinic time periods — tannaim, ammoraim, geonim, rihsonim, acharonim) was the first mention of Kos Shel Eliyahu?
  2. Why is there an egg at the Pesach seder?
  3. Who wrote the haggadah?
  4. How does the Torah refer to Pesach and how does Chazal refer to pesach? And why the difference?
  5. Who played Moses in "The Ten Commandments"? 
  6. What book/novel/boat is/was named for the English word used to describe the Jews's leaving of Egypt?
  7. Which early-mid twentieth century Jerusalem-based rabbi had the middle name "Pesach"?
  8. Which 20th Century American Rosh Yeshiva died on the Eighteenth of Nissan, 1993?

OU's List Of Top Kashrus Questions For Pesach 2015

A nice list, with responses such as:

Q: May I use frozen Kirkland Salmon for Passover?
A: Due to the frequent application of glazes to raw fish, it should be purchased only with reliable kosher for Passover certification. However, Kirkland Frozen Wild Salmon is acceptable without special Passover certification after washing it off, while the Kirkland Atlantic (farm raised) Salmon is acceptable as is without special certification for Passover.

Starbucks Via is Kosher for Pesach This Year

There was a bit of a hullabaloo amongst the coffee addicts just a few days ago when CRC announced on their Twitter page (a great resource, by the way — they do a great job responding to questions) that Starbucks Via is kosher for Pesach this year:

I did some following-up with them to clarify a few things, and I thought I would share it here so that there is no confusion.

First of all, not all Starbucks Via is kosher for Pesach. Only unflavored (the Columbian Roast, for instance) is okay. It also has to be decaf. And, finally, it must bear an OU (although it doesn't need an OU P, as is the chiddush here). 

Now, again, all of this is only the CRC. But that's not much of an "only". They're a pretty reliable and trusted Kashrus organization. So to all you coffee addicts out there (and I do mean addicts): go crazy.