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April 29, 2011 / 25 Nisan, 5771
Unravelling the Mishnah of Tractate Pesahim 10:4
We continue the discussion of the last tractate in the volume of the Talmud called Pesach which describes how one prepares for the Passover Seder.

Pesahim Perek 10, Mishnah 4

They pour [mix] him a second cup. Here the son asks his father (and if the son does not know how to ask his father teaches him): 'How is this night different from all other nights? On all other nights we eat hametz or matzah, [but] tonight only matzah. On all other nights we may eat any vegetables; tonight only maror. On all other nights we eat meat whether roasted, stewed or boiled, [but] tonight only roasted. On all other nights we dip once, [but] tonight twice.' According to the son's understanding the father teaches him, beginning with shame and ending with praise. And he expounds midrashically from 'My father was a wandering Aramean' until he concludes that whole section.

Explanation:
We are now at what we may recognize, the section known as the Maggid, familiar words and ideas. First, we are told that the son asks his father (or leader) questions about the meaning of the Seder rituals. But if he is unable to do so, he is to be prompted. The requirement for asking these questions is derived from the Torah: Exodus 12: 26-27; 13:8; 13:14; Deuteronomy 6:20-21 where it speaks of children asking about the purpose of the Seder. The text of the Mah Nishtanah as we have here is from the Babylonian Talmud. There are different texts of these questions in other sources, and they also have a different order of the questions. What is clearly important is that we prompt everyone present at the Seder to think about each symbol and how it is used to remind us of the Exodus.

Comment:
Some additional questions.
(1) Why does the Mishnah use a Hebrew verb which means to “mix” the wine, not “pour.” Did they really mix water with their wine? Why would they? And why doesn’t anyone ask about this way of serving wine at the Seder? No question from the children because it would not have been something unusual! It was a regular pratice at such festive Hellenistic banquets, and most admit that the symposium did influence the Seder. Ancient Greco-Roman sources state that it was considered barbaric, uncouth and/or unhealthy to drink wine "neat”, e.g. without mixing in some water. In fact the man who mixed the wine was elected by the participants of the banquet was called in Greek the “symposiarchos;” he determined the proportion of wine to water. In our Mishnah the instruction to mix and pour the wine reflects an ancient practice, while today we simply pour the wine directly from the bottle.
(2) After the wine is poured, the son asks multiple questions, if he is able. But, what if there is no son, or he can’t be prompted or prepared sufficiently? What if there are only daughters? Where is it taught that it is the youngest son or child present who asks the questions? What if there are no children present? Some sources suggest that the wife can then be prompted to ask the questions. And, if only several men are celebrating the Seder, then one will ask the questions and the other will respond. Why emphasize prompting the “children” to ask questions if the Sages want to emphasize the question and answers rather than who asks whom? Asking questions appears to be the hallmark of the Seder in particular and the Jewish tradition in general.

Here are the four verses which prompted the creation of the Mah Nishtanah:
“When your children ask you what this ceremony is you shall tell them that it is the passover of God who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt when He struck Egypt but spared our homes” [Exodus 12 26-27]; “And you shall tell your son on that day, saying ‘ because of what God did for me when I left Egypt’” [Exodus 13:8]; “When in the future your son will ask you ‘what this?’ you shall tell him “with might of main God brought us out Egyptian slavery” [Exodus 13:14]; “When at some future time you son shall ask you, ‘What mean the testimonies, statutes, and ordinances, which God has commanded you?’- you shall tell your son that we were Pharaoh?s slaves in Egypt: and God brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand” [Deuteronomy 6:20-21].

Do you think that because the Torah mentions a parent instructing a child in four different verses the Haggadah has four questions? Could it be a paradigm for the Four Children?
 

This week's Mishnah lesson was written by
Rabbi Barry Dov Lerner.

He created and is the editor/author/administrator of www.jewishfreeware.org. See especially for 5771 Pesah new and updated FREE Family-Friendly Haggadot: Hebrew/Translation/Transliteration ; World's Largest Seder Songbook; and Passover Activities. Millions are being distributed annually FREE with encouragement for sharing and unlimited copying for individuals, families, synagogues, religious schools, day schools, nursing homes, assisted living residents, community sedarim, military chaplains, prisons to more than 78 countries. Rabbi Lerner is also President, Foundation For Family Education, Inc. 501c3, an educational project for hands-on Jewish learning that builds Jewish memories.

The opinions expressed in this Unraveller are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the FJMC.


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