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the perfect seder

04/05/2020 02:04:21 PM


This year, our Passover Seders just won’t be the same. We cannot gather with all our family members and friends around our seder table (though if we are lucky, we may be able to see their faces on a screen).  And the Passover dishes we are used to making?  This year we may not be able to find all the ingredients we need.  Or maybe we just won’t have the energy to cook so extensively. 

That’s okay.  Sometimes we can lose sight of what’s most important if we think everything should be perfect for the holiday.  That’s what this story is about.  It’s called:  “The Perfect Seder.”  (It comes from a collection of stories called A Year of Jewish Stories:  52 Tales for Children and their Families.)

“Ahh, what a night!” Rabbi Levi sighed happily as he settled down in bed.  He felt warm with this fluffy comforter, his huge pillow, and best of all, his perfectly clear conscience.  

Rabbi Levi snuggled blissfully as he remembered his perfect Passover seder.  In fact, this was his 85th Passover!  He knew the entire Haggadah by heart.  He knew every law about the holiday, every practice and every custom.  Rabbi Levi smiled as he closed his heavy eyelids and pictured Elijah’s cup on the table.  He chuckled to himself as he remembered his great-grandchildren opening the front door and refusing to close it until Elijah came in.  And then Rabbi Levi fell asleep. 

At least he thought he had fallen asleep – when suddenly a gruff voice called out, “Gut yontif, Rabbi Levi!  Another fine seder, eh?”

Rabbi Levi was immediately as alert as if he’d been splashed with a bucket of ice water.  He couldn’t be dreaming, he told himself, because he recognized the man sitting at the foot of his bed. 

“Gut yontif to you, Elijah!” Rabbi Levi announced, beside himself with pride.  Imagine! His seder must have been so good that the prophet Elijah himself had come to congratulate him.  “And, as they say, ‘Next year in Jerusalem.’”

“Yes, yes,” Elijah answered, bending to adjust one of his sandals.  “Next year in Jerusalem.” His mouth crept into a sly grin.  “Or at least – at the home of Chayim the Water Carrier.  I’m on my way to see him, actually.  He’s just about to begin his seder, and I don’t want to miss a thing.”  In a flash, Elijah was gone.

The next morning, Rabbi Levi woke up feeling that he probably shouldn’t have had that fourth cup of wine.  His head ached, and he had hardly slept a wink.  

“Chayim the Water Carrier?  Chayim the Water Carrier?” he muttered to himself all morning.  “What on earth did Elijah mean about Chayim the Water Carrier?”

Finally, Rabbi Levi could bear it no longer.  He called together all of his students and instructed them to search high and low for this mysterious man.  “If this Chayim’s seder was better than mine,” he reasoned aloud, “he must be a very righteous tsaddik.  Maybe he’s even a lamed-vavnik, one of the 36 righteous souls the whole world depends on!”  Rabbi Levi jumped out of his armchair and paced back and forth.  “He must be one in a million!”  He tried to calm himself and settle down for a long wait.  This great man would be hard to find.

But only ten minutes later, the students returned with none other than Chayim the Water Carrier, a thin, stooped man with a few wispy hairs on the top of his head.  It so happened that Chayim lived right next door to Rabbi Levi, although the rabbi had never noticed him.

“So you are Chayim the Water Carrier!  I’ve heard great things about you!” Rabbi Levi said, shaking his hand warmly.  “Tell me, please, all about your seder last night.  Don’t leave out a single detail!”

“My seder?” Chayim repeated, his voice breathless.  Suddenly, he fell to his knees, crying and kissing Rabbi Levi’s hand.  “Oh Rabbi, please don’t call the police!  I swear I have no idea where that food came from!  Or the silver wine goblet, or the silver candlesticks.  I can return all of it, except for the food, of course, because I ate that up,” Chayim blubbered. “Please, Rabbi Levi, I am no thief!”

“Relax, my friend,” Rabbi Levi said pulling the poor man off the floor and into a chair.  “I’m not accusing you of anything.  What food? What silver? Tell me what happened.”

“Well,” Chayim said, his voice still quavering, “this year I intended to keep Passover faithfully, I really did!  I knew whisky is not kosher for Passover, so I began my holiday cleaning by drinking it all up.  And then, I meant to have a seder, I really did, but the whiskey must have made me sleepy.  Around midnight, my wife finally pokes me in the ribs and says, ‘Chayim!  Why don’t you wake up and have a seder like every other Jew in the world!’

“So I say to her:  ‘Dear, I’m just a poor, ignorant man.  All I know is that once we were slaves, and God freed us!’” 
Chayim paused, surveying the spellbound faces of the rabbi and all his students.  Then he added in a loud whisper, “That’s when – that’s when it happened.”

“When what happened?” Rabbi Levi demanded.

Chayim closed his eyes as if remembering the scene and continued, “Suddenly the table was filled with food and wine and silver – silver so shiny it made my eyes tear!” He looked at Rabbi Levi and confided, “Of course, I thought the whiskey was playing tricks on me.  So I say to my wife, “’where did all this come from? Is it real?’ 

“She says to me, ‘real or not, let’s eat!’  So I listened to her, since she has always been smarter than me.  But, I swear, I didn’t steal those things!  They just appeared!”

Rabbi Levi ignored his protest.  “But the seder – surely you went on to fulfill every word of the seder?  You read every word of the Haggadah?” he prompted.

“No, actually,” answered Chayim, squirming with embarrassment.  “I can’t even read.” 

Rabbi Levi’s mouth fell open.  Could he have found the wrong Chayim?  “Are you sure you didn’t do anything else?” he asked.

Chayim thought for a moment.  “Well, after we ate, I did say: ‘God, thank you for this wonderful feast.  But you know, in a way we are still slaves!  There is poverty, injustice, and war all around us.  You freed us then – may You show us the way to freedom again!’ And that’s when a little old man wearing sandals walked in and said, ‘Amen!’” 

Chayim shook his head and said, “Sandals!  Oh it’s so crazy, I’m sure you don’t believe me.”

Rabbi Levi nodded as he sat back in his chair, remembering how Elijah had been in a rush to get to Chayim’s seder.  And now he knew why.  Of the fourteen steps of a regular seder, of the hundreds of rituals and thousands of commandments – of all these Passover details, Chayim knew only two things:  that God freed the Israelites from slavery, and that the world still needs work.  That was all, and that was enough.

“Anything else?” Rabbi Levi asked Chayim. 

“Well, I think I fell asleep again until your students woke me up and brought me here,” said Chayim, turning nervous again.  “So tell me, am I in some sort of trouble?”

“No my friend, not at all,” said Rabbi Levi.  “After 85 years, I feel like I, too, have woken up.  Next year in Jerusalem!” he added.  “Or, at least, at your house.”

May this be a year we focus on what really matters, and may your Passover celebrations be sweet and meaningful!


Thu, June 30 2022 1 Tammuz 5782