As we prepare for Pesah 5758/2018, some families may already be anticipating the family argument that might erupt between you know who. I actually don’t know who, but you do, because each year, the two of them (or three or four of them?) go at it with each other. Anytime the family gathers, the potential for the unwarranted comment or the sarcastic sideswipe increases, and depending on the cast of characters, may increase exponentially. That kind of toxicity adds a bitter herb to the seder plate that doesn’t belong. Ideally, the seder should be a catalyst for conversation and dialogue. Yetzi’at Mitzrayim, the exodus from Egypt, is a story that has inspired and galvanized thousands of generations, and remains a tale eternally relevant, as we assess our own Egypts and the steps involved in securing redemption. That kind of exercise is most successful in an atmosphere of mutual respect, not one of mutual verbal destruction.
I had a funny vision of a seder that transpires in accordance with quasi-courtroom procedures such that if anyone gets out of line, an objection may be raised. Each family would appoint a judge (every family has a few lawyers that might play the part, provided they are not under indictment) who could either sustain or overrule the objection depending on the nature of the objection. What follows are statements that another participant may object to, and the reason for the objection.
THE REPUBLICANS ARE THE EGYPTIANS OF THE 21ST CENTURY AND ARE TRYING TO KILL US.
Objection: Inflammatory statement. It could be that there are some Republicans who are trying to kill us as there is no law prohibiting psychopaths from identifying with a political party. That said, there may be some Democrats trying to kill us as psychopathology seems to be bi-partisan. At least something in this county is bi-partisan—Barukh HaShem. It’s not a terrible thing to bring politics to the seder table. It could enliven conversation and is almost always relevant. But inflammatory statements are counterproductive. What we say should add light, not heat, to a conversation.
WHAT ABOUT HITLER AND THE HOLOCAUST?
Objection: Asked and Answered. Some people, no matter what the subject, manage to bring it back to Hitler and the Holocaust. It’s not that Hitler and the Holocaust are unimportant, but not every moral failing needs to be viewed through the most egregious example of human depravity in all of human history. Haroset has nothing to do with the Holocaust. Whenever someone seeks to hijack a conversation given their own particular agenda, it is within the rights of the other participants to raise an objection and move back to the topic at hand.
MY COUSIN SHMULY TOLD ME FIVE ORTHODOX CAMPS ARE CLOSING DUE TO SEXUAL IMPROPRIETIES.
Objection: Hearsay. Where did your Cousin Shmuly, who is an outstanding CPA, get his information? Does he know first-hand, or did he hear from someone who knows from someone who is a neighbor to the husband of the camp director’s second cousin once removed? Sexual harassment is certainly a form of slavery and given the right crowd, could generate a lot of positive exchanges. But the potential for false assertions that unjustly damn innocents is out-of-bounds. Objection sustained!
CHUCK SCHUMER IS ONE SICK PUPPY—ALL OF HIS CRONIES ARE A BUNCH OF SICK PUPPIES.
Objection: Incompetence. Unless the speaker is a board-certified therapist, and unless this board-certified therapist has met and directly diagnosed Chuck Schumer and all of his cronies, the speaker is unqualified to pass psychological judgment on any of these people. And if the speaker has met and diagnosed these people, the speaker has just egregiously violated the confidentiality of his or her patients. The statement is inadmissible and must be stricken from the record of the evening’s conversation. There are many people who feel trapped by a government that does not seem to be working. That’s a conversation worth having within the context of an America requiring redemption. As for the psychological wellbeing of politicians, that’s for Sigmund Freud and his cronies to discuss, in private.
ISRAEL THINKS THAT REFORM AND CONVERVATIVE JEWS ARE A BUNCH OF CRY BABIES
Objection: Speculation. Whenever someone claims to know what Israel thinks, they clearly have no understanding how Israel thinks. Israel is a country large enough to support many divergent and conflicting opinions. One might legitimately assert what this politician said or that minister wrote, and given the appropriate citation, substantiate its accuracy. Speculations, however, are just that—guesses that may or may not be correct. And to speculate about how Israel thinks on any one given issue, is just silly.
I DON’T CARE WHAT YOU SAY BECAUSE YOU’RE A #$%&@$%%#$@@ LIAR ANYWAY!
Objection: Argumentative. The seder is not the time to resolve long-standing personal disputes. When these conflicts erupt publicly, and a seder is a relatively public event, it’s cause for extraordinary discomfort and embarrassment. The family needs to act with maturity, which may be hard for those family members who just happen to be immature, even as they enter their third or fourth decade of life. It may be prudent to quietly speak to that relative prior to the seder. Something along the lines of—And let’s think about those topics we won’t bring up this year… That discussion itself may be awkward, but not half as awkward as the public explosion of a private conflict.
Full disclosure: My sense is that no one in your family will willingly play the judge. Who wants to slap the hand of the relative with a wayward mouth? It’s possible that you find an unemployed lawyer or judge who would do it for pay (plus dinner with the rest of the family), but you may not want to do that having already spent $2,500 on Kosher for Passover food. So, here’s a novel idea: self-control. Everyone has to behave and if you think someone invited to your seder table may be the sort who, under other circumstances, would raise a host of objections in a court of law, send him/her this article as a courtesy and blame me (just delete this final paragraph). You could say—Would you look what my rabbi wrote? The hutzpah! Though he does raise a few good points… What do you think?
Hag Kasher v’Same’ah—a Very Happy and Kosher Pesah, and dignified sedarim (plural of seder) to all!