Monday, September 15, 2014
In a chaotic world, Jews have always sought an organizing principle, a way to manufacture order, where order seems so elusive.
The Passover Seder is a perfect example of this, as symbolized by the set order and strict requirements of the ritual and most of all by the Matzah, that perfect embodiment of stability and steadfastness, that essence of uniformity and flatness. Matzah is quintessentially controlled; scrutinized closely from its formative stages through the baking process. And on the Seder table it is handled delicately, uncovered ceremoniously and raised and broken with ritualistic precision.
But the Jewish preoccupation with order only begins there. To understand it best, we need to view the world through the lens of the great calamities that have come so close to ending the Jewish enterprise. The destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in 70 CE was an almost incomprehensible disaster. Our way of life was gone; our rituals were all centered around that smoldering temple. A new order was needed.
That order came about over the subsequent generations, crystallized in the Mishna and later the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds. The six organizing sections of the Mishna are, not surprisingly, called “orders.” They are described in this article.
Despite the understandable Jewish preoccupation with order, there is much room for spontaneity as well. Passover may be obsessive – compulsive, but Judaism – not so much. And even Passover has its wild side, as symbolized on the seder table by the wine.