It’s the time when we tell the story of how we were taken out, liberated from the materially and spiritually confining existence of slavery. Apparently, some of us actually resisted—we would have rather stayed slaves in Egypt than face the unknown (the unknown takes a lot of effort, actually).
Even today in some cases we’re so used to chains, they seem like part of us and we don’t even realize we’re enslaved. This is the deepest kind of slavery. It’s a slavery that’s synonymous with exile. We’re locked in and locked out.
We complain the most about anything that doesn’t jive with our slave-eyes—we’re so co-opted into the shtick of this looking-glass world we can’t even recognize real freedom.
It’s well known that the Hebrew name for Egypt used in the Torah (Bible), is mitzrayim, which comes from the word metzar (narrow/restricted place or straits). At the seder we tell the story of our liberation from mitzrayim, but we do way more than tell the story—we remember it, we relive it, or more accurately, we live it in a new way by joining it to our present spiritual and material reality. The seder is written to keep the attention of the children who have active, prescribed roles (asking the 4 questions, borrowing the afikomen, opening the door for Elijah, etc.) but there is even more to entice, enrich and inspire thoughtful adults.
At traditional seders people are careful to use the time-honored seder (order) which is what the entire event we call the seder is named for). The original, powerful, ancient words have remained without alteration (except for the addition of some prayers and songs), for centuries, even millenia. The Haggadah, the book which contains the seder including the history of our exodus, may have been authored by Moshe (Moses), Eliyahu HaNavi (Elijah the Prophet) or by scholars in Talmudic times—there are several opinions.*
Why do we tell the story of our liberation? Well, it is a Torah (Biblical) command: “And you shall tell your children on that day…” Exodus, 13:8.
But also, stories and histories are powerful wake-up tonics and the right ones can even wake a soul out of spiritual slumber. We tell the Passover story to help us wake from the most painful exile, the exile from our true self and to give us a desire for a new freedom. We see new possibilities. On the night of the seder, a great healing takes place.
The exodus as told in the Haggadah is perhaps the ultimate true story crowning the ultimate collection of stories, but some other stories heal, too.
Rebbe Nachman tells us that his stories are so powerful that that even a person buried in the deepest slavery, the deepest exile, can begin to awaken just by hearing (or reading) them. His stories transcend this world and connect directly with our souls, bypassing our worldly selves almost entirely. It’s best to read them aloud, (you can share them with a friend), late at night while ensconced in an arm chair or sitting on a porch if the weather is right. Ignore the commentary (at least at first) and read them near bedtime—you’ll find they gently kiss your dreams with messages.
In addition to his main stories, Rebbe Nachman tells an assortment of tales both funny and deep. This Pesach tale of the Rebbe’s has a great punchline. (I’m linking you to it because obviously Rabbi Fleer tells it better than I could.)
And after a good story? We eat.
Those delicious, but stodgy, potato kugels of fall and winter don’t really go with spring and Passover. I’ve lined up some lighter kugels, below, including egg-free versions. All are vegetarian or vegan and gluten free.
HJC Lighter Passover Potato Kugel (10-12 servings)
8 russet potatoes, peeled and placed in cold water
1 very large or 2 medium onions, peeled and quartered
2-3 tablespoons near-boiling water
1/4 cup preferred oil, divided
2 tablespoons potato starch
4-5 large eggs, lightly beaten
salt (and pepper if you like)
1 tablespoon preferred oil
Equipment: 9 by 13 inch baking dish (you may line with parchment if you like); large baking dish that the 9 by 13 fits into with at least 1/3 inch all around to spare; food processor
Pour half the oil into 9 by 13 baking dish and place in 450 degree oven. Meanwhile, using the grating attachment of your food processor, grate the potatoes alternating with onion. If you have a 10 speed Braun food processor you can set it at a lower speed (like 5 or 6) for a longer shred. Pour into large bowl and add the water and stir well. Then add the potato starch and eggs and whisk in the salt.
By now the oil should be very hot (but don’t let it smoke—if it starts to smoke before you are done with the mixing, pull it out of the oven, but put it back in a minute before you are ready to pour). Pour in the kugel mixture and place back in oven. Pouring the mixture into the hot oil will give it a nice crust.
Bake at 450 for about 10 minutes. Turn oven down to 350 degrees. Remove kugel from oven, place into larger pan, and fill the moat around the pan with boiling water. Brush top of kugel with oil. Return to oven and bake for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. If you like a very moist, creamy kugel, cover the kugel pan with foil or a lid, then cover the larger pan with foil or a lid, enclosing the kugel pan.
This recipe is very flexible. You can turn the oven way down to 250 or 300 and let it bake for hours (best, covered). You can leave it on a blech overnight (make sure to use the ban marie, though). If you prefer a lighter texture, separate the eggs, using only the yolks. When all the other ingredients are mixed, whisk the egg whites until soft peaks form and fold into kugel mixture. Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 1 1/2 hours.
HJC Vegan Sweet Potato Kugel (serves 6)
3 medium sweet potatoes
1 heaping tablespoon potato starch
2 juice oranges, juiced
2 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated (collect the ginger juice, you’ll use it, too)
2 teaspoons cinnamon (optional)
2 tablespoons preferred oil
salt to taste
1 small ripe pineapple, peeled, cored and sliced (optional)
Scrub skin of sweet potatoes, prick with fork and bake in 450 oven until tender, about 1 1/2 hours. Turn oven temperature down to 350. Let sweet potatoes cool slightly, cut in half lengthwise and scrape flesh into deep mixing bowl.
Add the potato starch and orange juice, and puree with immersion blender. (Alternately, you can puree in the food processor). The mixture should be very smooth. Add the grated ginger and it’s juice and cinnamon if using. Add half the oil and stir well. Add salt to taste.
Grease a 9 by 9 inch baking pan with half the oil (line with parchment paper if you like). Pour in the kugel mixture. If you are using the pineapple, lay on top of the kugel.
Bake for 45 minutes and serve.
Note: If you don’t mind scooping out the kugel rather than cutting it, omit the potato starch. This makes a lighter kugel, essentially, whipped sweet potatoes. If you prefer, you may add 3 eggs, well-beaten for a firmer kugel.
HJC Tropical Chocolate Dessert Kugel
Something different. Serves 4-8.
2 ripe avocados, peeled and pitted
Juice of one lime
Juice of one small juice orange
2 very ripe mangoes, peeled and flesh removed from pit
2 young coconuts, flesh removed and liquid reserved (See Pesach 2012 Dessert Recipes for instructions on how to hope young coconuts).
1 very ripe banana
1 heaping tablespoon cocoa powder
1/3 cup grated coconut or chopped filbers
Using food processor, immersion blender, or by hand, puree (or mash) avocado along with lime and orange juice. Place in 8 inch trifle bowl or individual bowls or cups. Puree mango and layer on top of avocado. Puree coconut flesh with ripe banana and cocoa, and layer on top of other fruit. Top with coconut or nuts. Chill for at least 2 hours, covered.
*I heard this from Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss.