by Jordan Kutzik
Peysakh (Passover in English) which begins on the 15th of Nisan on the yidisher luakh (Jewish calendar), April 8 this year on the goyishe kalendar, celebrates the nitsokhn/zig (victory) of the Israelites over the Egyptian Pare (Pharaoh), their freedom from knekhshaft (slavery) and subsequent migration to Israel after forty years of wandering in the midber (desert). The yontef (holiday) lasts seven days in Israel and eight days in goles (the Jewish Diaspora).
During the eight days of peysakh Jews are forbidden to eat bread and all other wheat products which have been allowed to rise. As a substitute, food that would normally use risen bread is prepared with matse, unleavened bread which is prepared for consumption during the holiday. According to Jewish tradition leavened bread is oser (religiously forbidden) in order to remind worshipers of the haste with which their ancestors left Egypt, leaving them without sufficient time to allow their bread to rise. Not only is leavened bread not to be eaten but all traces of leavened bread (called khumets) must be removed from the home. Hence, the first ritual of Peysakh is a thorough reynikung (cleaning) of the house to remove all traces of khumets.
The most well known ritual of Peysakh is the special meal known as the seder. The name seder stems from the Hebrew (and Yiddish) word seyder which means “order” and the fact that the events of the meal are extremely structured. During the Seder a special seder tats (large plate/tray) is used to display the symbols of the holiday. The symbols of the holiday are the karpus (parsley), shank bone, boiled egg, khoroses (apples/nuts/wine), and maror (bitter herbs). The shank bone represents the traditional offering of a paschal lamb as a sacrifice, the boiled egg represents spring, and the khoroses represents the mortar used in the land of Egypt. The maror is eaten to remember the bitterness of slavery.
Although the Yiddish Seder is filled with various practices unique to Ashkenazi Jews (perhaps most famously yoykh mit knedlekh, known as “Matzah ball soup” in English), like all such dinners the objective is to retell the story of the Jewish exodus from Egypt and teach it to the next generation. To this end, the youngest male child at the Seder asks the traditional fir kashes (four questions). In Yiddish speaking communities, the four questions were chanted in Hebrew and repeated in Yiddish and then answered by the father. This holds true to this day among Hasidic communities. Here is a version of the four questions in Yiddish (in the Latin alphabet) followed by an English translation.
Tate ikh vil bay dir fregn di fir kashes: Vos iz anderesh fun der nakht fun peysakh fun ale necht fun a gants yor?
1.Di ershte kashe iz, Ale nekht fun a gants yor tunken mir nisht ayn afileh eyn mol, ober di nakht fun peysakh, tunken mir ayn tsvey mol -- eyn mol karpas un zalts vasser, di tsveyte mol maror un kharoses.
2.Di tsveyte kashe iz, Ale nekht fun a gants yor esn mir khumets (broyt) oder matseh, ober di nakht fun peysakh, esn mir nor matseh.
3.Di drite kashe iz, Ale nakht fun a gants yor esn mir aleray grintsen, ober di nacht fun peysakh, esn mir nor bitere grintsen.
4.Di ferte kashe iz, Ale nekht fun a gants yor esn mir say zitsndikerhayt un say ongeleynterhayt, ober di nakht fun peysakh, esn mir nor ongeleynterheyt.
Tate ikh hob bay dir gefregt di fir kashes, yetzt gib mir a teretz (entfer).
Father: I want to ask you the four questions: Why is the night of Peysakh different from all other nights of the year?
1.The first question is: every night of the year we don’t dip even once, but on the night of Passover we dip twice; once in karpes and saltwater, the second time in maror and kharoses.
2.The second question is: every night of the year we eat bread or matzah, but on the night of Passover we eat only matzah.
3.The third question is: every night of the year we eat all types of vegetables, but on the night of Passover we eat only bitter herbs.
4.The fourth question is: every night of the year we sit either reclining or regularly, but on the night of Passover, we eat only reclining.
Father I have asked you the four questions; now give me an answer.
In my family a fifth question was added towards the end of the Seder. Why was Passover of 1943 in Warsaw different from all other Passovers? On that night instead of having a Seder, the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto, remembering their ancestors escape from Egypt, began their uprising against the Nazis. Although unlike their biblical counterparts, the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto never lived to see freedom, we rejoice in living in free countries able to have a Seder and take courage from their memory.
And as you hold your Seder this year and in all coming years, say the fir kashes in both Hebrew, the language of your biblical ancestors and Yiddish, the language of Ashkenazi Jewry and the brave fighters of the Warsaw Ghetto.