Four Sons and the Yerushalmi
It is taught in Talmud Yerushalmi Tractate Pesachim 10:4 the story of the four sons. But did we realize that the sages taught that they were not referring literally to four different people, but to each one of us, and the various ways we can act or react to spiritual situations? In a sense using modern terms, the four sons story is one of spiritual schizophrenia, when we are not in shlema, integration. The Talmud tells us that our Yetzer ha Ra never leaves us. Good is not the absence of Bad. One can be righteous and wise while the evil inclination persists in trying to dominate him. The Kabbalah takes the Gemetria numerical equivalent of Echad (one) son, which is 13, and multiplies it by four to arrive at 52. Fifty-two is the Gemetria numerical equivalent of Ben (son). Passover's story of the four sons is a lesson in becoming integrated and not being spiritually schizophrenic any longer. Talmud Yerushalmi Tractate Pesachim 10:3 :''Merchants of Jerusalem used to say: Come and take the spices of the commandment! Rabbi Issi's wife said in her husband's name: And why is the charoset called dokhah ( pounded)? Because the charoset is pounded with bitter herbs.'' ''Rabbi Joshua ben Levi said: It needs to be thick in remembrance of the mud used as mortar.'' ''Some teach: It needs to be soft. Charoset is a remembrance of the blood (of the first plague and/or the blood on the doorposts that protected the Israelites from the tenth plague of the killing of the first born). '' Answering the question of dreading Passover ''cleaning and cooking.'' The cleaning is a spiritual act of removing the chumatz, the puffed-up-ness, the ego, from our lives Leaven represents the evil impulse of the heart'' (Talmud Bavli Tractate Beracoth''. 17a). Since all of us have been now taught this, none of us find doing this dreadful. As far as cooking, since we are doing the mitzvoth of not only ahavath chesed by having guests over, and fulfilling Rabbi's Huna's edict in Talmud Bavli Tractate Ta'anit 20b of ''Let all who are hungry, let them come and eat, all who are in need, let them come and share- Kol Dichpin Yeatay Vayachol, Kol Ditsreech Yeatay V'yifsach,' as well as preparing for the countless mitzvoth of Pesach, none of us feel dread. We have all agreed that over the years we have learned to make the seders about God and spirituality and not about food, and not about wowing guests with food preparation either. One of us is serving on paper plates and plastic cups this year. But all have us have grown to use a full Hagaddah and many will study Talmud Tractate Pesachim till beyond midnight at our seders. Who was Rabbi Issi? The famous Rabbi Solomon Schechter says the following: ''Rabbi Issi is a tanna of the beginning of the third century. The name "Issi" or "Assa" is derived from "Jose," and was borne by many tannaim and amoraim; hence the confusion that prevails in the Talmud concerning the identity of each of them, the same halakic or haggadic saying being attributed sometimes to one and sometimes to another of that name. Thus the prohibition against riding on a mule is reported in the Yerushalmi (Kil. 31c) in the name of Issi ben A?abya, while in the Tosefta (Kil. v. 6) it is attributed to Issiha-Babli, who is undoubtedly identical with Issi ben Judah. Bacher supposes that Issi ben A?abya was the brother of Hananiah ben A?abya, the interpreter ("meturgeman") of R. Judah. Issi was a diligent student of the Bible, and some of his interpretations have been preserved in the midrashic literature. From I Kings viii. 64 he infers that the expression (Ex. xx. 24) means an altar of copper filled with earth (Mekilta to Ex. xx. 24). In reference to Ex. xxi. 14 he says that though the murderer of a heathen can not be convicted by a Jewish tribunal, he must answer for his crime to God (Mekilta, ad loc. 80b). The permission expressed in Deut. xxiii. 25 is, according to Issi, extended to everybody and not only to the workers in the field; but the permission applies only to the harvest-time (Yer. Ma'as. 50a).'' But back to Charoset. Do we really know its meaning? We say it symbolizes the mortar at our seders, yet it is sweet, and made with wine and other pleasant spices. And in the Talmud Yerushalmi we have a hint it symbolizes blood. As Jews, are we not forbidden to eat blood? What is going on with Charoset? Why is there no beracha, blessing, mentioned to do for the charoset? And what is the real reason it is on the seder plate? Dovid Melach [King David ] tells us to make at least 100 berachoth a day, and here is an opportunity to make one over the spices, the fruit and nuts, in the charoset ( Borei minei v'samim for the spices, Borei p'ri ha-etz for the fruit, Borei p'ri ha adamah if the nut is grown below ground, or ha- etz, if it is picked from a tree). We have already blessed the wine which is an ingredient, and while some use honey to make charoset, that beracha would be 'sher ha kol neeh yeh biid vah ro.' The Passover Hagaddah is very specific on why we eat foods, their symbolism, and when we eat them during the meal, and even as to how we eat them. The Seder, which means order, defines this orderly way of doing things. Yet when it comes to charoset, little is said. The Hagaddah as well as the Talmud is very clear about Matzah, bitter herbs, greens, salt water, egg, shank bone, and their symbolism of turning the bread of haste and of the poor into the bread of freedom, eating hot foods to the tongue to remind us the bitterness of slavery, eating greens to remind us of spring and that hope always springs Eternal with faith in the Holy One, the egg to remind us of the daily sacrifice at the Temple, and the shank bone to remind us of the Pascal lamb offering as well as the sign our ancestors put on the door frames of their homes so the Angel of Death Passed them Over. The last chapter of the Tractate of Pesachim (daf 115b-116a) describes the Seder rules from nearly 2000 years ago. Charoset is introduced as one of the items to be "brought forth, even though it is not considered a mitzvah." Rabbi Eliezer the son of Rabbi Tzadok disagrees, and declares it to be a mitzvah. The Gemara, the Talmud's discussion of this Mishnah poses the following question: ''If it's not a mitzvah, what are they bringing it for?'' The Gemara answers: For dipping, so that it neutralizes the poisonous effect of the horse radish. Then the Gemara asks what is the mitzvah of charoset? The Gemara gives answers that are familiar to many of us. Charoset symbolizes the mortar of the bricks we as slaves made in Egypt, hence its thickness. Charoset alludes to the verse in Song of Songs, "Under the apple tree I aroused you." The rabbis saw this as a metaphor that refers to the fact that the Israelite women gave birth without pain, and were thus able to hide their sons from the Egyptians. There is a midrash that Rashi quotes which states the "mirrors of legions" which were donated for the "Mishkan" (the tabernacle) were used by our mothers, the Israelite women, to arouse their husbands when they returned to the fields so that a Jewish future could be built. Moshe did not want to accept the mirrors because of their association with desire, but God said these mirrors are the most dear to me, so you, Moses, are to accept them. Thus it is written, "Under the apple tree I aroused you." Everyone agrees that charoset should be part of the meal, but there is a disagreement on its status. If charoset is a mitzvah, why is there no blessing as there is for marror (bitter herbs)? Why would charoset not be a mitzvah if we have perfectly good reasons for it to be included in the seder? When Rabbi Eliiezer the son of Rabbi Tzadok said that charoset is a mitzvah, is he saying that it is a mitzvah from the Torah, or is it a rabbinic decree? If it's a rabbinic decree, why don't the rabbis know about it? Yet, the Talmud says the Song of Songs compares the Jewish people to the qualities of apples, pomegranates, figs, dates, walnuts and almonds. And the Charoset should be made from these items. The Talmud further adds roots of ginger and sticks of cinnamon, to remind us of the straw used as mortar. And to use tangy apples to remind us of how Hebrew women gave birth without pain, so they didn't cry out, so that Pharoah's soldiers could not find and kill their first born.(Song of Songs 8:5). But the Rabbis of the Talmud are still confused if Charoset belongs on the seder plate or it it should be sweet, tangy, or 'muddy', but end up deferring to the spice sellers in the souk, who for generations have been shouting, a week before Pesach, 'get your spices for the Mitzvah of making Charoset." Charoset, unlike Marror (bitter herbs) is not mentioned explicitly in the Torah. The fact that we made bricks is recounted in the Torah, and we are commanded to tell the story. Part of telling the story is making it real by having tangible symbols. The Torah not only gives us matzah and marror, but gives us guidelines for how to make every aspect of the meal symbolic. When Rabbi Eliezer Bar Tzadok calls charoset a mitzvah, he is signaling that irrespective of the original reason for having charoset, there is an opportunity to symbolize another aspect of the story. It is a mitzvah to take charoset and give it a kind of meaning that enriches the story of the Hagaddah. For anyone who tells more of the story is considered praiseworthy. Charoset is on the seder plate also, but not explained. Its mentioned in the "telling" part of the Hagaddah. Yet it is on every seder we have been to in every part of the USA, and in China, India, Brazil, Argentina, Germany, cruise ships, and other countries. And each recipe varies. But the basics are the same. It is a mixture, chopped finely, of fruit, nuts, spices and wine. In Egypt, it is made only of dates, raisins, walnuts, cinnamon and sweet wine. In Greece and Turkey, it consists of apples, dates, chopped almonds and wine. In Iraq and Central Asia it sometimes consists of grape jelly. In Italy, it can include chestnuts In Spanish and Portuguese communities of the New World, such as Surinam, it may include coconut. The Four Questions of the seder lead us to the eating of Charoset. The answer to one of the questions is: "On all other nights, we do not 'dip' even once; on this night, twice." The Hagaddah directs us to dip our green vegetable into salt water and bless God for this fruit of the earth, Borei p'ri ha adamah. The text does not mention what the second dipping is. It is dipping matzah in the Charoset. And the Hagaddah, as mentioned above, has no beracha for this food. So - "Why is there charoset on the Seder plate?" The answer, by word of mouth, from 2500 years of generations from our first Rabbis in Babylon, is that charoset is the mortar that we slaves used between bricks when Pharaoh forced us to build him cities. Charoset derives from the Hebrew word "cheres", which means "clay". Charoset is sweet. While there is always left over marror (bitter herbs), we have never gone to a seder, world wide, where there is left over Charoset. If Charoset is to remind us of mortar, the recipe is 'off', or the true explanation has been lost. Jewish tradition requires that we read, no actually sing, the Song of Songs of Solomon during Passover. And this, world wide, we have rarely seen at a Seder. Some Rabbis wanted to ban this text as too sexy. But it was included in the canon of the Hebrew Scriptures, as other Rabbis posited it was a love poem between man and God or Israel and God, and not man and woman. Charoset symbolizes the Song of Songs, and not mortar! Songs of Songs actually has the recipe for Charoset. But it is also read on Passover, not just because Israel is in love eternally with God and God is in love with Israel eternally, via the Covenant on Sinai, but because as humans, we are liberated to be free to love one another. It is also read on Passover, because just as Moses' name is never mentioned in the Hagaddah, just God's name is, in the Song of Song's, God's name is never mentioned. The only other book where God is not mentioned in the Jewish Bible, the Tanach, is Esther. It is also read this time of year because love and spring is a time when animals give birth, and flowers and trees bloom, and the earth is re-born after a dark winter. Remember the roots of Passover as a spring holiday, go further back that the Hebrew's holiday of Passover. Here is the hidden recipe for Charoset from the Song of Songs: "Then I went down to the walnut grove." "Feed me with apples and with raisin-cakes; " "Your cheeks are a bed of spices; " "The scent of your breath is like apricots;" "Your kisses are sweeter than wine; " "The fig tree has ripened; " Other fruits, spices and nuts are mentioned in the Song as well. Persian Jews take this very seriously in their recipe. Not all Jews use the term charoset. Some of the Jews of the Middle East instead use the term "halegh". The origin of halegh is not clear. Rav Saadia Gaon uses the word and attributes it to a kind of walnut that was a mandatory ingredient in the preparation of the halegh. Parts of the Jewish Diaspora in Persia have a tradition of including 40 ingredients in the halegh. The 40 signify the forty years of wandering in the desert. Included are all the fruits mentioned in the Song of Songs : apples 2-3, figs 2-13, pomegranates 4-3, grapes 2-15, walnuts 6-11, dates 7-7 with the addition of wine 1-2, saffron 4-14 and cinnamon 4-14. To arrive at the magical number of forty some recipes include the following ingredients: 1 to 5: five different varieties of apples 6 to 7: two different varieties of pears 8 to 10: three different varieties of grapes 11 to 12: two different varieties of dried figs 13: fresh ginger, grated 14: dates 15 to 18: dried apricots, dried peaches, dried cherries and dried prunes 19 to 21: red raisins, yellow raisins, currants 22 to 26: the following nuts - walnuts, almonds, cashews, pistachios and filberts [all dried roasted without any oils and unsalted] 27: pomegranate juice 28 to 35: the following spices – cinnamon as the dominant spice, cardamom, allspice, nutmeg, fenugreek seeds, saffron, cloves and black peppers [all crushed] 36 to 39: white wine, red wine, rose wine, vinegar 40: starting with the late 1950s bananas were added as well And they shape it into a Pyramid before serving. (It is a historical inaccuracy that Hebrews built the pyramids). Like with any lovemaking, (and haven't we heard that food is love from our bubbies?), there is no exact recipe. Every Jew, every Seder, in every country, makes its own charoset. As the Song of Song says: "Do not stir up love until it pleases. Do not rouse the lovers till they're willing." Chop it, stir it, blend it, smooth it, caress it, put things in, make things moist, for as long as you would like. If it takes you more than four hours, please consult your Rabbi.