“Let me wipe all these crumbs off my kittel. Clear the Haggados off the table. And then we can eat the meal.”
For years, I joined the many other Jews in considering the Shulchan Orech portion of the Seder to be the intermission between the Korech and the Afikomen. Once the sandwich is eaten, people sit up straight and say, “Ok. Let’s eat!” And then after dessert, they say, “Pass out the afikomen and let’s bentch and resume the seder.”
To be sure, I always appreciated the Mitzvah of Oneg Yom Tov that was being fulfilled. But the Seder receded into the background of my mind at that point.
My thinking on the matter was transformed a few years ago as I was preparing for the Shabbos Hagadol Drasha. I was planning on speaking about the Halacha in Orach Chaim Siman (Chapter) 469; that when one buys meat, he shouldn’t say “This is for Pesach”, which might be construed to mean Korban Pesach. One should rather say, “This is for YomTov.”
I then followed that up with Chapter 476, which speaks about the prohibition against eating a roasted lamb at the seder, and the widespread practice to refrain from eating any roasted meat at the seder. The Rama adds a note in that chapter that there is a Mitzvah to eat eggs at the Seder, as an act of commemorative mourning for the Beis Hamikdash, even throwing in the fact that the first Day of Pesach is always also the day of Tisha B’Av. What a downer! Why dampen the joy of the Seder?
I followed the order of the chapters in Orach Chaim, and noticed something about the organization of the themes.
473: First Cup until the Second Cup. (That covers Kadesh, Urchatz, Karpas, Yachatz, Maggid)
474: Rules of blessing on and drinking of the Second Cup
475: More laws of the Seder: (Rachtza, Motzi, Matzah, Marror, Korech.)
476: (As mentioned earlier:) The prohibition against eating a roasted lamb, and the widespread practice to refrain from eating any roasted meat at the seder. And the Rama about eggs and Tisha B’Av.
477-478: The rules of eating the Afikomen. (Tzafun)
What stage of the Seder is 476? Obviously, this is the chapter that deals with Shulchan Orech. There is a theme here. On one minimalist level, I can look at the laws here and think, “Well, in the order of the evening, Shulchan Orech comes next. So the Shulchan Aruch is telling us which foods to avoid, and the Rama tells us which foods there is a minhag to eat. It’s just a well-placed chapter. But given the single-minded concern of this Siman, I think there is an obvious and deeper message here.
When we eat the Marror, individually or in Korech form, we are fulfilling a principle in Halacha called “Zeicher L’Mikdash.” This means that we recall the Temple by performing an act that was done during Temple times, or in the Temple. Without a Temple, the Torah no longer requires that act. But the rabbis re-instituted the act on their own authority, in order to reenact, and perhaps preserve the memory of how it was done in Temple times. Included under this heading is eating Marror, Korech, and the Afikomen, and elsewhere the taking the Lulav all seven days of Sukkos.
There is a related Halachic principle, perhaps the inverse idea, called “Zeicher L’Churban.” This idea calls us to remember that the Temple has been destroyed; either by performing an act of mourning, or by abstaining from an activity nowadays because it was done during Temple times. Included here are the various limitations of the month of Av and the week of Tisha B’Av, leaving a square cubit of a house wall unplastered, breaking the glass under the Chupa, limiting the adornments that a bride and groom wore at the Chupa during Temple times, and not having seven-branch menorahs in our shuls. This last one is especially relevant to our discussion. It says, “This was done in the Temple. So DON’T even imitate it now. Do something purposefully different, like a five, six, or eight branch menorah, that shows that this Shul, called a Mikdash M’at (miniature Temple) can never be a real substitute for the real Beis Hamikdash.
The menu and the choice of foods at Shulchan Orech part of the Seder can be based on the tastes of those in attendance. But what the Shulchan Aruch in that chapter is telling us is that Shulchan Orech is a part of the Avoda, Service, of the Seder as a Zeicher L’Churban, recalling the churban by emphasizing and accentuating what is missing from a true Seder.
Practically speaking: No roasted or grilled or rotisserie or pan fried meats; even chicken! Don’t eat the shank bone during the seder nights. A pot roast must have water or other liquid in the pot before being placed in the oven. In my family, the boiled egg, a traditional mourners food, was served in salt water, to mimic salty tears.
Halacha wants us to be absolutely clear, through the tool of a Zeicher L’Churban, that our meal is not the real ideal Seder.
Many Jews feel so exalted after the Sedarim that we feel all is good with the world, with our Yiddishkeit, our observance. It’s such a high point of the Jewish year. It’s similar to how a wedding is a high point of a Jewish life. The wedding and the Seder share that element of participating and witnessing an act of Jewish continuity. It’s at these high points that we need to be mindful of how much more is needed to have a truly ideal Jewish reality.
And THAT is the Avoda of Shulchan Orech.
Bon appetit. And focus.