Pesachim 115 and 116: Substance over Form

On page 115 there is a story about a great Talmudic rabbi Abaye as a little boy. The story says that Abaye as a little boy asked at the seder on passover night why the grown ups were removing the table before the meal. The adult responded, you have now exempted us from reciting the Ma Nishtana and we can continue.

On page 116 the same story occurs, this time with a slave of a rabbi known as Daru. He asks a question about the oddness of the night and again, the rabbi says, you have exempted us from Ma Nishtana.

The Talmud recognizes that substance wins over form. In Judaism we tend to do things in a repetitive manner. We pray the same thing every day, our sabbath prayers are the same, our grace after meals is the same. Things are done with great regularity at set times and at set places. This has the potential to lead to a “check the box” experience. It could lead to mindless observance and formulaic acts.

The Rabbis are sensitive that a “seder” (order) and written Hagadda which is forumulaic and very scripted could lead to hollow evening. We are therefore reminded that the script is not important, rather the meaning, the lessons and the experience is primary. Our seder should be “ordered” with energy, off script discussions and exploration off the pages.

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