Mah Nishtanah – A new poem for Passover

April 14, 2022

Why is this night different from all other nights?

I’ve always read this as Why
and always knew the answer had
something to do with being free.

But then one branch of Judaism
suggested it might be How
as if the why is a given.

I believe in how and why.
I believe in words and how
they mean different things.

I believe it’s all because
we used to be slaves
and now we are free.

On all other nights, we eat leavened foods and matzah.

Why on this night, only matzah?

In the supermarket
even in my non-Jewish neighborhood
you can buy cake you can eat on Passover.

Are we tricking ourselves with this?
Are we evading the very spirit of
having only eighteen minutes
to vacate the narrow place?

The answer, I think,
is not the answer, but
the fact that we bothered
to ask the question.

On all other nights, we eat all vegetables.
Why, on this night, maror (bitter herbs)?

Nothing makes my wife happier than vegetables.
(This is not intentional commentary on our marriage.)
So if a dinner comes along that doesn’t have one
all is lost.

A bitter one is fine.
If we have to eat a bitter one on this night
that’s fine.

Some folks go their whole lives avoiding vegetables.
Even an American President decried broccoli once.
Even others find bitterness a delicacy.

As the horseradish enters your mouth
try to remember how lucky you are
to have anything to put there at all.

On all other nights, we don’t dip even once.
Why on this night do we dip twice?

I’d like to tell you the answer
but that comes later in the order.
But know this – numbers are important.
We use four, and ten, and forty a lot.
I hear thirteen and six hundred and thirteen
are planning a royal wedding.
So let two have its moment.
You can’t do anything the first time
only once. Think of how much you notice
the second time around.
Think of what that tastes like
when it’s familiar.

On all other nights, we eat either sitting upright or reclining.
Why on this night do we all recline?

I work from home in a comfy chair
that arrived on the premises before I did
and spend a much higher percentage of my time
than the average person, reclining.
But this isn’t about me (even though
tradition tells me I was there.)
This is about all of us. All of us
more comfortable than any slave ever was.
All of us on our pillows filled with
gratitude at how lucky we are to be
in     this     exact     position.

God Wrestler: a poem for every Torah Portion by Rick LupertLos Angeles poet Rick Lupert created the Poetry Super Highway (an online publication and resource for poets), and hosted the Cobalt Cafe weekly poetry reading for almost 21 years. He’s authored 25 collections of poetry, including “God Wrestler: A Poem for Every Torah Portion“, “I’m a Jew, Are You” (Jewish themed poems) and “Feeding Holy Cats” (Poetry written while a staff member on the first Birthright Israel trip), and most recently “The Tokyo-Van Nuys Express” (Poems written in Japan – Ain’t Got No Press, August 2020) and edited the anthologies “Ekphrastia Gone Wild”, “A Poet’s Haggadah”, and “The Night Goes on All Night.” He writes the daily web comic “Cat and Banana” with fellow Los Angeles poet Brendan Constantine. He’s widely published and reads his poetry wherever they let him.

Did you enjoy this article?
You'll love our roundtable.

Editor's Picks

Latest Articles

More news and opinions than at a
Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.

More news and opinions than at a Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.

More news and opinions than at a Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.