Horseradish & Children

Wednesday, 28 March, 2018 - 8:40 pm


with Rabbi Mordechai Z. Hecht ~

If you ask anyone that has ever been to a Passover Seder - what was the most memorable part they would very possibly tell you unequivocally - the Horseradish.

Growing up as a kid in Queens, I remember always going to visit my Bubby and Zaydie in East Flatbush (E. 53rd St. in the basement (where the cow was)) where Bubby would hand grind, in those good old metal-meat-grinders with the wooden hasher, her Passover Horseradish. You pretty much knew you were on the right block already because you smelled Pesach in the air – the Horseradish that is.

In New York everyone knows Horseradish, whether it Benz’s, Bubby’s recipe, or Golds – white (pure, without beets) or red, either way Horseradish can-not be mistaken.

Quite frankly it’s these bitter herbs we place on the Seder plate to remind us of the bitterness the Jews endured in Egypt and throughout history. Most of us use horseradish, yet some Rabbis write that we should and can use Romaine lettuce (or French endives). Horseradish has a tangy sharpness to it and it burns. It makes the eyes run (amongst other things). But, it really isn’t the worst type of bitterness. In fact it’s even a little exciting at first even a little zesty (especially for those who love sharp foods, like schug, and Jalapeños). The true bitterness is in romaine lettuce and endives. The flat, insipid, dull, zestless taste – that’s real bitterness.

Our mothers and Bubby’s can further tell you that in this weeks Torah portion of Vayakel we read of the Kiyor-Laver (Shemos, Vayakhel 38,8) that the priests would use to wash their hands and feet before entering the Holiest place on G-ds green earth, the holy Temple in Jerusalem. It was made of the copper mirrors which the women have donated freely. We are taught by our sages that originally Moshe did not want to accept the copper mirrors because they were used for such vanity as “women’s beauty.” But G-d told Moses, ‘No. It was only because of their wives loving, caring relationship that the lives of the men of Israel did not become hopeless and bitter’. As they used these exact mirrors to stay beautiful for their relationships, and even go on to have children, lots and lots of children - even in bondage.

Unfortunately there are people who live tasteless, insipid lives. They experience real bitterness. Instead of trying to cultivate a loving caring a productive relationship, which may end the bitterness, they take horseradish. They opt for “exciting thrills”. Zesty now - and blah later. Instead of a little bitter now and “ahhhh later”. Unfortunately all they have truly done is exchanged one form of bitterness for another. Perhaps this is why we think Horseradish is the worst kind of bitterness. It gives hope where there is no hope and ends inevitably in worse despair.

If we are to learn anything from this part of the Seder – this part of life, it is – the bitter herbs must be a means to an end and not an end in itself (albeit a biblical mitzvah). Something we do - not because we like it - but rather because we have no choice, and can’t wait for it to end.

As with our spouses, similarly with our children. Education is supposed to be meaningful and memorable but not punishing and painful. 

Pesach is coming, prepare indeed, visit Bubby and Zaydie, Yess! Create everlasting and memorable traditions absolutely, but don’t kill yourself. Perhaps, enjoy the macaroons and the grape juice more than the bitter herbs and the horseradish, please. 

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