Taking the measure of the Pesach seder

Taking the measure of the Pesach seder

Now that Purim is almost out of the way, we can begin to concentrate on Pesach.

Toward the end of the seder, we recite the words, “chasal siddur pesach k’hilchato / the seder has been accomplished according to its laws, precepts, and customs.”

We begin, therefore, by listing some of the items people will need to prepare for the sedarim (that’s “seders” in colloquial terms) in order that they truly be k’hilchato. These are: a ruler, at least 18 inches long, that also measures in centimeters; a scientific calculator, or a slide rule, if you could find one; a dark-colored Sharpie; enough one-ounce shot glasses to cover all the guests at your seder, and a stopwatch.

Helpful hint: You might be able to avoid most of these purchases if you can invite a math geek and a spatial engineer to help run the seder.

Next, measure the size of your thumb (either one will do). Make sure it is at least .90386 inches, although .95834 inches is preferable. If your thumb does not measure up, make sure to add someone to your guest list who has a properly sized thumb.

If you cannot find the right thumb, do not feel left out. You can scramble up a substitute by placing a large egg-no other size will do-into a four-cup measuring cup filled with three cups of water. Make sure the water line is precisely at the three-cup mark before the egg goes in. With a Sharpie, mark off the height of the water with the egg in it, and record the difference on a piece of paper.

Remove the egg. Refer to the measurement you just recorded, and pour just that amount into a smaller liquid measuring cup. If the eggs displaced anywhere between 1.93 fluid ounces of water and 2.2 fluid ounces, it is the perfect size.

Now we are ready for the seder. It begins by reciting the kiddush over kosher wine. This is where the thumbs, or the eggs, come in.

Each of the four cups of wine need to be the same size – about the water displacement of one and a half eggs. If you are measuring by thumbs, the wine cup should measure two thumbs by two thumbs by 2.7 thumbs.

A shortcut would be to use wine cups that hold just about 3 ounces of liquid.

Of course, this is a liberal measurement. There are at least three different measurements, depending on how certain a person wants to be to get it right: 3.3 fluid ounces, 4.42 fluid ounces, and 5.27 fluid ounces.

Now here is the catch. This year, the first seder falls on a Friday night. On an ordinary Shabbat, a Kiddush cup should be at least 4.42 fluid ounces (although some say 5.27 fluid ounces), and so this year, the first cup of wine should also be either 4.42 fluid ounces or 5.27 fluid ounces. That, of course, means that there has to be two sets of Kiddush cups at the seder (the 3-ounce cup will do for the other three cups) – or just go with the higher amount for all four cups.

It is time for the stopwatch. Each cup needs to be consumed, preferably in two or three swallows, depending on your tradition, within two minutes (although some say up to nine minutes).

Let us skip over matzah for now and check out our needs for the maror, the bitter herb.

Different communities have different customs for what to use as maror. The two most prevalent these days are freshly grated raw horseradish and romaine lettuce. Neither of these is particularly bitter, and the freshly grated raw horseradish doubles as a way to instantly clear up your sinuses even if you just inhale from a foot or two away.

To fulfill this mitzvah, the minimum size is 26 cubic centimeters. If you are using romaine lettuce, this is where the ruler and the calculator come in. There are large leaves and small leaves and medium leaves. Make space on the table in front of you, lay out the lettuce, and start measuring.

Because we are dealing with cubes, we have to measure length, width, and height. (Try not to measure in cubic meters, because there are 1 million cubic centimeters in a cubic meter, and it may take all night to figure out the amount of maror you need.)

Raw horseradish is much easier to figure out. This is where the shot glasses come in. Grate the horseradish and stuff the result into individual shot glasses. Make each glass as stuffed as possible. Now get the stopwatch out again. Eat the maror within two minutes.

Finally, we get to the matzah. The most lenient measurement for the motzi and for the afikoman is one each that measures 7 inches by 6 1/2 inches. (Most boxed matzot are that size.) That is two whole matzot just for these two parts of the seder. But after we make the motzi, we also make a blessing on “the eating of matzah,” which requires its own whole matzah. Fortunately, the matzah needed for the “Hillel sandwich” need only be 7 inches by 4 inches.

Back to the stopwatch: Eat each piece of matzah within two minutes.

No matter how you slice it, that is about four matzot per person. If you have 10 people at the table, you will need three boxes of matzah each night just to fulfill the ritual requirements.

Now we get to the four questions: Is this really what Pesach is about? Shouldn’t we be concentrating on why we eat matzah and maror, rather than how much we eat and how quickly? Is this what Moses meant when he said the law “is very near to you, in your mouth, and in your heart, that you may do it”? Is there any wonder so many Jews think Judaism is a joke?

We have not even gotten to the food yet, or the cleaning. Tune in next time.