Friday, March 30, 2012

On Reclining

I just recently had my first chance to catch a movie at the new Cinepolis movie theater that opened near my home in La Costa. Yeah - it was more expensive than the typical movie.  BUT IT WAS AWESOME.  If you haven't been to one of these luxury movie places, you should check it out.  It is totally worth the splurge.

By far, the best part of the experience for me was the (reserved) seat.  It was a state of the art leather recliner with easy push button control to extend it from seat to (practically) a 180 degree flat bed.  Combined with the 'eat at your seat' food was like enjoying all of the comforts of watching a movie at home, with the added benefit of catching a first run movie on the big screen in the theater.  The best of both worlds!

In light of the fact that Passover is once again upon us (it begins next Friday night), I couldn't help but remain fixated on the simple luxury of reclining.  For the rabbis who crafted the Passover seder as we know it 2000 years ago, reclining represented the epitome of freedom.  A free person gets to do what they want when they want it (within reason of course).  How better to represent that than with the image of sprawling out, and relaxing?  (And how great is it that the folks of Cinepolis get that!)

Now the kind of reclining that the rabbis have in mind for a Passover seder was very particular: you were supposed to lounge on a floor of padded mattresses.  Passages in the Talmud advise leaning on one side (I believe the left, but don't quote me) because the rabbis thought that there was less of a chance that you'd choke on your food if you were leaning to that side!

But how many of us actually sprawl out on the ground for our seders today?

Today, we eat our formal meals seated around a table.  Lounging on the floor is not generally seen as a socially acceptable option.  Some families that want to keep the religious tradition of lounging alive in the modern context will have everyone sit in formal dining room chairs (or, if your seder is like the ones I attended as a kid: folding chairs!) and add some kind of small pillow or cushion to it to make it feel more "relaxing."

Now, in full disclosure, I've never been to a seder where the host has done this.  But I have been to plenty of crowded seders in my life....and it boggles my mind as to why anyone would think that adding pillows/cushions to an already overly cramped space would make things more comfortable.

If we are serious about wanting to authentically explore the value of reclining at a contemporary seder, I would politely suggest that we all make plans next year to have a La-Z-Boy seder!  Now...I tried to do a search online for a picture to illustrate what I mean....and I came up empty-handed.  The best I can do is ask you to take a close look at the picture below, and then imagine that you had these fancy recliners set up all around your dining room table.  Now that would be a seder!

Or for another fantasy seder set up: Consider this picture of President Obama's conference room aboard Air Force One:

Do you think those chairs recline?!

Well...the reality is that most of us don't get to travel in first class presidential luxury.  We're relegated to coach (where it turns out that there are all sorts of newfangled devices to prevent the seat in front of you from reclining on your knees!).  And I wonder if our own seders are also the equivalent of celebrating in Coach?

Even if it's not realistic to expect to be able to recline in a leather La-Z-Boy around your table next Friday are a few quick suggestions on how you can bring a heightened sense of luxury/splurging to your seder table:
Whether you recline every night or just on seder night....or whether you never recline at all....wishing you and your families a happy, healthy, and meaningful Passover,

Rabbi Brown

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