How is the festival meal of Passover different
from the meal eaten at other holiday celebrations? For one thing, the Passover
repast is consumed in the context of a scripted dramatic arrangement, a
(seder), from the Hebrew verb
(le-sadder), "to arrange."
There are, to be sure, similar arrangements in Jewish ritual and textual life.
The daily prayer book, which contains a sort of script for the performance of
devotional texts, is called a
(siddur). One of the names of the weekly Torah portion read in synagogue
(sidrah), from the Aramaic cognate of the root. The Mishnah is divided
(sedarim); the one containing the laws of Passover is called
(seder mo'ed), the "Order of the Festivals."
(samekh, dalet, resh) is founded in many more or less organized situations.
If you volunteer to work on a kibbutz in Israel, the most important person to
know is the not the kibbutz (mazkir),
"secretary," but the
(sadran ha-avodah). The word
(sadran) is also used in Israeli theaters for an "usher," an
essential and effective figure who helps prevent absolute and utter
(i-seder) as everyone rushes to find a good seat.
(adam mesudar) is an "orderly person," and, by extension into
colloquial Hebrew, someone who is well-off financially. Of a person who always
lands on his feet, one says
(hu yode'a le-histader). For many years one of the most important institutions
in Israeli social and communal life was the
(histadrut), the Federation of Labor. In America, an important organization
- with a glorious history - for the promotion of the Hebrew language is the
(histadrut ivrit), whose meetings are always governed by a
(seder ha-yom), an "agenda."
The expressiveness of a Hebrew root can often be found in its colloquial use.
A woman crossing the street against the light in Tel-Aviv recently received
this mild rebuke from a driver who had to brake suddenly:
(geveret, at be-emet lo be-seder), "Lady, you are really out of
order." When you wish to share with a friend how effective you were in
responding to an insult, you say
(ani sidarti otam), "I really let them have it." And when you
want to assure your friends that "everything's all right," you say
At the Passover seder this year, as we celebrate the Festival of Freedom, let
us pray on behalf of people throughout the world, that all will be
(be-seder), all right and in order.
Joseph Lowin is Executive Director of the National Center for the Hebrew
Language (NY). He has written extensively (in both popular and scholarly
formats) on Jewish narrative, modern Jewish literature, and Hebrew language.
His most recent book is Hebrewspeak: An Insider's Guide to the Way
Jews Think (Jason Aronson, 1995). http://www.ivrit.org