'Gonna Finish That?: Tazria/Shabbat HaChodesh 5774 by Cantor Lipp

Tue, 04/01/2014 - 10:49am -- AJ Blog

MODELL: What's that, roast beef?

EDDIE: Don't ask me this anymore, Modell. Yes.

MODELL: Gonna finish that?

EDDIE: Yeah, I'm gonna finish it. I paid for it; I'm not going to give it to you.

MODELL: Because if you're not gonna finish it, I would eat it...but if you're gonna eat it—

EDDIE: What do you want?! Say the words.

MODELL: No...if you're gonna eat it, you eat; that's all right.

EDDIE: Say the words: "I want the roast-beef sandwich." Say the words, and I'll give you a piece.

SHREVIE: Would you guys cut this out? I mean, every time…

               ---Diner, 1982

One of my favorite scenes from the movie Diner. If I had written the line with this Dvar Torah in mind, I would have made only one change and had Eddie say, ‘Ask the Question!’ After all, Passover is coming.

On this special shabbat, we are commanded to roast a lamb and finish it by morning so there are no leftovers for Barry Levinson’s characters to fight over. In response to Eddie in Diner, I do have a question, although it’s not the one he wants me to ask: Why does the Torah require that the Paschal sacrifice be roasted and not boiled? OurEtz Hayim Humash suggests that, like Matzah, it’s the quickest way to cook it.

There’s only one problem with that assumption. It’s inaccurate, at least according to people whose cooking acumen I trust. Roasting is the SLOWEST mode of cooking a lamb, not the fastest (I must admit I checked Wikipedia before checking with my wife). I took a quick look at the list of editors of the Humash and noticed there was only one woman on the list. Certainly, not all women are good cooks and not all men aren’t but I would have hoped whoever approved that interpretation could have found someone who knows to get some decent chef-like intel on such a basic question.

Early 14th century French commentator Levi ben Gershon, Gersonides, says that the choice of the lamb is to counter the Egyptian idolatry of the zodiac sign of the Ram since this is sprintgime, around the time of Aries. The roasting is a form of riposte to the myth that the enemies of said animal-idol, according to Egyptian thought, would be burned in fire. The roasting is intended to enact the burning of the ‘god’ itself. 

It occurred to me, using Gersonides’ train of thought, that there would be no need to speed up the cooking -- our ancestors were commanded to get the lamb in place by the 10th of Nisan and cook it on the 14th for consumption that night. Most likely the slowness and the incredibly compelling scent of the roasted meat would be particularly irksome to the Egyptians. Just think of how far the smell of a barbecue wafts, making many of us carnivores jealous we weren’t invited to the neighbor’s deck party.

Putting fast and slow gastronomic delicacies together is something we still practice on Shabbat -- wine is generally better the older it is and bread needs to be eaten fresh. 

But on Passover we go all out. It makes sense that we should have to make our bread quickly (Matzah) to remember the haste with which we had to leave Egypt AND our lamb slowly to extend the moment of victory. The Hillel sandwich of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem was a memory of the bitterness of slavery (the Maror, bitter herb), a glorious taste of victory (the roasted Pesach lamb) in between a functional reminder of haste (theMatzah). 

Call it a Hasty Tears and Schadenfreude Sandwich. 

Imagine if they served that at Subway. 

Shabbat Shalom.

David Lipp

Hazzan