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קָפֶה בֵּית מַכְּסְוֶיל | Items for the Second Seder Plate: Maxwell House coffee

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To be inserted directly before tsafon.

Why is this coffee different from all other coffees? Because Maxwell House coffee is a deeply spiritual representation of the Diaspora experience.

Wait – let me explain! I’ll use the classic PaRDeS method of exegesis, explaining the literal p’shat, the deeper drash, the allegorical remez, and the metaphysical sōd.

Of course, p’shat-wise the Maxwell House Haggadah is a classic piece of Jewish Americana – one of the first, and most successful, publicity campaigns targeted at a Jewish demographic. But for a deeper drash meaning, we should consider why it is that you know you’re part of American society when ads start targeting you. We celebrate the Maxwell House Haggadah as an icon of “acceptance,” but it’s really an icon of exploitation. And should we accept that, gulping it down like terrible, terrible coffee? And for a remez let us continue down that path. The below is an allegory adapted from a Talmudic discussion on the use of two-year bitter lettuce as maror:

לָמָּה נִמְשְׁלוּ מִצְרִיִּים כְּמָרוֹר? לוֹמַר לָךְ, מַה מָרוֹר זֶה שֶׁתְּחִלָּתוֹ רַךְ וְסוֹפוֹ קָשֶׁה, אַף מִצְרִיִּים תְּחִלָּתָן רַכָּה וְסוֹפָן קָשֶׁה. (פסחים לט א׳)
Why are the Egyptians likened to maror? To tell you, just as maror starts out sweet but ends up harsh, so too the Egyptians started out sweet and ended up harsh. (Pesachim 39a)

Although Ashkenazi communities don’t use bitter lettuce for maror anymore, we can continue this logic. Maxwell House takes something as delicious as coffee and destroys it by making it harsh and bitter – teaching us never to take our safety and prosperity for granted!

And finally, for the sōd, we shall go to the old classic – an acrostic. What is Maxwell House? The house of Mem-Kaf-Samekh-Vav-Yod-Lamed. This is an acronym for some of the places most notorious for bitterness and hatred. May we avoid a house of hatred, just as we avoid cheap coffee! For each place listed, let’s spill out a sip of whatever after-dinner drink we’re enjoying.

Mitsrayim (Egypt)

Kittim (Rome)

S‘dom (Sodom)

Va-Amorah (and Gomorrah)

Yavan (Greece)

Lōt (Moab and Ammon)



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