For a previous post describing the Me'am Loez, please see:
For example, the Me'am Loez's Pesach Haggadah originally appeared as part of the book of Shemot/Exodus, published in Constantinople in 1734 by Rav Yaakov Culi.
But when translating the Me'am Loez into English, they decided to publish the Haggadah as its own separate volume—an astute & helpful decision for those of us who wish to use a handier version of the Haggaddah. (The entire book of Shemot of the Me'am Loez is massive.)
Rav Aryeh Kaplan translated the Haggadah directly from the original Ladino, including consultation with Rav Shmuel Yerushalmi's Hebrew translation.
For Ashkenazi readers, Rav Kaplan also included the Ashkenazi customs in parentheses & italics when they differ from the Sephardi customs, making the Haggadah accessible to all.
Reading centuries-old texts written for both regular people and scholars provides so much insight & mussar, in addition to a better understanding of Judaism & its laws.
The Beauty of Spilled Wine
This provides evidence for the active use of the Me'am Loez's Haggadah during the Seder itself.
But can you imagine how the people 300 years ago perceived such spills?
Printing was much more laborious back then. Only wealthy bibliophiles kept shelves & shelves of books in their homes.
Whenever possible, Ladino-speaking Jews strove to acquire a set of the Me'am Loez. Others needed to settle for a public reading of it.
Back then, chatanim (grooms) received a set of the Me'am Loez, similar to today's custom of gifting the chatan with a set of Talmud Bavli.
One can imagine the disgruntlement of people who now faced a wine-stain on their not-so-easily replaceable & highly prized volume of Sefer Shemot of the Me'am Loez.
Yet those very stains provide the heart-warming & valuable evidence that, yes, this Haggadah was in active use and not just a bookshelf trophy.
Little did they know back then that Hashem wanted their wine to splash onto the Haggadah pages to provide us with cherished evidence & connection 300 years later.
This knowledge also granted me comfort (and prevented a scowl) when my own small child placed his soupy hand right in the middle of page 108, where Rav Culi explains about the afikomin.
Because the soup contained generous amounts of turmeric & because turmeric acts as a yellow dye, my own Me'am Loez Haggadah also provides evidence of use during the Seder—making us part of this unintentional but long-standing tradition associated with the Me'am Loez Haggadah.
So Rav Kaplan's preface enabled me to feel good about the pattern of yellow finger-stains rather than miffed. (Also, if I really wanted to, I could access a new copy of the Me'am Loez Haggadah with a lot more ease than 300 years ago.)
Everything really does happen for a reason—a good reason!—including Seder stains on a Haggadah.
How to Make a Cup of Water...
In fact, producing kosher matzahs sounds nearly impossible and reading the directions makes me wonder how anyone managed such a feat prior to the modern era—yet they clearly succeeded.
Even routine acts we take for granted today (like drinking a cup of water) involved a whole process.
Water from public wells needed to be boiled to kill germs. It also needed to be strained to remove bugs & worms.
Even water from a relatively clean private well needed to undergo straining to make it bug-free for drinking.
That process occurred all year 'round, not just for Pesach.
The Challenges of Children & Pesach
As Rav Culi writes (pages 192 & 225):
"One must be particularly scrupulous in a house with small children. They walk around carrying bread and breaking it into small crumbs. Sometimes they throw around more than they eat."
"Special care must be taken in homes where there are small children, since they like to get into all the food."
Clearly, the rav knew exactly how things go in real families.
Rav Culi then recalls a case of which he had personal knowledge, in which a small child threw a piece of bread into a Pesach pot full of fat being rendered for Pesach.
No one realized what had happened until the child himself spoke up.
Rav Culi ascribes the revelation to the merit of the family, which clearly devoted themselves to the mitzvah of ridding their home of chametz. Such devotion earns "help from on high."
Rav Culi states (page 225):
"God had mercy and the child told his mother, allowing the family to avoid the prohibition of chametz. But certainly, they might have eaten chametz that year."
Back then, people used rendered fat in place of oil or butter.
Purchasing oil for Pesach back then was no easy feat either and needed to be planned 6 days in advance. It could mean they were stuck without fat for the duration of Pesach, unless they had oil too. Likely, they bought, borrowed, or received kosher-for-Pesach fat or oil from someone else.
If Rav Culi personally knew about it, maybe he even helped them out himself.
Something's Funny with the 17th-Century Honey
For example, Rav Chaim Benveniste (1603-1673), the author of Knesset HaGedolah & chief rabbi of Izmir/Smyrna, decided to investigate whether the honey sold in the marketplace was really kosher for Pesach.
After all, it's simple straight-forward honey, right?
Trustworthy people informed him that to remove honey from its comb, merchants sometimes used hot water.
This meant that the honey sold in jars wasn't necessarily pure honey, but a somewhat watered-down version.
This also presented a problem for those who did not want any water with their matzah or matzah flour (AKA gebrochts).
Furthermore, the rav also discovered that many honey merchants mixed their honey with flour or starch to make it thicker. The merchants explained how difficult it was to remove honey from its comb without hot water, which thinned the honey. So they admitted to thickening it back up again with flour or starch.
However, in the market place, the honey looked like regular pure honey and was also sold as such.
Yet it was actual chametz! Who would've guessed?
Based on the above, Rav Benveniste warned against the use of commercial honey on Pesach.
He only permitted honey still in the comb that never underwent any kind of tampering.
We see from this the problem of commercial foods without regulation or supervision.
Also, while I've no idea if people then realized the digestive problems associated with issues like Celiac and the like, but buying honey without realizing it contains flour or starch can cause health issues in some people.
I also wonder about the addition of unsifted flour into the honey; without sifting, flour easily contains worms & bugs.
Furthermore, we also see how the dedication to the laws of kashrut revealed that, even for non-Pesach use, the product sold in bottles as pure honey was actually a concoction of honey, water, and flour or starch.
Though it required more labor, one imagines that people may have ended up purchasing honey comb throughout the rest of the year too in order to get their real money's worth, in addition to accessing the purer, healthier option of flourless/starchless honey.
These are a Few of My Favorite Things...
Compared to 17th-Century Constantinople, much of the more demanding aspects of halacha are a skip in the park.
It's also a big chessed that in most modern homes, we can drink all the water we need without giving a thought to underground bacteria or bugs or filth.
Even if we're concerned about other things in the water, options exist to purify our water even more.
Not to mention the ease & relative safety of purchasing bottled water from a store.
We also tend to rely on labels from reputable companies stating that the honey within is pure honey—and even the source of the honey (wildflowers, avocado flowers, orange blossoms, etc.).
We rely on the majestic boxes of shemurah matzah and their regal hechshers for our Seder needs.
Kosher-for-Pesach nosh & fresh fruits & vegetables now exist for children up to and including Pesach.
Hardly anyone renders fat anymore. A variety of oils and sometimes even schmaltz itself stand at attention on the shelves of local supermarkets.
(And sure, a piece of bread tossed into a cooking Pesach pot would still cause a mini-crisis, but one more readily remedied in our times.)
We know that stains of wine or soupy turmeric on our commentary-filled Haggadahs provide cherished evidence of the unbroken chain of meaningful Pesach Seders.
May Hashem please redeem us completely with compassion so that we may experience a genuine era of Geula & joy.