Rabbi teaches feng shui of the seder plate

After the whole incident last Shabbat with Aunt Esther and Uncle Max — who knew false teeth could leave such a scar? — it’s probably best not to sit them next to each other.

That’s one way to organize a seating arrangement. Feng shui offers another. The ancient Chinese belief (which translates literally as “wind water”) holds that an elemental energy force runs through everything in the world: our bodies, our workspaces and, of course, the front doors of our homes. In fact, many people who wouldn’t often give Eastern mysticism a second thought have been introduced to feng shui when making their homes palatable to potential Asian buyers.

And certain seating arrangements — the father here, the eldest daughter there — also align with feng shui.

But did you know that feng shui also runs through your seder plate?

Rabbi Chaim Mahgel-Friedman does. The rabbi, who is also a trained practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine, lives and works in Berkeley.

“Where else?” he says with a laugh. “Where else are you going to find a Chassidic rabbi who does feng shui?”

Uh, we’ll have to get back to you on that one.

The rabbi, a bookbuyer at Afikomen Judaica, will be teaching a class in the store Sunday, April 2 regarding the feng shui of the seder plate. Mahgel-Friedman takes feng shui seriously. And, before you begin shaking your head, keep in mind that Judaism has its own requirements about how to properly arrange things (Aunt Esther and Uncle Max notwithstanding).

“In Judaism, where the mezuzah is placed has significance. Generally, it’s on the right-hand doorpost. Throughout Judaism, there is a preference for the right,” said the rabbi, 44, ordained in a Lubavitcher yeshiva in Israel 22 years ago.

“In some Lubavitch communities, instead of placing a Chanukah menorah in the window facing you, it is placed in an internal doorway, usually in a family room, opposite the mezuzah.”

So clearly the Chinese are not alone in creating an esoteric system of codifying just where everything should be. But Mahgel-Friedman doesn’t just believe in the Chinese way or the Jewish way — he believes in both. As he puts it, “there’s nothing inherently spiritual” about feng shui.

But feng shui can be applied to Jewish objects of religious value, such as said seder plate. And, without further ado, the rabbi organizes his plate as such:

The egg is on the far left of the plate. The shankbone (or, especially in Berkeley, a yam or some other vegetarian shankbone substitute) is on the top right. The maror (bitter herb) is in the middle. The karpas vegetable is in the lower left. The charoset is in the lower right. And on the very bottom of the plate is the chazeret (a second bitter herb).

For those who wish to place an orange or some such on their seder plates, but still wish to have a plate that’s copasetic with feng shui, you’ll have to find another feng shui Chassid.

Mahgel-Friedman’s arrangement mirrors that proscribed by Rabbi Yitzhak Luria, the 16th-century founder of the Lurianic Kabbalah movement. The rationale for Luria’s arrangement and Mahgel-Friedman’s nuanced connections to feng shui are, to say the least, somewhat complex. And, as the rabbi politely puts it, if your interest is piqued, he is, after all, teaching a class about just that. There’s coffee and biscotti on the house, to boot.

“I appreciate how the Chinese system operates in a very pragmatic way,” said the rabbi, who arranged his home to be in alliance with feng shui while simultaneously searching for chametz last year.

“For me, as a Chassid-ically trained rabbi, it compliments the esoteric, spiritual element.”

Rabbi Chaim Mahgel-Friedman will teach “Feng Shui and the Seder Plate” on Sunday, April 2 at Afikomen, 3042 Claremont Ave., Berkeley. Admission is free. Information: (510) 655-1977.

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.