Dear Rabbi Fried,
I know it’s the eleventh hour, but I’m leading the Seder for the first time and some of the participants will be Jews going to their first Seder ever, and I’m nervous they shouldn’t be bored and turned off from the whole experience. I’m tempted to skip most of it for that reason, but I don’t feel right doing that since every other year I’ve gone through the whole thing. Do you have any suggestions?
Flustered but Hopeful
I prefer to address you by that name, because I don’t consider you flustered; your question is a very reasonable one; and hopeful is a good place to be!
In fact, I would wager that most Jews who have observed the entire Seder many times are still grappling with the same question. They’re wondering how to make it relevant, not necessarily for others, but for themselves.
Repeating what sounds like an outdated story about a nation in antiquity doesn’t sound any more exciting for most people than studying ancient Greek history in high school. Especially when it’s topped off by those delicious matzos and horseradish…mmm mmm!
The key word, I believe, in making the Seder meaningful, is Relevancy. You need to go into the Seder with the attitude that every word of the Haggadah is truly relevant to our lives, today.
Once those ground rules have been established, now the game is to figure out just how each statement in the Haggadah can make a difference in our lives. When you go around the table and let everyone have a turn in reading a paragraph, tell them the ground rules. Ask them not only to simply read that paragraph, but to try to think of a way that paragraph impacts the Jewish people and/or our individual lives today. This will change the focus of the Haggadah completely; we’re not reading ancient history, we’re learning pertinent lessons for live from a timeless source!
This attitude is predicated upon two foundational precepts upon which the Haggadah is studied and observed. One is, the author of the Haggadah had all types of Jews and all periods of the Jewish experience in mind, making it relevant to all Jews and all times. That is one reason we begin the Haggadah with the intro that the Torah speaks to the four sons.
The wise son represents the learned, scholarly Jew. The wicked son exemplifies the Jew who has rebelled against the teachings of his youth. The simple son epitomizes the average Jew who hasn’t exactly rebelled, but is not that knowledgeable either. The son who doesn’t know what to ask characterizes the Jew who is so far away that he or she doesn’t even know what to ask.
This preamble is to let us know there is a path to explain the Haggadah which will be meaningful and satisfying to each and every category of Jew; one just needs to delve deeply enough into the soul of that Jew and the soul of the Haggadah to find that path, the path to the Jewish heart. There is a way to make this story relevant to one and all!
Secondly, the Haggadah states that it is an obligation upon every Jew to see himself or herself as if they themselves left Egypt. This is quite a hefty responsibility, especially given that none of us has ever endured slavery, or built a pyramid. (I have a theory; the reason so many Jews are involved in pyramid schemes is because way back in our history we built pyramids!)
To understand this we turn to the more mystical side of Judaism, the Kabbalistic sources, which teach that the same Light of the Divine Presence that was revealed the night of Passover over 3000 years ago in Egypt is actually being revealed again, year after year, on the night of Pesach.
Even today in 2016 in Dallas there is a Divine Illumination which accompanied the Jews so long ago being revealed, which is the deeper side of how the Jewish calendar works. The obligation to feel we are leaving Egypt today means we are supposed to find ways to tap into that light and allow it to illuminate our souls.
When we focus on the relevancy of the story of Pesach, especially by seeing the very real threats around us such as from Iran, Europe and more, and to see how the Al-mighty continually delivers us from those threats and keeps us alive, we can feel and experience the night of Pesach in a very real, meaningful and relevant way. Am Yisrael Chai!
Best wishes for a joyous and meaningful Pesach to you and all the readers!
Dear Rabbi Fried,