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Torah Attitude: Passover: Why is this night different?
One of the most popular holidays in the Jewish calendar is Pesach. Each type of person must be spoken to in a way they will understand and can relate to. Each of the four sons mentioned in the Haggadah represents a different participant at the Seder. Our sages teach that we shall change things at the Seder table in order to encourage the participants to ask why we do thing differently tonight than other nights. The leader of the Seder must be well prepared and guide his audience in the right direction. G'd will redeem us and put an end to our suffering with the coming of Moshiach.
One of the most popular holidays in the Jewish calendar is Pesach. Jews worldwide sit down at the Seder table and read the Haggadah. Even those who throughout the year are not observant are careful not to eat chametz during the week of Pesach. They participate in the Seder with matzah and maror (bitter herbs), as well as the four cups of wine to commemorate the miraculous exodus from Egypt, the 15th of Nisan in the year 2448 after the creation of the world.
Different types of people
Unfortunately, many people do not know how to make the Haggadah exciting, and to get all the participants involved. Many young people do not feel connected to the narrative of the Haggadah, and just wait for the meal to be served. The Haggadah itself addresses this problem, and mentions that there are different types of people. Each type must be addressed in a way they will understand and can relate to.
Each of the four sons mentioned in the Haggadah represents a different kind of participant at the Seder. The wise son represents the intelligent participant who is eager to learn and wants to understand each Torah law and custom, as well as the rationale behind it. On the other hand, the wicked son represents the non-observant participant who, for whatever reason, has lost interest in Judaism, and somewhat mocks the various laws and customs. Then there is the simple son who has a general interest in Judaism but is not yet interested in the details. Finally, there is the son who is not able to ask. He represents the participant who is totally ignorant and has had no Jewish education at all. Obviously, it can be a real challenge even for an experienced educator to engage such a diverse group, if they are all gathered at one Seder table.
The Torah instructs us to talk about the exodus from Egypt. As it says (Shemos 13:8): "And you shall tell your son [or whoever is at your Seder table] on that day and say, 'It is for the sake of this [i.e. the mitzvos (commandments)] that G'd did [all the wonders] for me when I left Egypt." Therefore, the Torah must also provide the solution how to do it in a fashion that makes it workable with success. A few verses later it says (Shemos 13:14): "And it shall be when your son will ask you tomorrow [i.e. sometime in the future] 'What is this?' And you shall say to him, 'With a strong hand G'd took us out from Egypt, from the house of slavery." Based on this verse our sages teach that we change things at the Seder table in order to encourage the participants to ask why we do thing differently tonight than other nights. The Rambam (Laws of Chametz and Matzah 7:3) gives several examples what one can do to encourage questions. Some people give the children nuts and roasted seeds. Some remove the Seder dish before the meal, and others let the children steal the afikoman (also see Talmud Pesachim 109a and 115). All this, says the Rambam, is to encourage the children to ask the "four questions" mentioned in the Haggadah. If the participants do not ask, then the leader must challenge them with his own questions and statements, as it says in the Haggadah: "You shall open up the subject."
Leader must be prepared
When we encourage the participants to ask questions and offer answers, they have the opportunity to be active and get involved in the narrative of the Haggadah. The leader of the Seder must be well prepared and guide his audience in the right direction. He must ensure that the discussion develops around the subject of the slavery in Egypt, and how G'd punished the Egyptians with the ten plagues, and took us out from there.
G'd will redeem us
Our sages teach that the Seder night experience should enhance our mitzvah observance and our belief and trust in G'd. Our own suffering in our long and bitter exile connects us with the suffering of our ancestors in Egypt. And just like they were redeemed when G'd decided that the time was ready, so do we rest assured that G'd will redeem us and put an end to our suffering with the coming of Moshiach. Amen.
These words were based on notes of Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shalom. Michael Deverett
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