This year, as in all the years that we have made a Seder, we have invited guests to join us. We likely will not even know for sure exactly who will join with us until the last minute – not that it makes a difference, there is always more than enough. It is traditional in our home, along with the matzoh, marror, charoset and always too much food, to have relatives, friends, friends of friends, and their relatives join in. It is something we learned to do in our childhood homes. The door was always open especially on the Shabbat and Chagim. Friends often came into the house waving at my mother and father run to the refrigerator grab an apple or a drink, then come back, and say hello. It was the same in the home of my in-laws. I remember once asking my parents if it upset them. Quite the opposite was the answer. “It is our pleasure.” “We enjoy that friends are so comfortable in our home. Our door is always open.”
We were taught that our homes were open because that is part of being a good relative, good neighbor, good friend and a good Jew. This attitude of being there and open to and for all is doubly important on Passover.
The Haggadah begins with the somewhat repetitive injunction to open our doors to all who are needy and to all who are hungry. There are several Midrashic interpretations as to why the need for this seeming repetition. Some see the two sentences as the neediness for actual food and the other as a need for spiritual nourishment. Others interpret the duality of the language as a sign of our own neediness along with that of others – encouraging us to strive for greater achievement in our social and ethical responsibilities both for ourselves and toward others. Both approaches are nice interpretations. I have my own additional view. I prefer a more pragmatic explanation one rooted in how people learn.
There is an educational principal called time on task, which suggests that the more time spent engaged in learning something the better that thing is learned. But, research has shown that it is not simply the quantity of time engaged on a task that accounts for learning. It is a combination of the quality of the task presented, combined with how well the learner relates to it, along with the amount of time spent on it that accounts for successfully acquiring wisdom.
For some the Pesach holiday, like every other holiday, is simply about spending time, not gaining wisdom. This model is best described as “They tried to destroy us, we overcame, let’s eat” approach. Even if the Seder is enjoyed with relatives and friends it is a simple, time on task approach, a time spent model, one that is nice but misses the qualitative message. That message, spelled out in the very first complete paragraph of the Magid section tells us by the duality of language used that we have a responsibility to stop and evaluate ourselves and the reasons why we gather together for this holiday. It is wonderful that we have an open Seder and share our Seder with many others, that we eat well and enjoy the time together, but we need to do more for as long as there are needy people, whether it is food, spirituality, comfort or a sense of belonging we have not fulfilled the obligation of the Seder.
If you look at the order of the Seder you will find that the first section, up until the meal is very much focused on the past. The meal is in the present. The closing sections of the Haggadah focus on the future. To achieve the goal of welcoming all and responding to our needs we need to fulfill the obligation to our past, present and future. We can only achieve that by being for ourselves and with others physically and spiritually.