Every year, my eldest daughter asks me which of all the Jewish festivals is my favourite. My immediate response is always: Pesach. I know….when Seder night arrives, we are left with almost no energy. We cleaned. We arranged closets. We worked around the clock preparing holiday meals. Yet my response remains firm. My favorite holiday among all of the Jewish festivals is Pesach. And the reason is that nothing about this holiday should be taken for granted.
A few weeks ago, I researched the reason why we sing the piyut “Who Knows One?” at the end of the Seder. According to the opinion of the scholars, this piyut is based on a German song from the fifteenth century. But I also found a second explanation that is particularly relevant. The Haggadah opens with “Why is this night different…” and concludes with “Who Knows One?” At the beginning of the Seder, the child asks and the father answers. At the end, the father is the one who asks and the child answers.
When I claim that nothing concerning this holiday should be taken for granted, I mean to say: It shouldn’t be taken for granted, especially in our day, that when a child asks a question, the father will respond, nor that when the father asks a question, the child will respond. It shouldn’t be taken for granted that the parent will tell his children a story before they go to sleep. Nor can it be assumed that the children will wait until the meal is completed to get up from the table.
I find it curious that in this age of communication, where at the touch of a button we can make contact with friends that live across the ocean (and even see them on our screens), it is so difficult to hold a conversation with the members of our family who live with us under the same roof.
A member of my congregation told me that, a few days ago, her adolescent daughter invited a friend of hers to stay over for a couple of days. Upon entering her daughter’s room, she found both of the girls sitting separately; one was surfing Facebook and the other playing a game on her iPhone.
“A total lack of connection”, she told me.
She gently took away the phones and said with a motherly smile, “Now, talk!”
This happens in almost every household with children. One child is with an iPhone, another child is on the computer. Mother is checking emails, father is sitting in front of the television.
Let’s suppose that Moses were to come down today from Mt. Sinai with the word of G-d in his hands. Naturally, he wouldn’t bring down two tablets of stone. Rather, one could assume that he would bring down in his hands two 5th generation iPads. Moses would descend, and instead of hearing sounds of shouting from the camp, he would hear silence.
The golden calf at the outskirts of the camp would be left alone, and all of the children of Israel would be in their tents with smartphones in their hands, communicating with the world, but disconnected from their families and their people.
I am convinced that Moses would still break his Tablets…
In this new reality, “telling your son” (Ve-Higadta Le-Bincha) is a mitzvah that takes on a new significance. We are not just speaking of passing on a tradition from one generation to another. We are simply speaking of strengthening and improving the communication within the family so that there can be a dialogue, a table set and orderly, a family dinner that begins and concludes at the same time for all of the members of the family.
My heart fills with gladness at the sight of my daughters getting up from the table at the end of the Seder, running to search for a thin rectangle that isn’t the iPhone, rather the Afikoman.
Pesach is my favorite holiday because it provides us with rare quality family time.
The truth is, the children of Israel no longer have to ask in wonder why on this night we eat “only matzah” or why “we dip twice.” It’s enough that they see that daddy answers when they ask a question, and tells them a story before bedtime.
That’s a sufficient reason to ask “Ma Nishtanah?”