The magic of the Haggadah; connecting us to our past and our future.

Most of us never met our great grandparents. But it’s safe to say that we know exactly what they were doing on the night of the Seders; eating marror (bitter herbs) and Matzah and reading from the Haggadah. That’s the magic of the Seder and Passover! It connects all of us to our past and our future through the infinite time-tunnel of the Haggadah

With Passover approaching, I haul down my boxes of Haggadot from the attic, which are heavier each year. So many distinguished Rabbis have written their own commentary and I continue to add new ones to my collection, hoping every year to enhance the magic of our Seder. As the preparations begin, I am reminded of a Confucius proverb: “If you plan for a year, plant rice. If you plan for ten years, plant trees. If your plan for a lifetime, educate a child.”

The Passover Seder richly incorporates the wisdom of this proverb, whereby the Haggadah turns all Jewish parents into educators, and all Jewish children into students of history – so that one day they too will become the educators of their children.  As families gather around the table on Seder nights, reciting from the Haggadah, we all pass down our history and our legacy, to the next generation. The word “Haggadah” literally means “to tell”. Simply put, the Haggadah is the retelling of our personal and collective story, in the form of a parent-child dialogue, reminding us of who we are, where we came from, and what we stand for. As an educator, I just love the limitless cycle of learning that the Seder engenders, and the fun and creativity that abounds.

Carefully choregraphed, the Haggadah is a compilation of stories, instructions, and songs. It is designed for our children to ask questions so that our history of freedom and redemption will unfold, in all its many layers and nuances, recounting our past as slaves and remembering how we became a free people and a nation. Besides the questions that we are prompted to ask, a wealth of questions arise, and themes emerge; transmitting values we hold dear and wish to convey to the next generation.

All children learn to ask the formulaic question of why we dip parsley in salt water at the start of the Seder. It’s a leading question meant to recall the tears shed by the Jewish slaves. Yet Rashi has a different answer entirely for parsley; underscoring how questions and answers lead us deeper into the soul of the narrative.  According to the 19th century scholar of Baghdad, the Ben-Ish-Chai, Yosef’s coat of many colors, kutonet hapasim, is described by Rashi as “K’mo Karpas” – like fine linen. He posits that it’s not by coincidence that we eat Karpas (parsley or celery) early on in the Seder. Rather, by connecting Karpas to the story of Yosef and his brothers, we are given an invaluable message – that before we can begin to remember we were slaves in Egypt, we must first recall what led to our enslavement; that it all started when Yosef’s brothers sold him into slavery – when brother turned against brother.

The purpose of our retelling the story of our exodus from Egypt, in each generation, is to emphasize the strength of the Children of Israel, and to teach us the meaning of Kol Yisrael Arevim ze la ze – that all of Israel are responsible for one another. We learn that when there is disharmony among us, we are weakened, yet when we look out for each other we become strong and indomitable. In highlighting this, the Haggadah helps turn our history in memory, and memory into a sense of mutual responsibility, thus encouraging our children to develop a stronger sense of identity and belonging.

But why is it so important to remember our slavery and our freedom? According to Rav Dov Soloveitchic, by remembering that we were slaves, we are insuring that Jews will never ignore the pain of others or neglect the needs of those less fortunate. Thus, the Seder offers us a remarkable teaching tool, empowering our children to become compassionate people; it’s our blueprint to be a light unto the nations.

As we each prepare to sit down at our Seder table, Jews the world over will be doing the very same thing. Passover is said to be the most celebrated Jewish holiday, even among those who claim to be unobservant, with more than 70% of Jewish Americans taking part in a Seder. Perhaps it is because of the importance of the message of the Seder. The re-telling of our story from grandparent to grandchild, from parent to child, unites us with Jews around the globe and across the generations.

Yet, while we all tell the same exact story of the Exodus, in the same exact words from the Haggadah, no two Seders are ever exactly the same. That too is the richness of the Seder! While the Seder speaks of order, the retelling of the Passover story is achieved through individuality. We each bring our own interpretations, commentaries, and unique style –  creating a Seder that is like no other. Just like no two people are ever the same, each bringing his or her own uniqueness to the world, so too on the Seder nights we each pass along our traditions, in our own unique and distinctly creative way. Some of us continuing in the path of our parents and grandparents while others are observing rituals in new ways yet still belonging to the same chain, connected to the same ancient tribe with the same spiritual roots in the Torah and reading from the same Haggadah.

Our sages teach us that our Seder table is like an Altar; an instrument to help us achieve new and greater spiritual heights. They carefully wrote the Haggadah detailing 15 steps to freedom, which correspond to the 15 steps leading up to the temple. Just as the Temple helped the Jewish people appreciate Gods presence in the world, so too, the Seder is a reminder of Gods constant presence in our lives; guiding us and providing us with order in a world that is frequently chaotic and in turmoil.

Passover is widely celebrated because it resonates with Jews from all denominations. It is about telling our story through rituals, songs, and prayer; it’s about the relationship between parents and children, it’s about giving our children a sense of identity and belonging, and the self-confidence to pass it along to the next generation.

As a free people, we are obligated to tell and retell our history. Alongside the telling of the Exodus from Egypt, the Seder night encourages our great grandparents and grandparents to share their own chapters of their personal departures from Germany or Poland, Morocco or Yemen, USSR or Ethiopia. This night is a celebration of storytelling and a lesson in educating our children in our rich history so that when the time comes, they will educate their children and so on and so forth…

As free people, we also need to make room for conversations that don’t just validate our own set of beliefs, but that may even force us out of our comfort zone to being open to truths that we otherwise might not have encountered.  This Passover let’s acknowledge our freedom by not only questioning, but also by listening with an openness to everyone’s answers. Let us model tolerance to our children and to the guests at our Seder table.

May the lessons of the Seder empower us to continue to be a caring and compassionate people! I wish everyone a uniquely wonderful, fun, and inspiring Seder.

Tani Foger, Ed.D, LPC

Psychologist and Educational Consultant – Founder of “Lets-Talk” Workshops: Guidance workshops for all ages at all stages