The Kopishnitzer Rebbe once phoned a wealthy businessman to make an appointment to meet. The man told the rebbe that there was no need to travel to Midtown Manhattan as he would be honored to come to the rebbe.
The rebbe insisted on coming to the man’s office and they set a time for 11:30 that morning.
The man asked the rebbe what was so important to take so much of the rebbe’s time to come to Manhattan.
The rebbe went on to describe the difficult financial situation of another of his followers. He was having a difficult time making ends meet causing undue stress. To make matters worse Pesach was fast approaching.
Could the man partner with the rebbe to help this family in their time of crisis?
The man replied, “Of course. I would be honored to sponsor his entire chag and even more! Once again, rebbe, you didn’t need to shlep to me. I would have readily come to you for this important mitzva!”.
The man took out his checkbook, filled in an extremely generous sum and looked up at the rebbe.
“To whom shall I write the check?”
The rebbe averted his gaze and quietly answered, “your brother”
Our Pesach seder begins with a declaration that is beautiful yet puzzling:
הא לחמא עניא…כל דכפין ייתי ויכול, כל דצריך ייתי ויפסח השתא עבדין לשנה הבאה בני חורין
This is the bread of affliction…all those who are hungry come and eat, all those who need should come and (take part) in the Pesach. This year we are slaves, next year we should be free.
Three major questions arise when we examine this paragraph.
Why are we only inviting the hungry now, after we have begun our meal and all are already seated?
Why is this part of the Hagada in Aramaic, while the remainder is in Hebrew?
What does it mean that “this year we are slaves”?
The commentators address these questions with answers relating to the origin of the Haggadah, the philosophical foundation of lovingkindness within Judaism, and many other wonderful answers.
Inspired by the story quoted above, I would like to propose something which speaks to the essence of this awesome (exalted?) evening, and, in fact, to the continuity of the Jewish people.
On Pesach night, we are commanded to retell the story of the Exodus to our children. Period. No matter who they are, how they dress or think, we must ensure that they hear the tale of the night that we became the Nation of Israel. It is incumbent upon us to invest everything possible into making the seder a night to remember. It can’t be just another dinner. We have been doing the seder for thousands of years and that is the reason why we are still here, after thousands of years.
Israelis say it best without realizing it. “Hakol Baseder” (literally “everything is ok) which can also mean, “everything is in The Seder”. Our children’s connection to Judaism, and in some ways, their relation to us as parents, are reflected by the seder experience.
Are we as aware of our children’s spiritual and emotional needs as much as we are to their physical ones?
We hear today of so many disenfranchised youth who seek a connection.
Ironically, in our “connected” world, there is more disconnect and alienation than ever before. Relationships have become only “internet deep.” The “information highway”, created to bring everything closer, has caused more divide than could ever be imagined.
Pesach arrives. An opportunity to connect. No phones. No social media. No distractions.
And this is why our “invitation” to the seder and Pesach experience is uttered only after we are all seated at the table.
Charity and kindness begin in the home and for the home.
Our children are hungry. They crave to be connected to us, to Judaism, to G-d and to higher purposes.
Why Aramaic? Aramaic was the language of the common man. Hebrew was reserved for the scholarly. Everyone understood Aramaic, no matter his/her station in life.
Our language with our children must be on their level, in a tone that fosters love, understanding and acceptance. We must be in tune to what they are saying, asking, and seeking. We should strive to discover the “Aramaic”, the language that they will understand and to which they are receptive.
Are we not free?
Humans are plagued by bad habits, poor communication and a lack of empathy. We repeat the same mistakes in our own lives as well as in our relationships with others- even those closest to us.
We are stuck in “doing the same thing and expecting different results”.
Pesach gives us the opportunity to go back to our origins, not only on the national level but in our personal lives as well.
We begin the evening enslaved to those old notions and habit. Through the seder we can reconnect to our children, and to ourselves, and start anew.
Our hope and prayer is that through the Pesach experience, we will be, by next year, even tomorrow, free from any form of bondage, and provide our children with the tools to thrive as individuals and links in the chain of Jewish destiny.
We open the seder with a call to all those in need. The needs for the body and for the soul.
The Kopishnitzer Rebbe teaches us that those needy are sometimes right under our nose
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach V’kasher!