Around Pesach time, I miss my mother.
She was, in so many ways, a prototypical Jewish matriarch, especially at this time of year.
Burgeoning on the point of comedic, the countertop layering and tinfoil was rampant, the worry and work began even before Purim, and the decibel level of the Jewish guilt trips and rhetoric about the amount of work this holiday required was dialed up all the way.
And even though those memories now burn brightly and elicit a smile and a chuckle in my heart, that is not what I remember most. What lives rent-free in my heart and mind around this time of year are the Torah Scholar matriarch memories.
My mother, of blessed memory, was a really passionate and knowledgeable Torah student.
At my Bar Mitzvah one of her college professors, a world renowned biblical scholar, spoke and during his brief remarks he shared with our entire community that my mother was the “hidden Torah scholar of the Boston community and one of the brightest students of his career.”
I still feel a lot of pride in thinking about her bashfully listening to that public recognition.
But at Pesach, this was most obvious to our family. After all the labor (of love) and difficulty cooking and prepping was completed, after the complaining and (legitimate) condemnation of her not-helpful-enough children had calmed down, she would sit down at the Seder table, surrounded by no fewer than five different haggadot. Reading and researching in all of them simultaneously.
My mother had the beautiful custom to look for and buy a new haggadah each year. She would seek out esoteric and varied texts and then hold court – surrounded by her haggadot and her family. In that profound and yet mostly quiet way, she led our family’s Seder year after year.
And it is in that memory that I believe she taught me – and now us all – a lasting important lesson.
Many of us that are lucky enough to be parents of children in day schools will look forward to our children coming home loaded up with projects and hand-made haggadot. We will take pride in hearing them, standing on their chairs, reciting the four questions, perhaps in multiple languages even!
But what did we do to get ready for Pesach? I know there was a lot of cooking, cleaning, shopping and spending. But what did we do to get ready for the Seder? The night where we accomplish the biblical requirement to learn and teach Torah — to our children!
That memory I have of my mother was actually setting an amazing example of what the true essence and even denotative value of Passover is all about. We are meant to model a love and passion of Torah. We aren’t meant to delegate nor abrogate all responsibility for Torah learning and sharing at the Seder table to our children. We aren’t meant to delegate nor abrogate the need to teach our children on this great night solely to the efforts of the intrepid faculties of our day schools.
The text of the Haggadah is not enough, we are not meant to simply read it as a script and check that box. What did we do to prepare for Passover?
So here it is — we must take a quiet moment or two and find a new thought ourselves, a new custom to bring to the experience this year. We must set that example for our children and for ourselves.
We must show our excitement for our children’s Torah and projects of course, but I believe we do that best by modeling our excitement to share back with them our own Torah thoughts, our own pre-Seder efforts.
My mother set the tone of the Seder by showing us that the night was about excitement to learn and to share. Her passion was infectious, and that memory and passion still infect and affect me.
That is, after all, the examples we see depicted in the Haggadah text itself – sages and students sharing Torah thoughts with each other – delving deeper and discussing. That is the true power of the Seder experience. At this year’s Seder tables, maybe my mother’s example can infect and affect us all, so that we create memories for our children in which everyone wants to share in the sharing of Torah.
Tze U’Lemad – Go out and learn!