Pesach with just the family. It sounds exotic, mysterious- and somewhat disconcerting. The truth be told, I’m quite looking forward to a Seder with just my wife and children. None of us knows quite what to expect, because we have never before had an intimate Pesach.
I grew up with parents who took the “whoever is hungry” Haggadah intro at its word. My childhood Seder memories read like a list of Friends’ episodes: “The one with the couple who spoke no English”, “The one with the guest who got drunk on grape juice”, “The one with the fellow who moved in for the whole Passover, but actually wasn’t Jewish”.
You get the picture.
My children have similar memories. Our family’s Chabad House is as old as our older kids. Pesach, for them, has always started with peeling, chopping and frying and has culminated in sharing the Four-Questions-limelight with friends from Shul, or forfeiting the afikomen prize to a visiting Sabra kid. Our children have regaled Scandinavians with close encounters of the Kruger Park kind, and have marvelled at the escapades of pilots, peace corps workers and meandering Israeli backpackers. We’ve always insisted that our kids sit up front, regardless of who our guests may be. Each one gets to share Pesach insights and to pick favourite songs. This year, they get undivided attention. This year, we revert to the core purpose of Pesach: “Tell the story to your child”.
Not so awesome for those who will do the Seder with just “the two of us”. Certainly not for those who will do the Seder alone.
I can’t imagine how difficult that will be. I’m itching to invite the singles who live just across the street for the Seder. But, we’re on lock-down, and my whimsical emotions are not in their interest at this time.
So, I’ve tried to imagine what could possibly make a solo Seder feel less solitary.
The Talmud advises that, if you have to do a Seder-for-one, you still ask the Four Questions. Typically, a young child is meant to direct those questions at his beaming father. On your own, you become the child. His child. G-d is the Father and Seder night is your chance to direct those (and a few other hard-hitting) questions at Him.
A scaled down Seder also shifts our focus. This year, we can skip the spring-loaded plastic frogs and focus on the life-lessons of Hagaddah- the guidebook to personal Exodus. A table full of guests might narrow our focus to our own dining room. Pesach on our own, ironically, links us with all of us, beyond the walls of our homes. As we read the identical script, hum the same tunes and eat the same foods as every other Jew on the planet, we connect with them and with every Jew across the span of our history. Even on our own, we are never alone on Pesach. We celebrate with our whole nation.
We’ll also read at the Seder how G-d arrived in person to escort each every Hebrew out of Egypt: “I and not an angel, I and not a seraph, I and not a messenger, I, the L-rd, and none other”. 3332 years later, it’s our turn: “We and not the family, we and not our good friends, we and not a seaside Seder getaway, we- G-d- and no others”. There is no Seder alone. A minimalist Seder is me- the real me, not the one made for Facebook or the Seder Night Hall of Fame- and Him.
To access the power of this unique Seder, set the scene for a beautiful Seder. Lay out your silverware, don your Yom Tov best, drink wine, eat well and sing as if nobody is watching. If Italy could create balcony-symphonies, using pots and pans, we can sing our hearts out at Pesach. Should anyone hear you, they are more likely to be inspired than cynical.
My teacher, the legendary Reb Mendel Futerfas spent years in Siberian prison for his work to preserve Judaism in Soviet Russia. Reb Mendel once faced a dilemma and wished he could correspond with the Rebbe- already in New York- for guidance.
Sending a letter from the gulag was out of the question. Instead, Reb Mendel found a quiet spot, closed his eyes and visualized himself at the Rebbe’s court, being admitted into the Rebbe’s office, the Rebbe’s deep-blue eyes scanning the inner reaches of his soul. He then formulated his question, as if presenting it to the Rebbe. After that virtual connection, Reb Mendel felt a sense of clarity, direction and inner peace.
Years later, Reb Mendel eventually left the USSR and reunited with his family in London. Waiting for him there, was a letter from the Rebbe, dated shortly after his imagined interaction.
Jewish mysticism teaches that we truly live wherever our deepest motivations lie.
At the quiet Seder this year, we may be tempted to wish we were back at last year’s bustling table. We could, instead, imagine the solitude of our Seder as taking place centuries ago, at the original Pesach eve in Egypt, just moments before Exodus. We are about to experience a Pesach with unique potential. Us and Him. Us and our People. An intimate Seder, like the Original, please G-d also on the threshold of Redemption.