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Parenting from the Chag- How to Approach the Seder 5764

This year, it seems like a daunting task.

Pesach night is the night that we celebrate the Exodus from Egypt- our liberation from slavery and the creation of the Jewish people as a nation. It is one of the most important nights of the year, and for many families, one of the most powerful ones. So important is the Exodus story to our national consciousness that it is the only story which the Torah explicitly commands us to tell over to our children- “Vehigad’ta L’bincha bayom Hahu…”, “And you should tell it to your children on that day…”. Every year, G-d commands us to gather our children, and relay to them the story of our people’s journey to freedom. It is an evening of tremendous meaning, connection, and celebration across the Jewish world.

And yet this year, it seems hard to properly prepare for the Seder night. How can we celebrate our freedom while 133 men and women, of all ages, remain captive hostage of brutal Hamas? How can we commemorate the miracles of the Exodus and act like Kings while still entrenched in a vicious war, fighting for our survival against enemies hellbent on our destruction? With no end in sight to the fighting- and all signs indicating that things will get worse before they get better- what types of messages and lessons should we be teaching to our ourselves, and our children, this year at the Seder?

I would like to share an idea that I heard from Rabbi Dr. Jacob J. Schacter that is helping me frame my approach to the Seder this year. Rabbi Schacter notes that there are number of parts of the Seder that reference the story of Yosef Hatzadik. Perhaps most prominent among them, as noted by Rabbi Shlomo Kluger in his commentary on the Hagaddah, is reference at the beginning of the Seder to the Karpas, the vegetable that we dip in salt water. Why do we call it “Karpas”?  The word “Karpas” is found only one time in all of Tanach- at the beginning of Megillat Esther, as one of the materials used to adorn the palace where Achachveirosh had his party. In fact, Rashi Bereishit 37:31 references the word “Karpas” to explain the “Ketonet Pasim”, that beautiful colored coat that Yaakov made for Yosef- the reason it is called a “Ketonet Pasim”, is because it was made with the fine linen called “Karpas”. It appears, therefore, that by mentioning “Karpas” at the beginning of our Seder, we are actively invoking the Yosef story.

Taking this a step further, we know that the Karpas on Seder night is dipped into salt water. Why? Some suggest that it is meant to be a sign of wealth, whereas others note that the salt water is meant to commemorate the tears of the Jews in Egypt. However, Rabbeinu Manoach, in his commentary on the Rambam’s Mishna Torah, suggests that the dipping of the Karpas is done to remind us of Yosef’s coat being dipped in blood- another clear reference to the Yosef story!

Finally, another reference to the Yosef story is found in a discussion concerning the commandment to drink 4 cups of wine on Sefer night. Many of us are familiar with the suggestion of the 4 cups correspond to the 4 expressions of redemption, taken from the pesukim describing the Exodus. However, both the Midrash and Yerushalmi quote another source for the 4 cups of wine- namely the 4 times that the word “kos” is mentioned in the context of the dream of the butler from the Yosef story. Again, another reference.

Why all these references to the Yosef story at the Seder on Pesach night? Rav Shlomo Kluger suggests that they come to remind us of an important message relevant to the Seder night. As we sit to discuss and celebrate our redemption and departure from Egypt, we remind ourselves of how we got into Egypt to begin with. The references to the story of Yosef and his brothers serves as a reminder that the story of Yetziat Mitzrayim is part of a larger story, one that began with our descent into Egypt.

However, Rabbi JJ Schacter suggest another reason for these references to the Yosef story, one that I believe is most relevant for us at the Seder night this year. Perhaps Yosef’s presence at the Seder not simply to remind us of the greater context to the Pesach story- but rather it comes to teach us about redemption itself. And more importantly, the redemption process within which we currently find ourselves.

The redemption from Egypt, as highlighted by the 4 languages of redemption, represents a redemption that is dramatic, powerful and linear. Once the process began with the first of the 10 plagues, it moved in succession in dramatic ways, culminating with the Exodus itself and the splitting of the Yam Suf. In contrast, Yosef’s personal redemption story was much more complicated and circuitous. Yosef begins as his father’s “ben zekunim” to being thrown into a pit, followed by being sold into slavery. In Potiphar’s house he rises again to the top, only to be falsely accused and thrown into jail. In jail he again rises to a high position, correctly interpreting dreams, only to once again be forgotten by the butler in jail, before eventually rising to the top in Egypt once and for all.

Yosef’s redemption story is far from linear and straight-forward- it is full of ups and downs- one step forward, two steps back. And yet, throughout it all, Yosef maintains his steadfast believe and commitment in Hashem, and belief that all will somehow turn out for the good.

As we prepare for our Pesach this year, perhaps this message of Yosef is one that we can hold onto and share with our children. Our personal and national redemptions are not necessarily going to be as straight as linear as had always hoped and envisioned. There will be moments, such as now, when we feel like we have taken “two steps back” in the process of redemption. But Yosef’s presence at the seder reminds us that even during those moments, we must maintain the hope and belief that despite it all, somehow, someway, Hashem is with us- as we make our way towards the final redemption.

Wishing everyone a Chag Kasher V’sameach!

About the Author
Rav Yossi Goldin is the Director of Young Israel in Israel, runs the Shuls Department at World Mizrachi, and is the Israel Immersion Program Coordinator and Placement Advisor at YU/RIETS Israel. He currently lives in Shaalvim with his wife and family. He can be reached at yossigoldin@gmail.com.