Pesach 2024 – What do we tell the kids?

“Abba, can we go on a tiyul today? Just you and me?” Eliana, my 12-year-old daughter, asked me this when I woke her up yesterday – the day before Pesach. Feeling the same pit in my stomach that so many of us are feeling – a tiyul wasn’t in my plans for the day. Between the last-minute prep, some work to do, being without a voice after catching a cold and dreading this year’s Seder with so much being so broken – I wasn’t up for a hike – it was the last thing I felt like doing.

We got our chores done for the day and then I packed that feeling of dread in the backpack, put on some sunscreen and we headed out to a nearby spot – just Eliana and me (and the dog, of course).

Eliana got me ready for this year’s Seder – perfectly. She took the lead.

As we walked, the words of Rabbi Aaron Goldscheider that I read over Shabbat hit me with the cool breeze of the Sharon cliffs.

“Is there an optimal time during the Seder to address the war?…A poignant moment to pray or share words regarding this painful period is early on at the Seder, when we break the matzah in half; Yachatz.

Why here?

An exquisite explanation in chassidic thought offered for this ritual suggests that the breaking of the matzah represents the brokenness in the world. The broken matzah symbolizes the innumerable broken hearts, broken lives… the endless tears…

Immediately following that ritual of splitting the matzah in two, the larger broken piece is carefully tucked away…the Afikoman. And it is that broken matzah which will be brought back to the table at the end of the Seder. Everyone at the table then eats a piece of it. Who brings the piece of matzah back to the table? The long held custom is for the children to search for it and they then excitedly present it to everyone.

There is far-reaching symbolism here. Who will fix the brokenness? If we, in our day, are unsuccessful in mending the deep fragmentation, we have faith that our children will. On Seder night, our children bring back the broken piece and make the world whole again.”

The author’s daughter, Eliana, enjoying a moment during their Erev Pesach tiyul.

Eliana took me on a tiyul – leading the way – comforting me about the future of our People.

My generation was privileged to grow up in a very stable world. We came after all the terrors of the World Wars and did our duty by simply hearing about all the horrors of the past on Yom Hashoa and during a few other tough history lessons – sometimes – even from a first-hand survivor. On Pesach, we tried our best to imagine the pain of our far-off ancestors in Egypt – but even great dress-up costumes kept the true realization of slavery far away. We have Israel. We’re home – there’s nothing to actually fear.

As adults, though, my generation have been called on to parent through an unforgiving and unprecedented global pandemic. And now, we’re limping along – trying to guide our sweet children through the images and visceral testimonies of blood-stained safe rooms and charred homes – with the sounds of rockets, sirens and funeral parades echoing through the roads of our fractured, promised homeland.

But tonight Eliana will be holding on to the Afikoman. Yes, we, the parents, need to hold the brokenness of Yachatz and try to narrate it for our children. But, we don’t need to project it onto our children’s futures. They are always more resilient and courageous than we give them credit for. There are specific Mitzvot to feel the pain of the past – at set times – but there are no Mitzvot to dwell in the pain. We can watch over our children and empower them to make brachot over the food they eat – but there is no Mitzvah to make sure they down a k’zayit of Maror every day – because we’re overwhelmed by darkness inside. Our job is to show them that we know how to eat (sometimes shove down) the sandwich of life – the mixed bag of Matzah and Maror – but they will have the power to set the table optimistically for themselves and their children, as time goes on and does its job.

“Vehigadeta Levincha” – when we perform the Mitzvah of teaching our children tonight, let’s make sure that we see the child that we are teaching – teach to the purity in their eyes, the hope and joy that they have in stores – ready to search, pursue and find the Afikomans that they will discover in their times and in generations to come.

So – yes – the ‘Negativity Bias’ is pulling us down into the ‘Matchil b’gnut’ (begin in denigration) of the Seder – that part won’t be hard to relate to – our hearts are ripped open and broken. And we will feel so pulled to share that with our children, and that makes sense. However, we have to work hard tonight, for the first time in our generation, to tell the full story and share the hope that we can and will be ‘Mesayeim b’Shvach’ (end in praise). And if it gets too tough for us, we can alway ask our children to read and sing from the Haggadah too.

None of us wanted to reach the milestone of Pesach 2024 – the Festival of Freedom – without our precious brothers and sisters at home – safely with us at the Seder table. It’s truly unbearable. Yet, generations before us – not even so long ago – experienced pain and conducted hopeful sedarim for their children – our parents’ generation and those before them – somehow. Somehow, we too will find the way, and it is that hope that will give us the strength as a nation to keep on fighting and pursuing the ultimate good. To believe that even if this year, we felt more galut than was imaginable, we have faith that tomorrow we’ll be one step closer to ‘L’Shana Haba’a b’Yerushalayim Habnuyah’.

We still don’t know what the steps there will look like, but if we take them one at a time on the grand and complex tiyul that is Jewish Destiny – we can nurture the belief that we will get there – if not in our generation – then our beautiful children, for sure. “Every person is obligated to see himself, as if he himself (left) [will leave] Egypt”.

Chag Pesach Kasher… v’Sameach.

About the Author
Leron Bernstein lives in Israel, working in Hi-Tech, as an inspired member of the Start Up Nation workforce. He made Aliyah in 2020, after serving as a communal leader in formal and informal education in South Africa, for over a decade. He feels blessed to be living in our eternal Homeland with his precious family, seeking out the extraordinary patterns in everyday moments.