Jonathan Muskat

Seder Bingo and Historical Memory

As soon as our first Seder ended, Elisheva and Leora, two of my daughters, surprised the rest of our family and took out their Seder bingo cards.  What is Seder bingo?  Elisheva and Leora each created a 16-square bingo card that listed on each square a unique event that she remembered from previous family Sedarim that she believed would occur during our Seder that night. Whenever one of these events occurred during our Seder, she would secretly fill in the square corresponding to the event and whoever had the most squares filled in at the end of the night would “win.” The boxes included events such as: Netanel has a private conversation with Abba about how much matza and marror he should really eat; we struggle to sing Ha lachma anya and Adir fixes it; Ahava references the Holocaust at some point during Maggid; Savta offers to sit at the very end of the table so that we can all be happy with our seats; Daniel says the gematria Dvar Torah about knocking out the teeth of the Rasha; Abba makes a big deal about Adir during the Adir Hu poem; Mommy says a Dvar Torah while worrying that she doesn’t fully understand it; dance fakeout while singing “Eliyahu hanavi” following “Shfoch chamatcha;” and Abba says his shpiel about the different parts of the Maggid thematically being split up.

Indeed, Seder night created countless memories for my family as I’m sure it does for countless Jewish families.  These memories emotionally connect each family member to a beautiful annual Jewish tradition, but they are not the only type of memories that are created at the Seder.  The philosopher and sociologist Maurice Halbwachs distinguished between two different types of memory, autobiographical memory and historical memory.  Autobiographical memory concerns the events of my own life that I remember because I experienced them directly.  Historical memory refers to events through which groups claim a continuous identity through time.  For example, Americans may have a historical memory of the American Civil War.  We didn’t personally experience it, but it is part of our collective identity because it defines who we are.  Autobiographical memory is remembering an event that happened, whereas historical memory is remembering that an event happened and using it to help shape our identity.

The Rambam states that on the Seder night we have a mitzvah to “tell” the story of the exodus because the Torah tells us “zachor et hayom hazeh asher yetzatem miMitzrayim”, that we should remember the exodus.  In effect, we have a mitzvah to tell a story so that we should remember an event that we weren’t alive to witness.  Presumably, the Rambam wants us to engage in historical memory and emerge from the holiday of Pesach creating and strengthening our group identity as Jews through discussing the exodus.

And what is that identity?  For the Jew, telling a story about how God created a nation from a group of slaves who had no prior system of governance, social customs or philosophies and who owed their entire salvation to God means that our very identity and existence are completely dependent on God.  Additionally, telling a story about how God sided with the vulnerable, the weak and the oppressed means that our very identity is tied to social justice and alleviating the plight of the vulnerable, the weak and the oppressed.  Indeed, Rav Soloveitchik has written that the Egyptian experience was the fountainhead of moral inspiration in Jewish society, that Jewish people are known for chessed and love for others.  It’s not necessarily in our blood, but it’s how we have been trained.

In the Muskat household, Seder bingo was a lot of fun and it created autobiographical memories that hopefully we will remember year after year.  Additionally, I hope that these memories that were created in our home and in Jewish homes across the world strengthened our historical memory of a nation that more fully understands who we truly are.

About the Author
Jonathan Muskat is the Rabbi of the Young Israel of Oceanside.