Top 10 Pessach talking points
By Stewart Weiss , THE JERUSALEM POST, Apr. 14, 2008
Our goal is not to dominate or rule the world, but to change it for the better. To study God’s ways so as to understand them, and then do our best to teach those values – by example, ideally – to humanity at large. That is precisely why we have survived – and suffered – through it all.
The most widely-published of all Jewish books is the Haggada. Each year, numerous new editions are released, offering probing insights into this marvelous work. Most fascinating, I think, is the halachic requirement that – for at least one night in the year – parents and children must speak to each other. Sad to say, despite all the labor-saving devices which mankind has created, we seem to have less and less quality time to spend with those we love the most.
Pessah provides a rare opportunity to review the Jewish experience with our entire family, and convey essential truths to our kids about who and what we are all about. Here is what I consider to be the Top 10 Talking Points of Pessah:
1. SEDER – This opening refrain is more than just a table of contents. It reminds us that there is an order not only to this evening’s ceremony, but to the world at large. While fate and fortune are a part of life, and though at times it may seem that the world is spinning out of control, we believe there is a guiding force in the universe, a master plan that has a beginning and an end. Ultimately, history will make sense – to those who know how to read it.
2. MA NISHTANA? – Not only is this night different from all others, but we, as a people, are different from any other people. Not just because we have survived the longest or suffered so much, but because we have a holy agenda and a purpose in this world. Our goal is not to dominate or rule the world, but to change it for the better. To study God’s ways so as to understand them, and then do our best to teach those values – by example, ideally – to humanity at large. That is precisely why we have survived – and suffered – through it all. At the end of each year, we ought to ask ourselves, “Ma nishtana?” literally, “what has changed?” What have we done to effect positive growth in ourselves and others?
3. HAMETZ AND MATZA – Though these two foods appear diametrically opposed to one another, they actually contain the same exact ingredients – flour and water! Only one item makes them different: time. We sped out of Egypt, unwilling to wait even for the dough to rise. Time is invisible and intangible, yet it is one of the most valuable commodities known to man. We have a mandate to use our time wisely, to “watch” every second we are granted and do something important with it. Just as the Jewish calendar re-started at Nisan, we are given a new opportunity each day to sanctify time, not squander it.
4. WE WERE SLAVES IN EGYPT – This answer to the Four Questions reminds us that of all virtues, humility may be the greatest. Though we have produced kings and prophets, we have humble beginnings. A matza – unlike its haughty croissant counterpart – has a low profile that symbolizes humility. So, too, Moses was the greatest of our leaders – he even spoke “face to face” with God – and yet he never fell victim to conceit or arrogance. Despite his pivotal role in the Exodus, his name is mentioned just once, in passing, in the Haggada.
5. THE FOUR CHILDREN – Everyone has a seat of their own at the Seder table. Everyone is welcome and everyone is beloved by God, be he clever or clueless, disobedient or disconnected. Every child is different and unique, and each must be approached in his or her own way. We can start to reach our kids, suggests the Haggada, by letting them ask us tough questions and then responding honestly to each one.
6. GO OUT AND LEARN – There is a big and beautiful planet out there. God created it because He loves us and because He wants us to enjoy it. Go out and see the world – scale the Alps, cruise the oceans, meet new people, expand your horizons. But from everything, you must learn.
7. THE 10 PLAGUES – Why 10? Would not one, huge cosmic smack across Pharoah’s face have been enough? The total breakdown of Egyptian society – water turning to blood, crops and animals dying, insects and animals in rebellion, fire raining down, etc. – serve to teach us that “normal” life is not a “given” and should never be taken for granted. Don’t only turn to God when things go wrong; seek Him out and thank Him when things go right, too.
8. DAYENU – Why is enough never enough? Why do we always worry about tomorrow when today is going along just fine? It’s good to prepare for the future, but it’s also good to appreciate the here and now. Accentuating the negative and finding the dark cloud behind every silver lining bespeaks a lack of faith and a denial of God’s goodness. Spend all day striving to be better, yes; but at the end of that day, be happy with what you have. Enjoy the family and home you’ve built, take a deep breath and say, “Dayenu!”
9. BITTER HERBS – More than any other Jewish holiday, Pessah requires us to go back in time; to relive the experience of freedom and make it personal. But to more fully appreciate liberation, we must first feel the bitterness that accompanied our years in slavery; that is one role played by maror. The bitter herbs also serve to remind us that life – certainly, Jewish life – is not always sweet and sublime. It has its moments of bitterness, frustration, disappointment and despair. We don’t sugar-coat Judaism; we swallow the maror – and then we move on.
10. ONE KID, ONE KID – This musical walk through Jewish history at the close of our Seder depicts the great civilizations that have come and gone, the mighty empires that were once so full of sound and fury but now signify nothing more than a memory. Through it all, the one little kid – the Jew – somehow survives. The Seder ends on a decidedly confident and positive note: We may butt heads with powerful nations, but we don’t ever let them get our goat.
The writer is director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra’anana.