Slaves in the Past and Free Today

by Rabbi Ben Leinow April 3, 2017


istock-516319640-convertedPassover and the Seder is a celebration of contrasts. We experience fun and seriousness, singing and speaking, the present and the past, charity and wealth, slavery and freedom, new and old, hunger and lots of food.

I am the first-born son in my family. We never ate the Seder meal before midnight. Being that I was the eldest son, I was the first Bar Mitzvah, and the first boy to move from the children’s table to the adult male table. I could no longer sneak into the kitchen for the snacks of celery and carrots that my mother had for the children. In my adult role, I had to be ready to read any part of the Haggadah without hesitation. Our Seder was conducted with extreme dedication, as if we thought that divine punishment would be levied upon a misspoken word.

Later in life I learned that the purpose of the Seder is to gather the family together and celebrate the freedom of the Children of Israel as they moved from “slave” to “free person.” Our task is to tell the story in such a way as to feel we were with Moses and the People of Israel searching for freedom. By the end of the Seder we rededicate ourselves to work for freedom for everyone.

The modern reaction to the traditional Seder was to focus on time. If you check on the internet you will be able to find the “Thirty Minute Seder,” the “Twenty Minute Seder,” the “Three Minute Seder” and the “Three Sentence Seder.” When I asked someone recently if he had a place to go to on the evening of April 10 his answer to me was, “Oh you mean for the Passover dinner? We always have a Passover dinner, and we never have bread or rolls, but Matzah instead.” He also added, “It is the one Jewish thing we always do in my family.”

To bridge the gap between the traditional, modern and dinner Seders, I have  five suggestions. In advance of the Seder, review the Haggadah and look for content you would like to talk about and songs you would like to sing.

When explaining the four (really five) questions do not go into why we recline.  Most people sit in high back chairs and reclining does not take place. Another question that could be asked instead is “What do we do from the past that keeps us from being free in the present?”

When we talk about the symbols of the Seder plate, if you agree, you might let the lamb bone symbolize that we will never do animal sacrifices again. Be sure to include an orange as a symbol of equality between men and women.

There is an experience in the Seder when we open a door and invite all who are hungry to join us. Providing food for the hungry is a beautiful idea but I have been involved in many Seders and not once did someone come thru the door. A better way of reaching people who need food might be to ask all who are coming to your Seder to bring a large bag of non-perishable goods that can be distributed to organizations that provide for the hungry.

Most people love the song “Dayenu” which thanks G-d for the wonderful events and gifts that G-d bestowed upon the Jewish People. My suggestion is that after “Dayenu” we echo all that G-d did for us by renewing our commitment to mitzvot (good deeds) by singing the song “Mitzvah Goreret Mitzvah,” which means “One mitzvah leads to another” (Perkei Avot 4:2). That song reminds us we should live an active meaningful life from Seder to Seder.

I hope you and your family have an inspiring and joyful Passover.

Hag Pesach Samayah, Happy Passover.


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