There is no doubt that the central theme of Pessah is centered on the Pessah Seder. When we recall and relive the exodus.
We not only recall the story by reciting the Haggadah we also eat matza to relive the matza eaten by our ancestors who left Egypt in haste without having time for their dough to rise. We relive the paschal experience by eating the matza the symbol of faith. We eat bitter herbs dipped in Halek to feel the bitterness of exile and servitude and imagine the bricks and mortar and the back breaking cruelty of Egypt.
We dip the karpas in salt water and imagine the tears the poor parents wept over the fate of their baby children.
Many commentaries and scholarly works have been written to elucidate the depth and kabbalistic secrets contained in the wonderful enlightening words of the Hagaddah. Yet the Torah chooses more than anything to stress one major theme about the Seder and the reciting of the Haggadah.
The verse reads: Your children may ask you, “What is this service to you?” You must answer “It is the Passover service to G-d. He passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt when He struck the Egyptians sparing our homes.”
Another verse says; “On that day (Seder Night) you must tell your child it is because of this that G-d acted for me when I left Egypt.”
And yet another verse says; “Your child may later ask you, what’s this? You must answer him, with a show of power G-d brought us out of Egypt, the place of slavery.”
And the last verse reads; “In the future your child may ask you “What are the rituals, rules and laws that G-d our L-rd has commanded you?”
You must tell him; “We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt but G-d brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand, etc.”
Four times does the Torah stress the importance of addressing our children, of answering their questions and describing the exodus and G-d’s compassion towards His children.
These four verses correspond to the four different types of children expressed in the Haggadah sitting at the table. Each one on his level wants to know what’s going on, demanding a response to their questions, to their doubts. And each one is deserving of an answer. The wise one, even the wicked one, the simpleton and even the child who has no clue what’s going on and doesn’t even know what to ask. He too must be addressed, he too must be educated in our traditions and shown the beauty of G-d’s Torah and Mitzvot.
How can we ignore them, how can we not empower them with the answers they need to cope with life’s challenges, with doubts, uncertainties – Do we not care for their spiritual development. The Torah demands speaking to them, telling them, teaching them, what Judaism is all about – and that the reason why we were redeemed, was to receive G-d’s law – the Holy Torah and be a holy nation, G-ds nation – a light unto all other nations.
For this reason the story of the exodus first opens with the Ma Nishtana, the questions that the children ask their parents; “Why is this night different from all other nights?”…………
Why does the Torah and the Haggadah stress our children’s questions and our obligations to answer them? No doubt Jewish education is crucial, but why is it highlighted on Pessah more so than on Succot or other festivals.
The answer lies in the education and upbringing of the Jewish children during the exile in Egypt.
Pharaoh did everything possible to assimilate the Jewish children in the corrupt decadent and ungodly culture of Egypt.
Thousands upon thousands were educated upon the guidelines of Pharaoh. They were slowly and systematically distanced from their traditions and knowledge of their teachings and began to think and behave like the Egyptians, to the extent that many began to even worship the idols of Egypt and forgot about G-d Almighty and His unique relationship and love that he has for Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and their children.
They began to slowly forget about the promised land and how G-d promised to redeem them.
This sad state of spiritual decline began to become so entrenched that it was passed on from one generation to the other until effectively generations of Jews grew up in Egypt totally estranged from their true identity.
All of a sudden the time of redemption was at hand. Moshe Rabbinu came with a spectacular show of G-d’s Hand with wonders and miracles in the form of the plagues that were visited upon the Egyptian populace.
The non-believing idolatrous Egyptians tried to explain these wonders and miracles as freak natural occurrences and refused to accept the open and revealed Hand of G-d as the only explanation.
The stubbornness of the Egyptians was bad enough – unfortunately because of their upbringing many Jews were fooled by this “logic” and just could not see the Hand of G-d and His redemption. So seeped were they in the Egyptian mentality that they could no longer recognize the G-d of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and were deaf to His call of salvation, and blind to His revelations.
These Jews who shared the same upbringing and education and cultural affiliation as the Egyptians, to our sorrow, were eventually lost and were buried alongside the Egyptians, for they refused to believe in the redemption and have anything to do with this process that was led by Moshe Rabbenu.
For this reason every Pessah, we focus our attention on the children, instilling in them the faith that many Jewish children in Egypt lacked. We want our children and their children’s children to recognize the guiding Hand of G-d through the open and revealed miracles or even through the veil of nature.
We want our children to recognize the traditions of our forefathers and stand with pride as they identify themselves as committed Jews.
And we want our children to anticipate the redemption to be at its forefront and to stand in solidarity with Israel and our brethren.
Today this lesson is extremely relevant as so many of our children who go to public school and even some who go to Jewish Day Schools have been brought up estranged from our Torah and are beginning to lose sight of who they are and their important role that they must play in G-d’s world and his vision for us – His holy nation.
Many have lost touch with basic and fundamental Jewish values and ethos, to the extent that their very identity is endangered.
The Pessah Seder demands of us to hear their silent call their unasked questions and teach them what it means to be a Jew – but perhaps we need to first each teach ourselves to realign our commitments to G-d and by doing so our children will begin to respect that we live for a purpose and for a goal; that we have an unshakable faith and unswerving commitment. Our example will inspire them with the thought that Judaism is worth to sacrifice for and live by its ideals.
I pray that this year be the Year of Haggadah – (re-telling) a re-telling experience for all of us and our children.