How to conduct the Pesach Seder
The Pesach Seder is often cited as the model of the quintessential educational experience as envisioned by our sages. It is interactive and stimulates all of our senses to create a profound impact on our core identities. A close look, however, reveals that the way it is currently practiced, and more significantly, the way we prepare our students for it, may actually rob it of a substantive portion of its designed effect.
The Mishnah records the order of the seider:
“…They pour him a second cup [of wine] and here the son asks of his father. If the son has not [enough] understanding, his father instructs him [to ask]: ‘Why is this night different from all nights?”
The continuation of the Mishnaic description states that the father should teach his child according to the child’s ability to understand and suggests that the teaching begins with an exploration of how bad things were before they got better.
Finally, the Mishnah says, “He begins with the disgrace then concludes with the glory. Afterward, he expounds from: ‘The Aramean sought to disgrace my father,’” until he ends the whole portion.
Let us consider what preparation this child had for this event. Was the child trained in advance to memorize a series of questions he would perform for the assembled? Apparently not, as the Mishnah seems to suggest that the questions are spontaneous. In fact, there is no fixed text for the questions the child asks, only for the father whose child has failed to notice the changes at the table…
The author suggests the following:
“Creating a contemporary educational program for the seider needs to focus on the parents as much as on the children, restoring the parent’s role as a key transmitter of an oral tradition, and should account for the essentially non-text component of the evening. In the younger grades, model siddurim should be held for parents, and not their children. Educational packets should present parents with the tools for leading a seider which positions the children at the center of an inquisitive process directed by the parents; as their children grow, parents need to be taught how to encourage their children to ask more substantive questions.”
Here is a story of how one Gadol conducted his Pesach Seider:
Rav Shimon Schwab says, “From my earliest youth, I remember that the children would ask each other on the first morning of Pesach, ‘How long did your Seider last?’ This was true in my youth and it is still the case today.
If the children were to ask me this now, I would answer them, ‘I made sure to eat the afikoman before Chatzos (midnight).’ According to some poskim, even the recitation of Hallel should be completed before chatzos. I must point out that the present – day practice which all the children read from their sheets which they received in schools is not exactly in accordance with the mitzvah of, ‘You shall tell to your children,’ etc.
The children have started a new mitzvah of, ‘You shall teach your father and mother,’ which makes it extremely difficult to reach the mitzvah of achilas matzah – and certainly the afikoman – before chatzos.
Rather than discourage the children from actively participating, they should keep their remarks brief so that the father or another leader of the Seider, can read the text of the Haggadah and explain the nissim of yetzias Mitzrayim. However, the children should be encouraged to say their divrei Torah during the meal (i.e. shulchan orech), if there is time or otherwise, during the daytime meals of Yom Tov.
On Seider night it’s a mitzvas asei d’Oreisa to retell to one’s children the events surrounding yetzias Mitzrayim… The saying of so-called “gute vertluch,” good, short pieces of Torah, is very nice, but if these are not details of the narrative of yetzias Mitzrayim – or its meaning and message – they are not a part of this mitzvah. On Seider night, children are encouraged to ask any question relevant to yetzias Mitzrayim and the father has a special mitzvah d’Oreisa to respond to these questions and tell his children about the miracles HaKadosh Baruch Hu did for us…”
With Hashem’s help, may we merit to fulfill the mitzvah of recounting the story of the Exodus in the proper fashion.
Dedicated in memory of Dovid Pinchas Ben Moshe Aharon, Malka Devora Sima bas Meir Nosson, Esther Perel bas R’ Shlomo, Miriam bas Zelig Shaul, Menachem ben Shimon, Menachem ben Zev, Avraham Yosef ben Meir Dovid, Zushe Yosef ben Shmuel Tzvi, Dovid Tzvi ben Yosef Yochanan, Kayla Rus bas Bunim Tuvia, Dovid ben Uri HaLevi, Dovid Avraham ben Chiya Kehos, Yosef ben Moshe HaLevi, Tuvyah Shlomo ben Naftali Tzvi HaKohein, Altah Soshah Devorah bas Aryeh Leibush, Mashah Tzivyah bas R’ Shlomo Zalman and all the other departed souls of our nation.
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