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Adar 2 5768

Making Seder Night a Family Experience


Written by the rabbi



How can we make Seder Night an event that involves the entire family?


Rabbi Yehoshua Shapira - Make it Interesting and Elevating
The Torah provides an appropriate answer for each of the Seder participants, as the Haggadah says, "The Torah addresses four sons." Yet it would appear that if we single out and compare the answers given to the wise and wicked sons, we can learn an important principle for leading the Seder and involving the entire family. (We obviously do not assume that there is an actual "wicked son" present at our Seder table; we only wish to gain insight based upon the way the Haggadah speaks to "its own" wicked son.)

On the one hand, the Haggadah addresses the wise son's question and even takes into account its style and intellectual maturity. The answer he receives is fitted to him and different from the answers given to the "simple" son and the son "who does not know how to ask." What this teaches us is that we must tailor our Seder to its participants.

On the other hand, the Haggadah does not answer the question of the wicked son. It tells us to "blunt his teeth." In other words, we should not enslave ourselves to every question asked on Seder Night.

The leader of the Seder, then, should not descend to the level of each of the participants; rather, he must search for the appropriate channel to the heart of each one, and the method for elevating them to the lofty realm of divine freedom that manifests itself on this night.

Therefore, the Seder leader must be attentive to each of the participants. This, however, does not mean expanding upon every thought or association offered by every participant. Rather, the Seder leader must strive to elevate himself to the level of divine revelation inherent in this night: "I and no angel...I and no seraph." In other words, this night is characterized by the highest level of revelation possible, higher even than the angels, a level of revelation so lofty that all surrender themselves to it.

A practical example: The sages of the Talmud say that the father must hand out roasted nuts to the children at the beginning of the Seder. In our generation children prefer chocolate, potato chips, chewing gum, and candy. However, the whole idea of these treats is to create a path to the child's heart and allow him to take part in our discussion of the lofty ideas surrounding the Exodus - "I will take you to be my nation, and I will be your Lord."

Rabbi Yitzchak HaLevi - Demonstrate its Relevancy
It appears to me that the structure of the Haggadah itself provides us with a number of ways to make Seder Night an event involving the entire family.

The "Maggid" portion of the Seder opens with questions: "Mah Nishtanah?" - How is this night different from all other nights?

Questions naturally arouse interest and curiosity. For example, the Talmud relates a tale about R' Alexandri who announced in public that he was selling a life elixir. And who would not be interested in such an elixir? Indeed, he was promptly surrounded by a crowd of people who wanted to purchase his miracle potion.

Suddenly, R' Alexandri announced, "Who is it that desires life? . . . keep your tongue from [speaking] evil" (Psalms 34:13). R' Alexandri managed to excite the interest of the the public. He used an attractive sales campaign, and this is exactly what the "Maggid" does.

The Haggadah also bonds past and present. On the one hand, it surveys our forefathers' Egyptian bondage and our national birth; on the other hand, the Maggid is careful to extract important values from the Exodus story and convey them to future generations: faith, trust, optimism, transformation of faith to destiny.

Every new driver knows that before advancing one must look in the rear-view mirror. Each of us is interested in making progress, and it follows that each of us must probe our glorious past, for one who is without a past has no future.

Therefore, in order to draw family members to the Seder table, one must stimulate their interest, demonstrate the relevancy of the Haggadah for our own generation. When we read the words "This year we are slaves," let us think about our captives and our missing, about our Jewish brothers who are unable to recline at the Seder table with their families. We have a collective responsibility.

When the Haggadah says "The Torah addresses four sons, one wise, etc." it is telling us: Don't say, "Here is a wise son who knows better than me!" Rather, you must address him too. Each participant must be addressed in the appropriate manner.

We can view the four sons like four generations. After all, where there is a son there is a father. The first father is a "yes man," as it were. He accepts everything lovingly. He sends his son to a yeshiva high school. This, then, is a son who wants answers - a "wise son."

The wise son's son, however, goes to a regular high school. "He'll get Judaism at home," his father says. This son grows to be "wicked."

The wicked son's son no longer knows anything. He goes to his grandfather's house for the Seder, and because he grew up in a house bereft of Judaism, he continuously asks, "What is that?" He is the "ignorant son."

Now this ignorant son grows up and has a son of his own. In the mean time, the wise grandfather passes away. This son has a wicked grandfather, and he therefore does not even ask questions. He is the son "who does not know how to ask."

The Haggadah is warning us not to let things reach such a state. Invest in education now, before it is too late.

Readers' Suggestions - Creative Activities for Seder Night:
Seder Night can be a bonding agent that unites the entire family. Because it contains both spiritual and material ingredients, it has the power to create a unique family experience. Early preparation by the Seder leader and family members can be most conducive to a group experience during the Seder itself. There are infinite possibilities, and I will bring just a few here (obviously, details can change depending on age, level, etc.):

1) When reading the "four sons" section of the Haggadah, handout envelopes to four participants, each one containing a picture and reading portion. Before reading, each envelope holder pantomimes the son he represents, and the rest of the participants try to identify him. Only after being identified does he read his portion.

2) "The Ten Plagues" - Each plague must be prepared beforehand, and when read, the relevant item is thrown into the air/onto the table. For example: for "blood," small pieces of red paper; for "frogs," small plastic frogs; for "wild beasts," small plastic beasts; for "hail," small white balls of tissue paper, etc.

3) "Who knows one?" - Each participant receives a small flag with a picture, and a number. When his portion is read, he stands up and waves his flag. Not only does this get people involved, it is fun and bonding.

4) In general, in order to fulfill the central commandment of the evening - "Relate [this] to your son" - it is desirable to prepare small prizes for questions and answers voiced by children. In this manner, the involvement and alertness of the children is intensified. In addition, one should prepare riddles and short stories. A nice selection of riddles can be found in the book "Shaal Et Binkha Vayagedkha" in the volume on Passover by R' Aryeh Felheimer. Good Luck!
(From Oren, on behalf of the Gamliel family, Mitzpeh Yericho)

Some Game Suggestions:
Divide the Haggadah into about ten sections. Prepare slips of paper for a kind of "treasure hunt" based upon the various stories in the Haggadah (Echad Mi Yodea, Chad Gadya, the Ten Plagues, etc.). Each slip of paper should contain a riddle leading to the next one, and should be hidden in a place related to its content. For example, for the blood plague, one might hide a slip of paper under a bottle of wine; for the plague of the beasts, hide the slip of paper with somebody whose name represents such an animal (Aryeh, Zeev, Dov), etc.

On each slip of paper it should be written at what point it may be opened, based upon the said division of the Haggadah. In this manner, the children wait in anticipation for the next stage of the Haggadah, when they will be able to open the slip of paper. The riddles should be suited to the level of the children, and, of course, the game concludes with "treasures" - prizes and surprises - for all of the children.
(From Shoshi and Effi Rifkin, Elon Shvut)

Everything depends upon preparation. Each family member should prepare a program related to one of the themes of the Seder - a section ("siman") of the Seder, the Seder plate, etc. If guests will be coming, inform them in advance that they should prepare such a program for their assigned theme. A program can consist of parables, stories, Torah ideas, riddles, short plays, etc. In this manner, participants anticipate their turn and the children remain awake and alert.

The design and decoration of the table and the room on Seder night are also important. Participants should join efforts to decorate - in a unique manner, of course - the table and the room so that they radiate an atmosphere of freedom and, more importantly, create feelings and thoughts appropriate for the Seder. This will cause all who enter to say, "What's going on here? Why is this night different from all other nights?" The idea is to create an evening of unique, spiritual, family meditation.
(From Itamar Liberman, Bet-El)

If you want to give family members a sense of participation on Seder night, it is important to involve everybody already at the preparatory stage. Children and youngsters who prepare in advance will feel a part of the Seder, and they will look forward to it. Here are a few ideas:

1) Set the Seder table in a unique manner. One possibility is to employ a "parting of the sea" theme. Arrange two blue strips representing the sea and a brown strip in the middle for land. You can draw people walking in the middle, etc. A second possibility is to set the table based on a "spring" theme. Decorate it with flowers, and use appropriate, matching napkin holders, and plates.

2) Learn the Haggadah songs beforehand so that everybody is familiar with them and anticipates them. In addition, appoint a separate youngster responsible for leading each song.

3) Each of the youngsters should prepare riddles, Torah ideas, and short plays related to the themes of the Seder. Once again, it is possible to appoint a separate youngster responsible for each of the various parts of the Haggadah.
(From Leah)

But before all of the new ideas, it is important to remember the ideas of our holy sages (Pesachim 109):

1) Make sure that the children take a nap on the day before Passover so that they manage to stay awake throughout the Seder.

2) Hand out roasted nuts (i.e., sweets) to the children.

3) Do surprising and unusual things (for example, remove the Seder tray and the matzot before the meal, dip the karpas in saltwater) so that the children become surprised, ask questions, and take an interest in the Seder.

May God grant us a night replete with sanctity, joy, freedom, and spiritual elation, and may we have the good fortune to eat the Passover lamb in restored Jerusalem.


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