Rabbi Pinchas Rosenthal, Dean
Torah Academy of Long island
Invite Voldemort, the Evil Emperor and the Lord of the Rings to your Seder:
Real-world strategies for successful Seder making for ages 4-40
Can we eat yet!? This classic refrain rings out at many a Seder every year. The central question is, “Why is the Seder a source of boredom to so many children (and adults)?” The simple answer is that it is difficult to make the story of the Exodus relevant to our lives and the lives of our children. The reading of the Hebrew text, even if you understand it, has very little immediate connection to the lives we live in America in 2006. Yet the Hagadah demands “we see ourselves as if we ourselves have left Egypt”. This is a tall order!
4 Steps to Running a Seder Like a Pro!
Understand the nature of the mitzvah of “Sippur Yitziat Mitzrayim” - telling the story of the Exodus. The Haggadah tells us that the Torah itself mentions four sons - one wise, one wicked, one simple and one who can’t formulate a question. What role does that play in this Mitzvah? The Mitzvot of Lulav, Tefillin and Mezuzah do not distinguish between different types of people. Why should “Sippur Yitziat Mitzrayim”?
The source of the mitzvah of “Sippur” emerges from the verse “V’higadetah L’vincha” “and you shall tell your child.” We know that the obligation exists even when there is no child present, so why is the child the prime expression of the Mitzvah?
One possible reason is that by framing the mitzvah between the parent and child it brings out the exact character and methodology of the mitzvah. The parent must be careful to present the material to each child in a manner that his immature psyche can see and be impacted by the story. This would also apply to recounting the story to any person whose understanding is less than yours. He is your “Son” relative to you. As Chazal say in the verse “V’shinantam Le’vanecha” “and you shall diligently teach your son (Torah)”, “son” refers to your (non-biological) children, i.e., your students.
Better understand the primary concepts of Seder night - “Shibud Ve’geulah” – “Slavery and Redemption.” What was the nature of the servitude of Egypt? What do you call a group of people being controlled by a charismatic leader whose subjects view him as a divine being, who are governed in an authoritarian manner with mind control techniques and who are deceived to fulfill his agenda?
This is a cult.
Egypt was an example of a cult that existed on the state level. Egyptologists tell us that Paroh was viewed as a manifestation of the gods on earth. He was the only one who could gain the gods’ contentment. He was their head priest. All people were fearful of his power over life and death. He had a whole host of “Chartumin”, magicians, who used elaborate magic tricks to attribute bizarre power to Paroh. Yosef in the previous generation had centralized all the land and great wealth into the hands of Paroh. While most citizens in Egypt were serfs to Paroh, all people in Egypt were slaves to his agenda. Some people had more personal liberties and some had much less. The Ramban tells us how Paroh used a work tax to force the Jews to be increasingly involved in the royal construction projects. In this environment, the assimilated Jews who were totally under the sway of the Paroh cult of personality were quick to be absorbed into his evil plot.
What was the nature of the Geulah – the redemption?
God’s removal of the Jews from Egypt was a gradual educational process for both Egyptians and Jews revealing the fraud of Paroh’s control. The 10 plagues demonstrated that Paroh’s mastery over God’s world was mere illusion. The system of idolatry that was used gain favor over the gods was exposed for the “big lie” that it was. The freedom to choose a life based on God’s agenda and not Paroh was presented to the Jews. Those Jews who had the maturity and courage to leave the security of the Paroh state sacrificed the Korban Pesach; those who clung to the well-entrenched illusions of Egypt did not, and perished. We celebrate the fact that God liberated us from a life where our minds were locked in falseness and manipulations, where no real decision was ours. He brought us to Mount Sinai where a new vision of the world was presented and we chose to live a life of freedom from lies, manipulations and evil agendas.
Use proper timing, props, costumes and candy to make the experience powerful. Do not wait for the middle of the Seder. Your child has limited energy and attention. Start right after Yachatz with each child. Inform your other Seder participants, before the Seder, that you are going to engage one-on-one with each child. They are free to go ahead without you or discuss amongst themselves any other topic. They should not feel insulted.
The gold standard of “Sippur Yitziat Mitzrayim” is to have the children notice some uniqueness of the evening and initiate the questioning.
Excuse yourself and come out with a costume or prop that will engage the children and is a perfect springboard for your “lesson plan”
Give the children candy for each question they raise. Provide a snack bag so they place all there candy and tell them they can eat some now and the rest latter. (Otherwise, they will be exclusively focused on the candy)
For older kids offer money, for example, 25 cents a question or answer.
FAILURE TO PLAN, IS PLANNING TO FAIL!
HAVE A CHAG SAMEACH!