Wednesday, June 07, 2023

Imagine if someone called you a week before Pesach and said: “We were wondering if we could invite you to join us at our order?” How would it sound if your spouse announced on Pesach’s first evening that, “Everyone, please come to the table so that we can begin the order!”

Of the many names that we could have used to describe the festive meal that we sit down to on the first night(s) of Pesach, the appellation “Seder,” or order, seems curious at best. Why did our sages attach such a nondescript designation—one that seems to focus on the sequence of the program rather than the program itself—to this special evening of recounting, learning and engaging?

Perhaps the answer is that no evening in the Jewish calendar is more “ordered” and organized than the first night of Pesach. We spend the preceding day getting everything ready, to allow us to begin the evening sequence as quickly as possible. All of the foods are laid out in an exact fashion. At night, we follow a strict routine of 15 steps, with a defined text and series of actions for us to follow.

But that begs a different question. Why must we do it this way? Why couldn’t each person be left to his own devices to spontaneously determine what would help him best express how our forefathers were freed from bondage?

Our sages understood the power of structure and order. They realized that in order for us to appreciate what occurred in Egypt 3300 years ago, we needed to read a rich, sequential text complete with questions, dialogue, descriptions and expressed appreciation. They recognized that we could not properly internalize and relive the experience without much symbolism and intrigue, as well as the visual benefits that signify persecution and liberation.

We do best when we know what’s coming, when the process has been laid out for us. We can plan, ask and respond more easily when we have a clear path to follow than if we have to conceive the model while also trying to go deeper. We process better when we can see all of the requisite symbols and make connections. While preparation for the Seder can be quite challenging, the familiar order that it offers can be most comforting. We know what to expect and can fully devote our mental and emotional energies to the experience.

During the evening we are obligated to view ourselves as if we are personally leaving Egypt. The experience is intended to be very personal, one that allows us to escape from whatever forms of bondage are holding us back in our quest for growth. Perhaps we can follow a similar template to that of Chazal’s in order to achieve that goal:

1. See the issue—What are your challenges and limiting beliefs? What is keeping you back from achieving more spiritually and feeling more fulfilled?

2. Paint a picture of success—What will success look like and how will you know that you have arrived? Create a text with vivid images that details the process and outcome.

3. Engage your entire self in the process—In most cases, success will not occur by only engaging your intellect. As with the Seder, you need to integrate various senses and modalities to completely own the experience.

4. Get all of the support that you can—surround yourself by supportive others who can help encourage you and also ask the hard questions that will help you achieve clarity.

A Seder is much more than an order, a plan for the evening’s activities. It’s a plan for success, based on a deep understanding of what is required to inspire us towards awareness, growth and change. The next time that you hear the term Seder, take a moment to appreciate the special ordered template that we were given to go beyond the moment and achieve true freedom.

By Rabbi Naphtali Hoff

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