July 25, 2024
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Inspiring Insights for Your Seder Night

We all want to share deep and thoughtful ideas at the Seder in order to enhance the experience. I hope this collection of divrei Torah will aid you on your journey towards a meaningful, transformative Seder night.

What’s With All the Questions?

A notably prominent theme of the Seder is that of asking questions. While “Mah Nishtanah” is the most obvious example, the commentators explain many features of the Seder as purely serving as an impetus for the children to ask questions. It’s not only children, though, who are enjoined to question. The Gemara in Pesachim (116a) says that if a man’s child cannot ask the questions, then his wife should, and if he has no wife, he must ask himself questions. Even if two Torah scholars are sharing their Seder together, they should ask each other. Why is questioning such an integral part of the Pesach Seder?

Asking questions is the gateway to learning. A question creates a gapit allows you to recognize your current limitationsto shed the illusion that you already know everything. You can only learn something once you realize that you don’t already understand it. The Gemara in Gittin (43a) says that you can only understand a Torah concept if you originally struggled with it. Only by recognizing that you don’t already know something can you break it down, analyze it and see it in a new way, thereby building a new, deeper understanding. If you believe that you fully understand something, you simply will not allow your mind to develop a new way of seeing it. Only by realizing a lack in your understanding and perception can you develop deeper paradigms.

The Seder night serves as an opportunity to pass over our mesorah, our tradition and legacy, to the next generation. It’s a night when we speak about emunah (faith), the meaning of being a Jew, and our purpose in this world. In order to teach these lessons to our children and ourselves in a deep and lasting way, we must encourage the Seder participants to ask questionsno matter the age or knowledge-level.

Our yetzer hara (evil inclination) convinces us that we are perfect, that we already know everything. As such, there’s no need to question. This flawed belief is personified by Eisav, who was born fully hairy. Hair is the outermost expression of a grown human being, Eisav projected the belief that he was completely developed and, therefore, required no additional growth. The name “Eisav” itself is the word “asui” meaning “made or complete.” Eisav represents the illusion of being complete, perfectnot requiring any further work or growth.

Our goal and mission as the Jewish people is to grow, develop ourselves and fulfill our potential. On the Seder night, as we focus on whom each of us can become, we ask questionscreating holes that we, then, yearn to fill with additional knowledge, insight and growth.

What’s Our Goal in Telling Over the Story of Yetzias Mitzrayim?

We conclude the paragraph of “Avadim Hayinu” by proclaiming, “v’chol hamarbeh li’saper bi’yitzias Mitzrayim, harei zeh mishubachall those who elaborate on the Exodus from Egypt, behold, this is praiseworthy.” The Rambam (Maimonides) codifies this as a legitimate halacha of Seder night. What is the meaning of this statement? What is the importance of telling over the Pesach story at great length, and why on this night specifically?

There are two ways to interpret the statement of “v’chol hamarbeh.” The first is on a quantitative level, that one should tell over as much of the Exodus story as possible. The second is a qualitative approach, that one should delve into the miracles and wonders that Hashem performed when taking us out of Mitzrayim in as much depth as possible.

There is, however, a third way to understand this statement, one that offers a new perspective on Yetzias Mitrayim and the goal of Seder night. Yetzias Mitzrayim was not merely a historical event, rather it was the birth of the Jewish peopleour people, you and me. The story did not end with the birth of the Jewish people, it continues with them growing into the nation they are meant to become. When the Jewish people left Mitzrayim, we journeyed to Har Sinai and Matan Torah, where we were given the Torah and our mission in this world as Hashem’s chosen nation. This is the story that has continued throughout history, that you and I are commissioned to continue to this very day.

“Sippur” means “to tell over a story,” and the haggadah says that whoever does this increasingly is praiseworthy. Jewish history is not only “his”story, it’s our story. It is our mission and destiny, and we must continue to grow and thrive in this mission. The goal is to make yourself a part of the Jewish storyto continue what began with Yetzias Mitzrayimto become the person you were meant to be. “V’chol hamarbeh… harei zeh meshubach.”

By Rabbi Shmuel Reichman

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