April 16, 2024
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April 16, 2024
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Short and Deep Insights for Seder Night

We all want to share deep and thoughtful ideas at the Seder in order to enhance the experience. This collection of short and deep insights for the Seder are organized in a way so that each idea is independent, but when read together, they develop a deeper theme as well. I hope they will aid you on your journey towards a meaningful, transformative Seder night.

1. 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 gap; it allows you to recognize your current limitations and to 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 questions, no 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, perfect, not 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 questions and create holes that we then yearn to fill with additional knowledge, insight and growth.

2. The Ke’ara: A Pathway Into the Spiritual

The ke’ara (Seder plate) holds many symbolic foods that we use throughout the Seder, such as charoset, a shank-bone, an egg and several others. Some of these are eaten during the course of the Seder, while others we simply look or point at. What is the meaning of these simanim? Is there a deeper meaning behind displaying them on our Seder tables?

The simple answer is that we display these foods in order to engage the children, to encourage their curiosity and questions. We use simanim to accomplish this because children are not capable of grasping conceptual or intellectual ideas. They live within the world of the finite, and they require something concrete and tangible, something they can see and touch, in order to relate to a concept. Therefore, in order to include our children in the concepts and ideas that are taught and developed at the Seder, we use physical simanim to actively engage them.

There is a deeper idea which can be learned here as well, one that is applicable not only to children but to those of all ages. The most essential principle to internalize in this world is that there is always something deeper than that which appears on the surface. Living in a physical world can compel one to forget to seek out the spirituality inherent within every object, event and person in this world. Seder night is when we instill within ourselves the pillars of emunah and our mission as the Jewish people. On this night, we must all learn this powerful principle. Each physical object on the ka’arah represents a world of profundity, but this is not limited to the Seder plate alone. There is spiritual depth within everything, we need only look for it.

3. What’s Our Goal in Telling Over the Story of the Exodus?

We conclude the paragraph of “Avadim Hayinu” by proclaiming, “v’chol hamarbeh li’saper bi’yitzias Mitzrayim, harei zeh mishubach” (all 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 yetziat Mitzrayim and the goal of Seder night. Yetziat Mitzrayim was not merely a historical event, rather it was the birth of the Jewish people––our people, you and me. The story did not end with the birth of the Jewish people, but it continues with them growing into the nation they are meant to become. When the Jewish people left Mitzrayim, we journeyed to Har Sinai 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, and 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 story, to continue what began with yetziat Mitzrayim, to become the person you were meant to be. V’chol hamarbeh…. harei zeh meshubach.

Shmuel Reichman is an inspirational speaker, writer, and coach who has lectured internationally at shuls, conferences, and Jewish communities on topics of Jewish Thought and Jewish Medical Ethics. He is the founder and CEO of Self-Mastery Academy (ShmuelReichman.com), the transformative online course that is revolutionizing how we engage in self-development. He is also the founder of “Think. Feel. Grow.”, a platform from which he shares inspirational Torah videos that have reached over one hundred thousand people.

You can reach him and find more inspirational lectures, videos, and articles from Shmuel on his website: https://www.shmuelreichman.com

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