December 3, 2023
December 3, 2023

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The Haggadah: A Teaching Tool Throughout the Generations

There’s a wonderful Chinese proverb that, as an educator, a parent and a Jew I always find particularly relevant during this time of year:

If you plan for a year, plant rice. If you plan for a decade, plant a tree. If you plan for a lifetime, educate a child.

We Jews incorporate this powerful lesson into our Passover Seder, where the Haggadah turns all Jewish parents into educators and all Jewish children into students of history—so that one day they too will become the educators of their children. Through the Haggadah, on the Seder nights, we pass down our history, our story, onto the next generation.

The word “haggadah” literally means to tell. As such, the Haggadah is the retelling of our personal and collective story in the form of a parent-child dialogue, reminding us of who we are, where we came from and what we stand for.

The 19th-century scholar of Baghdad, the Ben Ish Chai, points out that Yosef’s coat of many colors, his ketonet pasim, is described by Rashi as “k’mo karpas”—like fine linen. By connecting karpas to the story of Yosef and his brothers, we learn a powerful reason for why karpas comes at the beginning of the Seder. Before we can remember that we were slaves in Egypt, we must first recall what led to our enslavement; it all started when Yosef’s brothers sold him into slavery—when brother turned against brother.

The purpose of our retelling, in each generation, the story of Yetziat Mitzrayim (the departure from Egypt) is to underscore the strength of klal Yisrael and to teach us the meaning of kol Yisrael arevim ze la ze—that as Jews we are responsible for one another. By turning history in memory, and memory into a sense of mutual responsibility, the Haggadah helps our children develop a sense of identity and belonging,

Why then is it so important to remember our slavery and our freedom? According to Rav Dov Soloveitchik, by remembering our past as slaves we are ensuring that we Jews will never ignore the pain of others, or neglect the needs of those less fortunate. The Seder is our teaching tool to empower our children to become compassionate people, and it is our blueprint to be a light unto the nations.

Passover has always been my favorite holiday—it’s about the relationship between parents and children; it’s about telling our story through rituals, songs and prayer; it’s about giving our children a sense of identity and belonging and the self-confidence to pass it along to the next generation.

May we continue to be a caring and compassionate people, as the Haggadah teaches us. I wish everyone a vibrant, fun, child-centered and question-filled Seder.

Chag kasher v’sameach!

By Dr. Tani Foger


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