Questions for a Thoughtful Seder

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Tips for making the Pesach seder both an educational and enjoyable experience

1. On Pesach we celebrate our freedom from slavery. What do you feel enslaved by in your life today?

2. The salt water on the table represents the tears that the Jewish people cried during their struggles. What has made you cry this year? Both tears of happiness and sadness count!

3. The egg that some have the custom of eating at the Seder represents aveilut. Its round shape symbolizes the cycle of life. Has anyone you cared for passed away since the last Pesach? Have any babies been born in your family?

4. The Sages in Bnei Brak stayed up all night discussing the story of the Exodus. What keeps you up at night? What was the last book you read that made you want to stay up reading?

5. Am Yisrael has observed Seder night each year since we left Egypt more than 3,000 years ago. Today, it is one of the most widely observed mitzvot in the Torah. What is the secret to its longevity and popularity?

6. “Ha Lachma Anya” is an invitation (in Aramaic) to those who are hungry to come and eat. Yet the Seder has already started and the poor on the streets can’t hear us in our homes. Why is it in Aramaic? What is its role in the Haggadah? And how do we really feel about hosting strangers, let alone homeless people, in our homes?

7. We start the Seder by listing the order of the night. The ritual stages are important. We don’t have this tradition before any other mitzvah, so why do we do so on Seder night?

8. After we eat, we bentch and then recite Hallel (prayers of praise and thanksgiving). What are you most grateful for in your life right now? (My rule: you can’t say something that someone else has already said!)

9. Which of the Four Sons were you most like as a kid? (Make sure to act out the Four Sons with dramatic voices!)

Dos and Don’ts for Running an Explanatory Seder

Do

Make sure everyone at the table feels like a player on the field and not a spectator watching the action.

Have all participants use the same Haggadah. A user-friendly Haggadah with clear, large-type Hebrew and English fonts, which includes a few colorful illustrations, is a better choice than one with extensive commentary.

Make sure that everyone in the room gets a chance to have his voice heard at least once during the evening. Provide opportunities for participants to answer questions (see page 50 for Seder questions), offer a devar Torah or share a memory of Seder experiences they have had in the past (on campus, this gives unaffiliated students an opportunity to recall things they learned from their grandparents who often led the Sedarim they attended as children).

Have family heirlooms at your Seder. Children will grow up cherishing the memories of using zeide’s Kiddush cup and will want to use it at their own Sedarim one day.

If you don’t have family heirlooms, start making them! Don’t get a new Seder plate or afikoman cover every year—just because the item is not eighty-five years old or from Warsaw doesn’t mean it can’t create its own legacy. Familiarity with ritual items breeds a close relationship with those objects and offers security and meaning in a world where everything is replaceable and impermanent.

Use props. Place a few toy frogs around the room and have a costume on hand so someone can dress up as an Egyptian taskmaster—get the kids asking questions!

Act out parts of the Haggadah. Whether it’s the section on the Four Sons, the Sages in Bnei Brak or any other episode in the Haggadah, asking people to act it out (preferably give them advance notice) is a great educational method that often leads to laughter.

Sing! The concluding songs of the Haggadah should have the whole family out of their seats, and there should be actions accompanying the words. Everyone has been sitting patiently for a long time at this point, so it’s a great opportunity to end on a high. Make sure to choose tunes that everyone knows, or teach everyone your favorite one.

Don’t

Wait until Seder night to figure out how you are going to make it meaningful and participatory. Preparation is essential.

Have the Haggadah read entirely by the father of the house or the Seder leader. Go around the table and ask each participant to read a paragraph, whether in Hebrew or English. People will feel less like they are in class and more like it is a shared experience. Also, knowing you are going to be called on soon forces you to make sure you have the place.

Don’t let the meal drag on. The end of the Haggadah is the best part and you don’t want to lose your audience.

Be inflexible. Adapt to the facts on the ground. If half of the table is falling asleep and it’s very late, if you insist on reading every word, the Seder may become a negative experience. Use your discretion to skip some of the lengthy texts if necessary.

Gideon Black

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2014 issue of Jewish Action, the quarterly magazine of the Orthodox Union | All Rights Reserved | ou.org | oupassover.org

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