By: Chaya Sora Jungreis-Gertzulin
Pesach. So many special recollections. Warm memories of family gathering together. A beautifully set Seder table. A bubby’s special Pesach recipes. Singing the familiar Seder songs. A night to follow time-honored traditions, passed down from generation to generation.
Pesach. A time to cherish the children. To encourage their questions and motivate their participation in the Seder.
The Seder connects us to our past. Our family had a custom of re-enacting the Exodus, thereby bringing the Pesach story to life. We children would wrap a matzoh in a napkin, and while holding it over our shoulder, we would walk around the dining room table.
“Where are you coming from?” our parents would call out.
“We are coming from Mitzrayim, Egypt.”
“Where are you going to?”
“We are going to Yerushalayim.”
Even the “foods of the Seder” are a link to our nation’s experience in Egypt. Matzah, lechem oni, the poor man’s bread, baked hastily as they rushed out of Egypt. The bitter marror, the mortar-like charosses, and the salt-water “tears”, have us imagining the pain and oppression our people endured. Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler teaches that by fulfilling the mitzvos of Pesach, Matzah, and Marror correctly we create a connection to our redemption from Egypt.
At our Seder, my mother, the Rebbetzin a”h, would speak words that penetrated our hearts and souls, as well as those of the guests who joined us. She explained that we must feel our peoples’ suffering. That it wasn’t just the generation of the Exodus, but “b’chol dor vodor – in every generation” there are those who rise up against us. Anti-Semitism isn’t just something of the past but continues to manifest itself to this very day.
My grandmother, Mama, a”h, shared with me stories about her life in Hungary, and experiences during the war. My grandparents, mother and uncles, were all in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Difficult, desperate days. Days of starvation and deprivation. How painful it is for a mother to hear the cries of hungry children and have nothing to offer.
Mama related how the Nazis distributed some water in dirty tins. She found some weeds, pulled them out of the ground, and mixed them together with their ration of water, telling my mother and uncles that it was like “vegetable soup”. When Mama told me that story, she remarked that she couldn’t believe what the Nazis reduced her to.
Years later, while sitting at the Seder, Mama’s story came back to me. It is the story of karpas, a vegetable dipped in salt water. Something grown in the ground, mixed with tears.
Karpas. When Bnei Yisroel were in Egypt, they didn’t have the luxury of steak dinners or takeout but ate what they were able to dig up from the ground.
They ate with tears streaming from their eyes. Tears of pain and sadness. Tears from the hard labor imposed upon them.
Then and now. What happened in ancient Egypt, replayed in Bergen-Belsen. Like the women in Mitzrayim who searched for food to nourish their families, my grandmother searched for something to feed her children.
Karpas is also symbolic of the greenery of Chag Ha’Aviv, Pesach, Holiday of Springtime. While we recall the pain of our people, we are also a nation of emunah and bitachon, a nation that believes in new beginnings. A nation that dreams of Chag Ha’Aviv, the miriacle of spring. As the plants and trees blossom, we look forward to the season ahead. We dip the karpas, fresh greens, in salt water, as if saying that despite all the tears, all the pains and challenges of life, everything is going to be okay. HaShem is with us, guiding us every step of the way. We are a nation that believes in the power of spring, of having hope for the future.
Every year, come Pesach, my husband would share Seder stories with our children. One of his favorites is the beautiful tale by Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach z”l, entitled “The Last Seder in Warsaw”. It is about a family making what was to be their final Seder in the Warsaw Ghetto. A little boy, Moishele, is asking the Mah Nishtanah. He then says, “Tatte zeese, my dear sweet father, I have one more question…. Will you be alive next year at the Seder to answer me?… Will I be alive next year to ask the Mah Nishtanah?… Will any Jew be alive?”
Moishele’s father answered, “I don’t know if I will be alive. But I know that there will always be a Moishele somewhere… A Moishele who will ask the Mah Nishtanah. Because HaShem, the Ribbono shel Olam, promised us that there will always be a Moishele.”
The Haggadah tells us, “Bechol dor vodor omdim oleinu l’chalosainu, In every generation, there are always those who rise up to destroy us.” From Egyptians to Babylonians. From Greeks to Romans. From the Inquisition to Pogroms. From the Nazis to today’s battle with radical Muslims. “V’HaKodosh Boruch Hu matzileinu miyadam, but HaShem saves us from their hands.”
There is yet another b’chol dor vodor, from generation to generation, mentioned in the Haggadah. “B’chol dor vodor chayov odom liros es atzmo k’ilu hu yotzoh mi-Mitzrayim – In every generation, a person is obligated to see himself as if he personally left Egypt.”
Each of us has to see ourselves as if we actually experienced the Exodus from Egypt. Just as we recall the miracles of the past, Seder night is also a time to be grateful to HaShem for guiding each of us through life’s trials and tribulations. We all have our struggles and challenges, but like our ancestors thousands of years ago, we too sing Hallel to thank HaShem for His guiding hand in our own lives.
Against all odds, the Jewish nation has not only survived, but we have thrived and flourished. The Seder night is a night to connect to the past. A night to have faith in the future. A night to know that no matter what, HaShem, is always watching over us. A night to truly believe, shelo yichbeh neiro l’olam vo’ed, that the lamp of the Jewish people will never be extinguished. A night to trust that there will always be a Moishele.