Open Your Hearts!

RAbbi Zvi Teichman

 seder since having been old enough to participate with some level of meaningful understanding. 

Yet, I often question myself.  How has my knowledge base grown in terms of knowing the details of the story of our sojourn in Egypt and the many miracles that led up to the exodus from Egypt?

Most of us can attest that over the span of these years we have accrued information and some level of understanding of those events that have helped us forge a deeper appreciation of those events.  

But do we really feel that we have it down pat? Aren’t most of us mostly reviewing what we already know, perhaps prodding a new thought, adding a new commentary on the Hagaddah? Can we honestly say we have mastered this story, reliving it with rich detail and full emotion as if we experienced it firsthand?

Many of the rituals we do at the Seder revolve around the children. The Talmud makes several references to doing certain things to affect hekayra l’tinokos, awareness in our children — so that they may remain awake and observe these changes and be prodded into asking.

The first ‘provocation’ is the tendering of ‘toasted grains’ and ‘walnuts’, a delicacy that children relished in days of yore that was not offered often, to excite their senses, keeping them alert.

The next arousal for attention was the eating and dipping of Karpas well before the meal began, an unusual practice that stoked their interest and wonderment.

Finally, there was the practice of ‘snatching’ the Matzos, which the Rambam implies was a well-intentioned game of ‘stealing the Matzo’ from one another, exciting the children and keeping them engaged.

It would seem there are three messages here.

The children must feel happy to be here and privileged to participate. The ‘candy’ wasn’t just intended to spike their sugar levels, but to give them a boost of warmth from their parent who wants to display how special they are and deserving of treats.

When the child, as encouraged, asks why are we eating a vegetable and dipping it in salt water before the meal, what are we supposed to answer them? There is no one definitive answer. Some suggest we tell the child to eat something because it will be a while before we get to the meal. 

This theme recurs when we remove the Ke’arah, the Seder Plate. It is intended to tease a response by the child wondering why we are removing the Matzo we will be eating, hopefully soon. We will then explain that we first must explore the Hagaddah before we are ready to eat.

We are seeking to promote the idea that although we are cognizant of his hunger, and even attempt to pacify it, nevertheless he must realize we sometimes have to wait before we can follow our impulses.

The snatching contest almost seems like a lesson in sportsmanship, inculcating within the child a sense of awareness that we do not always ‘win’. Even when we ‘lose’ there is value in everything we do, for who can measure at any given moment who deserves to win, and what constitutes ‘winning’ in the eyes of the Almighty?

For a child to be engaged and connected, he must possess a self-confidence that prods him to take risks without stifling fear. That healthy self-esteem is implanted by a loving parent who instills the child with a confiding love.

Is not that what Yaakov sought to accomplish by gifting Yosef the Kesones Pasim — the special colorful garment? That was Yosef’s ‘toasted grain and walnuts!’

Yaakov later dispatches Yosef to seek the welfare of his brothers who were tending the sheep, even though Yaakov was aware of their discontent with Yosef. Why in the world would he send Yosef into the lion’s den?

Perhaps Yaakov was hoping to prod within Yosef the awareness that one must engage in ordeals that may not be to our liking, or even to our seeming detriment, for a higher good. 

When Yosef presents his children to his father for a blessing, expecting his firstborn Menashe to receive the primary blessing, Yaakov once again makes a baffling maneuver, switching his right hand atop the younger Efrayim, with the more powerful blessing.

Here too, Yaakov gives his final lesson to Yosef, that it is not about ‘winning’. There is a plan and a method in every failure in life as well.

I have always sensed that the Aino Yodea Lishol, the fourth child in the group of ‘Four Sons’ who ‘does not know how to ask’, alludes to Yosef, who in a sense never asked questions, stemming from a remarkable inner resolve, flowing gladly and quietly even against the tide of greatest difficulty. 

True, we talk about a child who knows not how to ask — perhaps out of apathy or from a lack of confidence. But he may be aroused by a parent who knows how to ‘open him up’ — את פתח לו, You, ‘open’ to him, infusing him with love, confidence, and faith, who will transform himself into a quiet powerhouse of devotion, able to quietly forge ahead with a sense of joy and mission.

Perhaps this is the goal of our involvement in transmitting the story of our people.

It is not as much about the story, as it is in conveying to our children, that they are the purpose of existence, cherished by a G-d who believes in them and awaits their greatness, and has only their best interests in heart.

The Bluzhever Rebbe, whose wife and children were murdered by the vile enemy, found himself in Bergen Belsen determined to celebrate Pesach in that dark cloud. Somehow, he managed to miraculously acquire the consent of the commandant to receive a small sack of flour instead of bread for the upcoming holiday of Pesach. Together with his fellow Jews they managed to construct a primitive oven and baked Matzos amidst the hopelessness. Right before the Yom Tov, the commandant had a change of heart and came storming into the barracks, smashing the excuse of an oven to smithereens, crumbling into the ground the few Matzos they managed to bake. 

Salvaging barely a Kezayis, they all felt the holy Rebbe should certainly merit to eat it, representing them all.

The Rebbe recited the Hagaddah by heart and they sang along with joy, transporting themselves to a different and elevated realm.

Right before the moment of Achilas Matzah, a young woman’s voice rang out among the quiet, with the following heartfelt appeal.

“The purpose of this night is to ‘tell our children’ — to transmit the remarkable story of our people. I humbly suggest that my young son, although yet a minor, should eat the Matzah. I want him to know and remember that even in Bergen Belsen, Jews ate Matzah.”

Indeed, the Rebbe directed that the young lad eats the Matzah instead.

The Rebbe eventually married this woman, and this adopted son continued his legacy as his heir, serving as the Rebbe after he passed.

The Bluzhever Rebbe often remarked, that he was taken by the fact that a woman even during hopelessness, continued to dream and believe in her future generations, and considered how they would reminisce when they will be free men one day. 

What we need to assure at our Seder, is that our children sense that same love and hope, because it is they who will convey to future generations the strength of our convictions.

We are taught that in the absence of children we prod discussion among ourselves, and the absence of company we ask the questions to ourselves.

We must know that we each are that treasured child, that is being cheered on by a Father like no other, in our journey towards the ultimate happiness.

Let us exhibit the patience, the sensitivity, in dealing with these priceless treasures, making sure that this night represents the highlight of our children’s lives, that conveys to them how much we love them, how important they are. Because it is only with that love that they will be equipped to endure the challenges of life and carry the torch of enthusiasm in their service of Hashem for all future generations until eternity.

חג כשר ושמח

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