Passover – Exodus 33 – 34
I would like to dedicate this Shabbat Shalom to a short discussion of the central theme of the Haggadah, the book that defines the order and content of the Seder service. “And you shall tell your son on that day saying: because of this which G-d did for me when I left Egypt.” (Exodus 13:8). This Scriptures captures the essence of the Seder – the telling of the story to our children, ensuring that they know the Biblical story of the Exodus and understand that every custom we perform, every ritual and prayer that night, is connected to the Exodus from Egypt.
The Haggadah begins with the four questions which are asked by the youngest child or all the children at the table. The questions are meant to arouse the curiosity of the child and, indeed, reflect some of the customs which have come to be associated with the Seder meal. The format of questions, however, is meant to inform and instruct us as parents – it is our job to inspire the curiosity of our children so that they may ask us questions. And it is these questions, in turn, which propel us into our job of teaching our children the meaning of the evening.
And, indeed, immediately following the four questions, we begin to teach our children: “We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt.” So begins the story of the Exodus from Egypt.
Later on in the Haggadah, four different sons are described – a wise son, a wicked son, a simple son and a son who does not know how to ask. Each son (except the last) poses a question with regard to the Passover service and each son is answered differently. The questions of each son as well as their answers are actually quotations from Scripture, or in the case of the Wise son, a quotation from the Mishna. But the scripture above regarding the telling of the Passover story to the sons, is quoted in both the answers to the wicked son and to the son who does not know how to ask.
Education has long been a central pillar of Judaism and there is no better example of the relationship between education, faith and tradition than the Passover seder. The story of the Exodus from Egypt is told clearly in the Book of Exodus, and we read these chapters each year in the synagogue as part of the regular weekly portion cycle, as well as during the Passover holiday. Jews also study the Bible regularly and this story is well known to anyone who studies the Bible. But the Passover holiday demonstrates that education is not just about reading the Bible. It is about discussing, questioning, debating and experiencing.
Parents are encouraged to do whatever they need to do to arouse their children’s curiosity. In some cases, they dress up as the ancient Israelites with a sack and a stick, and they march around the table until the children question this bizarre behavior. And then, the parents can respond, while quoting Scripture, how their forefathers left Egypt in a hurry, “their kneading troughs being bound up in their clothes upon their shoulders.” (12:34)
The entire evening is dedicated to activities – we eat bitter herbs so that we might feel and taste the bitterness of the enslavement. We eat Matzah to remind us of the bread that was hastily prepared on the way out of Egypt. We taste and feel and act out the events so that they may become more real to us. And the Haggadah tells us explicitly: “In each generation one must see himself as if he had left Egypt.” It is not enough to read about it – one must feel it and experience it himself.
Indeed, the Passover Seder is one of the most observed customs in the Jewish world. Even the most assimilated Jews will often participate in a Seder. And the Seder has probably been one of the most important influences on Jewish continuity throughout the ages.
It is the telling of the story to our children that says it all. For the Bible itself was given to us at Sinai and it is only because parents taught their children, passed the traditions and beliefs on, that the Bible is still with us today. It is the teaching that preserved our people and our faith.
Shabbat Shalom From Samaria,
Director, Israel Office