It’s Passover night, and we are wondering to ourselves, “haven’t we heard this story already?” We all know the basic narrative. The Jews were enslaved in Egypt. Moses confronted Pharaoh, demanding the Jews be freed. When he refused, G-d inflicted ten plagues on the Egyptians. Finally Pharaoh relents, and the Jews march out of Egypt. Then Pharaoh regrets his decision, takes his army and chases down the Jews at the sea. The Jews faced with nowwhere to go, were saved when the water split and engulfed the Egyptians chasing after them.
Of course, there are the common attributes of the Seder. The four cups of wine, matzah and bitter herbs. And then you have the annual family drama, like your aunt who is always saying, “when are we going to eat?”
So what’s the whole point?
Passover is not a family reunion. It’s the night we retell the central narrative of the Jewish people. It’s the older generation telling the story they heard from their grandparents, who heard it from their ancestors. For over three millennia Jews have been telling the same story. The miraculous birth of the Jewish nation, the amazing story of the Exodus, and giving of the Torah.
The Seder is the outgrowth of the Biblical commandment, “you should tell your son in this day” (Exodus 13:8). This is the foundation of the Divine Mandate to retell the story every year, one generation telling the next the seminal story of the Jewish people.
So how do you make it meaningful?
First, take it seriously and tell your participants that they are here tonight to relive the most important moment in Jewish history. Second, make the Seder itself meaningful. Don’t rush through the story, take time to discuss its importance and deeper meaning. You can find dozens of wonderful Haggadahs with English translations, full of insights on the story. Third, make the Seder participatory. In our Seders each person reads a short paragraph of the Haggadah and everyone is encouraged to share their thoughts on the Seder. Finally, the most important people at the Seder are the kids, so prepare them for the big event. Before Passover purchase them new clothes for the Seder, during the day before the Seder insist they rest. At the Seder engage the kids. Even though we have many guests each year, when our children were smaller, my wife would insist they sit next to me at the head of the table. You can also have each child prepare a personal Seder plate and cup for grape juice.
And don’t forget to fulfill the Jewish tradition of inviting guests. There are many Jews who do not attend a Seder. Invite a few guests over: they will appreciate your hospitality and it will make the evening more special.
Rabbi David Eliezrie is a contributing writer to Jlife magazine.