Rabbi Ranon Teller
A Simple Seder Suggestion
The Talmud teaches that the seder should begin in pain and move toward praise. Toward the beginning of the seder, around the dipping of the karpas in saltwater, share a difficult moment that you experienced this year. Then, ask people to share a difficult moment of their own. Toward the middle of the seder, around Dayeinu, share a wonderful moment that you experienced this year. Then, ask people to share a wonderful moment of their own.
The Haggadah text begins with discourse about bitter slavery and moves toward psalms of praise. We are taught that we should approach the seder as if we, ourselves, experienced the Exodus. We are obligated to connect emotionally and personally with the feelings of slavery and freedom – suffering and gratitude. Sometimes it’s difficult for us to experience these emotions at the seder table, but that’s what the tradition encourages to do – to empathize and emote – which is part of the essence of the Passover story.
The Biblical narrative suggests that the Exodus from Egypt began with the Israelites crying out to God. Rabbi Jack Riemer asks: How could it be that this was really the first time the Israelite slaves ever cried? They had been slaves for hundreds of years; how could this have been their first good cry? He answers, based on a Hasidic text, that, as strange as it may seem to us, this was indeed the first time they had cried as slaves in Egypt. He explains that as a survival mechanism, the Israelites had become impervious to their emotional pain. They had shut down their emotional lives and never cried. So, what changed? At the opening of the book of Exodus, we are told that the old Pharaoh died and the new Pharaoh arose. When the old Pharaoh died, the entire Egyptian population was in mourning and the Israelites were suddenly surrounded by suffering, tears, and grief. This display of emotion by the Egyptians triggered their own pent-up suffering. Their tears began to well up and they cried out to God for the very first time. That’s how the Exodus began, with a recognition of suffering and pain.
This year, let’s try the simple exercise of sharing a difficult moment and a joyful moment in order to experience suffering and joy along with our historical ancestors and bond together as a seder table group. I’m going to try it at our seder table this year. I’ll let you know how it goes. If you try it, let me know how it goes as well.