Joshua 3:5–7, 5:2–6:1, 6:27
Jews around the world are gathering at the table to embark on one of the most powerful rituals in our tradition: the Passover seder, a re-enactment of the Exodus from Egypt. As we begin the Maggid section, we recite the famous words of the Ha Lachma Anya — “This is the bread of poverty and persecution that our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt. … Let all who are hungry come and eat. Let all who are in need come and share in the Pesach meal. This year we are here, next year in the Land of Israel. This year we are slaves, next year we will be free people.”
The seder meal serves not only as an opportunity to imagine ourselves as if we were leaving Egypt, it affords us the chance to remind ourselves that oppression and subjugation still exist in our world. It becomes our responsibility to not only tell the story for ourselves, but for our future generations. This is a story for our children.
As the Maggid section unfolds, we zoom in on the Four Children: one wise, one wicked, one simple, one who does not know how to ask. Throughout history, a great deal of attention has been given to these characters, their function in our story and their role at the seder. What’s striking about the seder is the idea that everyone, no matter your age, is welcome to be a part of that communal story. The haggadah points to the importance of creating a space for every person, every personality, to be a part of and present for the journey of reliving the Exodus.
Some suggest that highlighting the children reminds us of our biblical tradition of “veshinantem levanecha,” the famous words from the first paragraph of the Shema that instruct us to teach our children about our history and heritage, our collective narrative. The seder highlights the need to be creative, to think out of the box and to find pedagogical tools to engage everyone at the seder, no matter his or her background, knowledge or observance level. Many commentators posit that these traits (wisdom, wickedness, being simple-minded and an inability to ask) can be found in each of us. There are times throughout our lives when we each embody these qualities, and it is up to those gathered at the seder to welcome and include each person, especially our youth, where they are in all moments of life.
Artist and calligrapher David Moss, who authored his own haggadah in the mid-’90s, teaches “every child is unique and the Torah embraces them all. I see the Four Children like a deck of playing cards. As in a game of chance, we have no control over the children dealt us. It is our task as parents, as educators, as students, to play our hand based on the attributes of the children we are given. It is the child, not the parent, who must direct the process. This, I believe, is the intent of the midrash of the four children. …The text of the haggadah introduces the four children with a short passage in which the word baruch, or ‘blessed,’ appears four times. This correlates each of the four blessings with the four children, each one being a blessing. Diversity, and how we deal with it, and how we can discover the blessing within it, is perhaps the theme of the midrash of the four children” (from Noam Zion’s “A Different Night” haggadah).
For me, Moss beautifully articulates the essence of Passover. I see Passover as the great equalizer, an opportunity to embrace diversity as a blessing, where kid and adult is equal because we are unique and different. And on Passover, we share a common story, a journey that we all embark on together. On Passover, we can all be like teachers through the answers that we offer others and we can be like students, learning through the questions we ask and encourage others to ask during the seder. Passover is an opportunity for all of us to unite in a common vision, study of tradition, the pursuit of justice, the yearning for freedom and the celebration of diversity.
Let’s tell the story for our children, so that it can be a time of new beginnings, an opportunity for creating inclusive and welcoming community. And may we remember to teach our children the value of working together to build the next generation so we can all know the blessings of freedom.
Rabbi Corey Helfand is the spiritual leader of Peninsula Sinai Congregation in Foster City. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.