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A number of friends from around the world have asked me what they should focus on this year during their Seder. It seems clear to me that the most important thing to discuss with all our closest friends and family around the table this year is our plans for aliyah. Let me explain.

My rosh yeshiva, Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, asks a fascinating question about why the story of Rabbi Eliezer, Rabbi Yehoshua, Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah, Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Tarfon is told at the beginning of the Haggadah. They are talking all night about “leaving Egypt” and then their students come to tell them that it is time to say the Shema.


The whole premise of this story is bizarre. Shema is said at sunrise; how could they not have noticed the time? If the whole point of the story is that they were so engrossed in their discussion that they did not notice, then what is the message? That the Biblical mitzvah of saying the Shema is less important than the Seder? Additionally, Rabbi Eliezer states elsewhere in the Talmud that one must spend festivals with one’s family, in which case, what was he doing spending Seder night with Rabbi Akiva and his colleagues in Bnei Brak?

Rabbi Riskin explains that this was the year of the Bar Kochba Revolt and that “leaving Egypt” is actually a codeword for returning to Jerusalem and building the 3rd Temple. When the Haggadah was (re)written during the years of exile, the Rabbis intended Seder night to be the time to gather and plan our return to Zion. Because they were nervous about the response of the Gentiles in whose countries we were living, they encoded this message in a way that only Jews would understand it.

We know that the four cups, the four questions and the four sons are connected to the four expressions of redemption: “I will take you out,” “I will save you,” I will redeem you,” and “I will take you” (Shemot 6:6-7). That seems very symmetrical. However, there are actually five expressions of redemption in the Torah, the fifth being “I will bring you to the land” (Shemot 6:8). So, of course, there are actually five cups of wine on Seder night, the fifth being the cup of Elijah that is left undrunk until we return to Zion (Rabbi Riskin and others drink this cup of wine at the Seder every year, to celebrate our return to Zion).

Similarly, there is a fifth question mentioned in the Talmud: “Why is the meat eaten roasted?” This refers to the Paschal lamb (Pesach) symbolized on our Seder plate by the shank bone, but representing all the sacrifices brought in the Temple, when it is rebuilt.

The Lubavitch Rebbe explained that there are actually five sons; the fifth is so detached from his heritage that he is not even present at the Seder, but he too will be redeemed in the end.

Let’s face it, if the topic of the Seder was actually the Exodus from Egypt, then we would just need to read the relevant Torah portions – Vaeira, Bo and Beshalach – which narrate the story of the ten plagues and the crossing of the Red Sea, and then we could get down to the real business of eating a delicious meal! Instead, the main text of the Haggadah is the declaration over the first fruits that the farmers say in Sefer Devarim (26:5-8), which describes the suffering we went through in Egypt and how G-d took us out.

In fact, the Haggadah stops short by one verse – Devarim 26:9 – missing out the end of the story: “And He brought us to this place, and He gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.” Interestingly, the Rambam recommends that we do read to the end of the section, because presumably he wishes us to include this finale.

Of course, the real theme of Seder night becomes clear when we reach the final line of the Haggadah: “Next year in Jerusalem!”

So, with all this in mind, there could be no better activity during Seder night this year than to have a serious discussion with all one’s loved ones assembled around the table. If we were to make aliyah this year (or next), where would we choose to live? How many housing units would we need? How would we accommodate our grandparents, college-aged kids, high-schoolers and infants? What jobs would we look for?

October 7 changed everything for Jews in Israel and around the world. It became clearer than ever that life in exile is not what it was cracked up to be. Antisemitism is again overt and dangerous.

Please G-d, the war against Hamas will be won quickly and decisively, and peace will return to our borders. The “land flowing with milk and honey” will again be much more attractive than the “land whose streets are paved with gold.” While academia is teaching the next generation of Western leaders that antisemitism has a legitimate context, our children should consider which society they want to be a part of. While the world is confused about right and wrong, and seemingly doomed by its lack of moral education, there is one place that will always be a center for sanity and Jewish values.

Along with our prayers for the hostages and our valiant soldiers, we are praying for peace and tranquility for all of Israel. This year may we all say, with complete intention and sincerity, “Next Year in Jerusalem!”


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Rabbi Leo Dee lives in Efrat with his three children and is the author of Transforming the World - The Jewish Impact on Modernity.