It’s the most famous Seder in history – the one remembered every year by millions of families in every corner of the world. Five great rabbis – Rabbi Eliezer, Rabbi Yehoshua, Rabbi Elazar ben Azaryah, Rabbi Akiva, and Rabbi Tarfon – sat around a table in Bnei Brak discussing the Exodus from Egypt with such concentration that they lost track of time, oblivious to the fact that the time to recite the morning Shema had arrived.
We are all familiar with the Seder. Year after year, we read the same Haggadah, tell the same story, probably even make the same observations. Through overfamiliarity, we can begin to lose interest.
Yet, these five great rabbis clearly weren’t affected by this overfamiliarity. Intellectual giants, spiritual masters, the leading sages of their time – you can be sure they knew the story of the Exodus from Egypt back to front. And yet, it was still so fresh, so compelling, that they spent the whole night discussing it again, re-analyzing, re-examining, re-telling.
We thus learn from these sages to strive for renewed inspiration when it comes to our Seders. It’s not incidental that Pesach in Israel coincides with the beginning of spring. It’s a time of rebirth and renewal. The Haggadah itself mentions that a person is obliged in every generation to see himself as if he had personally gone out of Egypt. The Pesach experience has to be fresh and immediate.
G-d renews creation on a constant basis. As we say in our morning prayers: “G-d renews Creation in His goodness each day.” He didn’t just create the world and leave it to run its course. He recreates the world at every moment.
We have a calling to emulate the ways of G-d, to constantly renew the way we live life, to keep things fresh and invigorating. The Exodus from Egypt is the paradigm of rebirth and renewal, and every year we are tasked with recreating that experience. It’s as if we go out of Egypt again and again, each year feeling the full force of the Exodus as if for the first time.
There is the temptation, given how familiar the story is, to slip into autopilot on Seder night. But if we approach it with a growth mindset – with a view to delving deeper and finding fresh ideas and insights – we can avoid this staleness.
We can transform the Seder into an incredibly powerful experience that truly changes us, that frees us from our tired routines and habits and brings us close to one another, to G-d, and to our true selves. A rebirth in the deepest sense.
The way to achieve this goal is to prepare for the Seder – to start conversations now about the themes and ideas of the Seder night. Practically, this can involve looking up new commentaries on the Haggadah, discussing these insights with your family during dinner, or sharing them on your family WhatsApp groups. The key is to go in with the objective of finding fresh inspiration – ensuring the Seder is not just a repeat of years past.
It’s with this idea in mind that my wife and I have gathered with our children every Sunday night for the last few weeks to journey through the Haggadah – discussing, debating, crystallizing the themes, and getting a deeper sense of the narrative.
My family and I were actually so excited and inspired by our Sunday night learning sessions that we decided to record them. We’ve turned these recordings into a special Pesach podcast series – an opportunity for you to listen in on our conversations and get ideas and inspiration for renewing your own Seder experience.
Of course, we need to prepare our homes in advance of Pesach. But the Seder, too, needs preparation – and the more we prepare for it, the more inspired the experience is going to be.