Incredibly, spring is in the air and we’re getting ready for Pesach. Children are told not to carry around their cookies. The global Daf Yomi community, learning Masechtas Yevamos, is careful not to eat food over its open Gemaras, and everyone is pitching in to do the yearly chometz purge. But another angle of Pesach – besides choosing the particular vintage of your Seder wine and the shmura matzah bakery from which you plan to buy your matzah – is the preparations we need to make to ensure that our Seder experience is a spiritually inspiring one for the entire family. Especially in today’s day and age, when the outside environment is so tempting and inviting, we need to take concrete steps to etch and engrave the important lessons of our tradition and heritage in the minds of our family.
Here is one of the very first steps to take to make a successful Seder. The Haggadah Vayaged Moshe cites the verse, “L’rasha amar Elokim, ‘Ma lach lisaper chukai,’” – “Hashem says to the wicked, ‘What do I need for you to relate My statute?’” Since Hashem despises the evil person as He is, so to speak, nauseated from the praise of the wicked, it is a good idea to preface our Seder with teshuvah. Thus, we should suggest a moment of silence to our families before starting the Seder in order to accept contrition for past misdeeds and to commit to be better in the future.
This is one of the reasons why the Seder starts off with the declaration, “Kadeish.” This is not simply because it indicates the saying of Kiddush. It is also to hint that we should sanctify ourselves with sincere repentance. This is one of the reasons why we don the kittel before the Seder, for the white garment which serves as the Jewish shroud reminds us of the day of death – which the Gemara in Berachos says is the strongest motivator to do teshuvah.
The Skolya Rebba, Shlit”a, in his excellent Haggadah, quotes the stanza, “V’hi sh’amdah la-avoseinu v’lonu – It was IT that stood to protect us and our forefathers.” He observes that the word “v’hi” [vav-hei-yud-alef] is an abbreviation for “Hashiveinu [hei] Hashem [yud] Eilecha [alef] v’noshuvah [vav]. This points to how the power of teshuvah has saved us throughout the generations. That we should be ready to make our Seder experience as acceptable as possible in the Eyes of Hashem is no small matter for, as the Rebbe points out, in the famous declaration “Ma nishtana,” the word “nishtana” is an acronym for “tein shana,” which means “Give us a good year,” and indicates that in the merit of a worthy Seder, Hashem will give us another good year.
We know that we invite to the Seder all four children; the wise, the wicked, the simple minded, and the one who is too young to even ask a question. The Haggadah discusses how we should treat the impudence of wicked fellow. When he derisively declares, “What is all of this stuff that you are doing? You’re eating enough romaine lettuce to grow a garden in your stomach, and what’s all of this prattle? It’s late already. Why don’t we eat?” The Haggadah says something shocking. We tell him the Passover experience commemorates the Exodus. You should know however, “Ilu hayah sham, lo hayah nigal – If you would have been there, you would not have been redeemed.” At first glance this is mystifying. After all, we invited the wicked person to the Seder in order to embrace and rehabilitate him. This rejoinder, it would seem, would only serve to enrage him, or at the very least to turn him off.
The saintly Rebbe from Lininov, zt”l, zy”a, gives a wonderfully exciting explanation. We tell him, “If you would have been in Egypt before we received the Torah, you wouldn’t have been saved for at that point Hashem had not given us the gift of teshuvah. But now, on the other hand, you can readily turn things around and start fresh with us right here and right now, for Hashem has blessed us with the kind treasure of erasing our past and starting a beautiful new spiritual future at any time, no matter how old we are or how sinful we were.”
May it be the will of Hashem that our Seder experience is a powerful one, and in the merit of always trying to improve ourselves, may Hashem bless us with long life, good health, and everything wonderful.