My father of blessed memory, HaRav HaGaon HaTzaddik Avraham HaLevi Jungreis, would tell me that when I speak or teach I should always ask myself what message the listener will take home that will infuse him with strength and help him cope throughout the year.
I would like to pose that question to all of us. We just celebrated the anniversary of our nationhood, and now that the glorious Yom Tov has passed, what are we taking with us?
Allow me to share a few thoughts.
Telling The Story: The Haggadah teaches us that in every generation we must look upon the bondage and exodus from Egypt as though we ourselves experienced it. But is that a realistic expectation? How can we convey that which happened so very long ago and which we never experienced?
Obviously, there are many beautiful teachings on the subject – teachings that demonstrate to us that the bondage in Egypt, the terrible suffering of our people, has been a constant throughout the centuries, and that, in the end, Hashem always saves us.
Still, you might wonder how we can actually feel what our forefathers and their children felt at that first Seder following the exodus.
But here too, the path was paved for us. While all those who celebrated the first Seder after the exodus had vivid memories of their bondage and the miracles that ensued, there was one father among them whose children never experienced it and had to absorb it through hearing the story. That father was Moshe Rabbeinu himself. When he, the loyal shepherd of Israel, was on his way to save his brethren, his brother Aaron came forth to greet him and advised that he send back his sons with Tzipporah, his wife, for the jungle of Egypt was no place for them.
Nothing happens by coincidence. Surely G-d, who is capable of everything, could have arranged for Tzipporah and the lads to be safe, even in that hellish place – so there must be a deeper meaning here.
It has often occurred to me that it was Moshe Rabbeinu who was destined to relate the story to those who did not see it with their own eyes – so that throughout the centuries we might be able to tell the story to our children and enable then to see that which they did not see or hear. Nevertheless, they would hear it with their hearts and see it with their neshamas.
Moshe paved the way for us so that in every generation we might relate the story and make it come alive for our children and our children’s children. Indeed, we find this lesson reinforced time and again. Everything in Jewish history is replay – there is a precedent for everything. We are never left to stand on our own. Our Torah GPS system is always working, provided we know how to access it. “That which occurred to our forefathers is a sign to the children.”
It is not only our story we must relate that night; we must also review the values and principles that guide and shape our lives.
Chesed: At the very beginning of the Seder we invite all those who are hungry and needy to come join us. At first glance, this is puzzling. After all, who would come in at this point? So why extend the invitation now? But chesed is our raison d’etre. We are a nation of chesed, committed to extending goodness and loving-kindness, and that commitment must characterize our lives. So let us be careful that the words we proclaimed on Seder night, “Let all those who are hungry or in need join us,” were not just empty platitudes.
Education: The education of our children is paramount to our people, so we invite our little ones to ask questions, for questions awaken the mind and the heart. These questions are asked not only at the beginning of the Seder but throughout the night. One of the concluding prayers is also in the form of questions: “Who knows one?” “Who knows two?” and so on. But it is not only children who must ask – we must also ask. We must probe our souls and examine the depth of our Jewish knowledge and commitment. Ask yourself, “How well can I answer the questions?” “What do I really know about my Torah, my faith, my G-d?”
Let us all make a commitment to study more this year, to make Torah study the priority of our lives. We at Hineni invite you to study with us, but whatever you do, wherever you are, study. You owe it to yourself, to your people and to your G-d.
Gratitude: One of the favorite songs at the Seder is “Dayenu.” But “Dayenu” is more than a song. It represents the ultimate in hakaros hatov – thanksgiving. As Jews, we dare not take anything for granted, but must express appreciation for all the blessings as well as the challenges that come our way.
“Dayenu” details every gift G-d has showered us with. It is more than just a generic “Thank you,” which is meaningless. For example, when a bar mitzvah boy says, “I would like to thank my parents for everything they’ve done,” the words are hollow. Not so, however, when he takes the time to enumerate all the kindnesses shown to him by his parents – “I would like to thank my mom for sitting at my bedside night after night when I was ill”; “I would like to thank my dad who patiently sat with me for hours on end, helping me with my homework”; “I would like to thank my parents for saying the bedtime Shema with me and never allowing me to go to sleep without planting a kiss on my forehead.”
A critical lesson for a generation that feels entitled but never indebted.
Unity: Finally, let us bear in mind that every Jew must be included in our peoplehood. Even the so-called wicked son must be given a place at the Seder table. In his heart, every Jew wants to connect with his Heavenly Father, with his roots, with his people. We need only show him the way, and we can do that by inviting him to “join” us at the table – meaning that we must reach out to him with warmth and love and make him a part of us.
I could go on, but I suggest we once again review the Haggadah and take its lessons into our hearts. It will show us the way. It’s our compass that will lead us to the purpose of our lives.