One of the hazards of the professional Jew is that we can’t help spending time looking at
the heavens. And sometimes, it affects us more than you could imagine. On Purim evening, I was rushing back to NYC for the megillah reading. The sun was setting and there was a brilliant full moon. My first thought was, oy, I’m late. My second thought was, double oy, Pesach is four weeks away. And now, we see just the tiniest of a sliver of the moon this evening, on this Rosh Hodesh, the first day of the new month of Nisan. I have come to the scary realization that Pesach is now two weeks away. Two weeks to do the shopping, clean the house, get rid of the hametz, and prepare ourselves for the Pesach seder.
As an educator, I see the seder as a brilliantly designed lesson plan. There is something for all types of learners.
- For the linguistic learners, we go around the seder table and everyone is able to share in the telling of the story.
- There is lots of singing for the musical learners.
- We have the seder plate, the three matzot, and the kiddush cup organized for those who think spatially.
- We raise our kiddush cup, break the matzah, open the door for Eliayahu and run around searching for the afikomen for the kinesthetic learners.
- For the interpersonal learner, the seder provides lots of time for interaction with others. (Sometimes this is the greatest channel for many of us.)
- The seder experience always provides us with much to contemplate for the intrapersonal learner.
- And for the spiritual learner, the seder is all about believing that miracles are possible. Howard Gardiner, the creator of the theory of multiple intelligences, calls this existential intelligence.
Another example is the Four Children who encompass all of the facets within us: sometimes we are wise, we occasionally rebel, sometimes we do not have a sophisticated viewpoint on a subject, and rarelym we are asked to speak on an issue that we know nothing about. Hence the wise child, the wicked child, the simple child, and the child who doesn’t know what to ask.
With Pesach just two weeks away — yes folks, the first seder is two weeks from tonight — what will you do to capture those few precious moments when your family and friends are together? Can you find a way to find meaning and to let everyone join in using their own special talents? Here are some thoughts about how to spice up your seders to make them warm and welcoming for all.
Think about your space. Is the table really crowded? Will people really be uncomfortable? Break out of your comfort zone to something more comfortable. Why not consider moving away from the table and sitting on the couches and pillows in the living room? You can even hang sheets and pretend that you are in a Bedouin tent. When it is time for the Four Questions, you will already be fulfilling the last one, “on this night we recline.”
In Ha Lachma Anya we ask “all who are hungry to come and eat.” Is there someone you can invite to your seder, either a single person or a family, who would love to attend? There is always room for more and you will be doing a mitzvah.
And, speaking of eating, at the seders of my childhood, we would have the tease of the parsley and then nothing else for an hour. We kids were always starving! Don’t torture your guests. When we say the prayer for the parsley, borei prie ha-adamah, we are saying a blessing for all things that come from the earth. So this is a great time for some strawberries, baby potatoes with dressing, carrots, and other fruits and veggies. Make this an early appetizer and your guests will be ready for more.
Don’t forget to make the seder fun! Several times, I attended a seder at a friend’s house. Her family had the custom of acting our Avadim Hayinu — we were slaves — by whipping each other with a scallion. Aside from having your clothing smell of onions, this was a great way to lighten the mood of recounting the time of our slavery. And what better way is there to remember the plagues than to shoot toy frogs or bugs at each other or flip tiny pieces of styrofoam “hail.”
You can ask your friends to bring a tradition from their own family to share or create foods from different parts of the world. When I was a kid, we always had a fourth matzah in the stack to remember the Russian Jews who were unable to observe freely. Are there oppressed people that we should be recalling?
For me, the holiday of Pesach is about the choices we make as free people. Just this week, we saw the horrible consequences of using our freedom for evil as 4 Jews in France lost their lives. There are Pharaohs all around that seek to make us their slaves. Let’s rebel and rejoice! And with this celebration of freedom, I pray that you come closer together with your families and we become closer together as a people.