THE TEN LESSONS
Numerous people have requested that I re-print part of my Shabbat HaGadol Drasha that dealt with “Pesach and Children,” and especially the ten parenting lessons that we can derive from the seder. A fuller exposition is in preparation (long, slow preparation), but I offer this extract in order, I hope, to enhance the seder, the experience of Pesach and the bonds of generations.
Obviously, the essential mitzvah of the night – relating the events of the Exodus from Egypt 3334 years – focuses on our redemption from that house of bondage through G-d’s miracles and wonders, our designation as the Chosen People that led us to receive His Torah at Sinai and to residence in His holy land of Israel. That is primary; beyond that, there are ten lessons for us to ponder as this awesome holiday arrives.
1) The seder is about roles, and life has roles. The roles need not be absolutely fixed, but they need to exist and we blur them at our peril: mother, father, husband, wife, grandfather, grandmother, child, grandchild, guest, friend, the “master of the seder,” the questioner, etc. There is a hierarchy in life, and that hierarchy is apparent at the seder, and when we attempt to transpose the roles in society, we cause damage to the framework. To understand roles is important, because without roles there can be no role models.
2) The seder, with its dialogue, discussion, bridging of generations and the shared experience of holiness can be life-transforming – because parents are there, present and accounted for. That is not always true in many families today, in which children often see a foreign caretaker more than their parents. On Pesach, there is no Abba shel Shabbat or Ima shel Shabbat. The benefits of parents and children eating together are inestimable. Even the average Shabbat has become so busy that it is no longer a day of rest. The seder reminds us of that obligation, and that paradise.
3) The Jewish home is magically transformed on Pesach – everything is new or different, and the home itself glows. It has a majesty that is hard to muster the rest of the year. For all the joys of the hotel, for a child never to experience a Pesach at home is deprivation. On Pesach, our homes are more insulated from outside influences that at any other time during the year. W should appreciate that.
4) At the beginning of the seder, we announce “all who are hungry, let them come and eat.” We may be in our castle, but to truly experience G-d’s blessings we must see beyond ourselves.
5) Every child needs a teacher, and the primary teachers in a child’s life are his/her parents. Education generally must be more than merely memorizing certain facts and rituals, and parents are indispensable in transmitting not necessarily facts but certainly experiences, memories, passion, enthusiasm, depth, and substance. However much we spend on education – and we spend a lot – we can never move too far afield from having primary responsibility for educating our children so they speak of lofty things in the home and on the road, day and night.
6) Each child is different and unique, and so no child should be forced into a mold. There are four models of children in the passage of the “Four Children,” but as the variant texts in the Hagada, the Mechilta and the Yerushalmi – and the very verses in the Torah – all make clear, there is no rigid formula for parenting. The same answer cannot be given to every child, if only because no two children ever ask the same question. The Torah offers us guidelines – but never inflexible formulas. Therefore the dialogue of parent and child must be spontaneous, not formulaic; natural, not contrived. And the most important point that a parent can convey to a Jewish child is that he is a prince and she is a princess, members of a royal people who are expected to behave like royalty (at least the way we like to assume that royalty of old behaved).
7) Life is all about details, and so the seder is therefore filled with details. Knowing one’s child means accumulating an incredible number of minute details and assembling a portrait of where he/she is in life, what his/her needs are, and how best he/she can be directed to the goal. If we don’t make the effort, then we run the risk of treating every child the same, which as sensible as putting every child in the same size suit regardless of their individual dimensions.
8) Our aspirations in life are not – should not be – material acquisitions, honor or social standing. Our aspirations in life should be character, integrity, values, ideals, redemption, and the pursuit of Torah and Mitzvot.
9) The seder is all about delayed gratification (we wait… for the meal, for the Afikoman, etc.), and the demand for instant gratification is destroying children, families, society, and American life as we know it. There is no greater metric of successful parenting than how much children have developed self-control. Pesach, and especially the seder, teach us self-control, about learning how to wait, and about how to enjoy life while waiting.
10) Redemption, too, is a lesson in patience, like the morning star that is briefly seen over the horizon and then fades, only to soon appear in all its glory. The Jewish people live in the present, but we are never weighed down by the present. We are never weighed down by the present because we are a people of history – of eternity – and because we are future-oriented. We have a deep and abiding faith, nurtured by the seder and the historic reality of “in every generation they rise against us to destroy us” that the future will progress as prophesied, and all the complications and obstacles that we fear will dissipate, that “the Holy One, Blessed be He, will save us from their hands,” from Iran’s bombs, from the rising Jew hatred across the globe, and even from “friends” who would love us to death.
We are an eternally hopeful people, and our children are the very foundation of that hope.
There is much more that was said and that could be said. For now, may we fully grasp the divine trust of children that has been given to us and raise them for the glory of G-d and the sublime destiny of the Jewish people. And together may we soon walk as families and ascend
G-d’s great mountain in His rebuilt city and Temple.
A Happy and Kosher Pesach to all !
Rabbi Steven Pruzansky