Jews with Views – Pesach Edition 5783

Which of the 15 parts of the Seder is most personally meaningful to you?

 

BY RACHEL KRAUS

A foundational mainstay of the Seder, and Pesach in general, is the principle of vihigadeta l’vincha, “tell this story to your children.” The design and goal of the Seder is to experientially – through props, song and a bit of live theater – induce curiosity, stimulate the senses and delve into the art and immersive space of storytelling.

I am the grandchild of four Holocaust survivors. It is an identity of strength and profound significance that I carry with me every single day and one that has added importance on Pesach. In the liminal space between the 13th and 14th steps, Barech and Hallel, when we open the door and invite in Eliyahu HaNavi, my paternal grandfather had a family tradition that he initiated in the years following the war to recite a special prayer, an ode to the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto. My grandfather chanted aloud this sweeping and moving reading about the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and about the decimation of our people by a modern-day Egypt and Pharaoh. His powerful voice was unwavering, and, as he approached the end, would sing in his bellowing baritone voice, Ani Ma’amin, “I believe.” The room shook. Time stood still. No one could move or even swallow. This is a tradition we still carry on, now an ode to my grandfather. 

Of the 15 steps, it’s the white space between the steps where we tell our story, where we personalize and ritualize what this story truly is, what my story truly is.

Rachel Kraus is a marketing executive and Managing Director/Partner at DoAble, a brand strategy and marketing collective. She is also the Director of Community Education at Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun in Manhattan where she serves as part of the spiritual leadership of the community.

BY RABBI DOV LIPMAN

The act of breaking the middle of the three matzot and hiding the larger piece for the afikoman mimics the behavior of impoverished people who tend to hoard food due to their uncertainty about future sustenance. Yachatz helps us internalize what our forefathers experienced in Egypt while also transmitting the essential Jewish value of feeling the pain of others.

Moshe “went out to his brethren and saw their suffering” (Shemot 2:11). Rashi explains that Moshe “placed his eyes and heart to feel pain for them,” while the Midrash goes even further, saying “Moshe cried and said, ‘I am so pained for them’… Moshe then offered his own shoulders and helped as many Jews as he could with their work” (Shemot Rabbah 1:27). Moshe could have enjoyed his comfortable life in the palace without giving a second thought to the suffering of the Jewish people. Instead, Moshe felt their pain and took action.  

In my work as CEO of Yad L’Olim, I meet people who are suffering every day. But I also see how caring for them and lending them a helping hand raises their spirits and literally saves lives.

As we perform Yachatz and our children begin to scheme to win their afikoman present, we should remember to explain the reason for setting aside the larger piece of matzah for later and commit to dedicating ourselves – as individuals and as families – to feel the pain of others and to act on their behalf.

Rabbi Dov Lipman was elected to the Knesset in 2013, making him the first American-born MK in 30 years. The author of 9 books about Judaism and Israel, and an international lecturer, Rabbi Lipman is the founder and CEO of Yad L’Olim, an NGO that assists olim from around the world.

BY LANI ESHEL

For me, the most meaningful part of the Pesach Seder has always been Nirtzah. I have so many powerful memories from my childhood Sedarim. It was the part of the Seder that everyone was most enthusiastic about, and our song sheets of silly English Pesach songs were passed down from year to year, just like our haggadot.

As I’ve grown older, my appreciation of Nirtzah has deepened. Nirtzah is the last part of the Seder; by this point, most families have been sitting at the table for hours, the younger children have fallen asleep, everyone has finally eaten and, by and large, our halachic obligations have been fulfilled. But Nirtzah reminds us that although we may have eaten enough matzah, said “Pesach, Matzah and Maror,” there is still more to be done. We must not stop with the berachot or with Hallel, but we must continue to express our joy over the incredible miracles performed by HaKadosh Baruch Hu. We step out of bounds of traditional tefillot and sing silly, informal songs.

And finally, with Nirtzah we conclude our Seder with the most important message of all: לְשָׁנָה הַבָּאָה בִּירוּשָׁלַיִם הַבְּנוּיָה, “Next year in the rebuilt Jerusalem!” – reminding us of the privilege we have to be part of the building of our holy city, and also of the journey that still lies ahead.

Lani Eshel is currently on shlichut in Manchester with Mizrachi UK and Bnei Akiva UK.

BY RABBI HILLEL VAN-LEEUWEN

Jubilant spirits were in the air. All were dressed beautifully, groomed to the max for the chag. The spacious shul was packed, the inspirational prayers unifying and heartwarming. The chazzan’s booming voice emanated as he added zest to the final words of the Amidah: הַמְבָרֵךְ אֶת עַמּוֹ יִשְׂרָאֵל בַּשָּׁלוֹם, “Who blesses His nation Israel with peace,” and the entire congregation answered as one: Amen!

And then, the Hallel began. Hearts were overcome with emotional gratitude, the singing intensified, building up to the much-anticipated crescendo when the gabbai, without warning, abruptly stopped the tefillah in its tracks. The stunned community was promptly instructed to go home, eat their yom tov meal, then return to shul to complete the Hallel.

Sounds crazy? We do this at the Seder! Towards the end of Maggid, we finally reach Hallel – the epitome of our national thanksgiving to Hashem. But we abruptly stop after its first 2 chapters. We recite Birkat HaGeulah, drink the second cup, wash our hands, eat an entire meal, recite Birkat HaMazon – and then complete the final 4 chapters of the Hallel. How can we stop this holy tefillah in order to eat?

The message is powerful (and delicious!): our living Torah wasn’t given to angels, but rather to humans! Jews should serve Hashem as human beings – celebrating with our hearts, souls and stomachs too, commemorating both the physical and spiritual freedom that we were gifted on Pesach. This is the basis of the Temple service, where food and drink complemented the deeply spiritual aspects of the avodah. On Seder night, through the exalted Hallel and the lavish Shulchan Orech, we serve Hashem with body and soul!

Rabbi Hillel Van-Leeuwen was born in Chicago and raised in Israel, and heads World Mizrachi’s leadership programs, as well as its Shlichut Center.

BY RAIZI CHECHIK

I personally connect deeply to the four sons, finding particular resonance in a reflection of Rabbi Joseph Isaac Schneerson on the order of these sons in the Haggadah. They do not follow a hierarchy of righteousness, nor are they in a progression of dialogue with each other. Instead, the Rebbe views the four sons through the lens of Jewish history, as a metaphoric retelling of the story of the Jew arriving in exile, and particularly the story of the Jew arriving on American soil.

The first generation, the chacham, arrives in the new world deeply committed to the traditions of Torah and mitzvot. His child, the rasha, forcefully rejects the foreign customs of his immigrant father, aiming to integrate into his new country. The grandchild parallels the tam, who has fond memories of his beloved grandparent’s traditions and customs. But the great-grandchild, raised without a Jewish education, becomes she’eino yode’a lish’ol, the cycle of assimilation complete.

Several years ago, after an exhaustive search, I located my great-grandfather’s grave. A deeply religious immigrant, he lived through the pain of watching his children leave the path of observance he held so dear. None of his American-born grandchildren were raised in observant homes. Statistically, my cousins and I should have tragically been she’eino yode’a lish’ol.

But because there were rabbis and laypeople in our beautiful community who were committed to Jewish education and cared enough to reach out to others, my great-grandfather now has dozens of descendants who are learning, living, and teaching Torah. Each year when I read the story of the arba banim, I recall with gratitude, and obligation, our capacity to do the same. 

Raizi Chechik, Community Scholar at the Jewish Center of Manhattan, is a veteran day school leader and serves as a mentor to new Principals and Heads of School.

© 2024 World Mizrachi

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