“At the Passover Seder We Are All Children”

by Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald

In our previous discussions of Passover, we focused on the frequent emphasis on children, especially at the Passover seder. We suggested, that the seder is a communal learning experience where everyone is regarded as a child and a student.

In the analysis of Passover 5760-2000, we spoke of how the Bible and the Midrash emphasize that the Egyptians singled out the Jewish children for persecution. Pharaoh instructs the midwives to kill all male children. The Midrash says that Pharaoh, a leper, bathed in the blood of Jewish children, had the Jewish children burned in Egyptian furnaces, and, if the Hebrew slaves failed to produce their quota of bricks, Jewish children were plastered into the walls to fill the gaps. The Egyptian strategy was to disrupt Jewish family life and prevent the birth of Jewish children. And, even when Pharaoh (Exodus 10:10) finally agreed to allow the Israelites to worship for three days, he would not allow the children to accompany the adults.

The reason for the emphasis on children is obvious–-children represent the future; children represent immortality.

The Bible, in Exodus 13:8, states dramatically, “V’hee’gah’deh’tah l’vihn’chah…bah’ah’voor zeh ah’sah Hashem lee b’tzay’tee m’Mitzrayim.” And you shall tell your children…that because of this, (because of the Passover mandate to partake of matzah and maror) G-d acted on my behalf when I left Egypt. The implication being that the Jewish people’s survival is primarily due to their allegiance to G-d and to His commandments.

Throughout the ages, Jewish children were told fascinating and fanciful tales about Passover that included all sorts of exciting and wild creatures. Harry Potter has nothing on these stories. The Midrashic stories about the plague of “Ah’rov”–-wild animals, leave nothing to the imagination.

Passover is a night of stories, because on this night the Jewish nation was born.* Even today, 3300 years later, we are all transformed on the night of the seder into curious children. We are all eager to hear the full story of our “birth” as a nation, to learn the details of what took place in the “delivery room” of Egypt, and to be informed of every nuance, every complication, and every miraculous intervention that resulted in our people’s survival.

The exodus from Egypt also marks the initial encounter between the “parent” and the “child.” The exodus was the start of the people’s special relationship with their Ultimate parent–the Al-mighty G-d. It was at that moment that the Al-mighty lifted His “child” from the womb, formed His people into a nation, and began the long march with them through the wilderness, to the Promised Land.

The story of the Exodus from Egypt confirms our special relationship with our Father, a Father who is totally absorbed with His children, and constantly intervening on their behalf. On this night of Passover, His children vie to be drawn closer to their Parent, to G-d Al-mighty, who rids them of their enemies and their ills, lifts them up upon the wings of eagles, and hovers over them in the form of a cloud to protect them.

As their protective Parent, the Al-mighty unleashed his wrath on the Egyptians who inflicted excessive cruelty on His children. And when, even after the vast devastation of the Ten Plagues, they were still bent on destroying Israel–-they themselves were destroyed.

Unfortunately, G-d’s children, often fail to recognize that the relationship with G-d is expected to be mutual. Just as G-d cares fiercely about His children, and will hold those accountable who dare harm them, so should His children care fiercely about G-d. While it may appear rather trivial, G-d truly cares about whether His children say “Modeh Ani” in the morning and recite the “Shema Yisrael” at night. G–d cares when a Jewish child is born, and is concerned about all who are in pain, physically or emotionally.

This is the essence of being a Jew. It symbolically begins at the Passover Seder, and continues until the end of time. All the rituals and commandments of the night of Passover are intended to teach the Jews how to connect, and how to properly relate to the Al-mighty. Just as a bride and groom have the bridal canopy, the chuppah, and a ring, so too, on the night of Passover, do the family of Israel have matzah and maror, and the other special rituals and symbols whose purpose is to teach the greatness of G-d, that G-d is always closely connected to His people and concerned for their well being.

How vitally important it is to convey this message to the next generation, so that they can convey it to their children, until the coming of the ultimate Redeemer.

May you be blessed.

*Although there were different stages in the birth of the Jewish nation, the Exodus from Egypt is regarded as the event marking the physical birth of the Jewish nation, while Sinai marks the spiritual birth of our people.

The first two days of the joyous festival of Passover will be observed this year (2011) on Monday night, April 18th, and continue through Tuesday and Wednesday, April 19th and 20th.  The seventh and eighth days of Passover begin on Sunday night, April 24th, and continue through Monday and Tuesday, April 25th and 26th.For more info see NJOP’s website www.njop.org.

Chag Kasher V’samayach. Wishing all our friends a wonderful, joyous and meaningful Passover.