The Seder is a wonderful experience but it can be far more fulfilling if the leader understands what he’s doing and if all members of the family and guests are involved. Here are some tips to get the most out of your Seder:
1. Do your homework. If you were giving a speech at work, wouldn’t you take the time to review your material? Wouldn’t you try to anticipate questions so that you could answer them? There’s no reason the Seder should be any different! Look through several Haggadahs and select one that works for you. (We asked around for recommendations for some Haggadahs that are both filled with deep ideas and suitable even for beginners. We were told that the most popular ones in this category are by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Rabbi Avraham Twerski, and ArtScroll.) Take the time to prepare some comments and divrei Torah based on the traditional commentaries – it goes a long way towards making the Haggadah more relevant! You can also use this helpful seder guide we found to supplement your Haggadah.
2. Don’t go it alone. There will be other people at your Seder, so why should the leader do absolutely everything? Getting others involved not only takes work off the leader’s shoulders, it engages the participants and is more interesting for everybody. Take turns reading and ask others to prepare divrei Torah in advance.
3. Encourage questions. The Talmud repeatedly tells us that the reason we do certain things at the Seder is “so the children will ask.” It’s not a race to get to the end of the book, it’s an opportunity to have a meaningful experience, so slow it down and take the time to talk about the things that the Haggadah says. (Some sample questions appear below.)
4. Use your skills. We each have unique talents and strengths – put yours to work making the Seder come alive. Are you a gifted singer? A master storyteller? An aspiring comedian? The Haggadah is not just the words on the page! Use your unique capabilities at appropriate times to make your Seder a personalized experience.
5. Eat something in advance. The famous “fifth question” of the Seder is “when do we eat?” It takes a while to get to the meal and people can get a little impatient. That’s not good for one’s ability to enjoy the Seder. Yes, the afternoon before Passover is hectic, but everyone will appreciate the Seder more if they take a break to eat something so they’re not famished at Seder time.
Four (More) Questions
What’s the difference between the wise son and the wicked son?
The wicked son is criticized for saying “you,” thereby excluding himself from the group – but the wise son also says “you!” Why is he not likewise chastised? The reason is that the wise son’s question includes the words “Hashem our God.” We see from his choice of words that, unlike the wicked son, he still views himself as a part of the community.
What’s this chazeres stuff?
The Seder plate has a spot for maror – the bitter herbs – and a spot for chazeres – which is just more bitter herbs (typically romaine lettuce)! This is because maror is eaten twice during the course of the Seder. The Jerusalem Talmud explains “chazeres” as a vegetable that starts out sweet and turns bitter. This is symbolic of the Jews’ lives in Egypt, which started out well when Joseph was alive but then turned bitter with their servitude to Pharaoh.
Why would it have been enough?
The song “Dayeinu” is confusing. If God had brought us to Mount Sinai but not given us the Torah, it would have been enough? If He had not brought us into Israel, it would have been enough? Why would it have been enough to not receive the most essential things in Judaism? Actually, Dayeinu is the introduction to the psalms of praise we call Hallel. The intention of Dayeinu is to say, “Even if God had only done this, it would have been enough reason for us to sing the following songs of praise,” not to downplay our appreciation for any of God’s gifts.
Why is Pharaoh held responsible if God “hardened his heart?”
If you got a shock every time you reached for the light switch on Friday night, you’d eventually stop trying to turn on the lights. But doing so wouldn’t really be your choice! If you could ignore the shock, you might still turn on the lights. That’s what “hardening Pharaoh’s heart” means.” Pharaoh repeatedly said he would release the Jews because he was coerced by the plagues. What God did was He restored Pharaoh’s resolve. He gave Pharaoh the ability to withstand the plagues and do what he really wanted to do. Pharaoh is responsible because God “hardened his heart,” not despite it!
Some further Passover reading on Jew in the City:
In the Haggadah we say “in every generation they rise against us to destroy us…and the Holy One, blessed be He, saves us from their hand. How can the haggadah conclude the verse with this claim? Haven’t we repeatedly not been saved?
We thank God for freeing us from slavery, but wasn’t He the One that put us there in the first place?
Why did He do it?!
Why does matza contain the secret to financial freedom?
What can we learn from matza in order to stop being so lazy?