Rabbi David Walk, Education Director

Congregation Agudath Sholom | 301 Strawberry Hill Ave | Stamford, CT 06902 (203)-358-2200 www.agudathsholom.org

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Walk Article-Pesach



Rabbi David Walk


            Every Jew has Seder memories.  The time you got tipsy from the four cups of wine, or the Seder when your uncle was waiting outside when we opened the door for Elijah, or the neighbors had to join us because all their food got ruined and we had the best Seder, ever, or there was a blackout and we did the whole Seder by candlelight.  But I think that the most pleasurable Seder memories involve the littlest children reciting the Four Questions.  Very few of us can watch a little tyke ascend a chair and sing the questions without being affected.  The combination of cute and innocence and confusion is irresistible.  Is that why we ask the youngest to fumble their way through the lyrics?  I don't think it's for the entertainment value of the adults.  Perhaps it's for the education of the youngster.  Let's get them involved now.  I'm not so sure about that reason either.  I would like to submit for your consideration that we ask the youngest at the Seder to recite these lines, because they are the only ones present who might actually believe what they're saying. 

            Before I explain that last line, I want to clear up one misconception.  There are not four questions.  There is only one question, and it is:  What is different about this night from all other nights?  The other four statements are examples of differences which we perform during the evening's festivities.  And why, pray tell, are there four instances?  Well, that gets us into the many cases of fours in the Seder.  But basically the reason is that we have two differences which represent the negative situation in which the Jews found themselves before the redemption and two stand for the wonderful circumstances which followed the redemption.  The two negatives were slavery and idolatry.  The physical and spiritual sides of what we endured in Egypt.  The two positives are freedom and the newfound closeness to God, which we achieved upon the exodus from Egypt.  The Seder experience aims to lead us from the negative aspects of Egypt and all it entails to the positive realities of accepting God's largesse.

            Now I must explain what I meant by saying that only the young and innocent might believe the idea that tonight is different from any other night.  Western philosophy, and by extension modern scientific thinking, is based upon the principle of universals.  All nights are intrinsically the same.  They all begin with sunset and end with dawn.  The fact that I remember a particular night as being better or different from another has nothing to do with the night.  It has to do with me and my personal memory of a specific night.  My special experience didn't change the nightness of when it happened.  BTW astrophysicists are disturbed by the fact that the universe isn't exactly the same when we observe it in different directions.  A tremendous amount of time, effort and resources are being expended to explain why the universe isn't homogenized.  I'll give you a hint:  It happened in the first trillionth of a second after the Big Bang, and just a couple of weeks ago a breakthrough was made as evidence of the gravitational ripple which caused diversity was discovered. 

            However, we Jews don't adopt that point of view.  We believe that profound differences are the hallmark of our universe.  It's just that most of them don't register on any available system of measurement.  We have no metric for quantifying sanctity, or a method for gauging goodness.  But we believe that these elements exist as well their opposites.  We affirm that there are holy times, we believe that there are sanctified places and we have faith in the fact that some people have a special relationship with God.  We affirm that there are holy times by reciting Kiddush on Shabbat and holidays.  We display our belief that there are sanctified places by making pilgrimages and behaving respectfully in certain locales.  And, finally, we demonstrate our faith that God has a special relationship with some people by listening for God's instructions (mitzvoth) and communicating to the Divine on a regular basis (prayer).

            This brings us back to the simple question of the youngest member of our gathering.  What is different, special and unique about this night?  The scientific and philosophic answer is nothing is different, or, at least, nothing which can be measured, calculating or quantified.  The Jewish answer is:  Everything!  This night doesn't just commemorate the exodus from Egypt thirty-two hundred years ago; it embodies the revolutionary repercussions of the redemption.  The redemption was the transformation of the Hebrew clan of slaves into the nation of Israelite freemen.  That event has indelibly marked that night forever with the fingerprints of those momentous occurrences.  Those marks imprinted on this little segment of time impel us to do a lot of things.  The impact of that episode makes us eat obscene amounts of matzo and drink absurd quantities of wine.  But that's just the beginning.

            The greatest affect of that incident so very long ago is to motivate us to retell the tale.  This event is so important to our Jewish identity that ancient custom requires us to mention it every day of our lives.  The special affect of this night propels us to not just mention the event but to relive it in great detail.  If we have relived it with any sense of reality and sincerity then we must arrive at the conclusion that not just our ancestors were redeemed, but us as well.  And then we recognize that it is our duty to thank, to laud, to praise, to glorify, to exalt, to adore, to bless, to elevate and to honor the One who did all these miracles for our fathers and for us.

            So, when the innocent child declares:  What is different about this night from any other night?  Our initial answer must be:  Plenty!  And hopefully we believe it.  Chag Kasher V'Sameach!