Participating in a Passover Seder is always a fun and meaningful way to come together and celebrate our freedom. Leading a Seder can seem like a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be, if you have an understanding of some of the basic ideas of what a Seder is meant to do.
Trying to create your own Seder at home can be an overwhelming experience. There are so many books out there and so many people telling you that in order for a Seder to be kosher, in order for it to be done right, you have to do X, Y, and Z.
If it’s a choice between leading a very simple Seder that everyone can enjoy, or not participating in one at all because “it’s too complicated”, it really is not a choice. A simple Seder that everyone can enjoy is all that is truly needed.
Two thousand years ago, when the rabbis were trying to find a way to create meaning in the ritual of the Passover Seder, they wanted the evening to be a fun, engaging and educational one. The rabbis wanted the Seder to be an opportunity for participants to ask questions and to understand the story of how we were once slaves in Egypt, but now we are free.
One of the rituals that the rabbis suggested was move the entire meal from the table to the floor and then back to the table. The story goes: “Once the young pupil Abaye was invited to the Seder of his teacher Rabbah. While still at the beginning of the Seder, Rabbah ordered the servants to clear the dishes from the table. Amazed, Abaye asked, “Why are you removing the Seder plate before we have even eaten?” Rabbah exclaimed, “Your question has served the same function as the usual four questions of ‘Ma Nishtanah’. Let’s dispense with those set questions and proceed directly to the telling of the story.” (BT Pesachim 115b) It seems that the sole purpose of clearing the table, before it was time to eat, was to pique the children’s interest; to lead the children to ask, “Why do you do this?” This question can potentially replace the traditional four questions. And gives Rabbah an opportunity to move on with the Seder and tell the story of how God took us out of Egypt.
So, if you would like to lead a small Seder, consider these two teachings from the Haggadah:
* In every generation one is obligated to see oneself as one who personally went out from Egypt. Just as it says: “You shall tell your child on that very day: ‘It is because of this that God did for me when I went out from Egypt.’ ” (Exodus 13:8)
* Rabban Gamliel used to say: “All who have not explained the significance of three things during the Pesach Seder have not yet fulfilled their duty.” The three are: the Pesach lamb (the shank bone), the matzah, and the maror. Why these three? The Pesach lamb, matzah and maror constituted the original menu in the Egyptian Seder.
With these teachings in mind, what activities would you create to help those sitting at your table understand the story that we were slaves in Egypt and now we are free? What would you ask the participants to do to help them see themselves as ones who personally went out from Egypt? And what kinds of things would you put on the table, along with the matzah, maror, and the shank bone, to help them understand our history? For example, would you put Egyptian action figures on the table? Would you put a wicker basket on the table (so that you can tell the participants how Moses’ mother put him in a wicker basket, and his sister Miriam followed it to make sure that Moses was safe)?
In order to create a Seder, we must think about how to make the story of our leaving Egypt come alive. And, of course, we have to taste some Matzah.