Letter the Editor: Passover Seder requires free speech

By April 21, 1997, I led the Congregational Passover Seder at Ahabat Sholom Synagogue in Lynn (now it is a Chabad Jewish Center). In addition to the automatic conventional/traditional explanations that go with the territory of leading an expedition through the Seder Ceremony, I was asked in the middle of the Seder if I might favor the company (about a hundred people) with a short speech and tell the group a few “words of your own” about the importance of the Passover Seder. “Words of your own” signaled to me that for this short speech (it was less than five minutes) they wanted to hear me relate the Seder to the here-and-now more than hearing me repeat the Passover words and ideas that were transcribed from wise men who died a very long time ago.

I reflected on the recent local newspaper stories of happenings on the North Shore and found a Seder connection. There had been an alarming number of North Shore teens who took their own lives. In one article the reporter asked a schoolmate and friend of one of the victims if she had any advice for parents. The classmate said, “They should listen to their kids more.”

I cited the news article and explained to the congregants that the Passover Seder ceremony is greatly about establishing a relationship of easy communication with your children. The famous “Four Questions” the young child (or adult) reads from the Haggadah opens with the words

“Why is this night different from all other nights.” The Passover questions don’t have to be read from the book, they can come directly from the mind and heart, but we want to hear them ask questions about Passover. We are not only teaching the children to want to ask their parents questions but we are also teaching the parents to want to listen to their children.

The Bible commands us (Exodus 13:14) “… When your child asks you ‘What does this mean?’ you are to tell him, ‘With a mighty hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt …'”

Today, in 2019, I might have explained the commandment to tell of the going out of Egypt more elaborately.

The Sages of the Talmud note that there are four different places in the Torah commanding Hebrews to tell their children about the Exodus. The Talmud sages say that the four times correspond to the four types

of children: wicked, wise, simple and the one that doesn’t even know enough to ask. I will paraphrase the Talmud a little (for clarity and easy reading). The wicked son asks, “… what is all this nonsense to


Because he has excluded himself from the rest of our nation and rejected a basic tenet of our belief you answer him harshly and tell him, “indeed it our service for if you were in Egypt at the time you wouldn’t have merited redemption.”

Notice the inclusiveness: The son is wicked. He says offensive things and we answer him harshly. But we still have him at the table and we still listen to what he has to say. And we still do not ignore him. We answer him, albeit harshly.

The Seder is more interested in encouraging free speech and discourse than intimidating into silence for fear of serious punishment for saying something politically incorrect.

Hersh Goldman


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