We all want to share deep and thoughtful ideas at the Seder in order to enhance the experience. This collection of short and deep insights for the Seder are organized in a way that each idea is independent, but when read together, they develop a deeper theme as well. I hope they will aid you on your journey towards a meaningful, transformative Seder night.
Why Do We Announce All the Steps of the Seder?
Why do we begin the Seder by announcing all the steps of the Seder that we will complete? On no other Chag do we announce the steps of the holiday ritual aloud before proceeding to perform them. On Sukkot, we don’t say: “Lulav, Shofar, Sukkah…”, on Purim, we don’t say: “Megillah, Mishloach Manos, Matanot Laevyonim, Seudah…”. So why on the Seder night do we begin by announcing all the different steps of the Seder?
Any great journey begins with a clear goal and destination. As we say every Friday evening in Lecha Dodi, “Sof ma’aseh be’machshava techilah”- the physical result originates first within the mind. In order to accomplish anything great you must first create a clear target, and only then determine what steps you must take to get there.
The Seder is comprised of 15 steps, which is the same number of steps leading up to the Beis Hamikdash and the same number of “Shir Hamaalot” psalms- the songs of ascension. The Seder is likewise a 15 step process of ascension, a 15 step journey towards spiritual greatness. However, one does not simply achieve spiritual greatness accidentally, it requires focus, planning, and extreme dedication. The Seder night is a journey with tremendous potential, providing an opportunity to tap into something genuinely special. On the Seder night, we attempt to experience true freedom, a fundamentally deeper connection with Hashem, true gratitude, and an understanding of our mission in this world. Only when we lay out the steps of our Pesach Seder and create a clear destination can we achieve the extraordinary.
What’s with All the Questions?
A notably prominent theme of the Seder is that of asking questions. While “Mah Nishtana” is the most obvious example, the commentators explain many features of the Seder as purely serving as an impetus for the children to ask questions. It’s not only children, though, who are enjoined to question. The Gemara in Pesachim (116a) says that if a man’s child cannot ask the questions, then his wife should, and if he has no wife, he must ask himself questions. Even if two Torah scholars are sharing their Seder together, they should ask each other. Why is questioning such an integral part of the Pesach Seder?
Asking questions is the gateway to learning. A question creates a gap- it allows you to recognize your current limitations, to shed the illusion that you already know everything. You can only learn something once you realize that you don’t already understand it. The Gemara in Gittin (43a) says that you can only understand a Torah concept if you originally struggled with it. Only by recognizing that you don’t already know something can you break it down, analyze it, and see it in a new way, thereby building a new, deeper understanding. If you believe that you fully understand something, you simply will not allow your mind to develop a new way of seeing it. Only by realizing a lack in your understanding and perception can you develop deeper paradigms.
The Seder night serves as an opportunity to pass over our mesorah, our tradition and legacy, to the next generation. It’s a night when we speak about emunah (faith), the meaning of being a Jew, and our purpose in this world. In order to teach these lessons to our children and ourselves in a deep and lasting way, we must encourage the Seder participants to ask questions, no matter the age or knowledge-level.
Our yetzer hara (evil inclination) convinces us that we are perfect, that we already know everything. As such, there’s no need to question. This flawed belief is personified by Eisav, who was born fully hairy. Hair is the outermost expression of a grown human being - Eisav projected the belief that he was completely developed and therefore required no additional growth. The name “Eisav” itself is the word “asui” - meaning made or complete. Eisav represents the illusion of being complete, perfect, not requiring any further work or growth.
Our goal and mission as the Jewish People is to grow, develop ourselves, and fulfill our potential. On the Seder night, as we focus on whom each of us can become, we ask questions - creating holes that we then yearn to fill with additional knowledge, insight, and growth.
The Ke’ara: A Pathway into the Spiritual
The Ke’ara (Seder plate) holds many symbolic foods that we use throughout the Seder, such as charoset, a shank-bone, an egg, and several others. Some of these are eaten during the course of the Seder, while others we simply look or point at. What is the meaning of these simanim? Is there a deeper meaning behind displaying them on our Seder tables?
The simple answer is that we display these foods in order to engage the children, to encourage their curiosity and questions. We use simanim to accomplish this because children are not capable of grasping conceptual or intellectual ideas. They live within the world of the finite, and they require something concrete and tangible, something they can see and touch, in order to relate to a concept. Therefore, in order to include our children in the concepts and ideas that are taught and developed at the Seder, we use physical simanim to actively engage them.
There is a deeper idea which can be learned here as well, one that is applicable not only to children but to those of all ages. The most essential principle to internalize in this world is that there is always something deeper than that which appears on the surface. Living in a physical world can compel one to forget to seek out the spirituality inherent within every object, event, and person in this world. Seder night is when we instill within ourselves the pillars of emunah and our mission as the Jewish People. On this night, we must all learn this powerful principle. Each physical object on the ka’arah represents a world of profundity, but this is not limited to the Seder plate alone. There is spiritual depth within everything, we need only look for it.
What’s Our Goal in Telling Over the Story of Yetziat Mitzrayim?
We conclude the paragraph of “Avadim Hayinu” by proclaiming, “v’chol hamarbeh li’saper beyitziat Mitzrayim, harei zeh mishubach” - all those who elaborate on the Exodus from Egypt, behold, this is praiseworthy. The Rambam (Maimonides) codifies this as a legitimate halacha of Seder night. What is the meaning of this statement? What is the importance of telling over the Pesach story at great length, and why on this night specifically?
There are two ways to interpret the statement of “v’chol hamarbeh.” The first is on a quantitative level, that one should tell over as much of the Exodus story as possible. The second is a qualitative approach, that one should delve into the miracles and wonders that Hashem performed when taking us out of Mitzrayim in as much depth as possible.
There is, however, a third way to understand this statement, one that offers a new perspective on Yetziat Mitzrayim and the goal of Seder night. Yetziat Mitzrayim was not merely a historical event, rather it was the birth of the Jewish People - our people, you, and me. The story did not end with the birth of the Jewish People, it continues with them growing into the nation they are meant to become. When the Jewish People left Mitzrayim, we journeyed to Har Sinai and Matan Torah, where we were given the Torah and our mission in this world as Hashem’s chosen nation. This is the story that has continued throughout history, that you and I are commissioned to continue to this very day.
Sippur means to tell over a story, and the Haggadah says that whoever does this increasingly is praiseworthy. Jewish history is not only “his”-story, it’s our story. It is our mission and destiny, and we must continue to grow and thrive in this mission. The goal is to make yourself a part of the Jewish story, to continue what began with Yetziat Mitzrayim, to become the person you were meant to be. V’chol hamarbeh.... harei zeh mishubach.
Shmuel Reichman is an author, educator, speaker, and coach who has lectured internationally on topics of Torah, psychology, and leadership. He is the founder and CEO of Self-Mastery Academy, the transformative online self-development course that is based on the principles of high-performance psychology and Torah. After obtaining his Bachelors degree from Yeshiva University, he received his Masters degree in Jewish Thought from the Bernard Revel Graduate School, in addition to studying at Azrieli. He is currently finishing Semikha at RIETS while pursuing a PhD at the University of Chicago, and has also studied at Harvard through the Ivy Plus Exchange Scholar Program, completing graduate coursework there as part of his PhD. To find more inspirational lectures, videos, and articles from Shmuel, or to learn more about Self-Mastery Academy, visit his website: www.ShmuelReichman.com
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