Rabbi Mordechai Scher
Sometimes itâ€™s worth knowing someone has been here before me. So many of us, as hozrim beteshuvah, want to share the light of Torah with family and friends. Pesach is one of those prime times. We may be the first for generations to do a complete, traditional seder. We want to offer the opportunity to family or neighbors. We enter into this with mind and heart. What will be interesting? How do get a message across? The logistics in place â€“ seats, pillows to lean on (if you use them), haggadot (all the same? or varied, on purpose? with explanations? without?) ,enough food? We all know the idea.
The anticipation and trepidation builds up as Pesach approaches. People are invited; more places added. Then, the big night and â€˜big showâ€™ arrives. And what happens?
Well, that often depends on the invitees.
My first such experience, while a young student at Bar Ilan in the late seventies, was to help make seder for soldiers on reserve duty at Neot Hakikar, by the Dead Sea. The truth is, I didnâ€™t know what I was getting into. As it was, many of the soldiers knew more than me, and we had a great though quick seder with a nice atmosphere. That entire Pesah was really enjoyable. Later, I spent Pesach on reseve duty myself several years in a row. Despite the field conditions and dangers, everyone always took it in good spirit and made it as good a holyday together as we could, no matter what sort of lives we had back at home.
I didnâ€™t do anything like that again for a few years. Then we had my parents once or twice for seder when we came to work in America. They were thrilled to be with their kids and grandkids, and polite about it all; but clearly the whole seder night thing was a bit much. Much longer than during my childhood when every year we met for an extended family joint-effort meal where the haggadah occupied a short and fast part of the evening, and everyone got home at a late, but still decent hour. Whatâ€™s with this two in the morning stuff?
Next, I had to do a community seder at least one night for our shul. I put a lot of thought and effort into preparing interesting explanations and ways to engage the congregants (about 50 people) in learning something during the seder. About 30 minutes into the seder, on of the older participants loudly inquired â€˜when are we going to eat? People are getting hungry!
The last time we tried this was about eight years ago. My wife and I had come to a new community for her work. Still here. There are almost no traditional households in the entire town. So, of course we decided to make Pesah at home and invite people for seder. (My approach is to keep one seder night just for family. We need it for our sanity, and to enjoy a seder without pressure.) We invited my mother in from the East Coast (my father had died the year before), and some people who were marginally involved in our marginally functioning (since defunct) shul. About 30 minutes into the seder, you guessed it; one of the guests asks â€˜when are we going to eat.â€™ Although Jewish, and originally from the New York area no less, he (a gentleman probably in his 50s or maybe 60) had no idea that there was much more than kiddush and a meal. He had come emotionally and physically unprepared for even a moderate length seder before getting to some real food. That, with the fact that my elderly mother (may she live, be well, and have much satisfaction from her children) was fading, led us to speed things up quite a bit. One more reason we were glad to have the next night to ourselves.
So, the seder is a big part of the Jewish experience; and making seder with challenges is a part of the teshuvah experience. I suspect that some of us have had greatly rewarding and enjoyable times; and some of us have found it to be a bit more challenging and even frustrating.
Originally Published March 18, 2009