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Why Many People Do the Seder Wrong

Jokes about Pesach cleaning are as ubiquitous as the celebration of the holiday itself. The detail-oriented, almost nitpicking protocols- largely self-imposed- pervade the Jewish psyche and provide generous material for parodies, internet memes and ultimately even some measure of frustration. But all too often, the more important preparations-those of the learning and presentation of the Hagadah- are swept under the rug (pun intended).

Even when preparing for the Hagadah, we tend to get sidetracked by the color and fanfare of the Hagadah's style and verbiage. “Ha Lachma Anya”, The Four Sons, and “Mah Nishtana” are all integral pieces in the mosaic of the Hagadah, but they are no more than a preface for the central focus of the evening-the actual recounting of the story of our exodus. The Seder is built around the sacred task of this once-a-year mitzvah of passing on our tradition to the next generation. Why then not spend the bulk of the time and energy on that? By expounding on the verses in Deuteronomy that recall the exodus, the author of the Hagadah provides a platform for accomplishing our responsibility of retelling this story. But all too often, we are tired, hungry and rushed by the time we reach these verses.

The mitzvah of retelling the story of our exodus applies to every member of the Jewish community, layman and scholar alike. What value is there to a scholar or historian to recount this story all of its glorious details? Does he really need to reexamine the story so many times? Surely it is not to teach others, because this mitzvah is not contingent on having others at your Seder. There seems to be an inherent significance in repeating the story, but what can it be?

Imagine you are visiting an old uncle of yours, an octogenarian who has lived through years of hardship. He finds very little meaning in his current disadvantaged life in an assisted living home. Noble soul that you are, you find time and energy to visit him, knowing you will be treated to hours of memories from his early years and vivid recollections of his children’s antics from forty years ago. It becomes clear after time that he is transported back to his early years through telling those stories. Frustrated with his current self, he envisions himself transformed into his younger self during those precious few minutes a week that he has an attentive ear to recount his memories. You detect vibrancy and a sparkle in his eyes while reliving these precious memories.

That is exactly what we are meant to accomplish in living the story of the Hagadah. We all know there is a mitzvah to actually relive the exodus on the night of the Seder. What many do not know is that the mitzvah of telling the story- and indeed the entire Hagadah- is only a means to get to the state of feeling the exodus. The purpose of the entire evening is to transport us back to the border of Egypt with the sacks of matzah on our back. This is the reason why even the most erudite scholar has the same mitzvah to spend time talking and reviewing the story: because the mitzvah has nothing to do with learning or gaining knowledge. It is an opportunity to actually live the moment and feel G-d’s presence as He whisks us out of Egypt toward the ultimate freedom of the Torah.

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