The Pesach Seder; a Balm for Civilisation

Often, your phone brings up ‘memories’ – images, slideshows, and videos, sometimes just a few years back or more. You might glance at your younger self or that of your spouse or your children with fond recollection. Perhaps you were in a different job, or your business was less developed. Your children were much younger; life seemed simpler, less complex and with fewer worries. Hopefully, as life has progressed with all of its changes and opportunities, it has progressed for the better. At least our children have grown up.

The last couple of weeks I have had the pleasure of watching dozens of Sedarim across multiple age groups from Year K straight up to Year 11. Contained within the Seder is more than just the throwback memories of a time past. 

The Seder is the longest standing uninterrupted human ritual. In fact, its not a ritual at all. It’s an experience. One long collective continued experience. We don’t eat Matza to remember that the dough didn’t rise. We don’t lean to remember freedom. We don’t eat Maror to remember the bitter slavery. Rather, we say ‘Ha Lachma Anya’ – ‘this is the (actual) bread of affliction that our ancestors ate; we are actually ‘experiencing the slavery and the freedom’.

In fact, as Moshe himself told us, several times before he passed on and left the Jewish people to enter the land of Israel, “when your children will ask you (one day in the future); you must tell them”.

The focal point of the entire Seder is our children and the Ma Nishtanah – the questions that they ask us. If there is no child present, then adults need to ask the Ma Nishtana. Even a person who has the Seder alone (which until last year was unfathomable), must still pose the four questions, and direct them at our Father in heaven. ‘Mah Nishtanah Halayla Hazeh M’Kol Haleilot?’ – ‘Why is this ‘night’ (this long and challenging exile) different from all other nights?’.

The answer to the question is that on this night we need to push ‘pause’. Push ‘reset’ on our complex, fast past and ‘civilised’ lives. Civilisation tends to destroy and diminish our sense of wonder and curiosity. ‘Mah Nishtanah’ reignites and restores that imagination. A child has natural curiosity, which is why we find that toddlers can sometimes ask 30–50 questions in an hour. They are experiencing the world with sheer wonder and interest.

As adults, there are times in our lives when we get to push pause and restore that wonderful child within, our natural curiosity and wonder. The Seder is one such annual opportunity. The Seder is not just about adults passing on our traditions and history to our children but rather to be re-inspired and reset by them. To watch, learn and restore our collective childlike imagination and wonder. 

Every day we have a mitzvah to recall leaving Egypt but on Pesach we don’t recall and remember it, we re-live it alongside our children. We can leave our own personal Egypt, ‘Mitrayim’ = literally ‘our personal limitations and boundaries’. We can unshackle ourselves in our own mind and choose to remove our self-imposed limitations. Often, we look for external self-validation, external ways to make ourselves feel good. Sometimes we seek experiences, material belongings, perceived success or wealth, or even validation from others around us. Placing the focus of fulfilment and self-confidence validation outside of ourselves is actually limiting. Liberating ourselves from this thought process is truly powerful.

One of the fundamental lessons we try to inculcate our children with here at Moriah is not to limit themselves. That if they put their mind to something, set a goal for themselves, work hard, seeking advice and guidance along the way, they can truly accomplish almost anything.

At Moriah we give our children a voice. Just watch and see how they speak up about issues; how they think, how they challenge the status quo. 

We can garner insight and inspiration from the stars in the Pesach story – three siblings, Moshe, Aharon, and Miriam, all of whom are unique and important role models. 

Moshe wasn’t a docile obedient leader. He didn’t just listen, he challenged Hashem. In fact, he challenged the very essence of his mission, the redeeming of the Jewish people from Egypt. It wasn’t until Hashem gave him significant reassurance, encouragement and ‘miracles on-call’ that he was confident enough to proceed. As a leader, he challenged Hashem numerous times when the Jewish people faltered, and Hashem didn’t want to forgive them. Moshe petitioned so hard on their behalf, there came a time that he said ‘(If You don’t forgive them), then erase me from Your Torah!’

Aharon was a thinker, a relationship healer and peacemaker. Aharon was known to pursue peace between people, between wives and husbands, between families, between sparing partners. He would go to one party and say, “you know so-and-so is really a lovely person who really wants to be friendly with you and make up and restore your relationship”. And he would say the same to the other party. When Aharon passed on, the entire Jewish nation stopped and mourned his loss without moving for 30 days. They felt the irreplaceable loss of their peacemaker.

Then along came Miriam. Today we see significant marches, discussion and media attention about the voice and place of women in society. In Judaism, in the Torah, women have had a voice for thousands of years. Miriam spoke up against her very own father when he separated from her mother, as he was afraid to have more children due to Pharoh’s decree of throwing them into the river. Miriam spoke up against Pharoh when she was a midwife and she was commanded to murder the Jewish newborn babies (Midrash). Miriam didn’t allow her mother to abandon and forsake baby Moshe at the river, but rather kept an eye on him and cleverly summoned her own mother to be a nursemaid for Pharoh’s daughter when she adopted Moshe. Miriam led the women in song and prayer after the splitting of the sea.

Miriam was an unabashed advocate, leader, and voice for what she believed in. Later in history when the Jewish people fell prey to the sin of the Golden Calf, not a single woman participated in its construction or worship. The women had strength and conviction, they had clarity of thought and loyalty to our belief system. This was inspired by Miriam.

These three characters set the stage for our daughters and our sons.

Our children’s imaginations ignite their experience at our Sedarim. Everything we say, do, eat and share is to inspire them with the fiery ideals and examples of Moshe, Aharon and Miriam as they relive the Pesach story. They remember the Seder, and love connecting with  the family around them, especially the older generations. However, more than we give to our children, they give to us. Our children make our Seder a balm for our jaded souls. They help us push our reset button, and to re-experience the curiosity, wonder and imagination. To allow us to leave our own personal ‘Mitzrayim = Egypt = Limitation’. That is a ‘Seder experience – Relived today.

Wishing each and every single one of you a Seder of wonder, a Seder of reciprocal learning and reciprocal inspiration.

Chag Sameach. Have a wonderful and safe holiday.

Looking forward to seeing you all back next term.


Copy of Copy of Untitled (20)About the Author

Rabbi Yehoshua Smukler is the College Principal at Moriah College in Queens Park, NSW.

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