Eighth Day of Pesach 2011

1. Hag Sameach

2. If Pesach is known to American Jews today, it is known as a “Family” Holiday. We gather together as a family for a Seder. We come from all over the country to sit together at a Seder table and even if we don’t do all of the parts of the Haggadah, we are together as a family; laughing , crying, arguing and well,… just being a family. This is what makes Pesach different from all the other holidays. The Yamim Noraim are all about synagogue. Sukkot is about waving the Lulav during Hallel and Musaf in shul. Shavuot is gathering together for an all night study session at the synagogue. Only Pesach has, as its main focus, a meal at home with the family.

3. But we know that just getting the family together for Pesach is not an easy thing at all. First of all, our children are very busy in their lives; sometimes they cannot take off the time to come home for Seder. Sometimes we have to go to their homes if we want to have a Seder with the family. Sometimes someone in the family is sick and can’t travel for Pesach. There are families where one person is not talking to the other one and won’t join a Seder if their “enemy” is there. What happens when there is a divorce and the grandchildren have to choose which Seder they will attend? My Seder had a lot of family who made it to Delray to join us. But there were others who did not come. My daughter and her husband are working for Pesach at Camp Ramah Darom as they have for many years. A nephew was sent overseas by his boss. And even though both my sons and their wives came, it took us a month of planning to make Pesach with the family vegetarians. No… getting a family together for Pesach is no easy task.

4. And when we do get the family together, the Haggadah reminds us that everyone comes with a different perspective on the Seder. The story of the four children, the Wise, the Wicked, the Simple and the One who does not know how to ask; this story tells us that we have to adjust our Seder to meet the different needs of our guests. Some may be very interested in the Seder, some might care less about the service and more about the food. Some may only ask simple questions and some just sit and watch and never say a word about all that is going on.

5. One teacher noted that the four types of children are inside each and every one of us. Sometimes we want to know more about what is happening. Sometimes we just want to skip ahead and eat, sometimes we think we are asking silly questions and sometimes we watch, and observe and wonder just what is going on. When we pay attention to the different personalities at our family Sedarim, we should also note that the same personalities can be found in ourselves as well.

6. My friend, Rabbi Paul Kerbel of Atlanta, GA recently wrote about the wicked child at the Seder. I know his children and they are all very nice. It is no wonder that he never really thought about the wicked child. This year as he looked over the Haggadah, the question of the wicked son jumped out at him. He began to ask his own questions: Who is this “wicked” child? What did he do to be called “wicked”? Rabbi Kerbel notes that in the Talmud, the sages ask, “Did he rob or steal? Did he break any of the Ten Commandments?” Rabbi Kerbel writes, “There is no evidence this child did anything that requires calling him “Wicked”. Except for one thing. He asks his father “What does this service mean to you?” not, what does this service mean to our family or to our people; what does it mean to you!”

7. Maybe in ancient days, this kind of a question would be an insult to parents and family. Certainly the Haggadah treats it as if the question is a major offense. But if we look not just at the question but at the one who is asking the question today, it does not seem to be the paradigmatic question for a wicked child.

8. Who here has not had a child or a grandchild question what we think are issues long ago decided? Who here, at some point in our lives, has not questioned the way things have always been in life? Is it really wicked, evil and unloving to ask someone we care about why they bother with some old tradition? Our children today ask us why we don’t use our computers more, why we still get our news from newspapers and not online, why we are still wearing the same dress we got years ago and not indulged ourselves in buying something more stylish and modern. Does this mean they are wicked? When they ask us why do we still go to shul on Shabbat, why do we still light Shabbat candles, why do we bother to keep the house kosher, do we consider the question rude or do we understand the place where our children and grandchildren are coming from?

9. Maybe the adjective “wicked” is too strong a word. Maybe the child or grandchild who asks the question is only “rebellious” calling out to us to question authority, to examine our lives and not go into the future without contemplating who we are and why we do the things we do? Is this wrong? Is this a reason to snap back at our children “Clearly you would not be worthy of redemption”? As I look at the question of the rebellious child, and compare it to the question from the beloved wise child, I see two questions that are not so different. The wise child wants to know how to do a Seder; the rebellious one wants to know why we do a Seder? They are two sides of the same coin. What good is doing a Seder correctly if it has no meaning for us? What good is wanting a meaningful Seder if we don’t know the details on how it is done? We need to ask both questions and we need both children to remind us of our responsibility, the responsibility to pass on to the next generation the religious and spiritual meaning of the Exodus from Egypt and how we commemorate that event in our lives.

10. Seen this way, children who argue with their parents are not wicked; they are acting out of love. Sometimes, when we are tired or distracted, we may not appreciate the questions or we may jump to a conclusion that our children are being critical of us and we resent the intrusion. This is one way parents and children become estranged; it is one reason that we choose to stay apart from those we love because we are not prepared to face the questions they ask or think about the answers they need. Sharp words are exchanged and a rift is created. The reply to the wicked child in the Haggadah does not foster good relationships between parent and child. The parent needs to craft a better answer and the child needs to understand the question could be considered an attack on something important and valuable to the parent.

11. Yizkor comes four times a year, on the four major holidays on the Jewish calendar. We are here to remember the love and life we shared with our parents and with our brothers, sisters, maybe our spouse. Maybe we are here because we remember children who died way before their time. But the unanswered question today is always, will there be someone to remember ME at Yizkor? It is a hard question to answer. We could just outright ask our children, “Will you say Yizkor for me when I am gone?” But are we really prepared for the answer?

12. There is a real possibility that our children may answer, “What does this ritual mean to you?” To you and not to them. How are they to know what this ritual means to you and what it could mean to them? They have never attended a Yizkor service. Our tradition is to send our children out when it is time for Yizkor. They have never seen the service and cannot know what it is all about. Why should they care?

13. A rabbi was once walking down the street and was asked to join a Shiva minyan in a home he was passing by. He agreed and inside found a peculiar sight. All the items in the house said that a religious Jew lived here. But clearly the children, from the way they wore their kipot to the way they could not handle a prayer book told the story of children disconnected from their Judaism. The Rabbi asked the children, “How is it that your father was so pious but it did not rub off on you?” The oldest son replied, “Father was a holocaust survivor. He kept his religion in secret. Perhaps it was a vestige of his experiences in Europe. Whenever he needed to do some ritual act, he went into his private study and we were just in the dark about what he was doing in there. I guess, over time our curiosity about it died out and we ceased to care anymore.” The sons of the deceased once asked, “What do these rituals mean to you?” and they never got an answer and soon they didn’t care.

14. Last fall, I added a prayer to our Yizkor book, a prayer for those who still have living parents. I got a lot of heat for adding that prayer to the book. Why should someone who has living parents have a prayer in OUR Yizkor service? If the parents are living, they have no business being at Yizkor? The prayer is an insult to those who have lost their parents. I ask you, is it so wrong to have our children join us for Yizkor, to see us cry for our parents even though they have been gone for twenty years or more? Is it so wrong to let them know that the bonds of love are eternal bonds, and that it is love, not duty, that brings us to this service? How will they know the meaning of this service unless we tell them, explain it to them, show them?

15. The Wicked/Rebellious child is not so wicked and not so rebellious. Our children want to know what these rituals mean to us. Why do they move us so much? Why do we get up early for minyan? Why do we keep Kosher? Why do we go to shul on Shabbat? Why do we insist that our children and grandchildren join us for a Pesach Seder? Why do we stop everything in our lives to make the time for Yizkor? How will they know if we don’t tell them? How will they know if we don’t really know the reason why we are doing these and so many other rituals? Maybe we don’t tell them because we are not really sure ourselves. If so, than it is time to ask ourselves some hard questions and, if we don’t like the answer, we may need to pay a visit to the Rabbi.

16. The question of the rebellious child is OUR question. That is why it strikes so deeply into our hearts and souls. We never took the time to seek the answer. Maybe our parents or grandparents never really got the chance to tell us. Maybe we have forgotten the answer over time. Maybe we never really liked the answer we got. So Yizkor should be the time to renew our search for the meaning of the Mitzvot in our lives, to stop worrying about how to do Mitzvot correctly and to concentrate our efforts on why they are so important to us. Once we are secure in what the rituals, the Mitzvot and our faith mean to us, only then can we answer the questions of our children.

17. Unless, of course, we decide to learn together with our children. What would a rebellious child say if we answered his or her question by saying, “I don’t know why I am doing this ritual, how about we learn about it together and see what we think?” That way, instead of pushing a child away, we will embrace them and give them a memory they will never forget.

18. May the memories we recall and the memories that we are creating always be a blessing in our lives and in the lives of the generations yet to come … as we say Amen and Hag Sameach

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