Seders are by their nature boisterous events. They bring us around festive tables filled with family and friends, guided by a script to keep us engaged, ritual foods to whet our appetites and imagination, and four glasses of wine to celebrate our freedom.
Not only are questions allowed, they’re explicitly encouraged. Indeed, except for the leavened bread, nothing is off the table.
At least in theory.
In these increasingly fraught and polarizing times, we hear more and more of seders where certain topics are deemed off-limits. For the sake of family harmony, people avoid having conversations about Israel or political events in our own backyard. Some will even avoid inviting those from the other side of the political spectrum.
It’s an unfortunate commentary on a holiday that’s all about the commentary.
Walking on eggshells to avoid disagreeable conflicts, while understandable, negates a key part of the seder’s core purpose: facilitating questions and conversation, allowing space for multiple answers and, in the process, reconfirming our obligation to our faith and to one another.
In that regard, one of the most memorable parts of the seder is the story of the four sons. We’re told that one is wise, one is wicked, one is simple, and one doesn’t know how to ask. It’s tempting to cast ourselves as the wise one, to assume that the person who is different from us or holds an opposing view must play the other parts.
But some assert that the story of the four sons comes to teach a lesson in humility, as there are elements of each of the four in all of us. In different situations, we are each the child who is wise, wicked, simple, or unable to ask.
Even more instructive is the commandment to eat matzah, with a prohibition on leavened bread. Yes, we all know the story: in the Israelite’s haste to leave Egypt, the bread didn't have time to rise, and therefore we, too, eat unleavened bread during the Passover holiday.
But many focus on the essential difference between bread and matzah in explaining the true motivation behind the commandment. Matzah is the bread of humility. Why? Unlike bread, matzah is made without yeast, and without yeast, flour and water do not rise. Even in the moment of our redemption from slavery, we are instructed to keep our egos in check. To cleanse ourselves of puffed-up arrogance. To remember that none of us has a monopoly on truth.
A humbling mindset to bring to our seders.
Let us also not forget that just a short time ago our seder tables were far more modest, not by choice, but because Passover arrived at the height of Covid. To sit with people at a raucous seder is itself an act of freedom we should never again take for granted.
If we need yet another reminder, last week for the first time since before the pandemic, UJA and our partner Selfhelp Community Services hosted a model seder for Holocaust survivors, who ate the familiar foods and retold the story of our redemption. When the time came to ask the four questions, all the survivors sang them out, together playing the part of the youngest in the room. Their joy was palpable. You can read about the seder in The New York Times or watch this short video.
All of us are lucky — so very lucky — if we’re able to have our loved ones, with their many diverse opinions, sitting together around our tables. From this place of gratitude, let us be humble. Ready to ask questions. And willing to listen and learn.
Wishing you all a healthy and joyful Passover.