(Passover, 2015) This is coming a little late to the blog, but still worth the posting.
I vividly recall in my very early childhood standing up and singing the “Ma Nishtana” at the Seder table. While this may be a memory that many of us recall, I believe that there is uniqueness to what we do at the Seder that sets a precedence in the formation of Jewish education and life itself.
The lessons embedded within the ancient text of the Haggadah are numerous with a specific emphasis on “Vehigadta L’Bincha” – “And you shall tell over to your children” (Exodus 13:8); recounting and educating our children about the miracles that were bestowed upon the Jewish nation during the exodus from Egypt.
Association would normally align Jewish impactful events with the Synagogue, but interestingly, the Seder takes place in the home. This is not mere coincidence, as we realize that the focal point is on our children. This may be the reason why my memory most prominently recalls the Seder, and my participation in it, far more than other things that occurred during the same time period.
I have often been told by educators, and have noticed for myself as a parent, that children are like sponges; their ability to absorb information and experiences, surpasses that of those who are older. Children are very impressionable, which heightens the responsibility of parents and educators to educate our children in the best possible manner.
In reality, our very existence has depended upon the education we provide for our children. At a recent talk which I attended, Noble Laureate prize winner Elli Wiesel repeated and stressed the importance of teaching our children the meaning of the words “Never Again”. Wiesel emphasized that if we don’t ensure that our children receive the knowledge, the messages that are so important may not be passed on to the next generation. Clearly, this would be a disaster for the Jewish People.
Outside of the High Holidays, Pesach is probably the most celebrated biblical holiday to the majority of Jews. Regardless of affiliation, or lack of, there is something sentimental about Pesach that speaks to every Jew. The ‘Ma Nishtana’ is sung by young and old alike, as are the passages of the four sons to Dayenu. It simply does something to us. It is a reminder of not just who we are as a nation and our history, but more importantly, it challenges us to ask ourselves and each other: “What does it mean to be Jewish?”
Yes, the emphasis must be on the next generation – our children – but what if we are not knowledgeable ourselves?
We live in an era in which many of the things we do, specifically religious, are done out of habit. Why do we do them? For many it is because that is what we were taught, or because that is what our parents did. Understanding why we do things would benefit us in our growth as to whom we are as Jews.
For a deeper understanding, we need to look no further than the Haggadah. The wise son asks: “What are the testimonies, the statutes, and the laws that God, our God, has commanded to you?” (Deut. 6:20). Why is he the wise son for asking this question? He is wise because he is seeking to attain a greater knowledge. Without asking, he will not get the information.
When sitting around the Seder tale and recounting the events that our ancestors experienced together for the very first time as a Nation, it is just the starting point of the Haggadah. In essence it whispers to us, “carry on reading, and ask away about your heritage. What brought you this night, sitting at your Seder table over 3500 after these events took place?”
For the children it’s a message we are relaying, but for adults it’s a plea of urgency to learn more about our History and the meaning of being Jewish.
Aside from being the Rabbi of Beth El Jacob Synagogue, I also work with dozens of college students attending colleges in Iowa. The surprise they get when being told that they should continuously ask questions rather than simply accept a custom, mitzvah or tradition simply because “we do it that way” strengthens my own belief that everyone, youth and adult alike, should proactively seek opportunities to learn more and even challenge their own knowledge of Judaism.
Knowledge is power.
It is important to note that in order to represent the Jewish people, one must first know what the Jewish people represent. That only comes about by striving to learn more and by passing that knowledge on to future generations.
Renaissance mathematician and astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus eloquently wrote “To know that we know what we know, and to know that we do not know what we do not know, that is true knowledge.” This is more of a reality check for us because, as parents naturally wish for their children to be more successful and knowledgeable than themselves the realization that there is work to be done can an awakening moment. This is challenge very well suited for the Seder table.
Reaching the realization that we wish we knew more, is the goal half accomplished. Realization gives us the ability to take the next step in furthering our education, be it reading more or going to classes at the local Synagogue. It is a simply about taking advantage of the knowledgeable resources that are readily available to us.
When we find ourselves sitting around the Seder table this year wondering “What are the Testimonies, Statutes, and Laws,” What are we really celebrating? I will say Mazal Tov! As you are someone who is on the path to becoming more educated in our beautiful heritage and history, and b’ezrat Hashem, will take the opportunity to pass this priceless knowledge on to others.
Rabbi Bolel has been serving as the Rabbi of Beth El Jacob Synagogue, Des Moines -Iowa for four years. In addition to serving as Community Rabbi, he is the founder of JSOC (Jewish Students On Campus) an outreach program on multiple University campuses in Iowa, heads the Chevra Kaddisha and the only pulpit “Ironman” triathlete Rabbi in the world. Rabbi Bolel is married to Devorah and has two boys.
Beth El Jacob Synagogue, the only Orthodox Synagogue in Des Moines was founded in 1885. With a rich heritage and legacy, it continues to thrive seeing over fifty percent growth since 2011 with a concentration of young families. Beth El Jacob will be celebrating a Hachnasat Sefer Torah for the first time in 100 years in May. Des Moines offers full time Jewish education up until Kindergarten age and an after school program up until 12th grade as well as having a fine Deli with an array of Kosher food available in town.With a strong economy and low cost of living, Des Moines continues to be a sought after city to live in.