Mar 29 2018 Dvar Torah


Rabbi Helen Cohn

Let’s re-imagine the Four Sons of the Haggadah. First, let us call them the Four Children. Then, rather than view their traditional roles as detail-oriented, wicked, simple, or unable to express even a single question, let’s see how each can add new meaning to our Seder this year.

First Child asks: “What are the terms and the statutes and the laws with which the Lord our God has charged you?” It makes sense to begin with a review of ritual details as we prepare our homes and plan the Seder. I, for one, always appreciate reminders about the Seder plate. For example, I recently learned that Karpas could be a variety of vegetables, like celery or potato, not just the expected parsley. It’s good to know the basics, because we can then knowledgably build on them. Our Seder plate now has a beet instead of a roasted bone, and an orange to symbolize the inclusion of all who are marginalized.

Second Child asks: “What is this service to you?” I love this question! Each person at the table brings a unique blend of experiences and beliefs. Even if we are having Seder with the same people as last year and the years before, this question reintroduces us to one another. I propose we each respond in turn to the question “What is this service to you--right now, at this time in your life, at this time in history?”

Third Child asks: “What is this?” The preparation for Pesach and for the Seder requires a mountain of details, to-do lists, timelines, and logistics. When we finally sit at the Seder table, let all that fade away and simply look around: at the guests, the table, the holiday candles. Take a deep breath. Be here now. What is this? A moment in time; an eternal moment. Something new that has never happened before; something that has happened for millennia and is even now happening all around the planet.

The fourth child does not know what to ask. This is the guest who is attending a Seder for the first time. Jew or non-Jew, the whole experience is overwhelmingly new. Everyone else seems to know what’s going on, so our guest sits silently, looking for clues, hoping to be included (but not too much), not even knowing what questions to ask.

So for the sake of this person—and for all of us this year at this time—we begin. We tell the story and perform the rituals that once again remind us that because we were slaves and then we were free, we are obliged to work for the freedom of all who are oppressed.