As the month of Nissan begins my thoughts turn to Seders past. So many years I have carefully set the Seder table with a stiff, white tablecloth, sparkling wines glasses just waiting for their wine, stacks of three matzos covered with the hand-made, embroidered cloths, and time-worn haggadot next to each place. The Seder always begins with a surge of excitement and anticipation. Once it ends, though, there is little to resemble to the beginning either physically or spiritually. The tablecloth is no longer white, rather stained red, green, and brown from wine lettuce, and chorosis. Matza crumbs adorn the table, the chairs, and the once shining floor. The children who have stayed awake are tired and irritable and the adults are not much better. When I stumble off to bed I can only hope that despite the mess and exhaustion we have managed to add precious memories, ideals, and attitudes to remember throughout the coming year.
Every year the Seder is the same and yet different. There are the components that are precious because they are so much a part of our childhood. Who doesn’t remember asking The Four Questions for the first time? It was when I was six or seven that my father patiently taught me how to recite them. Now, as my grandchildren take their turns, I get teary-eyed knowing that they will in-turn, please G-d, listen to their own grandchildren.
How many of us, as children, listened to the recitation of the Four Sons and tried to decide who at the table was wise, wicked, simple, or unable to ask? Was I the only one who looked forward to the recital of The Ten Plagues knowing that I would be able to lick my finger at the end and satisfy some of my hunger pains? Weren’t many of us roused from our stupors to join in a loud rendition of Dayenu? And, of course, we all looked forward to Shulchan Orach, the holiday meal.
As I grew older I began to pay attention to more and more parts of the Seder. Avodim Hiyenu always makes me think of our friend’s father who one year cried at this point in the Seder. He might have been speaking about being slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt but he was remembering being a slave to Hitler in Europe.
When I was younger and read V”hi, the declaration that in every generation they rise up to destroy us but the Holy One, Blessed be He, rescues us from their hand, I never thought it applied to me. Anti-Semitism ended, I was sure, with the defeat of Nazi Germany. How tragic that I was wrong. How heartrending that my children and grandchildren know first-hand that our enemies want to destroy us.
Three years ago I gained a new understanding to another part of the Seder. Right in the middle of Maggid is a verse from Yechekel, 16:6. And I passed over you and I saw you wallowing in your blood and I said to you, “In your blood you will live”; and I said to you, “In your blood you will live”. I had never paid any attention to this verse but that night the discussion of it became animated. I learned that this verse it also recited at a brit milah. The double In your blood you will live is not a typo; it is recited twice. One time it refers to the blood of brit milah. The other time refers to the blood of the Pesach sacrifice.
Our newest grandson was with us that Seder night. We had celebrated his brit in the Itamar synagogue just five weeks earlier, four days after the horrific murders of Udi, Rut, Yoav, Elad, and baby Hadas Fogel, who lived down the block from my son and his family. When the Rabbi named our grandson tears rolled down his face and the faces of others as he recited the verse In your blood you will live; In your blood you will live. The memory of the Fogel’s blood was fresh and searing and we wondered how we would go on without them. Now every time I go to a brit I think of them as I hear those words.
Sometimes the pain of remembering that tragedy is overwhelming and I search for comfort. I think of those words In your blood you will live; In your blood you will live. HaShem kept three of the Fogel children alive. He has given us a promise that the Jewish people will continue to live and I believe Him.
I have learned that brit milah is a personal commandment and the Pesach sacrifice is a communal one. Perhaps this will be the year that every single one of us can perfect our private service to HaShem. Then we can work together as a community, putting aside our difference, and do our public commandments together as a united people. This accomplished, towards the end of the Seder, when we open the door for Eliayhu HaNavi he will really enter, herald the coming of the Moshiach, and Jerusalem will be rebuilt. Next year instead of setting the table for Seder I will be able to pack my bags for our journey to the Holy Temple. Once there, we will offer our Pesach sacrifice accompanied by all our fellow Jews. How I pray for this to happen!
Haggadot: text of the Seder
Chorosis: fruit and wine mixture to resemble bricks
Dayenu: It would have been enough for us
Avodim Hiyenu: We were slaves
Brit milah: circumcision
Eliayhu HaNavi: Elijah the Prophet