Children at the Seder

Children are an integral part of the Seder. There is a tremendous focus on them, and specifically within the realm of questions[1]. However, as much as we want to pass on to the next generation, and teach them, I think an integral part of the Seder, is to also learn from them. It is a night where we are striving to find our inner child.

Hoshea 11:1 - When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and out of Egypt I called My son.

There is an aspect of youth which is beloved by God. One of our goals should be to tap into that potential we once had. I think that attitude of youth manifests itself in a few ways.

Kids like to ask questions. They are generally not afraid to, as they aren’t really expected to know that much. They are not embarrassed. However, as they get older, they are not as prone to continue. Adults often discourage the questioning. More often than not, they simply find it annoying. However, when we stop questioning, it is often because we lose interest. We don’t become bored because there aren’t any questions, we became bored because we stopped. We should never discourage children from asking, and we should look to reinvigorate ourselves to question.

Richard Saul Wurman (creator of TED conference/talks) - “In school, we’re rewarded for having the answer, not for asking a good question,” which may explain why kids—who start off asking endless “why” and “what if” questions—gradually ask fewer and fewer of them as they progress through grade school.

A Newsweek  story, “The Creativity Crisis,” (June 2010) addresses signs of declining creativity among school children. “Preschool children, on average, ask their parents about 100 questions a day. Why, why, why—sometimes parents just wish it’d stop. Tragically, it does stop. By middle school they’ve pretty much stopped asking. It’s no coincidence that this same time is when student motivation and engagement plummet. They didn’t stop asking questions because they lost interest: it’s the other way around. They lost interest because they stopped asking questions.”

Dr. Erica Brown, Spiritual Boredom (106) – Boredom occurs when we run out of questions because it demonstrates that we have run out of interest. Combating boredom in the Jewish classroom, or any classroom for that matter, is ultimately about the stimulation of questions. Returning to the Seder table, that ancient classroom of Jewish history, we find that Maimonides encouraged us to place objects, educational props, on the table and to use the complexity of the Haggadah “to make the children ask.” The purpose of Passover is not to tall our children the story of Jewish peoplehood; it is to make the evening interesting enough for them to ask questions. Telling especially repeated telling, leads to a flat story with a dull landscape. Asking leads to exploration, further questioning, engagement, creativity. Boredom will only leave the classroom when we have done a good enough job of making “the children ask.”

Although questioning is good, we can never let our questions (which might lead to doubt) stifle our growth. Just because we don’t have the answers doesn’t mean we shouldn’t still perform the actions we are supposed to do. This is another way in which children are unique. They ask a lot of questions, but they are still able to do what they have to do (even if they argue the whole time before and after). This is emuna peshuta- simple faith, which despite its terminology, is not simple.

Michtav MeiEliyahu 4:249 - Why if there are no children must we still conduct our Seder in a pedagogical manner? Why say the Mah Nishtanah and not just delve into the story? Why must accomplished Talmidei Chachomim and even Gedolei HaDor who hold a Seder amongst themselves perform the Seder in this childish manner? Why must we ask ourselves the Mah Nishtanah if we are making a Seder alone? Seder night is not simply an intellectual exercise. Seder night is meant to internalize the emunah that we learn from Yetzias Mitzrayim. The lessons must be taken to heart and change the way we lead our lives and navigate the world through the prism of emunah.

Rabbi Naftali Silberberg - Adults may have a monopoly on maturity, experience and wisdom, but in the realm of truth they have much to learn from the young. Because adults lead such complex lives, their decisions are inevitably colored by many factors: how will this affect my career, my family, my vacation plans or social status? Youth on the other hand naturally seek truth, and when they find it -- or when they think they found it -- they will leave all behind and follow their inner compass. There's nothing binding them to any one particular course, so they are ready at the drop of a hat to change course.

Assured that father and mother will feed him, protect him and worry about all that needs worrying about, the child is free. Free to revel in her [their] inner self, free to grow and develop, open to the joys and possibilities of life.

Lastly, kids know how to complain and to cry. The younger they are the better they are at it. While, we don’t want to become whiny adults who complain or burst into tears, when we talk to God, we probably can learn a thing or two from the experts. The turning point in Mitzraim, was when the Jews were able to cry out to God.

 Shemos 2:23-25 Now it came to pass in those many days that the king of Egypt died, and the children of Israel sighed from the labor, and they cried out, and their cry ascended to God from the labor. God heard their cry, and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. And God saw the children of Israel, and God knew. (In the section of Tzei Ulmad in Haggadah)

Rashi (He focused His attention [lit., He set His heart] upon them): and did not conceal His eyes from them.

Wasn’t it obvious they didn’t want to be slaves? Of course, but God wants to hear our prayers, for us to have the relationship with Him, and grow close to him. And, as with all relationships, communication is key.

Rabbi Avigdor Miller (Tape #555,  The Wine of Prayer ) - " V'oneh l'Amo Yisrael b'eis shavam eilav --He answers his people Yisrael at the time that they cry out to Him." It doesn't say merely He is at hand to help them. It says v'oneh --He is ready to answer them. When?  B'eis shavam eilav, at the time that they cry out.  Shavam  means a great outcry. So we see it's not sufficient to mumble a little prayer. It's important to make a big outcry to Hashem.

Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach (The Carlebach Haggadah, 56) – You know why we’re never really happy nowadays? Because when we have to cry, we don’t really cry. We’re living in a world where, from a certain age on, you don’t cry. What’s wrong with crying?

We don’t know how to cry. We don’t know how to laugh. We don’t laugh out of joy any more. Children, when they cry, they cry, and when they laugh, they laugh. Friends, I can only tell you: whenever you want to cry, cry with all your heart. You know how much better you’ll feel after you really cry? But when you cry, do it before the One, the Only One – then suddenly great joy from Heaven will descend into your heart.

Tears flow up, not down. When you see someone’s tears flowing down from their eyes, gevalt, they’re really going up to Heaven.

When someone is crying, God gives you the greatest, deepest privilege: to kiss away their tears.

When we accepted the Torah we said (Shemot 24:7) - naaseh venishma - we will do, and we will listen. We agreed to do everything even without understanding why. And that has to be our continual attitude. Not understanding the complexities, the morality, or the philosophy of the world, does not give us the right to not perform our duties.

Sefer Hachinuch (Rabbi Aharon Halevi, 1235-1290; Mitzvah16) – A person behaves according to his behaviors. His heart and all his thoughts are determined by his actions--whether for good or for bad. Even if a person is completely wicked in his heart and all his thoughts are purely evil all the time, if he were to awaken his spirit and make a consistent effort towards Torah and Mitzvot, even not for the sake of Heaven, immediately he will lean towards goodness; and through the strength of his actions he will defeat the evil inclination. For, after the actions the heart will follow - Acharei Hapeulot Nimshachim Halevavot. So, through our good behaviors we become good people.


Baba Basra 12b - Rabbi Yochanan said: Since the Temple was destroyed, prophecy has been taken from prophets and given to fools and children.


Pesach is a time where we want to find our inner child. So when we focus on the children on Pesach, we should pay attention to what they ask, say, and think. There is a lot to glean from the simplistic world of children, to our complex world.

May we be able this Pesach, to teach our children, learn from our children, and reinforce our own foundations in Torah and faith in God.

[1] See Pesachim 114b, 115.

haggadah Section: Introduction
Source: Original