Like many American Jews who want to participate in the most popular Jewish festival celebrated in the home, you may have expressed your desire to assemble the family and conduct a Seder. If you, like many others, are the victim of an over-romanticized recollection of a parent or grandparent's "traditional" Seder, you may feel inadequate to the task, unable to fulfill this noble intention.
You must begin with the recognition that contemporary needs and the diverse backgrounds of those gathered at the festival table necessitate a Seder that is rooted in the past and yet meaningful to all assembled. The secret ingredient of a meaningful Seder is in the planning. It is, therefore, crucial that you prepare all the elements of the Seder in advance, from the proper placement of the ritual objects on the table to a decision as to who will read which prayers.
In reality, there is no "traditional" Haggadah. There are more than 3,000 separate editions of the Haggadah. The first printed edition did not appear until 1498 and a Latin translation, published for the benefit of the church fathers, was completed in 1512.
The Mitzvah of the "Seder night" is derived from the Bible. "And you shall explain it to your child on that day, it is because of what the Eternal did for me when I went free from Egypt." The minimum requirement of the Seder is to tell the story of the Exodus in a language the listener will understand. To ignore this commandment is to abandon the Mitzvah. This means we must tell the story in a language that will be understood by adults and in a manner comprehensible to children. Because there is no "holiness" attached to the Haggadah, each community in every generation, was left to its own devices.
In the Sephardic Seder, Maror is romaine lettuce, not horseradish; Z'roa is usually a roasted chicken wing; Haroset is made from apples, nuts, dates, figs, black raisins, and wine. It is spreadable like jelly; the order and wording of the Mah Nishtanah is different; there is no hiding of the Afikoman, no Elihjah's cup or even opening the door for Elijah; in many homes (in the Balkans and Turkey), the first Seder is chanted in unison in Hebrew, the second night, in Ladion; and so on and so on.
So, those whose family needs dictate an abbreviation of the Haggadah should feel no reluctance to do so. You may wish to include in your Seder Ritual contemporary references to the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, the Holocaust, the Civil Rights struggle here and abroad, the plight of oppressed Jewish communities, and the State of Israel. Do it!
Above all, the story of Passover is a story of hope for a better world. As the spring renews our hope in nature and our view of the world brightens after a long and cold winter, so Passover instills within us the hope for a time when slavery, poverty, starvation, and all the ills that afflict humanity will disappear. Recalling our bondage in Egypt, we give thanks that we now enjoy the blessing of freedom. We pray for the day when people of all faiths will be able to celebrate the blessing of freedom in a time of universal peace that will embrace the entire world.
My best wishes for an enjoyable Seder and a Kosher and sweet Passover.
Rabbi Barry Friedman
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