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Thought for the Day: Don't Recite the Haggadah; Retell the Haggadah

As someone who did not grow up in the Orthodox Jewish tradition (understatement of the century), there is a particular pleasure to transmitting our heritage to my grandchildren.  We sat down to prepare for the seder this afternoon and my grandson showed me his haggadah from school.  His rebbi had a brilliant idea; he had collected questions from the boys and then interleaved their questions (with appropriate citations) and the rebbi's answers with the haggadah.  I was very gratified to see that a question ascribed to my grandson was, "How can you say that if HaShem didn't take us out of Mitzrayim, that we'd still be slaves to pharaoh?"  We discussed the question; after all, their grandparents are in New Jersey and Chicago, yet they are here in Florida.  Stuff happens, after all.

Why was I so gratified by seeing that particular question ascribed to my grandson?  I had just been on a soapbox while learning with him and his sister about not taking anything for granted.  I want them to always ask why we believe this or that, and the night of the seder is the time to really exercise that practice.  For a few years now I have put my money where my mouth is for that.  Each grandchild can earn two dollars for each year old they are.  How?  One dollar for asking a question they haven't asked before and one dollar for noticing something they haven't noticed before.  I pay in dollar coins, which also adds to the fun for them.  (Not easy to find, I discovered... several banks told me I needed to special order them!  Luckily my mother-in-law has a large stash.  How does she happen to have so many dollar coins?  That's another story...)

I saw an extraordinary article this year by R' Matisyahu Salomon explaining that Avraham Avinu's vision in which he was foretold the fate of his descendents: they were to be sojourners in a foreign land for 400 years where they would be enslaved.  That period would end with their redemption, at which time they would receive tremendous wealth and their subjugators would be punished.  R' Salomon does not see this as foreboding prophecy of doom, but instead a syllabus of the training planned for the Jewish people to enable them to receive the Torah.

Sojourners in a foreign land to learn that we are not made for this world at all.  This world is itself a foreign land.  We live here only to be able to perform Torah and mitzvos, but we must always long for our real home -- Olam HaBah.  The slavery taught us how to serve a master.  Note well that "redeem from Egyptian bondage" does not mean to be released from servitude, rather it means that HaShem becomes our Master; as it says in Avos, there is no true freedom except for one who is bound by the Torah to his Creator.  The punishment of the subjugators is an object lesson in reward and punishment; hence all the details and differences in how each Egyptian was punished at the sea.  With great wealth to be free to carry out our new mission for our new master to show they world who we are; as Chazal tell us, the slave of a king is a king himself.

We have all had times of feeling alone and as strangers; in my grandchildren's family they see with their eyes moves from California, Chicago, New Jersey, Queens, and Florida.  That is real to them.  We have all experienced having to work without having much say.  We have all had times when we saw (and experienced) reward and punishment.  By taking this personal experiences and using them to explain the haggadah, we transform reciting a tale from millennia ago into retelling an exciting and vibrant experience that continues to today.


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