With the holiday of Passover approaching, I am often reminded of the story of a certain Jewish doctor who makes a great medical discovery for which the Queen of England has decided to grant him knighthood.
At the ceremony, as the Queen touches his shoulders with the sword, he is supposed to recite an ancient Celtic blessing. However, for all his medical genius, the doctor cannot seem to memorize the required Celtic words. On the day of his investiture, the nervous doctor waits his turn as several others are being knighted before him. As he listens to one after another correctly recite the Celtic blessing, he grows more and more nervous.
Finally, when he kneels before the Queen and she taps his shoulders with the sword, the good doctor completely forgets the Celtic words, and substitutes the first foreign words that pop into his head: “Ma Nishtahnah Ha’Lailah Ha’Zeh Mikol Ha’Leilot.”
The Queen, clearly confused, looked to the gathered crowd, and says, “Why is this Knight different from all the other Knights?”
Passover is the most celebrated holiday by Jews today. For many of us, our most vivid childhood memories are of the Seder night. The four questions are etched into our collective minds and hearts.
What is it about the Seder night that makes such a powerful and unforgettable impression on the minds and hearts of our children? To answer this question, we must analyze what exactly happens at the Seder.
I believe that we can identify three major themes that comprise the totality of the Seder.
1. Faith - the Matzah that we eat is called Michla D’mihemnuta = food of faith. According to our sages, it was in the merit of our forefathers’ unwavering faith in G-d that they were redeemed from Egypt. Though they were subjected to backbreaking labor and total humiliation, they never doubted G-d’s promise of redemption. At the Seder we remember their faith and attempt to strengthen and nurture our faith in G-d as well.
2. Education - the Torah mentions a number of times that the story of the Exodus should be told to the children. “When your child asks… You shall tell your child…”. There is a Torah obligation for us to remember the Exodus from Egypt every single day. However, while all year long it is adequate to remember this oneself, on Passover night there is the special obligation of telling this story to our children. This is one major difference between the Mitzvah of recounting the Exodus from Egypt on Passover night as opposed to all year long. The Seder night is when we relay our heritage to the next generation, perpetuating the unbroken chain of tradition that extends back all the way to Moses at Mount Sinai.
(It must be noted, however, that what we are teaching to our children on the Seder night is primarily related to faith, and belief in G-d and His Torah. The general theme of Jewish education is addressed on the holiday of Shavuot, when G-d asked for guarantors for the Torah and we responded “Our children are our guarantors.” On Passover the focus is primarily on the transmission of our belief and faith to the next generation.)
3. Story-telling - The Torah states “Vehigadeta Levincha” - you shall tell over the Exodus to your son, in the form of a story. It is not sufficient to just state the facts and statistics; it must be told in story form.
The lesson that Torah is teaching us is quite clear. If we want to successfully transmit faith and belief to a child, the best way to do so is by telling a story. A story has a special charm that leaves a deep impression on its hearers, and especially on children. All the educational techniques in the world do not succeed the way a story can.
What kind of story should we tell? A story of faith, miracles, and righteous people. And what better story is there than the Exodus from Egypt? It is the power of this story that makes such an indelible impression upon children and adults at the Seder table.
It is this message of Passover that we should take to heart: the awesome power that stories have to transmit faith and courage to the next generation. We have many opportunities throughout the year to tell stories to our children. It may be at the Shabbat table, or at night before the children are put to sleep. There are stories of great Jewish personalities of old, or of a grandparent or great grandparent. You will be pleasantly surprised at how these stories are remembered many years from now.