January 17, 2002
Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner
Parashat Bo (Exodus 10:1 -- 13:16)
Although it might seem a little early for Passover discussions, Jewish law does mandate that one should begin studying the Passover laws and details at least 30 days before the actual holiday. This is probably because no holiday requires more detailed preparation than Passover. Most of the preparations for this holiday tend to focus on koshering our homes, kitchens and utensils, and, of course, the menu for the big seder meal. What we often seem to forget is that the seder is not a meal, per se, nor a gathering to sing Hebrew folk songs, but it is an educational experience that requires no less preparation than koshering your oven or preparing your main dish.
The seder table is a classroom, with the haggadah serving as a curriculum outline, and the main educators being all those who consider themselves knowledgeable enough to conduct and lead a seder. The educational responsibility of the seder leader is to be prepared to teach the meaning of the Exodus and the Passover rituals to a wide variety of audiences.
Parashat Bo sets the stage for how we are to prepare for this great educational event known as a seder. Based on the rabbinic interpretation of three verses from this week's parsha and one more verse from the Book of Deuteronomy, the rabbis of the Midrash Mekhilta, the Talmud Yerushalmi and the Passover haggadah all state that regarding the mitzvah of teaching the Passover story: "The Torah speaks in reference to four children." Following are the four key areas of focus:
1. "Your children may ask you what is this service to you? You must answer, it is the Passover service to God." (Exodus 12:26-27)
2. "On that day you must tell your child: all of this is because that which the Lord did for me when I came forth from Egypt." (Exodus 13:8)
3."Your child may later ask you what is this? You must answer him, with a show of power God brought us out of Egypt, the place of slavery." (Exodus 13:14)
4. "In the future your child may ask you what are these rituals rules and laws that God has commanded you? You must tell him, we were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, but God brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand." (Deuteronomy 6:20-21)
The rabbis asked why the Torah could not consolidate all of these seemingly repetitive instructions (regarding teaching the Passover story to children) into one unified verse. Why is one mitzvah being repeated four separate times?
The answer is that although on the surface the verses seem thematically repetitive (children, Passover story), each verse actually addresses a different type of child, and, therefore, each verse is teaching its own separate mitzvah. Because of the importance and centrality of the Passover story, the rabbis teach us that each type of child requires a unique and different approach to the effective teaching of this story. When the Mishnah dealing with the Seder in Tractate Pesahim 10:4 states "According to the son's intelligence, the father instructs him," it means that it is a commandment to address each child in his own appropriate, meaningful and relevant fashion. In other words, know your audience.
The fact that we have an entire year to prepare this Passover lecture implies the power and importance of its message. This annual lecture challenges us to link our past experiences to the present in a relevant, meaningful and updated fashion for every Jew.
So it really isn't too early to start thinking about Passover. When you stop and think about how difficult and challenging it is to convey a meaningful message to such diverse Jewish audiences, the educational preparation for the seder should take a lot more than 30 days.
Daniel Bouskila is rabbi of Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel.