What is different about this night from all other nights? (Main Question at the Pesach Seder)
What is the meaning of this question that is meant to drive the Pesach Seder into high gear? After all, one anonymous philosopher once said, “There is nothing more irrelevant than the answer to a question that was never asked.” A question opens the mind and creates a vessel to receive. To the extent the depth of the question is perceived so will be the depth of the cognitive receptacle. I’m afraid, however, that this question is woefully underappreciated and underutilized. It is all too often employed as a recital and an invitation for the children to express their objective cuteness. So what does it mean and how can it be best used?
Here is my thesis. Pesach Night at the Seder, such a supremely holy gathering of the entirety of the Jewish People. Rav Hirsch points out that when we went down to Egypt it was “Es Yaakov Ish u’Beiso” –“Yaakov, each man and his household”. When the time of the redemption came 210 years later we were by design configured again as households, families, eating our Korbon Pesach and readying to exit Egypt. Here we are 3,335 years later around the hearth of the family table in the same position again on the spiritual launching pad. Pesach night is a team meeting of ALL Klal Yisrael. Every family is a franchise of that original home of Avraham and Sara and of all the other homes that have preceded us. We are miraculously coordinated to clear away this time for a live meeting, separate and together all over the world as we have been gathering now generation after generation.
When I would have a meeting with my staff, I would not leave the event open to conversations that could run away anywhere. They needed to know that they were called to together for a purpose and I understood their time was valuable and that they might get hungry or tired along the way. Therefore I made sure to show some goodies at the beginning and for later too, and that we had a script, a guide, an agenda. After a team building exercise, we would review the agenda. It was usually a major question of concern to all teachers and administrators and the future of the institution and our employment, our mission, our collective reason for being. That’s all! This meeting is no different!
The Question: The Agenda: “What is different about this night from all other nights?” Night is classically exile. We have passed through many different types of challenges and opponents over the gauntlet of this historical journey. Each one required a different strategy. We have faced forces of annihilation and assimilation.
None were able to defeat us entirely but many, too many, have fallen along the way. We are the survivors of survivors. What is the secret of our survival? The asking and the answering of this simple question: “What is different about this night from all other nights?”
Woe to the general who fights that last battle and sorry is the baseball batter who is still swinging at the last pitch. What are we being served now? What are we currently up against? In which way is this exile different from previous exiles? How are we being threatened presently as a continuous family culture?
Nishtana means to change or learn. What can we learn from all the experiences of the past and how can we adapt ourselves to survive those forces presently poised to separate us from our national and familial mission? If we can come up with just a few ideas and examples of ways to strengthen ourselves and our families then we will stand a greater chance of navigating the storm around us.
Now this is all very heavy so the night needs to feel light, and it’s possible to do both. I find myself around this time of the year printing out lyrics of more current songs to add to the Lam Haggadah and distribute at the Seder. In recent years we have enjoyed singing together Shwekey’s “We Are a Miracle”. It’s a great summary of our collective history and a profound definition of our existence. Then just recently my youngest son introduced me to a song from 8th Day entitled, “Avraham”. One refrain there knocked me out. The first time I heard it I started to cry. I don’t know why. The words are, “Avraham, are we the children that you dreamed of? Are we that shining star that you saw at night?” What a beautiful way to reflect upon our own historical reflection, in the eyes of Avraham Avinu. It’s an awesome question! I love it! We sing it.
This year I am thinking of adding the words to Joey Newcomb’s version of the Berdichever Niggun, “You Fall Down but You Get Back Up… Ki Yipul Tzadik Shiva Paamim V’Kam… The Tzadik fall seven times but rises…” I am hoping that one of the kids or grandkids will ask, “Abba – Zeidy, what does this have to do with the Seder?” The answer is, “Everything”.
I had a real Irish poetry teacher in university and I remember well one thing he said, “Poetry gives the rowers a vision of the shore!” With a clarity of vision of where we are coming from and where we’re going to and a strategy of how we are to navigate the current, with a few good strong theme songs to give us a vision of the shore, we are certain to bridge history and destiny in our mini team meeting.