After the cleaning and the cooking, the shopping and the looking (for chametz), Jews all over the world finally sit down to the Pesach Seder. To make your Seder memorable, the key is to remember that everything before the story is to prepare for the story. Everything after the story is to celebrate the story. The leader of the Seder is the guide on this journey. One of the challenges of the leader is to keep the participants engaged from beginning to end. All the traditional directions (like covering and uncovering the matza, for instance) are just devices to help participants, especially children, pay attention and ask: why? Here are a few more tips and preps for keeping the people around the table engaged:
1) Present the Seder as a drama in which all at the table are actors. Create a “cast list” to fit your Seder and place a copy on each dinner plate when setting the table. Imagine how they will feel to see their names in print!
2) Participant preparation: If possible, let participants know a few days before the Seder what their role will be. Ask them to come with something to say about that, a short explanation or dvar Torah.
3) Place a small empty bowl beside each dinner plate. The leader has a large bowl of treats (nuts, candy, fruit). Reward all questions with a treat.
4) Use bingo cards. These can be introduced at any time, but most words should be from the Maggid section of the Haggada. When a child hears a word that’s on the card, he or she puts a nut or candy on that word. Get a row of five and win a prize!
5) Prepare two gifts for every participant. One is a small inexpensive gift: a toy, silly glasses, etc. The second is a more meaningful gift: preferably a book. (See www.bestjewishkidsbooks.com for suggestions.) Gifts are especially important for young children. Give the small ones at random times during Maggid, such as when a child answers a question or reads a line from the Haggada. Tell them that you have a bigger gift for the end of the Seder for anyone who stays awake.
6) Other props to prepare, for the Ten Plagues: plastic toy frogs, a bag of salt (lice), slime (boils), plastic toy animals (pestilence and wild beasts), a ping pong ball and softball (hail), plastic toy grasshoppers (locusts), sleep masks (darkness).
7) Seating: If you have multiple families, it is best to seat families together. Children and parents will have a more meaningful Seder if they experience it together. You could create a separate children’s table in another room for eating the meal, but during the Haggada before and after the meal, children should sit with their parents.
8) Give everyone a cushion or pillow as a symbol of luxury and aristocracy.
9) Know your audience. Study the Haggada and plan to skip sections as needed. For instance, the drashot are meaningful to a literate participant but can be tedious to some; while you may want to say them, making some participants sit through them may ensure they don’t return to your Seder next year. The Haggada was written to engage; therefore, focus on keeping your audience engaged. If you are asking participants to read tehilim that are meaningless to them, they will not be engaged. Try reading them in English or singing them in a catchy tune. Pencil in names of participants you will ask to read certain passages.
Preparing for Pesach is a lot of work. Some people have a “tradition” of arriving at the Seder exhausted. Take care of yourself and make sure you enjoy it. When the leader is happy, it will be easier for everyone else to be happy!
Rabbi Seinfeld is director of Jewish Spiritual Literacy. You can contact him at 410-400-9820, or email Seinfeld@jsli.org. This article is excerpted from the Art of Amazement Haggada: Leader’s Edition. This Haggada includes tips and tricks throughout the text, including questions and answers on various details of the Seder. It is available at local book stores.
The Meaning of Chad Gadya
According to the Vilna Gaon
by Rabbi Alexander Seinfeld
The Passover Haggada ends with the fun but peculiar song, Chad Gadya – An Only Kid. This colorful song features a kid (a baby goat) purchased by “my father” for the price of two zuz, an ancient coin.
No sooner does he buy the kid than it is eaten by “the cat,” which is in turn bitten by “the dog,” which itself suffers being beaten by “the stick.” The stick doesn’t get off lightly for its beating; it is burnt by “the fire,” which is naturally doused by “the water.”
What happens to the water seems quite natural: It gets lapped up by “the ox,” which leads to the fatal slaughtering of the ox by “the butcher.” The butcher faces none other than the Angel of Death, and in case you thought that this dastardly fellow was invincible, he is ultimately vanquished at the conclusion of the song by the Holy One, Blessed be He.
The symbolic meaning of this sequence of people, animals, and objects remained obscure until the Vilna Gaon presented the following interpretation, in which each verse alludes to one person or event in Jewish history:
The kid is the birthright mentioned in Bereishis 25. This is the right to take the baton that had been passed from Avraham to Yitzchak, to continue Avraham’s mission to build a world full of loving kindness and monotheism and devoid of idolatry, child sacrifice, and other evils.
My father is Yaakov, who bought the birthright from his twin brother Esav, who had been born first and thus had the natural right to the birthright.
The two zuzim are the bread and stew Yaakov paid Esav for the birthright.
The cat represents the envy of Yaakov’s sons toward their brother Yosef, leading them to sell him into slavery in Egypt.
The dog is Egypt, where Yosef landed, and where, eventually, the entire clan of Yaakov and the subsequent Israelite nation lived, were enslaved, and were redeemed.
The stick is the famous staff of Moshe, used to call forth various plagues and to part the waters of the sea for the Bnai Yisrael to cross.
The fire represents the thirst for idolatry among Bnai Yisrael that proved to be a persistent bane for over 800 years, from the year they left Egypt until the destruction of the first Bais Hamikdash in the Fifth Century BCE.
The water represents the Fourth Century BCE sages who eradicated idolatry.
The ox is Rome (Esav’s descendent) who destroyed the second 2nd Bais Hamikdash in 70 CE.
The butcher is the Mashiach Ben-Yosef, who will restore full Jewish sovereignty in Eretz Yisrael.
The Angel of Death needs no introduction; in this song he represents the death of Mashiach Ben-Yoseph.
The Holy One, of course, also needs no introduction; here He arrives with Mashiach Ben-David.
The repetition in each stanza underscores the ebb and flow of Jewish history. Sometimes we’re down, but then we rise up. While most of the song looks backwards, it ends with an optimistic view toward the future, a fitting conclusion to the Seder.
Adapted from the Art of Amazement Haggada: Leader’s Edition.