I hope that you are having a festive Pesah and that your seders, either at home or on the road, were meaningful. Every year, as I lead the seder, I strive for the right combination of ingredients: some chanting of the traditional text, lots of singing, and plenty of good conversation about the Exodus and Jewish life. Two years ago, when Noam Zion was our scholar in residence, he inspired us to liberate ourselves from rote recitation of the haggadah and to use the text as a springboard to really tell the story, not just to read it. I love his haggadot, A Different Night and A Night to Remember, and they get put to good use at our table. But this year, as I taught in shul on the first two days of Pesah, I had more weapons in my Pesah arsenal.
In case you weren’t able to wake up in time for services, or if you were there but didn’t remember to bring the handouts home, I’m attaching the materials I distributed, and you can keep them in a safe place for future reference. On day one, we looked at a selection from Erica Brown’s new haggdah called Seder Talk: The Conversational Haggadah. You can find a PDF of the handout here:
During the dvar Torah, since the crowd was plenty talkative in shul anyway, we turned to our neighbors and used the commentary as a trigger for a conversation based on one of the three questions that follows the commentary. Reflecting on the passage that tells of the five rabbis who discussed the Exodus so deep into the night that they had to be reminded that the sun was coming up and it was time to say the morning Shema, Brown poses this question: “Name the last time you lost track of time because you were so absorbed in what you were doing.” One of our expert educators told me that the format of the haggadah is in line with the Common Core curriculum that is much discussed in New York City educational circles. It was good to know that recent haggadot are using contemporary educational theory, with the intent of facilitating real learning, not pro forma reading.
On the second day of Pesah, we looked at another new haggadah, called The Night that Unites. The editor, Aaron Goldscheider, has taken the seder thoughts of three influential thinkers from the 20th century–Rabbis Avraham Kook, Yosef Soloveitchik, and Shlomo Carlebach–and put them together in the text, so they can be in conversation with each other, and so seder participants can join the conversation. As a congregation, we divided into three groups
, so that each individual was to read one of the commentators. Then, we did an exercise that another of our educators recognized as “jigsaw.” We had congregants tell each other what the commentator they read had to say. You can find the selections from this haggadah here:
For a few minutes on those two days of Yom Tov, we transformed our sanctuary into a Bet Midrash, an academy of higher Jewish learning. Instead of listening passively to the “sage on the stage,” we were empowered to read the haggadah and talk about it with our fellow congregants. Just as the seder is meant to be an exercise of engagement and story-telling, our time in community at shul can meet the same educational goals.
I hope you enjoy your new seder resources, and I can promise you more if you come back for the last days of Yom Tov!
Wishing you moadim lesimhah–joyous intermediate days of Pesah,
Rabbi David Wise