Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

11 Nissan 5765 - April 20, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Home and Family

Parents, Children, and the Seder Table
by Chedva Ofek

It's Seder Night. The table is set traditionally, the family is seated around it, the men leaning on cushions, and throughout, the sensation of being free men, even royalty, is palpable in the air. These, at least, are the expectations of every woman who has invested the very essence of her strength to reach this very special night.

But sometimes, reality does not live up to expectations, and, in fact, there is a wide gap between imagination and the actual scene being played out. The children are impatient and their attention span constricts with the progress of the explanations and commentaries on the Haggada. The children begin to fidget, fight or get up from the table.

What then? A few useful tips on planning ahead:

Many mothers evoke nostalgic memories of the Seder nights of their childhood and conjure them up as one of the strongest, most beautiful experiences they can remember. The preparation period — cleaning, shopping, switching the kitchen over and taking out the Pesach dishes. The cooking, setting of the table as fancy and festive as they can. All these activities created an aura of eager anticipation, and when it finally came, a feeling of surreality, with Abba seated in his white kittel, beaming like an angel, a scene they will never forget.

Now they are mothers, eager to recreate this same atmosphere for their own children to remember. And surely, one cannot overestimate the importance of Seder night for children.

Penina, a mother of a big family, worked herself to the bone to prepare for the festival properly. All the while, she imagined how Pesach would be, but reality was disappointing, as she tells us: "I had it all planned that when the children returned with their father from burning the chometz, they would help me make the charosses. I would ask the girls to round up the pillows. Meanwhile, the older ones would set the table together with the little ones, lay out the wine cups, measure out the kezeisim of moror and matza in advance. Then, if we had time, we would prepare a nosh.

"But that's not the way things turned out. My oldest girl got up on the wrong side. The second daughter was trying to make up for lost sleep and lost strength. And the boys began bickering and fighting amongst themselves. I found myself dissolving into frustration and anger, which rippled over to the Seder itself, which was a disappointment . . . "

Penina thought a lot about this, subsequently, and came to the conclusion that she shouldn't have had such high expectations of her own powers and that of her children. When she realized this, she knew that she had been missing out on the main thing: the good points that did exist in her household.

"We've got to be realistic about our expectations for the Seder night," says Yehudis Shulem, a certified family counselor. "We get to it after a marathon. How can one expect that after such a loaded period, that suddenly all will be calm, collected and eager to please?"

The answer is to be organized. To think about the guests and plan accordingly. To be sure, organizing children of 3-4 is different from being prepared for the needs of teenagers or of young married couples. Needless to say, all the work must be finished a day and a half beforehand so that everyone can catch up on sorely needed refreshing sleep.

Psychologist Naomi Carmiel says, "It is important that each child have his designated place by the table, preferably near an adult, with a suitable Haggadah (colorfully illustrated for the young ones), and a plate with a wine goblet. The children should get at least a taste of everything that the others get. It is a good idea to prepare an activity corner away from the table to keep them busy when they get bored and restless. An older child can supervise this for about five minutes at a time, on a rotation basis. Also, to feed the younger children before the Seder . . . "

Children of all ages should be encouraged to prepare some commentary, either from their Haggada or what they learned at school. Very small children can participate by showing pictures they have colored beforehand, answering quizzes and riddles or even a small skit related to the Exodus. Parents must think how to best convey the message of yetziyas Mitzrayim in a meaningful, educational, intellectual manner, and to encourage them periodically for behavior and participation.

"Just as one cannot expect a good meal without preparation, so must we prepare for a smooth Seder. The parents should discuss in advance how to deal with the children, how to keep their attention, be it with interesting technical devices, like cards, riddles and other ideas which we will discuss. `How will I find time for this?' the housewife may ask. It is a question of priorities and deserves upfront attention.

Mrs. Shulem enumerates several ideas to concretize the Seder experience:

"`On Pesach eve, one is required to visualize himself as if he went out of Egypt.' My married son went out to a hardware store and bought real metal chain with which he shackled the hands and feet of the smaller children. He then told them to walk around the house. The children felt very constricted and helpless . . . "

This same innovative son bought 200 disposable cups and told the children to build a pyramid from 100 of them. When they had done so, after much labor, he came over and knocked it down, quoting the Egyptians, "You lazy things! You work too slow. Now gather up all the cups and build a new pyramid, but much faster!" To be sure, the children were very frustrated, until the father explained the background, and the frustration felt by their own forefathers.

The father then ordered the children to build a pyramid from 200 cups, to demonstrate how the conditions had worsened. This type of thing can certainly keep children of all ages busy for a long time!

An interesting idea is to set the Shabbos clock to go out for ten minutes during the Seder, as a surprise, to demonstrate the plague of darkness. The mother should hide pieces of chocolate etc. in drawers and have the children look for it during this time, to correspond to the "gold and silver vessels" which they Jews found in the homes of the Egyptians. The caffeine in the chocolate will also serve to keep the children awake.

Children should be encouraged to ask questions throughout the Seder and the recital of the Haggada. Her son placed a cup near each child and whenever he asked a good question, he was rewarded with a small treat in the cup. Interest was sustained, since each child who provided a good answer also received a treat in his cup.

When the father sees the children beginning to fidget and lose interest, this is the time to activate them physically and let them leave the table to enact something. These interludes must be planned in advance.

When we get to the part of "Vehi sheomdo . . . bechol dor vodor," that in each generation, Jews have been persecuted and their existence threatened — this is the time to ask children to give examples from history. Older children can describe the Inquisition, blood libels, the Dryfuss case, Holocaust etc. Younger children can tell the miracles of Purim and Chanuka and the parable of the sheep amidst seventy wolves . . .

"In every generation, one must visualize oneself as going out of Egypt" can be beautifully illustrated by the story of R' Shlomo Alkabetz, who gathered his disciples one Friday evening and went forth to the fields outside Tzefas to greet the Shabbos Queen, as they always did. Suddenly, he exclaimed that the time for the Redemption had come! He could transport them to Jerusalem at once! Moshiach could come right then and there! One disciple said that he was not properly dressed, another said that he was not ready, either, and a third, that he had to go home first. And then that marvelous moment passed and the chance was lost.

Are we really prepared for the Redemption? Do we want Moshiach to come right now? How was it to leave Egypt in haste? Will we be ready to follow? We can mention the special garment which many of our gedolim had, reserved especially for the arrival of Moshiach. What would the children be willing to leave behind in Moshiach came? We can tell about the dough that was not baked yet . . .

Rivka P., mother of eleven, plans for her children according to their ages. She prepares a special Haggada for those who can't read, with activity sections. For karpas, for example, she has a picture of a radish or potato on a pin that can revolve and dip itself in a bowl of water. For the splitting of the sea, she has a page with a door that opens to show the Jews crossing, and so on. Children can help make this Haggada, and older ones can help in planning and creating it. She, too, awards the children with a nut or treat for every good question asked or comment made. They need not eat it; it is enough for them to save them in a little bag and see their cache grow.

Mrs. Carmiel notes how important it is to keep the children briefed on what is about to happen next, according to kadesh-urchatz and the other activities, like opening the door, pouring wine for Eliyohu etc. This keeps the children alert and in anticipation.

Singing is an integral part of the Seder, as is Nishmas and Hallel. Just as Seder night is a night of chinuch, so is it a night to praise Hashem, and the children should try to stay awake for the meaningful songs with their deep Kabbalistic connotations.

In summary, with planning, the Seder night can and will be a memorable experience for both children and adults.


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