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
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
"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
"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
"`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 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.