A genuine seder is an inclusive seder

by | Apr 7, 2014 | Torah Thought

For many of us, the Passover seder is our own version of Norman Rockwell’s classic “Thanksgiving” illustration: the family is happily gathered around the dinner table. The gracious and beaming patriarch and matriarch serve sumptuous portions of delicious fare. All is radiant.

But the picture is incomplete. It takes more than matzah and maror, instead of dinner rolls and cranberry sauce, to go from the Thanksgiving of popular imagination to the Passover that our rabbis fashioned, at the dawn of our era. What is the missing element? People in need, in one way or another. We are commanded to reach out beyond immediate family and to include “all who are hungry/ all who are in need.” We say those words near the beginning of the seder, just before the “Four Questions.”

There are different kinds of need— emotional as well as financial—and there are different ways of fulfilling the charitable imperative. Readers of this column are to be praised for making tzedakkah a way of life. But the import of the seder liturgy is clear: in addition to making it possible for others to dine, elsewhere, we are supposed to bring people in need to our own tables.

A childhood memory: When I was growing up, my parents, of blessed memory, would invite a wide variety of guests to join our Passover celebration. Some were friends, some, colleagues and dignitaries. But there were always some who would have had a lonely meal, or perhaps a scant meal, if not for an invitation. I recall one lady, quite gracious, who was a Holocaust survivor. She had married after coming to the USA, but by this point, she was a widow. She was our steady guest for the second seder, year after year. One year, when she had grown much older, she brought me the yellow star that she had been compelled to wear. She said that she had no family member to whom she could give that badge, and since I was studying to be a rabbi, she wanted me to inherit the star. I would have the opportunity to teach others to appreciate all that it had meant. I accepted it humbly, and ever since, my wife and I have used that item to teach our students about the Holocaust.

If you have not made this kind of hospitality a part of your family tradition, it is never too late to start. Call your synagogue office, and inquire if people have called to ask about a seder invitation. We have many in our midst who would qualify within the broad definition of “all who are in need.” Some hunger for companionship, and especially so at holiday time. Some are empty nesters, and others, college students. Some are serving in the military, and are contemplating a Passover far from home and family. Some are new to Jewish identity or Jewish observance, and have not yet become anyone’s broader family, for seder purposes. Picture your own seder table, with the generations happily gathered, with food aplenty…and with one or more of these people in need, truly embraced and enfolded into your “family.” Now, that’s a great work of art!

—Rabbi Michael Panitz, Temple Israel