Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Preparing for the Most Special Night of the Year

Chinuch. It is a mitzvah that takes up a tremendous amount of our hearts and minds. If there is any mitzvah that has become increasingly complex and at times fraught with angst, it is the mitzvah of chinuch. There is an entire industry of parenting classes, books and guides that attest to the existence of much uncertainty in the field of chinuch. Frankly, many parents are terrified of chinuch and are often terrified of their children. The fact that there are so many yeitzer horas out there combined with the fact that many children and teens experiment with all kinds of things terrifies parents, filling them with anxiety.



Recently, when discussing a segment of the post-Holocaust survivor generation that neglected certain aspects of observance while simultaneously remaining so Jewish and so in touch with Hashem, a friend remarked, “Many of the survivors weren’t so observant, but they were very religious.”


Today, with many young and not-so-young people, we find the opposite. Many of us are very observant, but not so religious. We go through the motions of observance, we perform the rituals, we mouth the words of tefillah, we learn Torah, and we dress the part. We observe the Torah’s commandments, but sometimes that observance or semi-observance is divorced from the Nosein HaTorah Himself. The real relationship with Hashem is missing. For example, while we find it difficult, if not impossible, to cry on Yom Kippur or when we bentch licht on Erev Shabbos, for that generation it came naturally. Hashem was real to them.




Pesach is the Yom Tov of chinuch. If there is any Yom Tov that carries the special, auspicious siyata diShmaya to succeed in chinuch andinculcate the foundations of a true relationship with Hashem, it is Pesach. Certainly, the impact it has on children when they are young is incalculable and it can assist them when they are older and face numerous nisyonos. In addition, Pesach itself can also imbue older children and teens with inspiration to overcome trials and tribulations.


There is, perhaps, no Yom Tov like Pesach that makes the children feel so involved, whether it is the run-up to Pesach or the Yom Tov itself, with the Seder and numerous other fascinating changes to our routine that don’t exist during the rest of the year.




Who doesn’t remember childhood questions to friends like, “What time did your Seder end?” “Where are you up to in Pesach cleaning?” “Did you turn over your kitchen yet?” These and other questions are the types that all children discuss before, during and after Pesach, showing just how much of an impact Pesach and its minhogim have on children.


I vividly remember, as a child, waking up the day before Pesach to the sight of a kitchen that had been “turned over” by my parents in the middle of the night. As I saw the familiar Pesach dishes, I was filled with an indescribable nostalgia. Here were the distinctive Pesach plates upon which we buttered untold mounds of matzoh. There was my favorite deep soup bowl…


And there was my father’s beautiful Pesach ke’arah.


Seeing that ke’arah then and even thinking about it now, decades later, evokes such beautiful, and holy memories of Pesachs gone by. The way we little children gathered around our dining room table in the house that we, and primarily our parents, had worked so hard to clean, and the special singsong of Haggadah niggunim in the privacy of our home with our closest family arouse warm feelings that remain with me until today. It is these types of memories that we, as parents, all strive to inculcate in our children.




Unfortunately, before Pesach, there is so much to do, clean, buy and prepare, and so little time to do it. The nature of the Yom Tov and the myriad obligations that parents have during the weeks and days before Pesach often cause us to neglect preparing for what is perhaps the most important mitzvah that parents, and especially fathers, have, and that is the mitzvah of chinuch, the mitzvah of vehigadeta levincha.


The preparations for Pesach culminate in that most wonderful night of the year, the Seder night. The seforim teach us that there is no night more auspicious for chinuch and inculcating the foundations of emunah and a relationship with Hashem than the leil haSeder.


How, then, do we take advantage of that special night? How do we leverage it to make sure that we and our children come out different, better, closer to Hashem, and more cognizant of Him?




Just as preparing for all other aspects of Pesach requires tremendous hachonah, so does preparing for this once-a-year mitzvah of the Seder. It is insufficient for a person to sit down once he comes to shul on the evening of Pesach and try to look up something to say while fighting sleep and exhaustion. He must carve out time – not minutes, but hours – to go through the Haggadah, to understand the simple meaning of it, and then think of or learn age-appropriate emunah lessons derived from the story of Yetzias Mitzrayim in a way that imparts the elementary foundations of Yiddishkeit that children can understand. If one’s children span the range of ages, he should try to get in a bit for everyone, but the younger children certainly must be the focus. Often, it helps to have a chavrusah to go through the Haggadah and discuss the simple lessons that can truly instill emunah along with love of Hashem and His mitzvos in children.


Children do not want to hear elaborate p’shetlach. Rav Shmuel Rozovsky zt”l, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Ponovezh, would say, “The reason it takes so long to prepare a shiur is that I have to decide what not to say.” Similarly, with this most special night, the Seder night, the avodah of a father – certainly if he is conducting the Seder and even if he is not – is to figure out what not to say. There is so much to say, but children’s attention spans, especially at night, are limited, and a person has to take his cues from the children. We, in chutz la’aretz, have two chances, so even if one Seder does not go perfectly, we have a second Seder to try again.




I know that for many it may be a pipe dream, but if it is at all possible for a father to get a bit of sleep on Erev Pesach, it can immeasurably enhance his ability to conduct the Seder and to remain patient and smiling even after the fifth cup of wine has spilled.


There is one more vital thing to remember: Daven. Daven to Hashem for Him to put the right words in your mouth – words that will remain deeply embedded in the hearts, minds and psyches of your children for the rest of their lives. Daven for everything to go well. Daven for the atmosphere at the table to be upbeat and geshmak, without pressure, anxiety, nervousness or anger.


Children and teens can daven, too. You can daven for the special segulas halaylah, the auspicious time of this night with all of its siyata diShmaya, to make its impression on you. Daven that as a result of the Seder and the entire Pesach, you will become closer to Hashem and you will enhance your relationship with Hashem – the most important relationship you will ever have.




The bottom line is that every important mitzvah needs preparation. Just as we put in weeks, even months, of preparation and work hours into the demanding physical aspects of the Yom Tov, we must remember that all of this work culminates in the exalted Seder night. It is therefore imperative to invest time and effort into preparing for the actual Seder.


Pesach is the time of year when the Torah commands us to focus on the children, transmitting the foundations of emunah to our children. In this day and age, when there is so much vying for the short attention spans of our children, it is even more vital that the messages of emunah be seared into their collective psyches in a way that evokes the most sacred, joyous memories possible.


Invest the time. If you haven’t started yet, start now.



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