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The Unsuccessful Seder that Was a Success

Emunah is something that everyone is talking about these days. There are new books coming out on emunah every day, replete with wonderful stories of how people put their trust in Hashem and saw great yeshuos. This is a good thing, but like every good thing, it often becomes commercialized, and the very fact that it is such an “in” thing puts it in danger of being trivialized.

As we know, Pesach is the Yom Tov of emunah. The seforim bring that on the Seder night, a special koach is bestowed upon Klal Yisroel. A father is empowered with the special ability to implant emunah in his children and grandchildren in a way that does not exist on any other night of the year. There is a tremendous light of emunah and kedusha that comes out on the Seder night, making it a night like no other.

That light of emunah continues, the seforim teach, throughout Pesach, and shines especially strongly on Shevi’i Shel Pesach, when we reenact the profound miracle of Krias Yam Suf, a time when, the Torah tells us, the Yidden reached the highest level of emunah: “Vaayaminu b’Hashem uveMoshe avdo.”

The Koach of the Pesach Seder

Indeed, Pesach is the time of year when every father and mother should strengthen themselves in emunah, learn about emunah, and try to impart lessons in emunah and Hashgocha Protis to their children.

The Seder night has the unique ability to implant emunah in one’s children. It is fascinating to note that many people who grew up in the American melting pot in previous generations attested to the fact that sitting at their grandfather’s Seder left them with indelible memories and feelings about Hashem and about being a Yid that remained with them for the rest of their lives.

Similarly, our children can and will take with them the memories of our Seder, of the Pesach that we conduct in our homes. As parents, we should understand that we have a koach, an ability well beyond what we thought possible, to imbue our children with emunah in an unprecedented way.

Many parents know how powerful the Seder night and Pesach are in general. They recognize how potent an opportunity it is to imbue their children with emunah and with kedusha. They therefore make all kinds of preparations for the Seder, learning the Haggadah and deciding what they will tell their children about Yetzias Mitzrayim. This is a wonderful thing that every person should do.

When Plans Go Awry

What happens when things don’t go as planned? A family Seder, especially when it is a big production with multiple families coming together, can, at times, be an overwhelming experience.

A father thoroughly prepared himself for the Seder. He went through the Haggadah, he thought of beautiful stories and mesholim to tell his children, and he learned all the Medrashim about the makkos and Krias Yam Suf.

And the mother? The mother, the tzadeikes, worked so hard in the run-up to Pesach, being moser nefesh to clean the house, cook, and take care of the myriad things that go into Pesach, with the thought in her mind that every bit of effort will have been worth it “once we all sit down at the Seder and my children sit at the Seder table, in their brand new clothing for Yom Tov, listening to Totty relating the story of Yetzias Mitzrayim, their faces shining.”

Finally, Yom Tov comes, it is the Seder night, and the children are just not “there.” They are tired and cranky, and all they want is a piece of chocolate, not a story about slavery in Mitzrayim.

What does a father do? What does a mother do?

When the Seder night comes, the reality doesn’t match up with expectations. The children are exhausted, irritable and fighting. Or they are at their grandparents, with all of the cousins around, and they are distracted, not focused on their father’s painstakingly prepared stories about Yetzias Mitzrayim. Or Moshele just poured half a becher of grape juice all over his new suit and simultaneously got Rochele’s new outfit full of grape juice stains as well….

When things finally calm down, the whining starts. “When is Shulchan Aruch? I am hungry!”

A Tale of Two Sedorim

Let me share a story about Rav Shmuel of Kariv, a talmid of the Chozeh of Lublin. Rav Shmuel was a tremendous tzaddik and prepared for Pesach with great effort. He learned about all the holy kavanos one is supposed to have on the Seder night, and finally Pesach arrived. He went to shul, davened Maariv, and recited Hallel, the hallowed words of praise to Hashem, with tremendous kavanah, feeling his neshomah sing. After davening, he arrived home fully expecting to utilize the spiritual high that he was on and take it to the next level at the Seder.

However, when he came home, the first thing he heard were harsh words. Apparently, both his rebbetzin and the Jewish woman who helped in the kitchen had worked extremely hard before Yom Tov and not slept enough. Their frayed nerves led to an argument, which ultimately became so heated that Rav Shmuel had no choice but to step in and cool the temperature. He had to listen to all the details of the argument and then pose a solution that would appease both his rebbetzin and the kitchen help.

By the time he finished placating everyone, his feelings of euphoria, of closeness to Hashem, that had permeated his soul when he walked into the house, had dissipated. It was already late and there was no time for him to “reset.” He was forced to start the Seder without being able to recapture his feelings of spiritual longing and delight.

What did he do? He conducted the Seder with pashtus, with simplicity, without the great enthusiasm and madreigos that he usually had. He drank the four kosos, recited the Haggadah, and ate matzah and marror. He had no choice. He had to conduct the Seder. Time was ticking. So, he led the Seder, but without “feeling anything,” without his usual spiritual fervor. The only feeling that he felt was one that plagued him – a feeling of brokenheartedness at his inability to soar spiritually at the Seder.

The second Seder was a different story. His rebbetzin and the woman who helped in the kitchen were rested. There were no fights. He had time to prepare and, indeed, the second Seder was beautiful. He felt so deeply connected to Hashem. He was soaring.

That Shavuos, Rav Shmuel travelled to Lublin to spend Yom Tov with his rebbe, the Chozeh. When he walked into the Chozeh’s room, the Chozeh stuck out his hand in greeting and said, “Shalom Aleichem, Kariver Rov. I want to tell you that your Seder on Pesach illuminated all the celestial worlds!”

“Certainly the rebbe means the second Seder,” Rav Shmuel responded.

“No, no!” exclaimed the Chozeh. “I mean the first Seder!”

Rav Shmuel was shocked. How could it be that the first Seder, which he conducted with simplicity, without any feeling of dveikus, was more potent than the second Seder?

The Chozeh explained, “When a person conducts the Seder with all the holy kavanos and feels so uplifted, he thinks that he is someone, a great baal madreigah. However, when a person realizes that it didn’t go the way he wanted, when the only kavanah he can muster is to think, “I am doing this to fulfill the mitzvah and be mekayeim the will of Hashem; when he feels broken-hearted, one can never underestimate how much Hashem appreciates that sense of shivron lev, that broken-heartedness!”

To Try, Not to Cry

What can we learn from this story? A person must do everything in his power to ensure that the Seder will be the best possible one for him and for his children. A person needs to prepare for the Seder and try his utmost to fulfill the mitzvah of vehigadeta levincha. That said, however, the results are in the hands of Hashem. If Hashem decides that Moshele and Ruchele don’t behave the way that you, in your dreams, hoped, that is no reason to be alarmed.

A person must be able to switch gears when necessary. If a father or a mother feels bad that the children didn’t absorb the Seder the way they envisioned, they can never know how this is viewed in Shomayim. It is entirely possible that parents who try their best and are saddened that what they envisioned for the Seder didn’t transpire will be ultimately rewarded by Hashem with an even greater reward. It is entirely possibly that their broken-heartedness will create an even greater nachas ruach and kedusha and their children’s neshamos will absorb even more kedusha at the Seder that they thought was not successful.

Our task is to do what we can. The results are Hashem’s purview.

Chag kosher vesomeiach.