In a recent bulletin column, I described the dilemma of this year's first seder – it must start so late due to the hour the sun sets at the conclusion of Shabbat. Since then, I have heard many suggestions from rabbinic colleagues about how to deal with the inconvenient hour. In the end, we are locked into this fact: it's not Pesach until it gets dark, and that's very late.
You are likely to have a substantial nosh late on Saturday afternoon (remember, no matzah), so you should not go into the seder so terribly hungry that the pre-meal steps are oppressive. By the same token, you don't want dinner to begin at 11:30. Therefore, it is time to liberate yourself from the Haggadah.
I am not suggesting skipping any steps of the seder, nor doing them out of order. But the longest section of the evening's ritual, maggid, the telling of the story of the Exodus, is also the most flexible. Our sages taught that we must discuss the Exodus, beginning with our degradation and concluding with our elevation. The text of maggid has always been a suggested way of discussing the lessons of the Exodus, not a liturgy meant to be recited by rote. With a little preparation ahead of time, that discussion can be meaningful and more concise.
Preparation is the key. We always like to ask our guests to prepare some-thing to add to the seder – we give them an assignment. One year we asked what object they would take with them if they were leaving Egypt. Another year, we discussed an article on modern slavery that we had distributed. Other years we have asked people to prepare to lead each of the different sections of the evening. But the initial preparation is in the hands of the hosts.
This year, it may be worthwhile choosing a single question to discuss during the maggid section. Perhaps you will select a section from the tradition Haggadah. Perhaps you will choose a text from American history – from Jefferson, Lincoln, Roosevelt, King, Friedan or Reagan – and use it as the basis of a discussion on the principles and responsibilities of freedom. Perhaps you will speculate on the differences in your sense of place in the world thanks to the existence of the State of Israel – how would your life be different if Israel had not come into to being? Perhaps you will take an article on a contemporary controversy involving freedom – promoting democracy in the world, determining medical treatment, how homeland security impacts civil rights – and compare it to an aspect of the Passover story. So many other possibilities exist.
And, of course, discussion does not need to end with gefilte fish; it can continue into and beyond the meal.
As mentioned previously, we will try to help the challenge of the hour by beginning services on Sunday morning at 10:30 Daylight Time instead of 9:30.
Above all, don't forget the kids! Let them nap on Saturday so they can stay up late, and ask them all the same questions you pose to adults. Remember – it is for their sake you tell this story each year.
Ann, Jennie, Julia and Max join me in wishing you a wonderful Pesach.