The Silver Lining to a Lonely Seder

Jessie Fischbein

The Rambam in the Laws of Chometz and Matza (chapter 7) discusses how to tell the story on the night of the Seder:

ד  [ג] וצריך לעשות שינוי בלילה הזה–כדי שיראו הבנים וישאלו ויאמרו, מה נשתנה הלילה הזה מכל הלילות, עד שישיב להם ויאמר להם, כך וכך אירע וכך וכך היה.

ה  וכיצד משנה–מחלק להם קליות ואגוזים, ועוקרים השולחן מלפניהם קודם שיאכלו, וחוטפין מצה זה מיד זה, וכיוצא בדברים האלו.  אין לו בן, אשתו שואלתו; אין לו אישה–שואלין זה את זה מה נשתנה הלילה הזה, ואפילו היו כולן חכמים.  היה לבדו, שואל לעצמו מה נשתנה הלילה הזה.

We are supposed to tell our children the story.  We do strange things to evoke questions.  We want the children to ask, “Why are things so different tonight?” and then we can explain: “On this night, such and such happened.” It’s pedagogy at its finest–get someone to ask a question before you give over information.

The Rambam knows that not every Seder has this situation, and on this year it is particularly relevant: “If there is no child, his wife asks him.  If he has no wife, they ask each other (even if they are all wise and already know the answer).”  And then, particularly poignant: “If he is alone, he asks himself: ‘What is different about this night?'”

So many times we are torn in so many different directions during our Seder.  There are so many needs, so many things happening, so much to juggle.  Conflict–should we slow down and discuss, or do we need to hurry up because some people are getting bored?  Are we going too fast and some people are left dissatisfied?  Are people getting too tired?  Are we losing people’s attention?

This year may be the year when you can actually have a totally selfish Seder.  Where you get to go at exactly your own pace.  To linger on the things you want to linger on.  To have a conversation with yourself, according to your needs, your wants.  To have a chance to explain the miracles of the Exodus from Egypt and the birth of our Nation at your leisure.

It’s an odd halacha that if we are alone, we are supposed to ask ourselves the questions.  But even alone, we are supposed to have a dialogue with our self, to make it come alive to our self.  To be both the teacher and the pupil.  To say it out loud.  Even if you are alone, you are important.  You are one of the people of klal yisroel, and your experience of orally passing down the tale of the miracles of this night, as both one who gives and one who receives, is important to Hashem and to the Jewish People.

אין בית מדרש בלי חידוש.

There is no experience of learning Torah that does not lead to new insight. Even if you are by yourself, speaking to yourself, you will be surprised at what you gain.

Jessie Fischbein is the author of the book Infertility in the Bible.  She teaches Limudei Kodesh at MSH and speaks regularly at the White Shul and Vacation Village.

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