By Emanuel Elstein
Former Shaliach in Washington (2003-4) and Memphis (2010-12)
Currently Director of Operations,Torah MiTzion


Judaism is a family based religion. Long before the invention of organized education systems, we had already perfected the method of familial traditions, passing from father to son.
First and foremost, the obligation of passing our tradition from generation to generation is upon the parents. Today modern educators are discovering what we have intuitively known for eons; that the best form of learning is not by a lecture but rather through experiences.
And so the primary arena of study in Judaism is the family table. Our Shabbat table is a living educational experience, where we reinforce our basic beliefs.
If Shabbat is an educational meal, than Seder night is the educational meal. It’s a meal totally geared towards children. We have to four question, we do all kind of strange things so they’ll ask questions, we hide the afikoman… all the create interest and involvement.But then we have an odd saying in the seder, which seems to contradict all that –
אפילו כולנו חכמים, כולנו נבונים, כולנו זקנים, כולנו יודעים את התורה, מצווה עלינו לספר ביציאת מצרים…”
“Even if all of us were wise, all of us understanding, all of us knowing the Torah, we would still be obligated to discuss the exodus from Egypt; and everyone who discusses the exodus from Egypt at length is praiseworthy”

But why?
Isn’t the seder all about kids? About teaching the story to someone who doesn’t know it yet? If we all know the Torah, so really, why are we telling the story? It’s one thing to tell it to our kids so they know the story. But we know it already!

What’s the point?
Maimonides, teaches us that what we have here is a successful exercise in mass psychology. Some things we can prove. Once you rationally prove something it’s just a matter of teaching the information and you’re set. But when it comes to our beliefs, our faith, there is no proof. That’s why it’s called belief and faith.

But how do we reinforce this belief? – Through repetition. Certain stories have become part of our national heritage; have been ingrained in our psyche so deeply we can’t get rid of it. They are the founding myths of our collective memory – Akeidat Yitzchak, for example. Jews have been raised on that story and the concept of Kiddush Hashem for so long, it’s no wonder we find so many stories of even totally unaffiliated and non-observant Jews who were willing to die rather than give up their Judaism.
Similarly, we repeat again and again, twice a day, but writ large on Seder night, the story of Yetziat Mitzrayim. We hear it so often we rarely take the time to think about the absurdity of it. The story makes no sense. It’s totally irrational that G-d would choose to liberate a nation that had sunk to the pits of 49 Shaarei Tum’a, and almost reached the 50th. It makes no sense that G-d would kill all the firstborn Egyptians but spare the Jews who were just as idolatrous as them. It makes no sense to think that G-d would choose us and give us the Torah, when we were so underserving of it.

But it happened. Pesach is an irrational holiday. And the seder is not about learning history. It doesn’t matter how much I know or how smart I am, this night is about reinforcing our belief in Yetziat Mitzrayim, restoring our belief that if G-d promised something – it will happen even if it doesn’t make sense. Our belief that just as Hashem redeemed us once, despite all logic, he will also redeem us again, for the final Geula.

And as Binyamin Theodore Herzl said – אם תרצו, אין זו אגדה
If you will it, it is not a dream.

comments: emanuel@torahmitzion.org