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Sunday, September 21, 2014

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Put your maror where your mouth is

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By Rabbi Meir Rosenberg

Pesach is the season for asking questions. We all gush with pride when the youngest child stands up to ask the Four Questions of the Haggadah. This is one of the blessings that we enjoy on Pesach. It is indeed a privilege to ask questions. And just as it’s important for our children to ask questions, it’s even more important that we know how to answer.

Even so, it’s impossible for us to know the answers to all of the questions that will be asked at our seder tables this year. Perhaps, then, our secondary emphasis on Pesach should be the technique through which we imbue our available knowledge to our children and families.

Centuries before John Dewey of Columbia University and the inauguration of modern methods in education, our sages insisted that, especially for children, the best way to learn is by doing.

This methodology is evident in the following discussion that we read in the Magid section of the Haggadah during the seder.

At one time, the sages considered the possibility of relating the story of the Exodus long before the seder night. “Yachol me’Rosh Chodesh?” – perhaps the Haggadah should be read on the first day of the month of Nissan?

The answer is no! “Talmud lomar bayom hahu” – because the Torah states: “You shall relate it to your children on that day.” This sentence implies that the Haggadah is to be recited on the anniversary of the Exodus.

The sages were still in doubt. Could it be that the reading of the Haggadah should take place when it’s still daytime, thereby approximating the time when the Korban Pesach was offered in the Temple? Again the answer is no, because inherent in the phrase of the commandment to tell the story of the Exodus is the phrase: “ba’avur zeh” – “because of this.” When the word “this,” “zeh,” is used in the Torah, it must always be referring to something specific. Our sages tell us that the specific something is the time when the Haggadah should be read. That could only be when “the matzah and maror are placed before you.”

Talk is not cheap. We value the ability to converse with our children and relate our heritage to them, so much so that the Haggadah recognized that it might take the entire night.

But at the same time, the words of our heritage must not only be heard, but proudly displayed and practised in our homes. We must practise what we know and ask questions about the customs and rituals that we’re not familiar with, even beyond Pesach.

Chag Kasher v’Samayach

Rabbi Meir Rosenberg is spiritual leader of Congregation Ayin L’Tzion in Thornhill, Ont, and national executive director of Mizrachi Canada.

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