According to a recent study of Jewish observance, Chanukah is the holiday that more Jews observe than any other. The Passover Seder, however, is probably the most celebrated ritual in Jewish life that does requires more than lighting candles and frying potatoes. So many people have a Seder that we do not realize what a revolutionary idea it is.
To the best of my knowledge, the Seder is the first significant religious event that took place originally at home and not in a temple. It is still primarily home based. The Sedarim not done in the home are based on the ones that are.
In the history of religion, not just Judaism, the most important rituals took place in public and were performed exclusively by the religious leadership on behalf of the people. They were completely controlled and supervised by the priesthood.
The first Seder took place in Egypt, the night before the Exodus. It took place in the homes and was conducted by the people who lived there. It would have been very dangerous to conduct it in public, perhaps, but if God had wanted it that way I am there could have been a miracle allowing it to happen.
The Torah instead empowers the people to have a discussion about freedom that makes sense to them, without outside interference or criticism.
Even later, the high priest had no more standing at a Seder than anyone else.
The Seder was the beginning of the idea that any space could be sacred and holy if the people in it made it so.
It is to remind us of our responsibility to uncover and rediscover the inherent holiness of all places.
Let’s look at some of the rituals. First, the wine. All Jewish holidays and Shabbat have a blessing over wine. On Passover, there is more than one cup. There was a disagreement whether there should be four cups or five. The rabbis decided to compromise and drink four, leaving a fifth on the table, for when Elijah would come some day and decide. The wine, then, is a metaphor for the importance of compromise. That is how we begin.
The motzi, the blessing we say over challah, is exactly the same as the one we say
over matzah. Challah is soft and chewy. Matzah is not. Both, though, are nutritious and will sustain us. The Seder teaches us to be grateful for the things in our lives that we take for granted or feel we are entitled to. We learn that everything can be delicious if we appreciate how lucky we are to have it.
The Haggadah is important for what it says, but maybe even more so for who says it. For many centuries in many cultures there was the idea that children should be seen but not heard, that they were merely empty vessels in which the adults would pour in the knowledge they felt was necessary. It is amazing to me that our sages thousands of years ago understood that education can only begin when the child is genuinely curious, and that the adults teach to the interest and level of the child. It also speaks to the importance of listening to everyone in the house, both the most powerful and the most vulnerable .At the Seder everyone is heard, and everyone deserves a good and thoughtful answer.
Preparing for Passover is a reminder that we can live every moment in a sacred and holy place. Cleaning for Pesach means getting rid of all those things that prevent us from seeing that.
What can we each do to make our homes into a place of freedom and joy in responsibility? That is the real question that we ask at the Seder.