A Passover Message from Rabbi David Helfand
Members of the 40 Under 40 winners share their thoughts, inspiration, advice and encouragement as you prepare for the holiday.
As the youngest of three brothers, we always enjoyed brotherly competition. Among the favorite memories was gathering around the Passover seder and sharing the newest insight to the Haggadah that we had recently learned at school.
This was especially true when we got to the section of our Haggadah that speaks of the four children. Each year we always found a way to offer new insight and understanding to those who were and perhaps were not included in this sacred ritual.
We read at the Seder that the Torah relates to four types of children: wise, wicked, simple and one who does not know how to ask.
While the Haggadah tries to link each child to a different verse in the Torah and the role a parent might play in telling the story to the next generation, I believe this section is far more colorful and complex. It’s easy to suggest that this section is about engaging different types of people or personalities in the world around us. Perhaps, it is a metaphor for at least four different types of personalities that exist within each and every one of us. Think about the moments in your life when you embodied each of the personalities of the children in the seder.
The Ba’al Shem Tov, the founder of the Hasidic movement, explains that the Jewish people are like a living Torah scroll, and every individual Jew is a letter within it. If a single letter is damaged or missing, the Torah is invalid. So too, in Judaism, each individual is considered a crucial part of the people, without whom the entire religion would suffer. Each child that sits at the Passover seder table and each person that associates with this community matters and is essential.
Perhaps that’s the point, the lesson of the Four Children. Every type of child left Egypt, AND, in reciting the story of the Exodus from Egypt, we realize that we as individuals have all four of these children within ourselves. We are each different children at different points in our lives, even as adults. More importantly, the Four Children is merely the beginning. There are dozens if not hundreds of types of children in our communities, like letters in the Torah, that we need to engage, include, and accept for who they are. To truly be a sacred community is not only about teaching every type of child, rather creating a sense of awareness that we can learn from them, too: getting to know their story, connecting them with people of similar interests, being present with them during the moments of joy, and the moments of challenge and sorrow. That is what makes the Passover seder so powerful- we open our homes, our tables and our hearts to everyone and anyone, meeting them where they are, and engaging them through our rich tradition in a way that feels authentic and embracing.
David Helfand is the Engagement Rabbi at Shearith Israel, a master community builder, a passionate experiential educator, and gifted storyteller.