On the morning before the first Seder, it is customary to hold a siyyum- the recognition of the conclusion of a section of a traditional Jewish text. This is done so that one can then hold what is known as a seudat mitzvah, a meal celebrating the fulfillment of a commandment. Eating at this seudat mitzvah supersedes the traditional “fast of the firstborn” so that those who would otherwise be obligated to fast can in fact eat on the day before Pesach.
This Friday morning, I will be teaching a section of text that I have been studying for the past month. I have a thought on the Seder based on that text which I will include in my teaching and want those of you who will not be at the siyyum to read this idea in advance so that you can, if you wish, include it in your thoughts about the Seder and plan accordingly.
One of the traditions relating to the holiday of Chanukkah is that the Chanukkah lights are placed in the window facing the street. This is done for the purpose of pirsuma nisa, publicizing the miracles of Chanukkah and identifies the home as one which celebrates the holiday.
This is a beautiful tradition and one which I believe can be connected to the holiday of Pesach.
The Seder is the most dramatic and meaningful home ritual of the entire Jewish year. It is a beautiful and sacred moment whose beauty we sometimes take for granted.
That leads me to my suggestion regarding the Seder.
If your Seder is held in a room with windows facing out to the street, I suggest you keep your blinds wide open during the Seder.
Just as lighting the Chanukkah lights in the window makes the observance of the ritual a public statement, so, I believe this will help make our observance of the Seder a public statement.
The impact of this could be profound.
Imagine a person who was not familiar with the Seder, or Jewish traditions in general, walking on the street and looking into the window and seeing people of all ages gathered around a table, engaged in conversation, singing and feasting. Consider what a person would think about Jews and our traditions if they saw the Seder taking place. They would appreciate how it brings together people from different generations to observe ancient traditions with joy and passion. They would, I believe, be inspired by the sight.
We have an opportunity on Pesach night to perform another act of pirsuna nisa, publicizing a miracle. In this case, though, we would be publicizing two miracles: the miracle of the Exodus and the miracle of the survival of our people for millenia.
In addition, there is always the possibility that a Jewish person who didn’t have a place to observe the Seder or who had neglected to plan for participating in a Seder, might be moved to knock on the door and ask to be included.
That last point may seem a bit far-fetched, and, in fact, we might be reluctant to invite a stranger into our home for various reasons. But, we shouldn’t be so hasty to come to that conclusion and I say that it in light of a personal experience that I am remembering this Pesach.
Forty years ago, I and my good friend Rabbi Allan Berkowitz spent the beginning of Pesach in the former Soviet Union. We were one of many pairs of rabbis, rabbinical students and Jewish educators who traveled to the USSR throughout the late 1970s and the 1980s to meet refuseniks- those who had been refused permission to emigrate to Israel. These Jews suffered significant persecution for wishing to emigrate and the objective of these “missions” was to encourage refuseniks to remain strong, to teach them more about Jewish customs and observance and to bring back information for those working for the cause of Soviet Jewry.
Those of us who participated in these journeys returned with experiences which changed us in many ways.
On erev Pesach 1982, we found ourselves in the city of Kishinev, now Chisinau Moldova. We spent much of the day trying to contact several families we had been instructed to meet but we were unsuccessful.
Faced with the prospect of observing a make-shift Seder in our hotel room, we tried one last time to make contact with one of the families. We knocked on the door of a home whose address we had been given and after I said the simple word: “Shalom”, the woman who answered the door pulled us into the home, welcomed us and fed us some matza latkes. We then accompanied her to services at the synagogue and later that evening, we joined her family for a memorable Seder. I have never forgotten the act of kindness that this family showed us as they welcomed us into their home.
That Seder was held in the basement, as holding the Seder in a more visible place might have been an invitation for trouble.
As we gather in this wonderful land of freedom, observing our holidays without fear, we should open our windows wide to express our pride in our ritual, educate others and perhaps, in just the right circumstance, open our door to someone who is looking for a place to join in the Pesach Seder.
Hag Sameach to all!