How to avoid tension at the Seder

Advice for parents worried about convincing children to take part in halakhically mandated parts of the Seder.

Rabbi Baruch Efrati ,

Rabbi Baruch Efrati
Rabbi Baruch Efrati
Courtesy

Question: Rabbi, how can we convince our children that they must perform the technical mitzvot of the Seder? For example, it is hard to get them to drink the necessary amount of wine (or grape juice) by the time we get to the third and fourth cup, and to eat the kezayit (halakhic measure) of matza before the meal and for the afikoman, because they do not like them. It is somewhat less of a problem after the "hamotzi" blessing but really difficult, almost impossible, to get them to eat the afikoman at the end of the meal.

When we try to insist upon it, the atmosphere suffers as well as the mitzva.

Rabbi Efrati responds:

This is an important question, applicable to children of various ages:

On the one hand, we want to keep the Seder night's mitzvas as they should be kept, not only performing them but to taking pleasure in them - for G-d to find pleasure in them – but sometimes, the very performance of the mitzva achieves the diametric opposite of its goal. Although the matza is meant to remind us of redemption, the process of eating it in the required amount sometimes causes distancing from the Seder, and while the wine is intended to make us feel liberated, it can become an unwelcome chore to have to drink it.

In order to avoid tension and to minimize problems, here are several suggestions:

1. Do not demand of your family more than the halakha demands. That means, keeping the minimalistic halakhic decision on the amount of matzot and wine (or grape juice), according to the Gaon of Vilna and not the Chazon Ish. Also, remember that women do not have to recite all the words of the Haggadah.

2. Purchase products that please the palate: Soft matzah (it is easy enough to eat the halakhic amount in that case, and if you are Ashkenazi, use it just for the children), and for the four cups of wine (or grape juice) vary the type for each cup.

3. Have the children (and naturally, your wife) take part in choosing the products from the start. Color, type, purchasing etc. Let the children feel they are participants in creating the Seder and not that it is forced upon them from "above."

4. Take the time to sit down with each child individually this week and talk about the meaning of the matza, the four cups of wine, the Haggadah. If your wife can take a break from preparations, study the Haggadah and halakhot together. Better yet, help her enough to ensure that she does have the time.

5. Don't give orders at the Seder, just do what needs to be done: You eat, you drink, and you recite the Haggadah aloud. At the beginning of the evening, explain the laws and don't run after the children – just provide a joyous model for them. Your children have Free Will, that is what their Creator gave them when He designated them as required to perform the mitzvoth at a certain age, and besides, coercion can sometimes cause hatred of Torah. It is not worth it to concentrate on this or that detail when the entire foundation can become shaky as a result.

6. Be consciously creative - move from the table to couches together, dance, wear costumes, read the parts you feel should be read aloud quickly, take the time to hear the children, switch seating in the middle, have your wife seated next to you and not on the other end of the table, listen to her suggestions for making the seder joyous.

7. Do not prepare too much food for the meal. The matza is very filling, and there has to be room for the afikoman.

8. Involve the children in the fact that you, too, sometimes find the matza and wine somewhat difficult to consume and talk about how to deal with that.

9. Pray to G-d on Shabbat for Him to help your family conduct a Seder according to His wishes, a Seder filled with joy and love of G-d.

Rabbi Baruch Efrati studied at Merkaz HaRav yeshiva in Jerusalem and serves as a rabbi in Efrat. He is a prolific and much-read writer on Torah issues and heads the "Derech Emunah" (Way of Torah) movement of young Israeli Orthodox rabbis.

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