A Passover Message from Head of School Dr. Jonathan Levy
No holiday is anticipated as much as Passover. Whether because of the distinctive foods, the preparation that’s required, the break from school, or the imminent arrival of spring, we all know it’s coming.
Unique traditions are often a highlight of the holiday. Yet while there’s a way to identify the origin of many of the customs and practices we follow, it’s often impossible to figure out the provenance of others.
Nowhere is this truer than at the Passover seder. Examples include: eating hard boiled eggs, selecting from a range of different vegetables for karpas, singing a variety of tunes, placing matzah on the wall or over a doorway (yes, really), hiding the afikoman, and so on. And these are only the customs in my own family!
One of the fundamental imperatives of the seder is to get children to ask questions. That is one of the reasons for doing things differently at the seder from the way we might usually – to engage our kids’ attention and to spark their curiosity. The gemara is quite clear that the nature of the questions is less important than the fact that questions are asked. Masechet Pesachim (115B) states:
אַבָּיֵי הֲוָה יָתֵיב קַמֵּיהּ דְּרַבָּה, חֲזָא דְּקָא מַדְלִי תַּכָּא מִקַּמֵּיהּ, אֲמַר לְהוּ: עֲדַיִין לָא קָא אָכְלִינַן, אָתוּ קָא מְעַקְּרִי תַּכָּא מִיקַּמַּן?! אֲמַר לֵיהּ רַבָּה: פְּטַרְתַּן מִלּוֹמַר ״מָה נִּשְׁתַּנָּה״.
Abaye was sitting before Rabba when he was still a child. He saw that they were removing the table from before him, and he said to those removing it: We have not yet eaten, and you are taking the table away from us? Rabba said to him: You have exempted us from reciting the questions of: Why is this night different [ma nishtana], as you have already asked what is special about the seder night. (as translated on Sefaria.org)
How interesting that a question about the table obviates the need for questions about Passover! Our sages comment that one who feels comfortable to ask about anything (including, apparently, why a table is being moved) will eventually come to ask about the holiday too. To facilitate and model this, questions are strewn throughout and woven into the Haggadah – the seder roadmap, if you will – and not just at the beginning of the text (see how many you can find!).
Happily, the TanenbaumCHAT family encompasses a wide range of observance and traditions. We celebrate this diversity of Jewish expression and are richer for it. It informs our life at school. Our students are encouraged to test concepts and challenge ideas. They know they have the freedom to ask questions and to learn from and about others.
At root, being curious and willing to learn are hallmarks of our school culture, and the Tanenbaumchat experience is enhanced when we share, respect and acknowledge all the traditions of our community.
No matter the Haggadah you read from, the tunes you sing, or the vegetables that adorn your table, may your holiday be meaningful, joyous – and full of questions!
Wishing you and your family a very happy Passover.
Jonathan Levy, Ph.D
Head of School