Growing up as a child I loved the festivals, I am sure that the celebration of the festivals was one of the main ways in which my attachment to Judaism blossomed and developed. The highlights of the year were always Chanukah and Pesach. These were the two festivals when my parents’ house would appear to expand and welcome friends and family to celebrate with us; we were always full to bursting.
As a child I loved lighting the Chanukiah and looking for the Afikoman. As an adult I now love the fact that our festivals encourage connections for children and adults; all across the generations there are things to enjoy and celebrate.
In the Torah portion which we read on the Shabbat during Pesach we are given some of the instruction for the festival itself. Moses instructs the Israelites: ‘For seven days you shall eat unleavened bread’ (Exodus 13:6). The length of the festival and its primary observance are introduced and then he continues: ‘And you shall explain to your child: “It is because of what Adonai did for me when I went free from Egypt”’ (Exodus 13:8).
Explaining the festival to our children is the second element which is introduced, immediately after the prohibition of eating leaven.
Most of us obsess about the food which we eat during the week of Pesach, and forget the importance of this second instruction. In many ways the entire Seder is a subconscious fulfilment of this instruction. As we spend time telling our people’s story so that everyone, and especially the children, will understand that we were all slaves in Egypt, and we all emerged to freedom. But how do we observe it otherwise?
The teaching of children is an important tenant of Judaism. In the Shema we recite: ‘These words that I command you today shall be upon your heart. Repeat them to your children’ (Forms of Prayer 2008). In the very act of reciting the Shema, we are once again subconsciously teaching our children. They learn the declaration that ‘Adonai is our God and Adonai is One.’ But how else do we focus on actually teaching them?
Both through the Seder and through the Shema we teach our children, and explain to them about their Judaism. And in both cases we do this without really focussing on the teaching moment.
Traditionally in the lead up to Pesach we tidy our entire house and remove all of the leaven from within it; just to be on the safe side we then search, with a candle and feather, for any last crumbs. Focussing so intently on fulfilling the first command of the festival, we sometimes ignore the second instruction which we were given.
Pesach is not just about the move from slavery to freedom, it is also about the move from generation to generation. We are all instructed ‘explain to your child’. And as such, the children who heard the story this year will be the ones telling the story in future years. The Seder does some of the work for us, but it is our responsibility as Jewish adults to share this story, and others, with our children, so that they in turn will own them, and share them with generations not yet born. It is because my parents shared, and celebrated, Chanukah and Pesach with me, that I now share them with the young people of West London Synagogue, and one day hopefully my own children. We are all another link in the very long chain of Jewish tradition.