A Family Affair

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07 Apr 2006

On the tenth of this month they shall take for themselves, each man, a lamb or kid for each father’s house, a lamb or kid for the household. [Shemos 12,3.]


Moses called to all the elders of Israel and said to them, “Draw forth or buy for yourselves one of the flock for your families, and slaughter the pesach-offering.” [Shemos 12,21].


And when you come to the Land which G-d will give you….and your children shall say to you, What is this service to you?, you shall say: It is a pesach feast-offering to Hashem Who passed over the houses of the Children of Israel in Egypt when He smote the Egyptians, but He saved our households…” [Shemos 12,25.]


Fathers and mothers; children and households; in a word, Families. Pesach is the family holiday par excellence. We may manage without our parents, or kids, or grandchildren or in-laws, or anyone else all year long, but when Pesach comes, if we don’t sit down at the seder with mom and dad, bubby and zeidy, aunts, uncles, cousins and other sundry relatives, the seder just doesn’t taste the same.

Many a family crisis has centered on the Pesach seder. It takes time and effort until families settle down into a satisfactory arrangement as to who goes to whom which year. Outside of Israel, if both sides of the family live within walking distance (which doesn’t happen all that frequently), things may be easier, what with two sedorim to celebrate. On the other hand, many families live far apart and each side has to wait patiently for their year and turn to come. But whatever the situation, it takes thought, good-will, largesse, sechel, and lots of love.

My father z”l used to say in his lisping Lithuanian Yiddish, Time will accomplish what sechel does not. As families expand and sleeping space contracts, as the thoughts of feeding increasing numbers on two, or sometimes three, consecutive days of yom tov and Shabbos loom large, logistics grow ever more complicated until one day, the announcement you never wanted to hear – or make! – arrives.

“That’s it! The time has come. This year we’re staying home and making our own seder. Our parents can come to us!”

Between the babies, the toddlers, the school age kids and the bigger ones, between the different accents and songs and customs people have picked up along the way, between the lateness of the hour and the noise level and the spilled wine (before you’ve even begun), you reach the point where yatza secharo b’hefseydo.


While bringing more work in its wake, the decision to finally make their own seder generally brings a surge a happiness to the second generation. It’s a sign that they’ve finally Come of Age. For the grandparents, however, it’s just a sign of Age! It means that time is marching on, everyone is getting a little older, and one has to find new ways to adjust to new situations. Of course, no one would want things to be different. We want to get older, to see the kids grow up, to progress and multiply and fill the world with Jewish souls, but all growth and development, all change, takes a bit of getting used to.

In our own family, although we haven’t made a seder for the past two or three years, I cannot yet bring myself to give away my Pesach dishes. I have lovely dishes, milcheg and fleishig, enough to feed a small army. I have serving dishes, fancy pieces, favorite china, pottery, glass; pots, pan, bottles, baking utensils. You name it, I have it. No matter how often I have considered giving or throwing things away, I use every last dish and utensil – at least for the night of the seder.

I don’t get particularly attached to furnishings, commodities or goods, so why do I find it so difficult to divest myself of Pesach wares? I tell myself I’m saving them for the grandchildren, but who knows? Life has funny twists and turns, and I remind myself that when the time comes, except for a special piece or two, the grandchildren might just prefer to buy their own Pesach supplies. Each generation has a need to build and create anew.


I think of Yetziat Mitzrayim. What did the Jews manage to pack and take with them when they left in such a hurry? They took gold and silver from Egypt, payment for their years of unpaid service. But did they have time to take their own personal belongings, or didn’t they have many belongings to take?

And all though the exile, when our ancestors were forced to leave their homes and run for their lives, when they hurriedly packed their belongings, were they able to take much with them? It doesn’t seem likely. Unfortunately, we’ve been a mobile people, and mobile people travel lightly. We prepared our “matzah” quickly – wherever we were – and moved on. They say that’s why Jewish musicians so often chose the fiddle or the clarinet. Both are small, light and portable instruments, easy to take with on unexpected journeys. Like Miriam’s drum.

But the paucity of our physical baggage is more than made up for by the expansive spiritual luggage we carry. And if we succeed in keeping our families intact and passing our legacy on to our children, it’s not important where the dishes, pots, pans, silverware and other Pesach culinary equipment end up. Because as the Torah tells us, Pesach is about families, not dishes.

If we educate our kids to understand that marriages, parents, in-laws, wives, husbands, children, aunts, uncles, cousins – in a word, families – are an irreplaceable treasure, the building blocks of Am Yisrael, without whom the Jewish people cannot continue to exist, then our existance is assured.

So if and when your Central Family Seder splits into two or three, four or more friendly, loving sedorim, don’t view it as signaling an end. See in it the beginnings of new and blessed growth. Be grateful, open your doors to all comers and your hearts to everyone, and rejoice.

Chag kasher v’sameach!

Yaffa Ganz © 2006

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.