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The Passover Seder Balancing Act
Dear Emuna

The Passover Seder Balancing Act

Help! Most of our relatives want to get the Seder over quickly and eat, and I want to make it meaningful.


Dear Emuna,

Passover is coming and my whole family expects me to host the Seder. I don’t mind because I like to cook and it’s easier to have it at my house with our young children. My challenge is that my husband and I and our (slightly) older children want to really talk about the Hagaddah while most of our relatives want us to read it quickly and get on to the meal. I don’t want to abandon them but they are robbing our Seder of its meaning and I work so hard to make Passover happen that I want the Seder to be special. How do I balance everyone’s needs?


Dear Torn,

You are not alone. This is one of the most common questions that I receive this time of year. You are to be commended for your kindness and hospitality to your family but it’s important to remember that Passover is not Thanksgiving. It is not a secular holiday where family gets together and enjoys a good meal and a good football game. It is a religious holiday.

I like to remind my students that everyone remembers the first part of what Moses said to Pharaoh, “Let my people go” but forgets the last part “So that they may serve Me (i.e. The Almighty).” The focus on Passover is the reciting of the Haggadah. This is important for you, your husband and your children and you can’t be hospitable at the expense of this. You may however be able to strike a balance. I would recommend to your relatives that they have a good snack ahead of time so they aren’t desperate to eat. I would explain to them exactly how you plan to run your Seder, how long it will take, when you will eat etc. so they know what they can expect.

It’s nice to give everyone an opportunity to participate in the Seder – perhaps by researching one aspect of it ahead of time and presenting it on Passover night – so they are not just listening passively and are less likely to be bored. If they don’t understand Hebrew, you can certainly add some English elements. The goal is to make it pleasurable and meaningful for everyone. After this preparation (and warning) you might want to suggest to your family members that they make a choice. Reassure them how much you would love to have them there but emphasize that they need to be prepared to participate fully and patiently. With good will on both sides, I think it can be a positive experience for everyone!

Dear Emuna,

After a 25 year marriage, my wife and I divorced. We have three sons and they have not asked me why the divorce happened, nor have they spoken to me in the intervening decade. Calls, emails and letters go unanswered. Suggestions?

Father in Pain

Dear Hurting Father,

That sounds excruciatingly painful. But I have so many questions. It’s been a decade? Have you had others try to intervene in that time? How hard did you try to open up the lines of communication? What happened between you and your wife? Did something occur that they all blame you for? Is there any truth to their accusations? Without these answers, it’s really impossible to know how to help you. My best advice (besides lots of prayer) is to try and find someone they trust who can be your advocate. If you have done wrong, be abject in your apology. Ask them to please give you a second chance. If you haven’t done wrong, ask them to give you a fair hearing. Again, without knowing what happened during the marriage and what happened in the “intervening decade” I can’t give you any more specific advice.

Dear Emuna,

I have one daughter who is very high strung. She is very bright and an overachiever. She does extremely well in school but if she doesn’t get an A plus plus on a test or report, she is frustrated and miserable. I have tried telling her to just “chill,” I have told her over and over again that it’s not necessary to get those kind of grades and I have tried to introduce other activities into her life to make her more well-rounded. She has responded well to the activities but not to my admonitions to take it easy? What do you suggest I do?

Concerned Mom

Dear Concerned Mom

I totally hear your frustration and your concern for your daughter but unless there is a serious health concern (physical or psychological) there probably is very little you can do. So much is inherent in their personality. I have discovered that it is very difficult to motivate the unmotivated. And it is likewise difficult to tone down the very motivated. I think that a large part of parenting is acceptance – this is who they are and, as long as it isn’t destructive, I need to just leave it be. Some parents wish their introverted kids were more introverted. Some parents wish their “life of the party” kids would settle down. We can only fine tune and be alert to “danger” signs (when you say “high strung,” is she within the normal range or “over the edge”?) and, of course, as always, ask the Almighty to help.


March 29, 2014

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The opinions expressed in the comment section are the personal views of the commenters. Comments are moderated, so please keep it civil.

Visitor Comments: 4

(4) eli, April 4, 2014 2:21 PM

greeat hagaddah reecommendation

hi for guys who can undwrstand hebrew i can really recommend a haggadah taam vedaas written by rabbi shurnbuch .
it is concise and deep and in a easy hebrew

(3) Dvorah Q, April 4, 2014 1:05 PM

re: less observant family

My problem is the same as Tom's. When my guests arrive I serve chopped liver with celery sticks and a k for p cocktail that I invented, which I call "The Land of Milk and Honey." This keeps them from getting squirmy during the reading of the Hagaddah. However, once the eating is over and the afikomen has been recovered, everyone disappears and my husband and I are left alone at the table to conclude the Seder. This bothers me. I've tried concluding before serving dessert, but this really isn't right. Any ideas? I'm thinking about simply making an announcement this year, asking everyone to remain for the conclusion, out of respect. I may use the line that we are here, not only to tell the story but also “So that they may serve Me." Truth is, they don't care. They're here for the food, for the family time, for a bit of tradition, but not to serve HaShem. I don't want to turn them off by being vindictive but I want to do this right. Any creative ideas?

(2) JB Destiny, April 3, 2014 7:59 PM

A Seder compromise

Asking your family to prepare a little something to contribute is a great idea. But telling your family to come prepared for a few hours' discussion before you get to the meal, because "That's how we roll," (as it were) is not a good way to fulfill the mitzvah of Sipur Yetziat Mitzraim. It sounds like a recipe for even more complaints, and you'll hear about it forever after!

The Rabbis in Bnei Brak talked all night; do you think they never ate the meal, or the afikoman by deadline? Yes, I know there is a tradition that they talked about political rebellion, but if that's the whole matter, the event wouldn't have been included in the Hagadah. The mitzvah to tell the story of Pesach isn't confined to Magid; it should continue throughout the meal as well.

Have some discussion during Magid and let everyone read, yes, even in English. Reserve most of your commentary for the meal when the "feed-mes" have their mouths/bellies full and can be content to listen quietly. And finally, don't finish the songs and close up shop; it's time for more discussion! This gives your guests the opportunity to leave if they're done, or stay and hear/participate more. Your immediate family will get the meaningful seder you and they want. The rest of your family will have no real cause for complaint if the meal is served within a reasonable amount of time.

(1) Anonymous, April 3, 2014 5:53 PM

pesach seder

We had a similar issue (would not call it problem) when
Grandmother as well children all ages participated in the Seder .
Most of the Seder was geared to the younger children and some questions were fired at the older ones without going in to them. When soup was served came the turn of the older children. The whole Seder finished before Chatzoth. Then Grandmother and the younger children went to sleep, the table was cleared and the Hagada continued with whoever wanted.

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