Empty Chair Prayer
Do you remember Seder night 50 years ago?
We had empty seats in our family after the Nazi Holocaust.
Do you remember Seder night 20 years ago?
We had an empty seat in our home for a Jew in Soviet Russia.
This year, 50 percent of young Jews are being lost to apathy and assimilation.
Shouldn't we leave an empty seat tonight?
Please take a moment at your family Seder to join in this prayer:
Thank You for allowing us to enjoy another Seder night together with our family and friends.
Just as our family joins together on Seder night, bridging all distances and differences, please help the Jewish people to heal the rifts of internal dissent. Please infuse us with the knowledge and inspire us with the awareness that Jewish people all over the world are part of our family.
Together we have survived the turmoil of 3,300 years, making a difference to civilization wherever we go.
Today we are losing every second Jewish child to the ravages of apathy and assimilation.
Help us to bring these young Jews back to us, back to You.
They are our children.
They are our grandchildren.
They are our future.
Fortify us with the resolve and the commitment to reach out to them, to relate the beauty and relevance of our precious heritage ― so that together, all Jews can forge our common destiny.
Next year, please God, let there be no empty seats at our family Seder.
Assimilation Then and Now
Rabbi Stephen Baars
In each and every generation, a person is obligated to regard himself as though he actually left Egypt. As it says: "You shall tell your son on that day, 'It is because of this that God took me out of Egypt.'" (Exodus 13:8)
The Talmud records that in actuality, only 20 percent of the Jewish people left Egypt. The other 80 percent did not identify strongly enough with the Jewish people's role and goal. They were too assimilated and immersed in Egyptian society. So they stayed behind.
The Haggadah is focusing us on the fact that our ancestors were among the group that had the courage and foresight to leave.
It is always difficult to make changes. We may feel that freedom is too elusive, that we don't have the drive, stamina and determination to make bold decisions. The Haggadah reminds us that we are part of the group that left. It is in our blood. We have the ability to make dramatic changes. If we so desire.
Throughout the Generations
Rabbi Shraga Simmons
In each and every generation, a person is obligated to regard himself as though he actually left Egypt. As it says: "You shall tell your son on that day, It is because of this that God took me out of Egypt" (Exodus 13:8). The Holy One, blessed be He, not only redeemed our ancestors, but He also redeemed us with them. As it says: "He brought us out from there in order to bring and give us the land which He had promised to our ancestors." (Deut. 6:23)
People often like to think of human history as basically beginning with their birth. Oh, sure, we can imagine as far back as our grandparents. But beyond that, it all seems so distant and foreign.
Deep down, who are you? Your family may be geographically located in California for the past 20 years, and you may come from three generations of retail clothiers. But is that really the extent of your heritage? Is that as far deep as your roots go?
* * *
There is a moving story from the Holocaust, told about the great Bluzhever Rebbe. One night, the German guards came into his bunk and ordered everyone up and out. They were to march to a field, where a pit had been dug ― deep and wide. "Everyone must try to jump across," shouted the guard. "If you miss, you're dead."
The Jews were hungry and weak. It was pitch dark and cold. One at a time, the Jews tried, but hardly anyone made it.
Standing next to the Bluzhever Rebbe in line was another Jew. He said to the rebbe: "We'll never make it across. So rather than entertain the guards, let's just sit down right here and let them shoot us."
"No," replied the rebbe. "We must try."
Within moments it was their turn in line. They jumped together, and both made it safely to the other side.
Stunned, the other Jew turned to the rebbe and asked: "You're an old man! How did you do it?"
Explained the rebbe: "As I got ready to jump, I thought of my father and grandfather, and of our great and holy Sages from generations past. I thought of Maimonides and Rashi. I thought of Moses and King David. I thought of Sarah and Rachel. And as I jumped, I held onto their coattails. It was they who pulled me across."
"But," the rebbe asked the man, "How did you do it?"
"Oh, me? I was holding onto your coattails."
* * *
The Torah compares a person to a tree, as it says, "A person is like a tree of the field..." (Deut. 20:19). The Talmud (Avot 3:22) explains:
A person whose wisdom exceeds his good deeds is likened to a tree whose branches are numerous, but whose roots are few. The wind comes and uproots it and turns it upside down. But a person whose good deeds exceed his wisdom is likened to a tree whose branches are few but whose roots are numerous. Even if all the winds of the world were to come and blow against it, they could not budge it from its place.
A person can appear successful on the outside, with full branches and a fancy car. "But if the roots are few" ― if there is little connection to one's community and heritage ― then life can send challenges that are impossible to withstand. "A strong wind can turn the tree upside down."
But if a person ― irrespective of their wealth and status ― is connected to community and heritage, then "even if all the winds of the world were to come and blow against it, they could not budge it from its place."
On Seder night, we are to feel as though "we personally came out of Egypt." We must appreciate our heritage as if we were there. These are our roots ― our link to the past, our strength for the present, our hope for the future.