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The Passover Seder Balancing Act

March 30, 2014 | by Emuna Braverman

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.



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