"And You Shall Tell it to Your Children"

This is the practical interpretation of the instruction to regard oneself as having come out of Egypt with the Exodus.

Parents-Child Relations now

The redemption from the slavery in Egypt is at the root of every redemption movement, just as the enslavement and the exile of the past marked the characteristics of all the exiles of the Jewish people and established their characteristics.

This is why Jewish families are so scrupulous in observance of the ceremonies: removing the chametz from the home and burning it together with the feather used to sweep it up and the (apparently innocent) candle which with its light shows up the faults of the home; eating the matzah and the bitter herbs; drinking the ritual four cups and filling the cup of Elijah, following the order, "seder", of each of the commands in all its details.

How beautiful are the tables laid out with the best linen and dishes, and the family reunions; how moving to hear the religious songs which have been sung for centuries, while all commemorate the redemption as if they had been the simple protagonists!

The Difficulties

However, among all the refreshing mitzvot which allow a true commemoration, there is one which today has become difficult and without which, Pesach loses its meaning: that of "you will tell it to your children".

If we wish to continue to prepare for our total redemption, we must give new dimensions to the relations which exist with our children. We have to stimulate communications. We must create a climate which allows the question, the "Vehaya ki yishalcha bincha" (and when your son asks you), and we must have the right answers.

Just as the entire educational process leading to the obtaining of freedom and the redemption cannot be done in a single night, so the "you will tell it to your children" has to begin at birth and be present at every moment.

Pesach, in particular, deals with the narration of the most sacred epic for every human being: his or her struggle for liberty, and its ceremonies constitute an exercise in liberation.


In order for it to be possible to reply to "ma nishtana", the style employed has to give cause for thought and stimulate questions which seek a prompt reply.

In this framework of dialogue, it matters little whether the son is a 'hacham' - a wise son -, or even 'does not know to ask', or is 'wicked', because the family is family over and above the cultural or moral characteristics of each member.

Nor does it matter if the "you will tell it" is carried out by the children who teach their parents who have forgotten. The dialogue should be free and unrestricted, if it is to be enriching.

It is not by chance that tradition speaks of the visit of Elijah the Prophet at Pesach, since only with the dialogue and teaching will the prophesy of Malachi (3:23) come to pass:


"Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet ... And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers..."



"And when your son asks you what this means.." (Shemot, 13:14)

"And you shall tell your son on that day, saying: Because of this did G-d act for me when I came forth out of Egypt"

(Shemot, 13:8)

The form of the festive meal was established. The men with their sons made a pilgrimage from Jerusalem from all parts of the country. Next to the walls of the city, they found stalls where they could acquire clean white sheep and cattle, to celebrate the Seder with their families.

In an impressive order, the Cohanim, Levites and their assistants worked by turn to attend to the tens of thousands of heads of livestock which were roasted in special ovens placed in the streets of Jerusalem and eaten in groups. The Talmud recounts that the praises sung in these groups were so joyous that they parted the roofs.

After the destruction of the Temple, when the Pesach sacrifice could no longer be offered up, the festival acquired an even greater importance, in view of the desire to be freed from the Roman yoke and to return to Eretz Israel and rebuild the Temple.

The custom of reclining when drinking the four cups was introduced, with a separate brachah (blessing) for each cup. On the eve of Pesach it became customary not to eat after three in the afternoon in order to be able to fulfill the mitzvah of eating the matzah with a good appetite. The first cup is poured, the festival Kiddush is recited over the wine, matzah and maror are eaten, the maror is dipped in charoset, and we generally eat two foods, one for the Pesach sacrifice and the other for the festival offering (korban chagiga).


After so many unhabitual actions, hesitantly, the moment arrives when the child asks: Ma nishtana? Why is this night different from all other nights? The father must answer according to his children's capacity to understand, beginning with the shameful description:


"Originally our fathers were idolaters.."

and finishing with praises, recounting the liberation from slavery and the freedom. We recite birkat hamazon - the grace after meals - and with the fourth cup we conclude the Hallel, which we began before the meal.





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11 Jul 2005 / 4 Tamuz 5765 0