Seder Gems 5770 - First Night

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Below is a brief synopsis of Seder Gems - First Night - 17 pages of pithy and timely ideas that will inspire and motivate your guests.

  • An astrophysicist attempts to summarize all of Judaism, a rabbi all of astrophysics. Do they succeed? Jews have a long and remarkable history. It is therefore all the more surprising that Biblical Hebrew has no word for ‘history'. Why? We will see how the answer to these questions gets to the heart of Passover and how the Seder encapsulates our people's greatest spiritual triumph.
  • "This is the bread of poverty and persecution... Let all who are hungry come and eat it." What a bizarre invitation! What kind of warm hospitality is it to offer your guests a taste of persecution and suffering? Victor Frankl makes the profound connection by revealing the differences between slavery and liberation, and how the simple sharing of food can bring us from bondage to freedom.
  • A New York Times reporter once asked the Noble Prize-winning Jewish physicist, Isidore Rabi, why he became a scientist. Izzy replied, "My mother made me a scientist without ever knowing it." Find out how she did it and how her actions mirror the theme of Mah Nishtana. The Rebbe remarked that while many people think that faith means not questioning, Judaism teaches the opposite. Asking questions is itself a profound expression of faith. We'll see how this is.
  • It's remarkable that the names of humble midwives, Shifra and Puah, are recorded many times in the Torah. By contrast, the all-powerful monarch, Pharaoh is never named. Why? And why is Exodus called "Sefer Shmot" in Hebrew? The answer to these questions will teach us what truly moves history and who the true heroes--and heroines-- really are.
  • Since G-d could have removed the Jews from Egypt in one quick act of liberation, what was the point of prolonging the process with ten plagues over many months? To answer this we will recall the worldview of ancient Egypt and understand how G-d's actions shattered the myth of the invincibility of one of the longest-lasting empires in human history.
  • The Talmud tells a story about a gang of thugs who tormented R' Meir, and how he prayed for their death. His wife Beruria asked "How did you reach such a decision that it is okay to pray for their death?" R' Meir replied "The Torah says: 'Let sins be obliterated from the earth.'" She answered in words that have become well known to Jewish husbands: "No honey, you're wrong!" We'll connect Beruria's insight and wisdom to the sixteen drops of wine at the Seder.
  • Rabbi Akiva tells us that each of the Ten Plagues visited on Egypt was really five plagues rolled into one, giving us a total of fifty plagues. What is the significance of this? To answer this question we will do an interactive, enjoyable experiment involving our Seder guests that will demonstrate the depth of R. Akiva's insight. And we will see how this insight was only possible because his unique life story - from illiterate shepherd to one of the greatest sages of Jewish history - gave him a perspective that can lift and move all of us at the Seder to become better human beings.
  • Dayeinu basically means: "Thank you G-d for really overdoing it!" One day at a bookstore I was browsing through books on meditation and I noticed one work by a rabbi and another by a humanist. Both were full of wisdom. But there was a striking omission in the humanist's work, the same subject that was prominent in the rabbi's book. The chapter on gratitude. We'll learn why this is and why this emotion is fundamental to a healthy spiritual life.
  • Who actually "caused" G-d to intervene and split the Red Sea? An incredible story that happened in Munich, Germany during the Nazi regime illustrates how jumping to act on another's behalf sets in motion grand results.
  • Explore the origins of the Hillel Sandwich: Matzah symbolizes freedom while Maror represents slavery. Why do we follow the opinion of Hillel and eat such seemingly opposite items together?
  • Eli Wiesel pointed out that Theodor Herzl and Sigmund Freund lived on the same street in Vienna, yet the two men never met. Learn why Wiesel said we should all be so grateful they didn't, and what your dreams have to do with it. And let's all say, "This year in Jerusalem!"
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