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New! Seder Gems 5783-2023
Make your Seder relevant and inspiring!
These messages will connect with your crowd and help them see how Torah and Chasidus speak directly to their challenges and will encourage them to up their game in Jewish observance.
Here’s a short preview of this year’s all new Seder Gems First Night:
The Jewish Home: Hidden Forces that Shape Behavior
Unlike in other religions, the primary spiritual institution in Judaism is not the house of worship, the synagogue. It is the home. The synagogue is certainly important but it is a spiritual accessory to the home. The strength of a nation derives from the home, its foundation and its core…A good illustration of how home is an unacknowledged but decisive life-shaping place is illustrated by an experiment conducted by Yale University using a simple cup of coffee…
דַּיֵּינוּ - Richard Nixon Didn’t Sing Dayenu
President Richard Nixon was reelected in 1972 by a landslide — 17 million votes, the largest margin of the popular vote ever recorded in American history before or since. He strode across the political arena like a colossus….
אִלּוּ נָתַן לָנוּ אֶת מָמוֹנָם - Give Me Your Jewelry, Please?
Before the Jews left Egypt, G-d commanded them to ask the Egyptians for gold, silver, and jewelry…. G-d told them what to do with the gifts they received: “You are to dress your sons and daughters in this jewelry and fine clothing.” It seems peculiar that G-d would want them to dress their children in finery just before going on a long journey through the desert. One would imagine sneakers, not stilettos, would be appropriate garb. And yet, we know this was no inconsequential request because G-d repeated it twice….
וַיַּאֲמִינוּ בה’- You Can’t Be Neutral About G-d
…G-d parted the sea, and the Jews crossed to safety. At that moment, the Bible recounts, “The Jewish people believed in G-d… and they broke into song.” It is not by accident that the first time the Jews sang was immediately after they first believed. Faith turns life into song…
מָרוֹר עם חֲרוֹסֶת -Sweeten Up Life’s Bitter Moments with One Ingredient
Reb Mendel Futerfas was one of the heroic Chabad Chassidim of the 20th Century. He was sent to a Soviet Gulag for eight years by the Communists for the ‘crime’ of teaching Torah and strengthening Jewish life. When merchant ships arrived at the camp to pick up logs, the strongest prisoners were required to load them. The antisemitic foreman gave Mendel the most dangerous tasks…
אֲשֶׁר פָּסַח עַל בָּתֵּי בְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּמִצְרַיִם - Hyssop: Small Herb, Big Impact
…Today, we worship idols of bigness: the famous, the powerful, the wealthy – the bigger, the better. Celebrity is our Golden Calf. We think for a person to be valuable they must be a “huge success”, a “giant personality,” a “big influencer,” a “superstar.” We are impressed by the number of followers someone has on social media. The more someone is liked and tweeted about, the greater their worth. Everything is data driven and everyone is number obsessed.
The problem with worshiping the gods of bigness and giving free reign to our desire for fame is that we run the risk of forgetting the significance of the little things which really matter. Visiting a friend who is fighting to get well might seem a little thing to do, but in G-d’s eyes — and in your friend’s eyes — it is big…
Here’s a short preview of this year’s all new Seder Gems Second Night:
וְכָל הַמַּרְבֶּה לְסַפֵּר בִּיצִיאַת מִצְרַיִם הֲרֵי זֶה מְשֻׁבָּח - Moses’s Guide to Boat-Building
A stimulating icebreaker question: “If you were shipwrecked stranded on an island, what single book would you want with you?” You can only take one, and you’ll be there for a long time, so make it count…
People’s answers reveal much about their personalities. The person who chooses The Lord of The Rings gravitates toward adventure and fantasy; they’d rather be somewhere else. A preference for The Art of Computer Programming shows a mind that enjoys data. The best answer to the question that I’ve ever heard was unexpected but obvious once you think about it: Thomas’s Guide to Practical Boat-Building.
The Haggadah currently in our hands is a boat-building book of sorts. It is not fantasy or romance, but an instructional manual of Jewish survival and homecoming…. The story the Haggadah tells never allowed the Jewish people to forget its ideals, its collective mission of constructing a world that would stand in stark contrast to the one we had known in Egypt….
יעצט גיב מיר אן ענטפע - Responses to the Four Questions
At the Seder, the family eagerly awaits young Joseph’s recitation of the Ma Nishtana, the Four questions, as he has done for the past two years. His parents’ motion for Joseph to stand, but this year, the boy remains seated. Finally, they instruct him to rise and recite the Four Questions. Still firmly seated, Joseph refuses: “I won’t do it.” The usually well-mannered boy’s insubordination shocks his parents and their guests. “Why not?” “Every year I ask the Four Questions,” the boy responds, “and Dad never answers them. It’s clear he doesn’t know the answers, so I’m not going to ask again. It’s not kind to ask Dad questions which he cannot answer, especially in front of guests.” Since Joseph’s questions should not go unanswered, here, then, is an answer to each. First Question: “Why is it that on other nights, we need not dip our vegetables even once, but on this night we dip them twice?
Answer: At the Seder table, we dip food twice. First, we dip a vegetable in salt water to remind us of the tears shed in slavery. Second, we dip the maror in the sweet haroset. What is the meaning of this second dipping? Reb Mendel Futerfas was one of the heroic Chassidim of the 20th Century….
וַיִּשְׁמַע ה' אֶת־קֹלֵנוּ - Prayer: A Reversed Thunderbolt
Despite the enormous persecution and scorn they endured, prayers went up from the Jewish slaves all over the Egyptian Empire. As the verse says, “We cried out to G-d.”… The whole of Jewish history is captured in these words: וַיִּשְׁמַע ה' אֶת־קֹלֵנוּ — G-d listened to our voice… G-d gathers our cries. The prayers we say ascend to G-d and descend to earth. Prayer, like a reversed thunderbolt, re-enters history with incalculable effects. Our earth is shaken to its bedrock daily by unnoticed prayer.
אִלּוּ נָתַן לָנוּ אֶת הַשַׁבָּת - Scuba Diving with Shabbat: The Gift of Rest
… “This is strange,” the Rebbe Rashab told him. “People have brains in their head, and have feet in their shoes. This is the first time I've seen a person put their brains in their shoes.” In other words, work is liberating, but to be controlled by work is slavery… Just like a scuba diver needs to surface regularly to fill his lungs with rejuvenating air, so too must we, for one day in seven, raise ourselves from the stifling depths of work and toil and breathe in the invigorating air of spiritual rest and renewal….
חַיָּבִים לְהוֹדוֹת - Feelings Don’t Run Your Life
At this point in the Haggadah, we are commanded to thank G-d, אֲנַחְנוּ חַיָּבִים לְהוֹדוֹת
Some might respond, “I don't feel like thanking G-d. To do so would be dishonest, and I don’t want to be a hypocrite.” Perhaps Passover has found you at a moment where you are weighed down with worry and gratitude feels elusive. The Haggadah’s’ response to one for whom gratitude feels inauthentic is….
כָּל־הַבֵּן הַיִּלּוֹד הַיְאֹרָה תַּשְׁלִיכֻהוּ - Pharaoh at the Seder
When we reach the phrase in the Haggadah, “Pharaoh commanded all his people, ‘Throw every newborn Hebrew boy into the Nile River,’” I love imagining Pharaoh attending our Seder. He looks into the Haggadah and, seeing the sentence he spoke, beams with excitement. How pleased he is to find that people have kept his command in circulation 3000 years later! His words live on in our mouths.
Then, the mighty king picks up the Haggadah and looks through it, growing livid and appalled….
הַמַּטֶּה הַזֶּה תִּקַּח בְּיָדְךָ -The Staff of Jewish Confidence
At age eighty, when Moses probably felt that his life was nearly over, G-d met Moses at the Burning Bush and told him to return to Egypt and lead the Jewish people out of slavery. As Moses starts his return to Egypt, the text reads: וַיִּקַּח מֹשֶׁה אֶת מַטֵּה הָאֱלֹקִים בְּיָדוֹ Moses took the staff of G-d in his hand.
What, askes the Rebbe, was the symbol of that staff in the hand of Moses?
Bari Weiss is an American journalist. She was an opinion editor at the Wall Street Journal and at the New York Times. She is also the author of How to Fight Anti-Semitism….
סְפִירַת הָעֹוֹמֶר - Grow to Greatness: One Day at a Time
One of the most remarkable miracles of the Exodus was the transformation of a people who had developed a slave mentality through centuries of brutal bondage into a compassionate and spiritual nation.
How was this transformation accomplished?
A story can help explain. Once, a farmer found a boy sobbing in darkness, holding a tiny oil lamp…