Passover Selves/True Selves

Sociologist Martha Beck teaches that we have an essential self and a social self. The essential self is our personal identity and qualities, and it guides us in life purpose. The social self is what forms through interaction with others’ expectations, but also provides the skills to accomplish our life purpose. When our essential self has become hidden by others’ expectations, Beck says, we may experience boredom, numbness, disconnect and hollowness – we’ve lost our direction for this journey.

This process of reconnecting with our essential selves is a deep theme of Passover. The Sefat Emet, a 19th-century Hasidic rabbi, taught that, on Passover, our inner essence that God has given us is renewed. Throughout the year, this divine essence should be our guide. Equally true, throughout the year, our inner essence can get caked over – pun intended – with ego, worries, wanting to please others and even apathy.

Matzah is called lechem oni (poor person’s bread) because it is completely simple, without any adornment, the simple essence of bread. The Sefat Emet taught that our inner essence is also lechem oni, the simplest form of ourselves. On Passover, our inner essence has a chance to be purified and renewed. In the Torah, we are told to keep or guard the holiday of matzot. The Sefat Emet interpreted this verse as meaning to guard our own matzah self – our truest, most essential form.

To clean off, to reconnect with that essential self takes effort – probably a lot more effort than scrubbing the fridge shelves or kashering the sink for the holiday – but it’s how we can fully live the holiday. Our tradition teaches that our last taste of the seder should be matzah, which is why the afikoman, the dessert, is matzah. This Passover, let’s find out how getting back to our essential selves and our true purpose can be the sweetest reward.

Originally published in the Canadian Jewish News.

Leading Creative and Engaging Passover Seders

seder plate

It’s that time of year again – planning for your Passover seder. Or avoiding planning for it. Or wondering whether you’ll insult/bore/entertain your family and friends with your seder choices this year. Here are some tips for leading a creative and engaging Passover seder, no matter what age your participants.

Tips for an Engaging Passover Seder

  1. Have the children help prepare for seder. They could make place-cards or cups of wine matzahplacemats (see one in this packet) that you can laminate, table decorations, prepare a short play or skit, learn Mah Nishtana and other songs, learn some of the blessings, cut vegetables, set the seder plate…
  2. Give homework. Have participants prepare a song, a skit, a drash (teaching), an explanation, a reading, a story.
  3. Buy time. To have interesting conversations or activities, people can’t be famished! For the karpas stage of the seder, when you dip parsley in salt water, have large trays of crudité and various dips to keep guests’ stomachs from complaining.
  4. Tell the story. The haggadah contains four different ways of telling the story, each beginning with a question, a response, and a praise of G-d. Add your own telling! Improvise your own play or use a script, for example from Sedra Scenes by Stan Beiner. Designate one person as Moses, one person as Pharoah, others as the other characters. A narrator can be helpful to move the story along.
  5. Ask questions. Liberate yourselves from the haggadah text and discuss it instead of simply reading it. What are ten things that plague us today? What do you want to be free from this year? Why does the haggadah tell us we should feel that we too were redeemed?
  6. Have fun. Sing silly seder songs. Make puppets for different characters. Do goofy things that make your kids ask questions – which, after all, is the point of the seder.
  7. Be inclusive. Give everyone a role, no matter their level of Jewish knowledge. Get the whole group involved in finding the afikomen or asking discussion questions.
  8. Use materials. Younger children will relate more to tactile materials. Sand paper for pyramids pictures, coloring sheets, cotton ball lambs, plagues puppets. A tambourine to shake once the Israelites cross the Red Sea, just like Miriam did. Wear costumes, use props.
  9. Try something new each year.
  10. Choose a good haggadah, or create your own! There are hundreds of editions. Choose one that’s right for your family. Some great ones are The Wellsprings of Freedom by Ron Aigen; A Night Of Questions, the Reconstructionist movement’s haggadah; A Different Night: the Family Participation Haggadah by Noam Zion and David Dishon. For interesting commentary and history of the haggadah, see The Holistic Haggadah: How Will You Be Different This Passover Night? by Michael Kagan; My People’s Haggadah by Lawrence Hoffman and David Arnow; The Women’s Seder Sourcebook: Rituals & Readings for Use at the Passover Seder by Sharon Cohen Anisfeld, Tara Mohr, and Catherine Spector. Create your own at

Adapted from Rabbi Ron Wolfson