ACHIEVING HARMONY AT THE PESACH SEDER
Practical Advice for Conducting an Organized and Meaningful Family Pesach Seder
(Reprinted from the booklet with permission)
By Rabbi Chaim Morgenstern
KEEPING THE CHILDREN’S ATTENTION
Keeping the children attentive during the seder is no easy task. The following are some proven methods:
1. Don’t draw out the seder, and keep the seder moving. The Mishna Brura writes that parents should try to hasten the seder so that the children will be awake for the eating of the matza and maror. (472:3, Sha’ar Hatziun #3)
2. Long vorts, discussions or questions that involve lengthy answers should be saved for the meal, as they will cause the younger children to become restless. (If there are guests, they should be informed of this practice beforehand so they do not feel offended).
3. Allow each child to participate by briefly telling the family what he/she learned in school, and ensure that the entire family is listening.
4. Encourage the children to ask and participate by praising and giving treats to a child that asks a good question or says a good vort. If the child asks a question that the parent does not know the answer to, don’t ignore it and carry on from embarrassment. On the contrary, applaud, give the child extra praise and tell him that you’ll either seek an answer afterward or that it’s such a good question, you must ask the rav. This will raise the child’s self-esteem tremendously and encourage him to be more attentive. Don’t forget, each question asked is scoring another win. If a child is shy or too young to ask or say anything, then “At p’sach lo” – the parent must take the initiative and speak to him about the seder.
5. Break the monotony by rotating children who say vorts, singing, asking questions and every so often making attempts to find out where the afikomen is.
6. For toddlers, it is usually best to feed them before the seder and to have them participate for only short periods during the main parts of the seder.
7. Needless to say, parents must do their utmost to be awake and attentive to their children’s vorts and questions. If needed, they should take coffee to stay awake.
NO MAGIC SOLUTIONS
Even after trying their utmost to implement the advice presented in this booklet, some parents may still have great difficulty creating a peaceful Shabbos meal or Pesach seder. Often, with large families, there is never a dull moment. One child may be constantly teasing his sibling, while another is making a mess with the food and yet another is singing zemiros at the top of his lungs. Adding to the excitement are the infants, who constantly kvetch to be diapered or fed. This may cause the parents to feel hopeless and struggle to survive it in one piece. Although there are no magic or instant solutions for successful child-raising, the following advice can help parents to better cope with the situation, relieve some of their frustration and be optimistic in achieving success.
The first steps for parents to take are to change their attitude toward their children and have realistic expectations. Often, parents think that theirs is the only family who is disorderly, making them nervous and stricter with their children. This outlook, however, does not work because children often do not respond to nervous and angry parents. Although they may obey their angry or forceful parents, children will not become mechunach by this method. As Rav Wolbe writes, anger and force are not chinuch (Alei Shur, Vol. 1, p. 261). A lively Pesach seder is very common among families with children. Kids are kids, and some take longer to settle down and mature than others. In addition, parents should never compare families or children. Just as some families have an easier time earning a livelihood, some also have an easier time raising their children. And just as one’s livelihood is in the hands of Hashem, so too is the amount of tzar gidul bonim – pain of child-raising – that each parent will experience. This is part of every person’s challenge in life, and is determined by Hashem. When someone asked Rav Avigdor Miller for advice about coping with the difficulties in raising a bunch of noisy children, he replied, “Children are like apartment houses. When one tenant is screaming at the landlord to fix a leaky faucet, and another to repair a burnt wire in one fuse box, the landlord has only one thing in mind – the rent that he will collect at the end of the month. Children are the same – they are your olam haba; you will reap the reward for raising them in olam haba. Focus on this, and their noise will sound like beautiful music.”
Patience is one of the key midos to focus on for success. As Rav Wolbe writes, “Only with limitless patience can parents educate their children” (Alei Shur, Vol. 2, p. 219). Lack of patience is a cause of many problems in family relationships, and it only takes one irritable parent to ruin the atmosphere. The way to be in control of oneself is to expect and prepare for a balagan. Some children will be kvetchy and irritable, while others will shout for attention. Expect some quarreling between siblings and many spilled drinks. Kids are kids, and these are signs of a normal, healthy family. Parents should have realistic expectations and be happy even if, by following the above advice, they have reached only some of their goals for the Pesach seder. With constant effort, parents will, B’ezras Hashem, improve their family Pesach seder. As the saying goes, “The winners are the losers who keep trying.”
After all is said and done and there is still a balagan at the Pesach seder, parents should not forget one of the most important concepts in child-raising – Baruch Hashem, they have healthy children. A childless couple would do anything to have just one healthy child. Crying and kvetching would be music to their ears, and they would not be bothered by a disorderly house caused by their only child. How much more grateful must parents be when Hashem rewards them with a bunch of happy, healthy children. Active children are a sign of a normal home, and parents must be extremely grateful to Hashem for being blessed with a home full of vitality and vibrancy. May we all be zocheh to eat from the Z’vachim and the P’sachim B’Yerushalayim ha’benuyah, bimhayra ve’yameinu amen!