Rabbi Feinstein’s Official Tips for a Better Seder

RABBI FEINSTEIN’S OFFICIAL TIPS FOR A BETTER SEDER

1. Set a Time Limit of One Hour
Your relatives won’t get nervous if they know they’ll eat in an hour.

2. Tell the Story
Telling the story of slavery and freedom is the entire purpose of the Seder. So tell the story. Tell it in whatever language and form you need to reach the people who sit at your table.

Everyone has a story of slavery and freedom. Some have very compelling stories. Invite people at the Seder to share their stories. The Hagaddah says: “Today we are slaves; tomorrow we will be free.”  Ask everyone to think about how we are still unfree. What are the things that bind us and keep us from being truly free?

3. Make Karpas Salad
The original purpose of Karpas wasn’t just to indicate the coming Springtime, but to offer something good to eat so that we don’t starve during the Seder. Don’t just serve parsley. Make up a big platter of crunchy veggies: peppers, carrots, celery, asparagus, boiled potatoes, and a selection of dips/dressings. Let people munch during the Seder.

Karpas represents Springtime, the rebirth after Winter. When doing the blessing on Karpas ask everyone to share one new thing that’s happened to them or come to them this year. What’s something you’ve learned, gained, experienced, since last Passover?

4. Drink Good Wine
Nowhere in the annals of the Jewish tradition are we commanded to drink sickeningly sweet wine. And now that there’s lots of great Kosher wines, we have no excuse. You have to have four real cups of wine. Why not make it an evening of fine wines -- an aperitif, a white, a red, and a dessert wine.

The Seder has Four Cups of wine. Each cup represents a theme: First, Kiddush, the sanctification of our gathering around this table. Second, the celebration of our liberation. Third, our gratitude for the blessing of our lives. Fourth, our hopes for a better world. Take a moment of reflection before downing each cup.

5. Invite Questions
The Four Questions aren’t the end but the beginning of questions. Let everyone ask questions through the Seder and be prepared to stop and share answers. One of our favorites: Moses had two identities, two destinies, two families. He could have grown up a Prince of Egypt, in the palace surrounded by power and comfort. Instead, he chose to identify with the slaves and their suffering. Why?

6. Sing Songs
There are lots of collections of the traditional melodies. Learn them and sing them. If not, bring other songs -- songs of freedom -- to your Seder. This is a joyous time, bring music!

7. Use a Good Hagaddah
You can do better than Maxwell House! There are many beautiful, stimulating Hagaddas published, bring a few to your table for guest to peruse during the Seder. Invite guest to read and share commentaries from different Hagaddas during each part of the Seder.

8. Make the Second Night Different
There is no virtue in a re-run. Do the first night traditionally and make the second night experimental, original, innovative, creative. Pick different parts to discuss -- Who are these “four sons” anyway? What does it mean to open the door to Elijah? What’s the essence of slavery? What’s the blessing of freedom?

9. Get to the Second Half
Contrary to many, the Seder isn’t over at dessert. Some of the best stuff happens after dinner. That’s the part about our dreams for the future. Try to get there this year.  There’s a Hasidic tradition that leaves Elijah’s cup empty until it’s time to invite Elijah in. Then we all fill the cup from our own cups, because we are the ones who must bring the messianic day.

10. Prepare the Seder
We spend so much time preparing the meal, spend a few hours preparing the Seder. Ask people to bring readings, commentaries, poetry, music. Think about which part you’ll emphasize this year. Think of a couple good questions to share.