Tonight we will be sitting round a Seder table and reading through the Haggadah with family and/or friends. However, while it is certainly praiseworthy to read the Haggadah and to eat the Matzah and Marror, I believe that the objective of Seder night goes far beyond reading the Haggadah and eating symbolic foods. Instead, it is about achieving a unique state of being wherein we use the power of the present to reflect on the past in order to shape our actions in the future.
On Seder night we think of the time when we were a slave nation in Egypt, and we reflect on our duty to treat all people with dignity; we think of the miracles of the past, and we hope for future miracles; we reflect on the redemption from Egypt, and we pray for the future redemption. Simply put, on Seder night we develop our time awareness as Jews. But to reach this state of time awareness, it is crucial that we are fully in the moment of Seder night. As Rav Soloveitchik explains, ‘in order to connect retrospection with anticipation, memory with expectation, hind view with foresight, one must cherish the present fleeting moment as if it represented eternity’ (Noraot HaRav Vol. 4 pp. 153-4).
Having spent some time pondering this concept, I am deeply moved by its implications. What Rav Soloveitchik is saying is that cherishing the moments of Seder night helps us achieve true freedom which demands that we recognise how the greatest gift that we have at any moment is that very moment. Just like the five Rabbis who were so engrossed in conversation about the Exodus that they were unaware that the morning had come, the purpose of Seder night is to have a night in which we celebrate being, sharing and learning with others, and an evening when we appreciate that freedom is about having ownership over our own time.
Sadly, far too many of us spend our lives regretting the past, or taking selfies for the future. Yet, as we learn from the precise timings of Matzah baking, time is of critical importance. As Rav Soloveitchik explains, ‘within a fraction of a second, one may realize or destroy hopes, visions and expectations.’
Seder night is a special night for every Jew family. It is a night of hopes, visions and expectations. It is a night about the past, and one that has a huge impact on the future of all those – especially children – who attend the Seder. So here is one simple piece of advice. Make sure that wherever you are for Seder night, don’t just bring a present, but actually be in the present, so that you cherish the fleeting moment of being with those you love as if it represented eternity.