Monday, April 7, 2014

the Seder Challenge

One of the interesting things I learned about the Seder is that the essence of Hagada is not written in the Hagada.  The mitzva of Sipur Yetzias Mitzrayim, to tell your child the story of the Exodus, is done in many forms (using question answer, using props ["pesach, matza, maror"], using "drasha").  But the mishna (Pesachim 10:4) says:
ולפי דעתו של בן אביו מלמדו
The father should teach his child according to the child's ability.  That means, by definition, it can't be a formulaic telling of the story.  It has to be tailored to the particular child.  (We homeschoolers are familiar with this approach.)

I once heard a shiur by R' Pinny Rosenthal (and it might even be somewhere on the internet) where he suggested taking time to prepare before the Seder.  To think about each child that will be at the Seder and where they are at, mentally and emotionally, and to think about what aspect of the story will appeal to them, and what methodology would be most effective to use to tell it to them.  Yes, this takes preparation.  In addition to preparing the house and preparing food, preparing for the Seder by thinking about how you are going to do the mitzva of "sippur" [telling the story] to your children is perhaps the most fundamental preparation.

I was thinking about this for Chana this year.  She is probably the most challenging.  The boys still don't know the story that well or what exactly will be happening during the Seder, and the activities of the night themselves will be fascinating (if they stay awake).  Sarah is older and will be able to participate on a sophisticated level.  The 12 year old, Chana, however, already knows the story and doesn't enjoy learning very much.

I remember when Sarah was that age, one year we chose a particular makka (plague) to study more intensely during the seder.  She chose which one she found most intriguing, and we read it carefully and talked about it.  Another year we made a huge chart with all sorts of factors and during the seder we looked at which makos had which factors (like who did the plague, was there a warning, did Pharoah negotiate, etc).

What I would really love to do with Chana this year is somehow help her find some joy in the process of limud Torah.  I feel like all our learning together has been so focused on skillwork, it has made her reluctant to play with Torah and to enjoy thinking about it.  She does ask questions because the human mind naturally comes up with questions, but she doesn't enjoy thinking about them or wondering or pondering.

Chana has done the story of Shmos and it will be interesting to see how much of the text she can easily translate, and how much she doesn't remember.  Perhaps for the next week (before Pesach), I should have her read it in Hebrew and ask me for translation of any word of phrase she doesn't remember, with the goal of thinking about the story as a whole and thinking deeply about it and pondering and asking questions.

Will reading it in Hebrew be too difficult for her to ALSO think about it?  Or are her skills up to the task?  Will she become too fatigued from translating to think about it in a deeper way?

Is there a better way to have her engage intellectually and emotionally with the story?  What is it?

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