Thursday, April 12, 2012

You shall teach it to your... parents?

Passover 5772

On four occasions, the Torah instructs parents to teach their children the story of Passover. (As a fun fact, it’s as a result of the four verses that the ancient rabbis created the portion of the Haggadah dealing with “the four sons”).

During this past week’s second Seder, I found that I was actually the youngest person at the Seder table. My little brother has been married for a bit under 2 years and spent the second Seder night with his wife’s family. My little sister is studying abroad in Jerusalem for the semester. So I, the 28-year-old (who has done quite a bit of study on Jewish topics and Passover in particular), had the pleasure of chanting the ma nishtana.

Needless to say, I knew the answers to the question before I asked it (take a closer look – it’s only 1 question, not 4!). I knew that the night was different from all other nights because we eat only matzah, we eat bitter herbs, we dip twice and we all recline. I even knew that these were not the original answers given to the question, as they had changed over time. But as the youngest person at my parents’ table, it was my responsibility to be the question asker.

There has been quite a bit of press lately focusing on extended adolescence and how my generation is the “failure to launch” generation.

At what point do we cease being children?

Is it upon bar/bat mitzvah? When we leave for college? When we pay our own rent for the first time? When we become parents ourselves? Once our parents pass away? Never?

Given that so few non-Orthodox Jewish couples have children while in their 20s, what does it mean for those of us who do not yet have children (if we aspire to at all), but view ourselves as adults, to participate in the Seder?

If we’ve already been educated about the holiday (many of us arguably to a level much greater than our parents), how do we balance being the youngest yet most knowledgeable about the holiday at the table with the Biblical imperative of “teach your children” that accompanies the Passover holiday?

I’m going to suggest an additional Passover imperative, to accompany and supplement the traditional imperative.

For those of us who have reached adulthood, however we may define it, it is imperative that we take it upon ourselves both to learn and to teach. Learn from those who know more than you, regardless of their age. Frankly, there are many things to be learned from those who “know less” than you as well. Be a sponge for wisdom and tradition. And then be a transmitter and teacher, to your children if and when you have them, and to others who are similarly seeking to learn, regardless of their age.

On Passover, we celebrate our freedom. Being able to ask questions is arguably the greatest expression of freedom. Ask questions. Learn as much as you can. And be sure to take the time to share what you’ve learned with others.

Chag sameach and Shabbat shalom!

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