Lev Hashavua at the Seder

בכל דור ודור חייב אדם לראות את עצמו
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Written by:
Jay Goldmintz
Access editable doc with student handouts:

If there was ever a built-in Lev Hashavua/Lifnai Vlifnim moment, it is surely the Pesach seder. The nuclear family, already connected to one another after years of intimate gathering, sit around a familiar text and talk about its relevance to their lives. Yet I would imagine that in many a home if one were to gauge the use of the Laflaf limmud formula, מה בו, מה לבו, ו-מה לי בו  one would find all families focused on the first, a fewer number on the second and even fewer on the third. Yet isn’t the seder all about finding one’s own place in the story? (Recall the Rambam’s version of the text which says להראות את עצמו rather than לראות). Isn’t every generation supposed to explore not alone the meaning of the text but the personal meaningfulness of the story as well?

As Rabbi Sacks has written, we are a nation of storytellers. But our stories are not just about history, something relegated to the past (his-story), but about memory (me-mory), which is something one carries forever.[1] This is perhaps because memories are not simply made up of facts but rather, as author Menachem Kaiser contends, “most stories in most families aren’t meant or relied on as preservation of hard information, they’re meant and relied on as preservation of soft information, of sentiment, narrative, identity, of who someone was and, subsequently, who you are. It tells not a historical truth but an emotional truth.” [2] And because there is this emotional component, stories become a powerful force in the transmission and formation of identity. Surely that is part of the power of the Seder itself. But might the Lifnai Vlifnim approach to Limmud not also provide that component to the storytelling as well?

In effect, I am arguing for asking our students to go home and be manchim for a Lev Hashavua Seder with their families. That’s a tall order for many of our students, especially the younger ones. When I first experimented with this last year, students had high expectations of transferring the experience at school to their homes, without realizing that the group dynamic of sharing and trust and vulnerability had been developed over a long period of time at school. And so, in suggesting that they take Lev Hashavua home, we need to tailor expectations, let alone take into account that they may not be ready to facilitate getting adults to probe further inward.

Nevertheless, one could imagine, as a class, putting together a Lifnai Vlifnim supplement to the Haggadah, one in which students come up with questions together that can be asked at their respective sedarim. Alternatively, we could provide samples of such questions for them to ask, a fifth set of questions if you will, that could help nudge the seder in the direction of the emotional storytelling that is asked of us that night.

Consider what Rav Soloveitchik called one of the major “declarations of relevance” in the Haggadah: “In each and every generation, one is obligated to see himself as if he left Egypt.” How is one supposed to “see oneself” doing that? What is the Haggadah telling us about obligation? About the role of Mesorah? One could envision students then asking their parents or grandparents, “How did your parents convey those lessons to you?” “What are your fondest memories of the Seder growing up?” “What has been a personal Mitzrayim in your life?” And then, “What is the most important part of this Mesorah that you would want me to know?” “What role has Hashem played in the exodus from your own personal Mitzrayim (or meitzarim)?”

One needs to be realistic in the planning for this. Many families have their own rituals and their own timing that won’t allow for a lot of add-ons. One student of mine managed to squeeze a lot of conversation out of one question we prepared together, but her family didn’t have the focus to do more than that. Even so, for the student it felt like a huge win, not alone for her successful contribution, but because of the information and experience that she was able to glean as a result. Perhaps this year she can push them to do one more question, or perhaps they can agree to explore such questions further during lunch the next day or on Shabbat.

Psychiatrist Dan Siegel reminds us that we need to live our lives in balance between the left rational, linear, side of our brain, and the right non-verbal emotional side. Too much of one affects our memories and informs the way we process in the future. It is stories that help achieve that balance, the integration of past, present and an anticipated future.[3] Surely the Limmud of Lifnai Vlifnim has provided us with a valuable tool for to how to help our students get there; the Seder presents a wonderful opportunity to invite parents to join in that process too – כל דצריך ייתי ויפסח.


[1] Jonathan Sacks, “A Nation of Storytellers,” Ki Tavo, 5779

[2] Menachem Kaiser, Plunder: A Memoir of Family Property and Nazi Treasure, p. 169.

[3] Dan Siegel, Parenting from the Inside Out.

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Please help others by sharing how you used the resource, how you adapted it (link to your own version!) and what worked more or less well. You can also post questions that Lifnai Vlifnim staff or community members will try to respond to.

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