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First-Timer Fundamentals

There will be thousands of first-time Seder leaders this year. We asked experienced teachers and rabbanim who’ve been inspiring others for years, to share their own insights

Whatever plans families may have had thought they had, it’s clear that there will be thousands of first-time Seder leaders this year, with little time and peace of mind with which to prepare. Mishpacha's Family First’s Family Table has even started a WhatsApp group for mothers, offering tips and advice from seasoned homemakers. But what about the fathers, who will now be in a position to create a mesorah for their nuclear families? We asked experienced teachers and rabbanim, those who’ve been inspiring others for years, to share their own insights.

I just found out I’m making my own Seder in my little basement apartment. Until now my experience has been that only older, wiser, and more experienced people – the real family patriarchs – lead the Seder. What's really important and what's really not important? Where should I invest my time and where does it make sense to take shortcuts?

I feel that the most important message of the Seder, and indeed one of the most important mitzvos of the night, is to walk away being a bigger maamin. And I think the way to do that, besides through reciting the actual Haggadah, is for every father -- and every person for that matter -- to relate his personal experiences of where he’s seen the Yad Hashem in his lifetime, how the Ribbono shel Olam has guided him, directed his life or even come to his rescue.  That, I believe, is the best way to make emunah real, which is the mitzvas halailah.

— RABBI YISSOCHER FRAND, renowned speaker and author

The words of Shmuel Hanavi come to mind when he tells Shaul Hamelech, “Even if you may think of yourself as being small and not relevant, know that you are a leader of Klal Yisrael.” These are defining moments of our history and, although traditionally the Seder has been led by the “patriarch,” this year all of us are being catapulted into patriarchal status. We will step up to the plate and hit it out of the park, im yirtzeh Hashem !

— RABBI ELIEZER FEUER, Rav of Young Israel of Bayswater


What resource (Haggadah, class, sefer, etc.) do you consider indispensable?   

I’m not kidding when I answer that the actual Haggadah itself is indispensable. This is the year to declare freedom from quoting others and feeling like you need some fancy footwork to lead a Seder. Just read the Haggadah out loud (in English, if you don't understand it), and whatever comes to mind -- questions, observations, applications to your situation -- those are the things to say. The goal is to appreciate what Hashem did. It is all there in the Haggadah, and there is no "right way" to comment on it. Just say what comes to you in the moment.

— RABBI ILAN FELDMAN, Rav of Congregation Beth Jacob of Atlanta


Regarding a particular sefer or Haggadah, I usually cull from many so it’s hard to pinpoint one thing. This year, however, as I’m not doing much new purchasing of seforim for Pesach, I’m seeing a lot of sublime messages in the timeless words of the Haggadah itself. We have a knack of picking up and seeing the most incredible messages and thoughts in the words of Hakadosh Baruch Hu, the words of the Neviiim and of Chazal through the generations... so my advice is go back to “the book” and just read it.



If there's one thing my children should remember from the Seder, what should it be?

They should be able to recall that, despite any circumstances, you were cheerful, excited, and determined to celebrate Pesach, and refused to let anything, including their possible misbehavior or lack of enthusiasm, get in the way. It will be a memory that can change their lives.


The dancing that we do at Leshanah Haba. If we can still be dancing at that unearthly hour there must be truly something to dance about.

— RABBI AVROHOM WEINRIB, Rav of Zichron Eliezer, Cincinnati

The Seder is a magical time which kids will literally engrave into their memories forever. We try to make the Seder as royal as possible -- the room should shine! The one catch is that this depends solely on one thing: if Daddy’s and Mommy’s faces are shining beaming with joy. This gives the evening its royal ambiance.


The tunes I sing at the end of the night to “Adir Hu” and “Echad Mi Yodeiah” are the niggunim I heard from my father a”h. My children sing those very tunes and their children do as well. I think this imbues a sense of mesorah, even if in the larger scope of things, it seems minor.  But this is the hemshech of doros.


If you would rewind back to your first Seder, would what you have done differently?

It took a couple of years to figure it out, but once we did, it made all the difference in the world. It's challenging to get the kids to sleep on Erev Pesach and the first day of Yom Tov, so we instituted "Bazooka Naps." One Bazooka gum for every hour slept. You'll be amazed how many hours a child can sleep when every hour counts!


 (Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 805)

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