Let’s Not Make Fun of Suffering at Our Seders

Over the last few years, there have been all kinds of innovative products introduced to enhance our seders (sedarim/סדרים) in order to keep the kids alert and interested (adults, too!). Unfortunately, too many of these gadgets use the Ten Plagues as the butt of their joking and mindlessness. All those things you can buy to have “fun” with the plagues – little finger puppets and toy frogs and locusts you can throw around (the latest is green colored, frog-shaped ice in your water!) – takes the Jewish soul in a dangerous direction. Look at this brilliant Talmudic story-about-the-story (which we’ve included in our Friday evening siddur as a prelude to Mi Chamocha) and see if you can juxtapose it with all those frivolous games and toys and somehow make it fit. Think about whether or not you’re ready to make fun of the killing of the first born after reading this:
“At the very moment when the Egyptian armies were perishing in the sea, the ministering angels were about to sing to God in jubilation. God silenced them and said, ‘My creatures are drowning; how can you sing?!'”(Sanhedrin 39b)
To which I added:
When we sing our people’s ancient song of freedom, let us pray for a day when one people’s freedom will not depend upon another people’s defeat.
The seder is a great celebration, quintessential to who we are as Jews, filled with great ceremony, beauty, and purpose. My ancient colleagues created the seder in order to imprint the Exodus from Egypt, and the resulting mission of our people to free the enslaved, on our hearts. It was never the rabbis intent to have a component of the seder be poking fun at the Egyptians and their suffering like some warped, ceremonial version of “America’s Funniest Videos”. There’s plenty to be festive and joyous about at the seder without doing it at the expense of others.
When we recall the Ten Plagues at our seders and reduce our joy by taking ten drops of juice or wine from our cups, I hope many of us will be talking about the contemporary, humanly-manifested plagues from which the world suffers today: the innocent victims of war and violence (and, while we’re at it, let’s ask ourselves why we tolerate “conventional weapons” and only get upset when empowered criminals and despots use gas?), the innocent species and the innocent earth itself that have become “collateral damage” to human progress, the demotion of healthcare to a “product” instead of an “inalienable right” (the Declaration of Independence refers to it as “life”!), the categorizing of some of us as “illegal” rather than “brave-souls-seeking-a-better-life-and-safety-for-themselves-and-their-families” (precisely like our ancestors who preceded us in this country), our self-imposed impotence about the growing gap between those who have so much and those who have so little, our blase attitude about the oxymoronic reality of the “working poor”, the trafficking of our fellow humans which is very much a modern slavery, and so much more. Throwing around little plastic locusts becomes incongruent at a gathering that considers the seder to be both a wonderful and upbeat celebration of our freedom and simultaneously a recognition of the responsibilities that freedom brings.
Have a ziesen Pesach, a Passover filled with joy, hope, family, friends and a purpose!

3 thoughts on “Let’s Not Make Fun of Suffering at Our Seders

  1. Well put! Really made me think about this “practice.” Have to admit, I was one of those “consumers” that bought those hand puppets for my grandsons a few years ago. Fortunately, they have grown to be compassionate thoughtful teen agers (and pre-teen) just the same. I am sharing this with their mother


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