Pesach, "the Holiday of the Child"

It's not a stretch to think about Pesach as "the Holiday of the Child." It's not, of course, that the themes of this holiday aren't quite mature and complex (they are!). But, Passover and its rituals actually center around our obligation to teach our story to the next generation... not only because we adults need to teach, but more importantly because they, the children, demand to understand who they are and what world they are inheriting.

It's not a stretch to think about Pesach as "the Holiday of the Child."  It's not, of course, that the themes of this holiday aren't quite mature and complex (they are!).  But, Passover and its rituals actually center around our obligation to teach our story to the next generation... not only because we adults need to teach, but more importantly because they, the children, demand to understand who they are and what world they are inheriting.

At the center point of the seder lies the (rather enigmatic) text of the Four Children. To understand this section of the haggadah, you need to know that the Torah is quite repetitious when it comes to this point. As it tells and retells the story of the Exodus from Egypt, the Torah imagines over and over again that there will come a time when your child will ask for an explanation about this event and its meaning, thus: "What are the testimonies, statutes and the laws which Adonai our God has commanded you?" (Deut. 6:20), "What does this service mean to you?" (Exodus 12:26), and "What is this?" (Exod. 13:14).  Even if your child doesn't know how to ask, the Torah still instructs that "You shall tell your child on that day, saying..." (Exod. 13:8).  (Three actual questions + one child who doesn't know how to ask = Four Children!)

The whole experience of the Passover seder, therefore, is meant to engage the child -- actual children, and also the child in each of us!  The whole ritual is intended to be an engaging, multi-sensory experience.  It's no coincidence that we call upon the youngest to give voice to the Four Questions, and we turn the afikomen into a multi-generational game of hide-and-seek. While some may deride youth and mock children for what they don't yet know, the Passover seder does precisely the opposite, setting the least experienced among us on a pedestal, and putting the burden on everyone else to listen to the child's voice and to respond with kindness, encouragement, and real answers to their questions!

In today's news headlines too, youth are leading the way. It's breath-taking to see the powerful photos and videos from around the country today, of children and teens staging a large-scale national protest and walking out of their schools to protest gun violence. I am already proud of this next generation of Americans, and inspired by their moral clarity, firm insistence that adults pay attention, and optimistic belief that they can truly change the world

The prophet Joel states powerfully (in 3:1, a line popularized by Jewish song-writer Debbie Friedman): "The old shall dream dreams, and the youth shall see visions."  May today's youth-led protests and the upcoming holiday of Passover both help us to open our ears to the voices of the next generation, the children whose visions will indeed guide our future. Only with adults and children, old and young, working together can we truly bring God's spirit into the world.