Tonight the Festival of Passover begins. Its highlight is the Seder, revolving around a core text known as the Haggadah. The name “Haggadah” comes from the concept of Vihigaditah, (both words originate from the same Hebrew root letters, h-g-d). Vihigaditah appears in the book of Exodus, Chapter XIII; Verse 8 and is usually interpreted as, "And you shall tell your child."
The great Jewish, medieval philosopher, Maimonides, famously asks whether one is obliged to read the Haggadah if alone when conducting the Seder. He answers that the Commandment still prevails in that circumstance. The explicit reason is that there is an inherent value derived from articulating the story, but the implicit rationale for this Maimonidean ruling is that there is a child present even in that scenario. A child exists within each adult.
In 1987, Dr. Charles Whitfield published a best seller intended to help readers heal their inner child. Whitfield contends that trauma can undo our inner child. He proposes that we try to recover that child so that we can deal better with any fear, confusion and unhappiness that we may encounter, especially following loss.
If you''ve been following this blog, you may recall that my father died on Passover, forty-one years ago. Well before that, I was a pretty mature eleven-year-old, but dad''s death lead to my growing up even more quickly. As I think back, I realize that, as I assumed adult responsibilities in our household, I suppressed many of my childhood behaviors. I''m certain that in doing so, I forfeited some wonderful childhood experiences along with the sheer innocence of youth. To this day, I struggle to regain that innocence.
You may remember the comedy entitled "Big," a film in which a boy suddenly wakes up to find that he’s a full-grown man. When that man, played by Tom Hanks, takes an executive position within a toy company -- a childhood Utopia -- the film prompts viewers to consider what blend of man and boy might be optimal for living a happy life.
The Haggadah offers quite a bit of advice on that subject. For example, there is a gentle reminder to parents and teachers that all children are not cut from the same cookie dough (the Kosher-for-Passover variety, of course). Also, guidelines in the Haggadah describe four different types of children: the wise, the rebellious, the simple, and the child who doesn’t know even how to ask a question.
If you''re like me, you’re probably put off by those labels. Nonetheless, consider that all of those four characteristics could be present in one child, as evolving components of that child’s personality. At times, my inner child may have been more rebellious and less wise. At this moment, I feel as if the simple child is dominating my subconscious. At any moment, for me, it can be worth considering which inner child or combination of inner children is driving my thoughts and behavior.
The story of Passover, which describes the great arc of the physical exodus from Egypt and celebrates the spiritual liberation from enslavement, offers an abundance of topics for that and other philosophical discussions. Although I’m drawn to such abstract notions, in leading the Seder this year, I intend to focus on my 3-year-old grandson. I''m confident that doing so will create a welcome change of pace for the participants around our table. It should be fun to interact with little "Ori Michael", and the focus may even entice some of the adults to liberate their inner child. I’ll be able to recognize my inner child if I sense some uninhibited or even naïve aspects of the real me poking through.
By uncovering more and more of my inner child -- if you will, more and more of the 3 year old that lurks -- I emerge as a better person. Ironically, even a better grandparent.
Next week’s blog will appear on Sunday. Shalom until then.