Psychologically Spealing: Pessah is good chance to talk

I am not speaking about the obsessive-compulsive delights of Pessah cleaning, but rather the importance of family values.

pessah good 88 224 (photo credit: Courtesy)
pessah good 88 224
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Pessah is around the corner and, from a psychological perspective, offers tremendous opportunities for parents. I am not speaking about the obsessive-compulsive delights of Pessah cleaning or dealing with the stress of having the in-laws over for Seder. Rather, it is an enormous opportunity for communication - especially about important family values. The key to the Pessah Seder is the telling of the story of our exodus to freedom, our physical and spiritual journey from slavery to becoming a great nation. How do we make this relevant for our children in the year 2008 and make it meaningful in these very difficult times? More important than the meal, the cleaning, or other details particular to this holiday - the actual telling is what children will take with them when they have their own families and conduct their own Seder some day. If you can make the retelling of the story meaningful, then you will nurture both the body and the soul, and this event will be anticipated with great excitement, year after year. Too often, people come to the table having given little or no thought to what they want their children to get out of the evening. Getting the most out of the Seder involves being prepared ahead of time, being creative - especially for the young children or teenagers present - and being committed to making the experience meaningful for everyone there. These three things may be more difficult than they sound, given both the late hour and the length of the Seder, but there is lots of reading material available to offer help, great props to keep up interest and with a little imagination, the night can be a real winner. We sat on pillows on the floor one year, and another year showed up in togas. These ploys worked well to keep our young children interested. Make sure your children nap beforehand so they can appreciate all you have to offer. The more you involve your children and other guests, the more they will feel a part of the experience and want to be involved. This is a time for asking lots of questions and with the discussion being far more important than the actual answers, your guests can be given "research" to do ahead of the Seder. Even the smallest child can be asked what he likes most about Pessah and provide meaningful insight for others. Since Pessah marks the birth of the Jewish nation, now may be a good time to reflect on both the meaning of Judaism and the meaning of Israel in your lives. Perhaps this is the time to think about life's lessons and the thoughts, feelings and values you'd like to pass on to your children and future generations. As you create memories that will hopefully last a lifetime, perhaps you'd like to explore what role freedom, or the lack of it, has played for you, your family and others in the past, the future and at present. What have the dark moments in history shown you? The mere fact that you can hold a Seder is in itself one of the best ways to show children just what freedom is all about. Contrast your Seder night with the situation of Jews during the Holocaust, Soviet Jews in the '70s, our missing soldiers, and those in Israel whose Seder could be interrupted at any moment by a siren warning of a rocket attack. This will help your children appreciate what they have and what being free really means. All too often, our children take things for granted and don't realize what is involved in our struggle to be free. The Haggada has so much to offer as a teaching tool. Pessah is the time to be inclusive. It is the time to open your home to others. "Let all who are hungry come and eat," suggests that this is the time to think of your greater community - those whose needs far surpass your own. Perhaps your children have a charity project in mind that you can help facilitate. Belonging to a community implies that there are rules and rituals. Can your children draw up a list of how people living in a family or community should act? What values do your children see as important and how does the Haggada make them come alive? For example, what message does the story of the "wicked child" teach each of us? Can you learn to be forgiving, let go of your anger, recognize that while everyone has certain bad attributes, you have so much more that is good? In what ways are your children curious? In what ways is this positive? Have you told your children what you love about them lately? Where do you stand on ethical and moral values? While bitterness is represented by, among other things, the maror, can you see a path of optimism? Can you find the sweet? What bitterness or pain have people sitting at your table endured? How have you learned from your pain? In what ways have you grown? Can you engage in a discussion of whether you are really free now? Do you really have free choice or is this an illusion? The Seder offers the opportunity to talk about your home and the specialness of past Seders. What makes your children's Seder special? Why? "Seder" means order. How are the importance of time and structure reflected in your lives? Does it bring you meaning and enhance your lives or add to your stress? At the Seder we are all teachers and students. There is something for everyone and something for everyone to learn. The Pessah Seder gives people an opportunity to reflect on their lives individually and collectively. Who are you? Who have you become, and are you happy with the direction in which life takes you and you take your life? Are you happy with how your country is being run and in the role you play towards ensuring freedom for others? Are you being a decent, honest and ethical individual? If you can explore these questions as you sit with your loved ones, then your children will clearly answer for themselves, "why is this night different from all other nights?" Wishing you all a Hag Pessah kasher v'sameah. Dr. Batya L. Ludman is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in Ra'anana.