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This originally was a piece found in The Jewish Way: Living the Holidays
By Irving Greenberg. Since 1986, it has been one of my
family's favorite additions to our Seder. In my 2005 revision of the
family Haggadah, I revised the piece with some of the thought of the Lubabvitcher Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneersohn z"l of the other set of children who are missing from the table. According to the NJPS 2001
survey, A third of all American Jews will be missing from the Passover
Seder table this year. Schnnersohn, was one of several Jewish religious leaders who saw this problem decades
earlier and began to talk of the fifth child as the one that doesn't
come to the table.
I've included both ideas in this piece about the empty places at the Passover table.
This night we remember a fifth child, the one not at the table. This may be a child of the Holocaust, who did not survive to ask. Therefore we have to ask for that child— Why?
We are like the simple child. We have no answer. We can only follow in the footsteps of Rabbi Eleizer ben Azaria who could not bring himself to mention the Exodus at night until Ben Zoma explained it to him through the verse:
In order that you remember the day of your going out from Egypt, all the days of your life. (Deut:16:3)
The days of your life indicates the daylight, and the goodness of life. All the days of your life means even in the darkest nights when we have lost our firstborn we must remember the Exodus. We can only answer that child's question with silence.
In silence, we remember that dark time. In silence we remember that Jews preserved their image of God in the struggle for life. In silence we remember the Seder night spent in the forests, ghettos and camps. We remember that Seder night when the Warsaw Ghetto rose in revolt.
Just as we are in silence, so the fifth child doesn’t even speak. This may be because they were a child of the Holocaust and did not survive. But it may be that this child is so separate from everything at this table, this child doesn’t care anymore. This child may be in so much pain that they cannot speak. Or this child may not even come to the table. It could be they are a victim of the hate or injustice in this world, not believing there can be God, and thus not wanting to be a Jew. Thus they withdraw from the rest of us. For any of these cases, neither statutes, stories, nor convincing arguments will help. All we can do is be who we are and perform the seder. If we in a loving and caring way say every year, It is because of this that the Lord did for me when I left Egypt we show that those at the table care and are willing to help heal this child, bring them back to the table, and free them too. In silence let us look to the cup of Elijah the cup of the final redemption yet-to be, when we all are at the table. We remember our people's return to the land of Israel, the beginning of that redemption. In doing so we express our hope that through our efforts we will help bring closer that redemption.
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