First, a little background. Passover celebrates that God redeemed the Children of Israel from slavery in Egypt. With 10 plagues, He humbled the leading empire of that time. The plagues obviously punished the Egyptians but they were also designed to educate them, Pharaoh in particular. The Israelites believed in one God but Egyptian society practiced polytheism, the belief that many competing gods vie with each other for dominance. Pagan worship was a way to placate these forces.
God wasn't trying to show that He was a stronger power. Rather, His intention was to show that polytheism is false. How did God try to accomplish this? Through the plagues, God showed the He is the Master of all realms of nature. Competing gods simply don't work together for a common purpose. The problem was that Pharaoh chose to ignore what was obvious.
So why did He 'try so hard' to convince the Egyptians that He, alone, is the One? He wants to have a relationship with humanity and had Pharaoh accepted the truth, the world could have been transformed. But, as we just mentioned, he didn't and the plagues continued until the Jews went forth, freed from servitude to their Egyptian masters. (See "The Exodus You Almost Passed Over" by Rabbi David Fohrman).
On the first two nights of Passover, Jews celebrate a Seder with their families by reading through a book called the Haggadah that discusses the Exodus and praises God. This is accompanied by a festive meal and is one of the highlights of the year. The Haggadah focuses a lot of attention on children and offers advice on how to best convey the ideas of Passover to them.
So, imagine that your family or extended family are gathered together. As you are reading and singing your way together through the Haggadah, you come across a few passages that focus on how to tell over the Exodus to 4 stereotypical children: a wise one, a rebellious one, a simple one and a child who doesn't even know how to ask a meaningful question. An answer then follows that explains how the parent should respond to each child.
Wow! You are to teach each child according to their own nature. You want to encourage them and give over to them the foundation of their belief system. This is the transmission that has been taking place for over 3 thousand years since the Exodus from Egypt. There is a family, there is an attempt to reach out to each child and each generation takes up its role in the chain of faith and tradition.
The first lesson to us is obvious: if you have children, you need to relate to them as individuals. It is very important to treat them according to their needs so that you build a relationship that will grow and most importantly, help them to grow.
- will these efforts with your children affect the quality of your relationship with your spouse?
- can your marriage be improved in the process?
- if you don't have children, are there lessons relevant to you as well?
The answer to all of these questions is a resounding "Yes!"
So, let's look at these questions one by one:
- Will these efforts with your children affect your relationship with your spouse?
In order to conduct the Passover Seder with meaning, a child needs to feel that its parents are happy with each other. Why should a child want to absorb something positive from unhappy people? As the family progresses with joy through the Hagaddah, the child feels that s/he is becoming a link through the generations. So, if you are serious about the need to transmit your beliefs to the next generation, then you must be united as parents. And in order to be united, you must be in love which, in turn, requires respect and a healthy marriage. Being dedicated to a tradition can be a very significant motivator when a couple may not otherwise feel the desire to work on their marriage. It also doesn't hurt if the parents have fond holiday memories from their own childhoods. They will want to give over similar experiences to their children.
- Can your marriage be improved in the process?
If a couple has a foundation that is healthy and they are motivated, they can build their marriage into one that is more rewarding and pleasurable. In the face of the normal wear and tear on a relationship where a couple do not actively seek to constantly improve what they have, it is normal for distance and resentments to grow. Divorce statistics show that some 50% of marriage end in divorce. One wonders how happy the couples who remain married are? But the most dangerous aspect of these statistical reports is that they lower the bar of expectation. When more of your peers divorce than remain dedicated to the improvement of their marriage, how motivated will you be to go against the trend? So, please remember that statistics only show what is, they don't encourage you to reach for what could be. Marriages can be improved! They should be improved! Look around the table and appreciate how precious the relationships in your life are.
- If you don't have children, are there lessons relevant to you as well?
Absolutely! One of the tragedies of modern society is that couples can feel desperately isolated despite living in close proximity to millions of people. We derive meaning in connecting and sharing with others. Yet there remain so many people out there who are starving for attention and love. You can commit, as a couple, to helping others. It is amazing how good you will feel, let alone the people you are involved with. If you are lonely, reaching out is a great way to be active in your life. As you generate positivity with others, your marriage will reap rewards.
So, whether or not you celebrate Passover, your marriage can be enhanced if you recognize that other people need you to be a strong, happy and healthy couple. Dedicate yourselves to improving your marriage. You will be a necessary example to others and remember to be thankful to God for all of your blessings, even those that may need a little adjusting.