Passover Seder Without My Son

Fond Memories from Long Ago

I fondly remember our family seders when Jacob and his brothers were young. They received afikoman prizes for searching and finding the hidden piece of matzah. When they got older, finding the afikoman was less of a thrill, but they still enjoyed telling over the story of the Exodus and eating the yummy meal. Jacob, being the youngest, would ask the four questions.

Even as they got older, the boys had strong preferences for certain Passover foods or condiments. I usually prepared two types of charoset, a Sephardi one made with nuts and dried fruits, and an Ashkenazi one made with walnuts and apples. They always preferred the Sephardi one. Ketchup is a must have condiment in our family and the boys absolutely had to have a particular brand. I remember one year, I went to four or five kosher markets trying to find the brand of Passover ketchup they liked.

The Coke in the Freezer

Two particular Passover anecdotes stand out in my mind. I had taken a break from Passover cleaning only to hear a loud explosion coming from the refrigerator freezer. It sounded like a gunshot. My husband would put his Cokes in the freezer to get them really cold so they have the maximum amount of bubbles. Well, he went off to work and forgot he left a Coke in the freezer. The loud explosion I heard was the Coke exploding, leaving my previously cleaned freezer a brown icy mess. I sat down in the kitchen and cried. Without my asking, Jacob and his brothers got to work cleaning the freezer. I was so touched how they all pitched in to help me.

Underpants at the Seder Table

The second anecdote is when Jacob was in high school. A few days before Passover, he announced that he’s going to sit at the seder table wearing only a tee shirt, socks, and underpants. He explained that when he wears pants with a belt, he feels uncomfortable after a full meal. This way, he’s ready for a nice delicious meal and he won’t have to worry about the waist of his pants feeling tight.

He was serious.

I stood staring at him in disbelief. I felt exhausted and stressed from the holiday preparations and was in no mood for jokes or ‘issues’ from my teenage son. Besides, we were having guests and, even if we weren’t, I felt it wouldn’t be respectful to sit at the seder table in underpants. And I wondered, ‘where does he get these ideas, anyway’?

I guess my emotions hit the breaking point, and I just started laughing. I couldn’t stop laughing. I think I laughed for at least ten minutes with Jacob now staring at me. I laughed harder when I began to imagine all sorts of funny scenarios. In my mind’s eye, I envisioned all the Jews marching out of Egypt, each one wearing a robe and holding a staff in his hand. Among them is one guy happily marching along, wearing only underpants. He felt full after eating the Korban Pesach, matzah and maror. That fella had to be our familial ancestor. I figured Jacob must have gotten the idea from this guy’s DNA, and thinking that, I kept laughing.

For those of you interested in the conclusion of this drama, Jacob looked presentable and wore long pants to the seder.

The Fifth Son On Passover

Jacob won’t be sitting at our seder table. Although I know his neshamah will be here with us, it won’t be the same as seeing his smiling face. Even though Jacob will be sitting at G-d’s seder table, I’m sure he would really like to be with his family here below.

I’m reminded of when the Lubavitcher Rebbe would talk about the missing son at the Passover seder. The Passover Haggadah speaks about four sons: the wise son, the wicked son, the simple son, and the son who doesn’t know how to ask. The Rebbe would talk about the fifth son, the one who doesn’t show up. He always encouraged reaching out to Jewish people who are either ignorant of their Jewish heritage or are uncomfortable attending a Passover seder. About Jews who seemed to give up on their Yiddishkeit, the Rebbe wrote in April,1957:

“There is no room for hopelessness in Jewish life, and no Jew should ever be given up as a lost cause.”

A Call to Action for Passover

Unfortunately, there are still Jews missing from the seder table. Chassidus talks about the ‘pintele yid’, the inner spark of Yiddishkeit that is always inside every Jew. Deep down, every Jewish person wants to participate in a Passover seder. Sometimes they just don’t know how to go about it.

If you haven’t participated in a Passover seder in awhile, please give it a try. Check out your local Chabad. They usually conduct a Passover seder or can direct you to one. If you know someone who’s hesitant about attending a seder, please encourage him or her to join you.

When you sit at your seder, think about Jacob, Yaakov Ephraim ben Tuvia Henoch. You, or that person you know, will be filling his empty seat at the seder table.

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