Is the Seder Optimistic?
Do you look forward to a better future? The Passover Seder is built around a narrative: “things were bad, and then they were good. One day they will be even better.”
In the language of the Mishnah, “One begins with the embarrassing tale (slavery and idolatry) and ends with the praiseworthy story (redemption and Sinai). After the telling of the story and the feasting, we open the door for Elijah and seek the ever better future.
It would seem that the Seder teaches us to be optimistic. Yet it is also based in the pessimistic view that the world is now unredeemed and that people’s lives are not yet what they should be.
The pursuit of justice is incomplete. This play of pessimism and optimism, it turns out, is important for your actual physical and spiritual wellbeing.
An essential component of religion is to provide for us hope for a better day. In one sense, there is hope that each individual life here and now has meaning.
In a second sense, there is hope that human society can be redeemed, if not perfected, and that justice can be established in the Land and on the Earth. And ultimately, there is hope that this life is not all that there is: for the righteous, the soul is eternal even in death.
A recent study by the American Psychological Association, published by Frieder R. Lang, PhD, of the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg in Germany in the Journal of Psychology and Aging has made a remarkable discovery.
The study analyzed 40,000 people over a decade, tracking different age groups. Young peoples’ view of their future was rosy but inaccurate. Middle age folks largely got it right. And people of 65 were wrong about their future 80% of the time, with the majority of those being wrongly pessimistic.
According to the study, 43% of the elders underestimated what their actual future happiness would be 10 years in the future. This largest group were pessimistic about their future, and in fact had much more positive outcomes than they had predicted.
Also interesting, the studies say that those who were of stable and comfortable health and wealth were more likely to be pessimistic at the outset – perhaps sensing impending loss in their future.
We might guess that the comfortable person would be more optimistic, and that the optimistic person would have healthier and more stable futures. The study contradicts those guesses.
Pessimistic people, the study shows, are not just worriers. Worriers tend to have higher rates of stress-related illnesses. No, the pessimists took their thoughts seriously and acted to prevent them from coming true.
Preventive measures and healthy choices abounded among the pessimists more than the optimists, and so they actually lived and worked longer and were less likely to suffer a major disruption in their lives.
The Seder is this kind of Pessimism. Things are not good, it tells us. And even though they have been worse, they need to get a whole lot better. And there are actions which we must take to prevent the bad from getting worse in the days ahead.
Faith, observance, learning and the pursuit of justice round out the prescription pad for our well being.
Enjoy the bitter maror at your tables: It may make you happy in the end.
Chag Sameach v’Kasher,
Rabbi Robert L. Tobin
Friday, March 1
Candle lighting: 5:29 p.m.
Friday evening service: 6 p.m.
Saturday, March 2
Parshat Ki Tisi – Shabbat Parah
Shabbat morning services: 9 a.m.
Mincha, study with Rabbi Tobin, Ma’ariv and Havdallah: 5:30 p.m.
Sunday morning: 9 a.m.
Monday-Friday mornings: 7 a.m.
Sunday-Thursday evenings: 8 p.m.
Upcoming Programs at B’nai Shalom
Saturday, March 2
9 a.m. Scout Shabbat – honoring members of Cub Pack 365
10 a.m. – Torah Study with Janice Colmar discussing the weekly Torah portion.
10:45 a.m. – Shabbat Fun – a parent-led Shabbat program for families with children under 5.
Saturday evening, March 2
8 p.m. My Name is Asher Lev- Members of B’nai Shalom’s 40s/50s group will have a night out at the theatre in New York to see the play, which is based on the book by Chaim Potok.
Sunday, March 3
3-5 p.m. - West Orange Kadimah Chocolate Seder
Thursday, March 7
7 p.m. - Jonathan Milgram presents: From Mishna to Microsoft. Dr. Milgram is Assistant Professor of Talmud and Rabbinics at the Jewish Theological Seminary. He will explore the encounters between the holy texts of ancient Judaism and the history of technological change. All are welcome to this lecture.
Saturday, March 9
9 a.m. – Shabbat services and Kabbalat Siddur – Religious School students will participate in the service and receive a Siddur.
1 p.m. - B’nai Shalom Sisterhood Book Review – discussion of the book Unorthodox, by Deborah Feldman.
Saturday, March 16
9 a.m. - Shabbat Machaneinu- Celebrating Camp Ramah in the Berkshires at 50
10:45 a.m. – Shabbat Fun
8:30 p.m. - Melave Malka honoring Janet Geldzahler- sponsored by Sisterhood.
Sunday, March 17
10 a.m.-1 p.m. – Men’s Club Wine Available for Passover
Friday, March 22
Pre-Passover Shabbat Dinner sponsored by Sisterhood - $22 adults, $7 children 4-12. RSVP by March 10th to email@example.com
Saturday, March 23
12:45 p.m. - Rabbi Tobin will lead a study session on Song of Songs: Allegory or Love Manual
Sunday, March 24
10–11:30 a.m. - Kashering utensils for Passover.
10 a.m.-1 p.m. - Men’s Club Wine Available for Passover
Monday, March 25
8 a.m. - Siyyum for Taanit Bechorot
Followed by Burning of the Chametz
First night of Passover
Tuesday, March 26 – First day of Passover services 9 a.m.
7:30 p.m. - Family Seder at B’nai Shalom – led by Rabbi Tobin.
BYOWine. Catered by Lynn Shenassa. $36 adults, $18 children under 13. RSVP by March 15 to firstname.lastname@example.org.