A Seder in Germany

Commentary by Dr. Ursula A. Falk


The Red Haggadah


 As the years go by and  our Passovers are numbered, I think more and more of my father’s red Haggadah and the man who sat in the wooden chair with a pillow behind his back who shared his wisdom, his convictions, his sincerity and his “Betochen”, his unblemished faith, with us. 

The thoroughly Passover clean house had been scrubbed by my mother for a number of weeks before the Yom Tov. Newspapers were spread over the floors to ascertain that no crumbs or other chometz would be left behind.  Every drawer, every closet had been dusted and scrubbed by her.  She was the cleaning woman, the cook, the dispenser of reminiscences and of unstinting love to her family and those whose lives she touched. The candlesticks, which were one of the few earthly possessions left from our ancestors, gleamed proudly on the special Passover tablecloth, its flames accentuating the whiteness of the linen.

The aroma of chicken soup permeated throughout the house after the last bit of chometz had been disposed of.  The Matzoh balls were made to perfection and the seder plate was in its rightful place. There was an order to the Seder and each of us knew what to anticipate.  We knew that the youngest family member had the privilege of reciting the Mah Nischtanah, that everything proceeded in an expected way, that the wine goblets would be refilled at expected times in a definite order, and that there was little that was a surprise, except of course the hiding place of the Afikomen! 

The Seder began when my father turned the well worn first page of his red Haggadah and read the age old story of the exodus, of our roots, of our past.  In my mind I can still see the pictures that each page contained, the symbols of the past, the symbols of our heritage, our Jewishness, the history of our ancestors and of our own.  It reminded us of our roots and our very identity.  The simple explanations stated in plain language with its profound meaning is still true today.  The four sons and their attributes and personalities can be replicated  in the present time.

The Chochem, the wise son, is knowledgeable, asks, investigates and understands and acts from what he finds. The Roshe, the evil one, does not include himself, withdraws from his heritage, withdraws from his community and religious beliefs, and does not extract goodness and kindness from his surroundings.  Tom, the simple son, has to be led, to be responded to; he responds to simple explanations.  The fourth son does not have the capacity to inquire and he is told about his past and what “is” - that which exists.  We can replicate any and all of these personalities today. 

We were all very excited when  my beloved father spoke of the four sons, when he likened the Rosche to Hitler and the Chochem to Einstein.  We thought about them and as very young children we did not worry that all those mentioned in the Haggadah were sons and not daughters (we were two girls and one boy). We felt safe because our Dad and our Mom would protect us from the Rosche.

As the evening wore on, we were very excited about the stories in the Haggadah and the anticipation of the delicious meal that followed.  That first bite of the Matzo was a joy, especially since we stopped eating chometz before ten a.m.  The repetition each year of the celebration, with its historical stories, its sameness, its meaning, and the sight of that Red Haggadah in my father’s hands gave us a feeling of comfort of  love and of serenity.


Dr. Ursula A. Falk is a psychotherapist in private practice and the co-author, with Dr. Gerhard Falk, of  Deviant Nurses & Improper Patient Care (2006).

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