What are your kids learning this Passover?
Seder is coming with it matzah and four cups of wine, with polished silver goblets and white lace table clothes, with visits from relatives and old friends. My children are getting older now, old enough to participate, which at my Seder doesn’t just mean singing the four questions. It means hiking 3.4 miles up to 185 foot arch in Moab Utah where I will be leading a Seder for 130 adventurous people from around the country.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what I want my children to learn from this holiday. Ostensibly Passover, which has been embraced by Christians and Jews, is about God coming down here with His outstretched arm and liberating the Israelites from bondage. But do we really believe that is how it happened? Do you?
Do we really think that God watches over us and rewards the good and punishes the bad? Doesn’t that sounds a bit like Santa Claus?
I do want my children to know the Exodus story. It’s a strong narrative that speaks of bravery and personal responsibility. It teaches about the importance of community, of looking out for each other, and urges participation.
But I don’t want them to think God is watching their every move and I can’t with intellectual honesty assure them that in the end we will discover that even bad things turn okay because “things happen for a reason” and “everything is part of God’s plan.”
I don’t think it works that way. If we do not want religion to go the way of the dinosaurs, we have to stop teaching this simplistic theology to our children.
Why is it that we as parents pass on God concepts we don’t agree with? Why is it that despite a plethora of more plausible God-concepts that have been presented over the generations, our Sunday schools are still teaching about a man in the sky with a big book in which he records our deeds? Habit, lack of a better answer, and of course tradition.
This Passover, it is time we say “Dayeinu ! Enough of this nonsense,” and start an honest conversation about the nature of God. If we grown-ups can’t figure out what we believe, how can we possible expect to teach anything coherent to our children?
I’m not suggesting we jettison God completely. No, but we do need to upgrade our concept of God so that it fits the world as we experience it. We need to honestly talk with one another -- not argue -- but talk, share ideas, explore, study creative God concept set forth by great thinkers like Martin Buber and Baruch Spinoza and you and me.
No one likes to talk about God, except the people who are sure that God is this deity up in the sky who acts in response to our behavior. But the rest of us who do not believe in this kind of God, stay mute. Ministers and rabbis can’t talk openly about God because they will get fired. Their congregants don’t talk about God because they think they will be shown the door.
But only when we come to terms with what we believe, can we hope to pass on a religion that is meaningful, accessible, and relevant.
On Passover, our children can experience the best of religion – community, thoughtful conversation, family, and great food. Now let’s add one more piece: honest conversation about God. What would happen if you added this question to the adult’s discussion at your Seder? “What do you believe is the nature of God?”
Let me know how it goes and we can compare notes after the holiday.
Rabbi Jamie Korngold is author of The God Upgrade.