Many people, far too many, expect to be alone on the first night of Passover this year. Moms. Dads. Singles. Perhaps you yourself.

How does a Jew read the Haggadah alone?

We all have the right, after all, to ask the question: “If He wants me to pass on this experience to another generation, why has He isolated me from my children and grandchildren on this night?”

But then, you must conclude, “If He has put me alone on the night of Passover, apparently He wants me to read the Haggadah alone.”

And not just to read it—but to act it out, to live it. It has to be real.

But how?

Ask Yourself

There’s no question new under the sun. Long before us, the sages of the Talmud taught that the story of the Exodus must be told as an answer to a question. They said:

One who has a child smart enough to ask, his child asks him.

If not, his wife asks him.

If he has no wife, he asks himself.1

So I’ll sit there and ask myself, “Why is tonight different from all other nights?”

And then, I’ll answer myself, “Well, you see, we were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt…”

It sounds thoroughly absurd.

It means that really a seder is an act for a minimum of two actors, so that if I’m alone for my seder, I must act two parts at once. I must be both the child and the parent, the one who asks and the one who answers.

Now certainly, this is not meant to be some sort of show. If Torah tells a Jew to ask, he is meant to truly ask. And to truly ask, there must be a real question to ask.

But if I have the answer, then how could the question be a real question? And if I do not have the answer, since I’m alone, what is the point of asking?

Returning to the Child

Perhaps you’ll say that people ask themselves questions all the time. Admittedly, I do it quite often. I want to grasp a problem by the neck and not let go of it until it coughs up its answer. So I keep repeating the problem over and over, so my mind won’t leave it alone.

If so, then, on the night of Passover, we’re meant to return to the question once again. As Rabban Gamliel says, in the Haggadah, “In every generation, a person must see himself as though he is leaving Egypt.”

So I must see myself at the beginning of this night as a small child at the beginning of his journey, a child who knows nothing, who has yet to leave Egypt. That is what it means to be both the child and the adult—to rediscover the child version of me within this adult version of me. To discover a nexus of the two, a point at which they meet as one.

And the child within me must ask, “What is special about this night?” Because, as of yet, I have not left. Until I begin the answer.

That’s the inner experience of the night of Passover: To return to the darkness of not-knowing, to grope through it with questions, and then to break out from there in an exodus to a whole new light.

And, yes, there are many questions I need to revisit. Many answers that worked for me at one time and are no longer satisfactory. Perhaps I need time alone to return to them.

But the question, “Why is this night different from all other nights?”—that is not one of them.

If that were a problem seeking a solution, then there would be a point in asking myself. But here, it is a simple question and the answer is a simple matter of information: Tonight is different because it is the night we left slavery in Egypt. Or because we are leaving right now.

Once I have that information, what is the point in asking?

The Wise Question

If I were a wise person, even if I knew the answer well, I might still ask someone else. Because, as the Mishnah teaches, a wise person is able to learn from every person.2

A wise person knows that even when someone else has the same answer as himself, it is not the same answer. For each person is a universe, and in each universe, the answer is somehow different, somehow new and interesting.

And so our sages taught, “Two wise people, even if they know the entire Torah, ask each other, ‘Why is tonight different from every other night?’”3

But to ask yourself for your own answer in your own universe?

The Deep Question

So we are stuck. Why would a Jew ask himself a question to which he already has an answer?

Unless the question has a deeper meaning. And the answer is a deeper answer than we imagined.

So let’s start again:

How does a Jew read the Haggadah alone?

A Jew is never alone. Especially not on the night of Passover.

On the night of Passover, a Jew sits with the Creator of the Universe. The Jew says, “Father, I want to ask you four questions:

“Why is this night different than any other night? Why is this darkness different than any other darkness? Why is there darkness at all in Your universe? Why do You allow the bitter darkness of loneliness in Your universe when You Yourself said, ‘It is not good that man should be alone.’?”

And then the Creator of the Universe must respond. Because that is the responsibility of every parent on the night of Passover. It says so in the Haggadah.

He must respond that we are all slaves to our particular Pharaoh in Egypt. And that on this night, He takes each of us by the hand and shleps us out of our Egypt, and the whole world out of its darkness.

Perhaps this is not a make-do Seder. Perhaps this is the ultimate Seder.

The Long Seder Table

A group of chassidim were traveling, as chassidim do, to be together with their rebbe for the night of Passover. But the wagon broke down, as it often does in these stories, and dusk settled upon these chassidim as they were forced to take up residence in a small tavern at the side of the road.

Obviously, they were bitterly disappointed. But one of them was full of cheer, singing joyfully as he began the Seder.

“Friends,” he explained. “Imagine we arrived at our destination, and you will be happy, too!”

“But we haven’t!” they protested.

“But imagine we had,” he answered. “And imagine many, many more chassidim also had arrived. So many that there would be no place for us but at a distant end of the table at the other end of the room.”

“But it would still be the rebbe’s table!” they protested.

“Yes,” he answered. “And now, we are still chassidim and he is still our rebbe, but he is a great rebbe and his table is very, very long. And we are sitting at it!”

And so, these chassidim sang and celebrated at their seder in the tavern, just as those who sat with their rebbe, and perhaps even more so.

Entangled Seders

On the night of Pesach, no Jew sits alone. We all sit at one long table. Your parents are there, your grandparents, all the Jewish people you’re related to (which is all of them) sit with Moses at the head.

Because, like particles of an atom split apart, we are all entangled with one another, so that what happens to one of us, happens to all of us. Especially on a transcendental night like the night of Passover, when all of time and space are packed together in a single point at midnight.

In the language of the Talmud, “All Jews are guarantors for one another.”4 But the word for guarantors is “areivim”—which means “sweetened” and also means “mixed together.” All Jews are bound together, regardless of distance in time and space, to the point that whatever one does sweetens the other.

So that the deep, bittersweet dialogue of the Jew alone with the Creator of the Universe on the night of his Seder adds flavor to the cheerful Seder of a young family blessed with children. And the cheer of that young family sweetens the bitterness of those of us who may imagine we are alone.

The First and the Last Passover

On the night of the very first Passover, each family stayed in their own home. Like this year, no one was allowed to step outside. At midnight, a plague swept through the land, while in each house the people sat up in excited anticipation of the morning. They ate roasted lamb with matzah and bitter herbs, and told stories of their ancestors, and of their noble heritage.

The next morning, all the Jewish people left the bondage of Egypt for the Promised Land.

Next year in Jerusalem!