- The Washington Times - Monday, February 5, 2001

Excerpts from a Saturday morning Shabbat sermon by Rabbi Philip Pohl at B'nai Shalom Congregation in Olney, Md.

A few weeks ago I traveled to Florida for my aunt's "unveiling," which is a dedication of a loved one's tombstone. Before I went, my mother called from there and said, "Philip, are you going to prepare something for the unveiling?"

I have been a rabbi for over 22 years, officiated at my aunt's funeral and knew many close friends and relatives would be there. My mother really wasn't asking me anything, but rather telling me: "This is for my sister, actually for me, so make sure you do a good job and don't embarrass me."

She posed this command in the form of a question, respectful of my adult status. But she was telling me what to do. As a parent myself, I would do the same thing.

You all know that the Haggadah is the liturgical text we use to guide us through the ceremonies at the Passover seder. But did you know that the word haggadah comes from the Hebrew root "to tell." On the first night of Passover, the Haggadah is "the telling" about the exodus from Egypt.

The word for telling is derived from a verb in this week's Torah portion. Exodus 13:8 says, "And you shall tell your child in that day, saying, 'It is because of that which the Lord did for me when I came forth out of Egypt.' " You can hear the connection between "shall tell," or v'higad'ta, and haggadah.

At Passover, this text is used to describe the four kinds of children representative of all the Israelite people. They are the wise, wicked, simple and silent child. For the first three, the Torah provides a response to questions they ask. But our text, Exodus 13:8, just commands us to "tell" your child. This verse is used to explain how to approach the silent child who can't even begin to ask a question.

If your child asks you about Passover, about Jewish identity, or about our history and the Torah, the Haggadah instructs us how to respond. But what if your child doesn't even ask? The term haggadah means that our parental responsibility is to tell our child anyway; tell at least the essential aspect of the Passover story.

The next verse in Exodus 13 says, "And it shall be for a sign unto you upon your hand, and for a memorial between your eyes that the law of the Lord may be in your mouth… ."

This is describing the tefillin [small box and leather straps] worn on the arm and head of traditional Jews during weekday morning prayers. We tell our children by demonstration as well as by words. Of course, sometimes our children go astray. They may become unkind, inconsiderate or worse. We wonder, "What did we do and how did we go wrong? Did we show and tell them all that was necessary?"

Last week, the police in San Jose, California, prevented a Columbine-style attack at DeAnza College. A photo lab clerk alerted police when she saw a student's photos of pipe bombs and other weapons. They were hoarded in the room of 19-year-old Al DeGuzman at his home. What intrigued me was the comments by the parents on television news: "We never go in his room. He is an adult."

Maybe technically that's true, but if my child lives in my house, you can be sure I will "tell" my child, regardless of age, what I expect and demand. My mother taught me well and she keeps telling me how well she taught me.

Let me conclude with my version of a story about a father and son who just got a driver's license and wants to use the car. The father said, "If you bring up your grades, study the Bible and cut your hair, then we'll talk about the car." The boy returned in a month with better grades and more Bible study, but without a haircut. "Dad, you know Noah had long hair and so did Moses and Samson." And the father said, "Yes son, and they walked everywhere they went."

The moral of the story, and my sermon, is this: It is better to hear your children say, "Don't tell me 'I told you so' " than to hear them say, "Why didn't you ever tell me?"

Next week: a sermon by the Rev. Ronald C. Crocker at St. George's Episcopal Church in Arlington, Va.

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