On the first night of Pesach we are commanded to perform a cognitive mitzvah that goes far beyond the above. In Shmot 13:8 it is stated: And you shall tell your child on that day (the first night of Pesach) saying, It is because of this that the L-rd did (all these miracles) when I left Egypt. This mitzvah is radically different from the other cognitive mitzvot. In the former the Jew is commanded to merely hear, read and remember. These actions require a certain level of mental concentration; however they can all be performed with a mixed degree of effort. The mitzvah of telling the story is far more demanding. Not only are we commanded to tell the story of the exodus to our children; we are commanded as well what to tell and how to tell it.
A primary facet of the mitzvah of telling is that it requires a two way communication. In order to tell the story to our children we have to be able to communicate with them. (Therefore Pesach is an opportune time to patch up all family quarrels). One can only tell a story if there are listeners. Thus prior to even telling the story we have to have a clear understanding of who the listeners are. (As stated in the Mishnah in Pesachim 10:4, the father teaches his son according to his level of understanding.) We have to understand our childrens personalities, their interests and their values. Furthermore, to hold the attention of the listeners we have to listen to them, to hear their questions, and respond to their interests. (The importance of this mitzvah being a dialogue is not only for sake of the children. Its is important that we sharpen our personal skills to both talk and listen as emphasized by the importance of holding a dialogue with a fellow even if children are not present at the Seder)
A second aspect of this mitzvah is mastery of the subject matter. In order to tell the story of the exodus it is critical we know the story on the highest level. The story has a sequence of events, a context and numerous details. Thus, in order to perform the mitzvah, we have to spend time preparing. Since the story is done in dialogue we should be able to anticipate every question of every type. Total mastery is required!
Thirdly we are told how to tell the story, i.e. in the first person, 'It is because of this that the L-rd did (all these miracles) when I left Egypt'. The telling of the story should be told from a personal perspective. The story teller is commanded to fully identify with the Jewish people in Egypt and describe the events from a personal existential perspective. History becomes my story! To achieve this we are not only required to master the facts but also have a strong identification with the Jewish people who suffered in bondage and had the privilege of salvation.
In telling the story in the first person, this story becomes a contemporary one as well. Since we were not personally in Egypt and all live in a particular context, this story will not only be a historical story, it will have contemporary overtones as well. Indeed it is this third aspect of the mitzvah that makes the mitzvah of telling so compelling. Once our children see that we are personally and existentially involved in the story they too will be drawn in. Our excitement, commitment and enthusiasm will become contagious and this story will become theirs as well.
While the mitzvah of telling the story to children most probably relates to children who are minors, today we have reason to broaden this concept to include children of all ages. There is value for grandparents to tell their story to their children who are parents themselves. Intergenerational dialogue has a critical function. Those who have reached their senior years may have a perspective on the exodus story that they did not have when they were young parents. It is of utmost importance that they share these new perspectives with their adult children whom likewise have a different perspective on life having entered adulthood. In this manner the exodus story is constantly re-visited from multiple perspectives guaranteeing the chain of Jewish continuity.
The Pesach Seder is a paradigm for the successful transfer of our Jewish heritage from one generation to the next on an ongoing basis. In order to ensure that our children choose a committed Jewish future we have to dialogue with them continuously and have a deep understanding of their personalities and perspectives. In conducting this dialogue it is important that we be masters of our heritage, and have the ability to articulate it confidently. Finally it is important that we have a strong existential identification, demonstrating our personal commitment to our Jewish heritage.