Stories We Tell: The Perfect Seder

Judaism has a deep and rich tradition of storytelling, of passing down stories from one generation to the next. To carry on that tradition, Stories We Tell, from, will share a new story with you every Thursday. Whether you listen while driving to work, preparing Shabbat dinner, or taking your kids to school, each episode will give you a new story to reflect on and discuss with the people in your life. Stories We Tell is a project of the Union for Reform Judaism, a leading voice in the discussion of modern Jewish life.

What is the real meaning of Passover? Is it ritualizing the seder and reading the Haggadah, or is there something more? This week, Rabbi Esther Lederman, the Union for Reform Judaism’s Director of Congregational Innovation, tells a story about a rabbi, a water carrier, and the prophet Elijah, and asks what it means to truly celebrate this sacred festival.

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[URJ Intro] Welcome back to Stories We Tell, a podcast presented by Judaism has always had a deep and rich tradition of passing our stories down from one generation to the next. And we do that here every week sharing a new story with you. This week, Rabbi Esther Lederman, the Union for Reform Judaism's director of congregational innovation, is going to share the story "The Perfect Seder."

[Rabbi Esther Lederman] It was the first night of Passover. And Rabbi Shalom had just finished hosting her seventieth seder. Her belly was full of food and wine. And she'd lay herself down to sleep.

That night, she had the strangest dream. She dreamt that the prophet Elijah was in her room. She looked up and said, next you're in Jerusalem, Elijah. And he responded, yes, or maybe at the home of Abe the water carrier. That is the seder I'm heading to next. It's about to begin, and I don't want to miss it.

Rabbi Shalom was confused. Elijah in my room? You're going to go to Abe the water carrier's seder? Hmm. Strange indeed. And she drifted off back to sleep.

In the morning, she remembered her dream and quickly called to all of her students and said, quick, I need you to find Abe the water carrier. The profit Elijah was going to go there last night. And I need to talk to him about his seder. If his seder is better than mine, I want to meet this righteous man.

So the students went out and quickly went to find him. They didn't have to spend much time because as it turned out, the next door neighbor of the rabbi was Abe the water carrier. The students brought Abe the water carrier in to meet the rabbi. And all of a sudden, Abe started crying. I'm so sorry, rabbi. I don't know where all the food and silver platters came from. Please don't tell anyone. I didn't steal anything.

The rabbi looked at Abe and said, don't worry. That's not why I brought you here. But I do want to know what happened at your seder last night. Abe replied, well, I had every intention of doing the seder, but I was so tired, and I dozed off. And then my wife woke me up and asked, Abe, aren't we going to do the seder?

And I was feeling so despondent. I'm not good enough. I don't know about all the steps of the seder. And I said, all I know is that once we were slaves and God freed us.

And then that's when it all happened. All of a sudden, the table was filled with food and wine and silver platters. I don't know where it came from. And I looked at my wife, and she said, hurry up. Let's eat before it disappears. I don't know how it got there.

So the rabbi then said, so tell me. After you ate, you went and did every step of the seder, right? You read every single word of the Haggadah, yes? Abe replied, well, no. I can't read. Well, rabbi said, did you do anything else?

Abe thought. Well, after we ate, I did give thanks. I said, thank you, God, for this wonderful food and wine. And then I said, thank you for freeing us from slavery. But can you help us now break the oppression and the injustice that we see in this world? Help us to do better now, God. And then all of a sudden, this man appeared and said, amen. I know. It seems so unbelievable.

All of a sudden, it became very clear to Rabbi Shalom what had happened. Her dream was no dream. That was Elijah in her room, eager to go to Abe's seder. And now she knew why. Even though Abe hadn't done all of the steps and couldn't read the Haggadah, Abe knew the very essence of this holiday-- to remember that we were once slaves in Egypt, to thank God for giving us the taste of freedom, and remembering that the world still has much work to do, that we with God have much to do to make this world safe for freedom. And that was a good enough seder.

The rabbi then asked, Abe, well, what happened after that? Abe said, I fell asleep. And then your students came to find me. Am I in trouble? The rabbi shook her head and smiled. No, not at all, Abe. Next year in Jerusalem or maybe at your house.

[URJ Outro] After hearing the story "The Perfect Seder," I'd love to hear about what you think the [HEBREW], the kernel is of the seder and the Passover story. We'd love to hear about that. You can share it with us on social media.

And thanks for listening to Stories We Tell. If you enjoyed this week's story, please subscribe and rate and review us on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts. You can always find new episodes every Thursday on And don't forget to visit to learn a little bit more about Jewish rituals, our culture, our holidays, and more. Stories We Tell is a project of the Union for Reform Judaism, a leading voice in the discussion of modern Jewish life. And until next week, l'hitroat.