Home » David Werdiger, Religion and Jewish Thought

And you shall relate to your son

April 14, 2011 – 1:10 pm6 Comments

Gold Coast coach Guy McKenna, doing his best to relate to his Suns

By David Werdiger

והגדת לבנך - שמות  יג”ח

And you shall relate to your son – Exodus 13:8 

As Pesach approaches, preparations go into full swing, and my mind jumps around between where we will be eating the various meals, where my children will be spending Pesach, the various tasks I’m going to do, and all the other “baseline” stuff that sits in my head: work and study.

Study has kept me busy this year, and as I move ever closer to completing, I enjoy the way learning has energized and stimulated my mind. There is a lot to absorb, and a few key things stick for various reasons, and form associations in my mind.

Organizational culture is something that has always interested me: how companies (or more widely organizations) learn and transmit knowledge. Look at the Gold Coast Suns, for example. Football clubs all have a culture, and as new players come, they seem to adopt the culture that is already there. For the Suns, they are starting with a blank slate. A dozen players from all over the place, plus the pick of young talent from all over the land, and suddenly, they are expected to play and perform as a club. The biggest challenge for their coaching staff is not football skills, but building a culture, and it will take them several years to do this. Only once that process has taken place will they see material gains in the way they work together as a team.

So how is culture transmitted? It’s not big glossy mission statements or expensive internal communication strategies. The research tells us that storytelling is one of the most powerful transmitters of culture. In the political world, the term “narrative” is used, which sort of means “our version of how things happened”.

The other study topic that has been high on my mind is marketing. Every day, people are bombarded by over 3000 advertising messages. Companies spend millions trying to convince us that their soft drink is better, or that we should buy their washing powder. They do this using every trick in the book, and are always seeking out new ways to understand why people do what they do. From market research to neuro-marketing, which studies how the brain responds to different marketing messages, it’s a never ending game of cat and mouse.

Marketers need to understand how the human brain processes information and makes decisions, and an important part of this is the human memory. My apologies go out in advance to all the experts out there for this very simplistic interpretation. Unlike a hard disk in a computer, our brains store information by complex chains of associations. Broadly, we have three levels of storage: semantic – like where we store the meaning of words; eidetic – where we store images, and episodic/narrative – the time relationship of events. It is the latter – stories – that is the easiest to store in our long term memories. This is consistent with the organizational culture view of storytelling.

With all of this floating around in my mind, and thinking about the upcoming Pesach seder, it all clicked into place. The purpose of the seder is to transmit a cornerstone part of Jewish culture – the Exodus from Egypt and our formation as a nation – to the next generation. And this is done through the most powerful and effective transmitter of culture – storytelling. That is why it has assumed its place as the preeminent cultural event in the Jewish calendar.

The biblical injunction to celebrate Pesach and have a seder is drawn from the verse “v’higadtah l’bincha” – “and you shall relate to your son”. This succinct phrase encapsulates the two key elements of the seder: (a) “l’bincha” – “to your son”, stressing the important a trans-generational communication, and (b) “v’higadtah” – “and you shall relate– the medium for the communication: telling the story of the Exodus.

Like other ancient and enduring cultures, and long before modern researchers understood the why and how, the Torah spelled out the formula for its own perpetuity. While specific customs relating to Pesach have diverged over time, the essence of the seder has been celebrated for thousands of years.

Chag Sameach.

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6 Comments »

  • Shua says:

    Great article

  • Eli says:

    Thanks David, a nice intro into the next few days before Pesach.

    What I find amazing or maybe it’s not so amazing is that Jews will search out a Seder no matter where they are in the world and no matter at what level of adherence or even none for that matter they subscribe to.

    Somehow the Seder night encapsulates all that identifies us with our past. My family who are totally secular would have the traditional meal with a tape of my grandfather reciting the traditional Seder prayers and stories.Since he did it in Hebrew no one understood a thing he was saying, yet without it it would seem like just another meal and Pesach.

    May you and your family and all those on Gaulus have a Kosher Pesach.

  • Marky says:

    Regarding wishing each other “Have a Kosher Peasch”. One of the great Hasidic leaders of a generation or two back, used to say “People wish each other ‘a freiliche(happy) Purim and a Kosher Pesach’. In reality it should be said ‘Have a Kosher Purim and a freiliche Pesach’, because Purim will anyway, for sure, be happy and Pesach, Kosher”

    It his comment on a “Kosher Purim”, is in regards to those getting totally inebriated, doing things which are “not Kosher”.

  • ben says:

    Eds: Comment removed. Chaim, for the thousandth time, please stop leaving garbage in our comments section! We don’t want to have to contact your employer.

  • Daniel Levy says:

    The most hilarious part of Passover is that it’s a complete fabrication and a lie that everybody regards as true. When Ben Gurion came into possession of the Sinai he said “we will turn over every stone to search for evidence of our exodus”

    Not only did they not find anything to even hint at a Jewish exodus (despite finding evidence of smaller groups of people travelling that same area in much smaller numbers which markedly predate the story of exodus), but the Egyptian historical records contain nothing to corroborate the story – at all.

    It is a lie that ought to be stamped out post haste. How is it fair to the Egyptians that they continue to feel the cultural shame of false accusation of enslavement of a people? The exodus is entwined in our heritage “Next year in Jerusalem” etc.

    It’s about time we ballsed up and admitted that it’s simply a fable and stop treating it as fact. I have not yet met anybody who was not amazed by this revelation that the exodus is a myth that has been proven false. Everybody believes it to be fact. It’s one of the bible’s most “accepted-as-true” stories and it’s sick that we treat this ignorance with such warm encouragement. Stop the lies.

    I don’t mean to say we shouldn’t keep the passover traditions. It is a good moral fable, and should be treated as such. But it’s time for humanity to grow up and stop accepting myth as fact.

  • Daniel Levy says:

    In the interests of promoting the facts here are several articles for consumption with citation:

    http://www.examiner.com/atheism-in-philadelphia/the-jewish-exodus-from-egypt-never-happened

    http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4191

    And of course, even Rabbi David Wolpe commented on the factual inaccuracy but also told of how the rabbinate urged him to keep quiet. Much like a child sticking his head in the sand and shouting “LA LA LA LA LA LA” it’s time for that child to grow up:

    http://www.beliefnet.com/Faiths/Judaism/2004/12/Did-The-Exodus-Really-Happen.aspx?p=1

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