When we think of the challenges of hosting a seder, the physical – the cleaning and cooking – immediately spring to mind. Another challenge is negotiating the tension between the meal’s ritual requirements and the obligation to make the story actually speak to the participants who are there.
Some 30 years ago, Yitzhak Buxbaum recalls, “my spiritual master … Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach” placed his hands on his student’s head, giving Buxbaum semicha, ordination, or authorization, to be a maggid, a teller of sacred tales. Back in the day, the rabbi would only give a sermon in shul twice a year, usually regarding halacha or esoteric analysis, before Passover and after Rosh HaShanah, while the maggid, often wandering from town to town like a Johnny Appleseed, would inspire the folk people with his divrei aggada, non-halachic, inspirational talks.
The most famous tale spinner in the Jewish tradition was Rabbi Jacob Ben Ze’ev Kranz, the Maggid (storyteller) of Dubno, born in Setil, a town in the district of Vilna, in 1741. He was asked by his friend, the great scholar the Vilna Gaon, why he always answered questions with stories.