Dealing With Difficult Seder Guests

Dear Rabbi,

This year, for the first time, we are hosting the family Passover Seder. We were very excited to finally be able to have everyone in our home, until we found out that distant cousins, who we find very offensive, plan on coming. It never occurred to us that they would come, as they never have before, and I certainly don’t want them to attend. They are rude, insensitive and somehow manage to overtake any conversation. I want the Seder to be the center of attention, not them. I was thinking of letting them know that we simply have no room, but of course it is not true. Do I really need to have people come who will ruin the whole night? Please help!


Dear Y.M.,

Believe it or not, we all have those cousins or others in our lives that we have a hard time dealing with, yet we all need to learn how to! Although it might not feel this way, it is actually to your advantage that they are coming to your home, as you are in a position to set the tone in your own house more than you would be anywhere else. And as much as you would like to uninvite them, it is simply not appropriate on many levels.

Try to remember that this is not a social gathering or a party—this is a Passover Seder For starters, try to remember that this is not a social gathering or a party. This is a Passover Seder, and it is a time for family and friends to come together to commemorate and retell our history as slaves and our miraculous exodus from Egypt. It is a time to remember that we have always had enemies looking to destroy us, but when we had faith and stuck together as a people, we have been able to persevere and overcome even the most desperate of situations. With that in mind, no matter how annoying your cousins may be, they are family. They are not your enemy. And this is a wonderful opportunity to put things into perspective.

Furthermore, Passover is about getting out of our restricted and constricted situations, whether emotional, physical or spiritual. This is why the word for Egypt, Mitzrayim, means “constraints.” This is the holiday that celebrates our ability to break out of slavery and to enter freedom. If this is the situation in which you have found yourself, there is a reason and a lesson to be learned. Perhaps your cousins have changed. Perhaps, if you try to treat them differently, they will respond differently in kind. Perhaps the reason they talk too much or are too direct is coming from lack of security rather than ego. They will be coming to your home. They will be your guests, and hopefully they will act appropriately. But you are the host, and it is up to you to make them feel welcome and to make them feel comfortable. Hopefully the more you do that, the less their behavior will be anything other than pleasant.

From a practical point of view, there is a lot going on at a Seder. Between reading the haggadah and eating the meal, it most likely will not be a situation where someone can just talk nonstop. If you are concerned they still may try, set up your Seder in a way where everyone will need to participate by going around the table and sharing in the reading and the discussion. The more other people are invited to talk, the less silence there will be for anyone else to fill up on their own.

And lastly, and probably most importantly, be honest with yourself as to why your cousins bother you so much. The Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the Chassidic movement, teaches that when something bothers us in another, it is most often because we are really seeing ourselves through them. Perhaps what is going on is more your issue than theirs, and if so, now is the time to work through that. Even if not, the more you can feel a sense of sympathy—or, ideally, empathy—for their outbursts, the more you can treat them with understanding and compassion rather than resentment.

I wish you tremendous success in dealing with this situation, and a lot of patience and strength in hosting your entire family! In the merit of that alone, things should go smoothly and peacefully with your cousins.

Have a wonderful Passover.