The Torah reading for the first day of the Yom Tov of Pesach begins with the words: וַיִּקְרָא מֹשֶׁה לְכָל זִקְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, “And Moshe called to all the elders of Israel and said to them…”. (Ex. 12,21) His instructions were that they were to take an animal from their flock which was to be used for the Korban Pesach or Pascal offering.
What is strange in this passage is that Moshe called the elders to tell them about this Mitzvah and not all the people, though in fact everyone was obligated to bring this offering. The Midrash Rabbah tells us that, “in truth, it is the elders who preserve Israel.” (Shemot Rabbah 3,8)
It is the elders that conserve the true religion and practice of the faith of the Jewish people. They provide the stability and continuity of our commitment to the Torah. That is why in the weekday Amida there is a special Beracha ועל זקני עמך , “…for the elders of your people…”.
During Pesach we are especially obligated to show our reliance on our elders. We often refer to them concerning the actual practices that must be observed. We ask them to relate the stories of how the holiday was celebrated in previous generations. We want to know from them the meaning of some of the strange customs that the different families have in celebrating the holiday. When the four sons in the Haggadah inquire about the holiday practices, who do they ask if not the elders?
This is also in line with a verse in the Portion of Ha’azinu where we read: שְׁאַל אָבִיךָ וְיַגֵּדְךָ זְקֵנֶיךָ וְיֹאמְרוּ לָךְ, “…Ask your father and he will relate it to you, and your elders and they will tell you.” (Deut. 34,7)