My Journey Through the Haggadah- Forward
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My Journey Through the Haggadah- Forward
Some 3000 years ago, an event occurred whose reverberations have continued to the present day. This event was the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt and their escape from slavery. The slavery the Jews endured, and the subsequent Exodus, is indelibly etched into the psyche of the Jewish people. It permeates the Torah, our liturgy, and not only the Festival of Passover, which is the subject of this commentary, but the Shabbat and every Festival in the Jewish calendar.
It has a profound effect on our religion, on our relationship with our fellow Jews and our relationship with other peoples. It shaped our morality, our humanity, and the way we react with and treat each other. It entered so deeply into the subconscious of the whole Jewish Nation, that much of our day to day activities are unknowingly and unthinkingly shaped by it. It is no accident that Jews seem to be in the forefront of those seeking to better the lot of those less fortunate than themselves.
However the Exodus and freedom from slavery was not a reason in itself. It was only the beginning of the story. What does it matter if a group of slaves escaped from their masters. Who cares if an insignificant tribe living in a tiny corner of the imposing and glorious Egyptian Empire 3000 years ago, slipped over the border into the desert.
The Exodus was to lead exactly seven weeks later to the event that was a turning point in the direction that world civilization would take. The Exodus was the start of the fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob the forefathers of the Jewish people, that their descendants would inherit the Land of Canaan. (Gen. Ch. 35 V. 12). But first they had to receive the rules that they were to live by and that event at Mt. Sinai seven weeks after the escape was the event that changed the world forever.
This event heralded a new era in man’s relationship to his fellow man. At first, it was hardly noticed, but as time went on the Exodus of the Children of Israel from Egypt and the two Tablets of Stone they received some seven weeks after that dash for freedom, had an increasing effect on the world. Today because of that event, the Jewish people for better or for worse, are seldom out of the front pages of the world’s newspapers and the television screens.
If the Exodus had not happened, there would not be a Jewish people today, there probably would not be democracy in the world, there would certainly have been no Christianity or Islam. The way of thinking especially towards others would perhaps have been different, There probably would not have been the idea of Hillel's "Golden Rule' "Not to do to others what you would not have others do to you". In short the world would have been an entirely different place. It is true that there is still evil and evil people in the world but now because of what happened 3000 years ago we know that there is a morality and a decency towards which we must strive.
That event, we celebrate during the Festival of Passover, more usually called by its Hebrew name ‘Pesach’. Probably no other home event has a more honoured and loved place in the Jewish Home than the Passover Seder which brings in the Festival and probably no other Jewish book has such an honoured and loved place in the Jewish home as the ‘Passover Haggadah’ .
Together with Rosh Hashanah (the New Year) and Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement), Pesach is part of the glue that binds the Jewish people together no matter how tenuous is the individual's commitment to the tenets of Judaism.
At the same time, to many people, the Passover Haggadah presents many difficulties, particularly to those whose attitude to the Seder is more than that of a slap up meal in the company of friends and relations. The Passover Haggadah has many facets; it is a book of history, study, prayers and hopes.
The Commandment, ‘Mitzvah’ in Hebrew, to celebrate the Passover, is contained in Exodus Ch.12 V.1-20. It is one of the three pilgrim festivals during which the Jewish people were enjoined to travel to the Temple at Jerusalem for its celebration. The others are, Shavuoth, the Feast of Weeks, the festival celebrated seven weeks after Passover which among other events commemorates the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai and Succoth, Tabernacles, celebrated in the autumn after Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. . On Passover, in Temple times, the main event was the “Passover Offering”, consisting of a lamb or young goat, for each family which was slaughtered and eaten as part of the meal at the Seder. If the lamb or goat was more than enough for a family, several families, joined together to share in the meal. This could only take place within the city of Jerusalem, all the celebrants had to be in a state of ritual purity, and the males had to have been circumcised.
The Torah tells us that Passover is to be celebrated throughout the generations in the spring. (Ex. Ch. 23 V. 15). We are commanded to tell our children what transpired in Egypt ( Ex.Ch. 12. V. 26–27 et al) so long ago, to discuss and to instruct not only the children but also each and every one of us, of the Exodus from Egypt, our escape from slavery and about the miracles and wonders that happened there. The Divine direction of those events, and the beginnings, of the welding together of the Jewish people as a nation. The Haggadah says “Even if we are all wise, if we are all clever, if we are all old, and even if we are all learned in the
Torah, it would still be our duty to tell the story of the going out of Egypt”. We are commanded "And you shall relate to your children on that day" (Ex Ch. 13 V 8), and that is precisely what we do on the Seder Night. As we recite the Haggadah during the Seder, we relate and recount to, and discuss with, the children and all those present, the story
of our deliverance on the anniversary of the day the Exodus from Egypt occurred. If we examine what we say, we will uncover and unfold the whole story and purpose of the Jewish people, to serve God and obey His commandments, and thus to be a “Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation” (Ex Ch. 19.V. 6). And so thereby impart to the nations of the world the knowledge and acknowledgement of the Almighty as Creator and Regulator of the
Universe and everything that is in it. However, the Commandment does not tell us what to say, or how to say it. To help us, the Haggadah, was compiled by the Sages and Rabbis many years ago. It has been hallowed by recitation throughout the ages and has been accepted by all traditions as the means of "Telling The Story" which is indeed what the word Haggadah means. It contains many allusions, quotes from the Bible and Talmud, quotes from sources which are today unknown, prayers, blessings, instructions, children's songs and an altogether seeming hotchpotch through which we thread our way during the Seder.
Each concept indeed in some cases just a word in the Haggadah triggers an aspect of Jewish practice and philosophy in much the same way that a student's notes will remind him of a whole lecture. This interpretation of the Haggadah, in all trepidation and humility will endeavour to explain some of those allusions and try and reveal some of the concepts behind them. It does not pretend to be erudite but tries to explain in simple language my own understanding during its recitation of our past our present and perhaps our future. This joins those countless editions of the Haggadah and commentaries published throughout the centuries which help to enlighten us about our long history as a people and perhaps ourselves.
Hopefully this guide will strike a spark, take the reader further up the road of Jewish knowledge and study, and make Passover and the Seder even more meaningful.
Just one more word, although I have taken great care, no Halachic, that is Jewish law, inferences should be drawn from it. Any Halachic questions should be addressed to a competent Rabbinical authority.
Kafka once wrote in his journal: "You can hold yourself back from the sufferings of the world. That is something you are free to do and it accords with your nature. But perhaps this very holding back is the one suffering you could avoid."
The "you" that Kafka is addressing might be himself, or it might be each of us. But it also could be -- and here's the stunner -- the God of Exodus Himself. It accords with His...
Passover combines the celebration of an event from Jewish memory with a recognition of the cycles of nature. As we remember the liberation from Egypt, we also recognize the stirrings of spring and rebirth happening in the world around us. The symbols on our table bring together elements of both kinds of celebration.
We now take a vegetable, in this case parsely, to represent our joy at the dawning of spring after...
"Let All Who Are Hungry"
We are wired to give.
One of the worst feelings in the world is not being needed by others.
I once asked a group of high school kids: "When was the last time you felt really good about yourselves?" Each responded by sharing an act of kindness and selfless giving.
But a slave has nothing to offer. Drained of...
We will wash our hands twice during our seder: now, with no blessing, to get us ready for the rituals to come; and then again later, we’ll wash again with a blessing, preparing us for the meal.
Too often during our daily lives we don’t stop and take the moment to prepare for whatever it is we’re about to do. Let's pause as we wash our hands to consider what we hope to get out of our evening together.
After performing most of the central mitzvot of the evening (telling the story of the Exodus eating matza and maror, etc.) and just before we are about to enjoy the festive holiday meal, the haggadah structures a moment in which we symbolically repeat the practice of Hillel the Elder who would “wrap” his portion of the paschal offering with matza and maror and eat it as a type of sandwich, in literal fulfillment of...
Traditionally, The Four Sons/Daughters include a wise one, a wicked (or rebellious) one, a simple one and one who does not even know enough to ask. Each of the first three ask questions about the Seder, essentially "Explain all this to me - what are my responsibilities?" "What has all this nonsense you are babbling about got to do with me?" and "What IS all this anyway?" while the fourth is silent - requiring the adults...
Our tradition speaks of four children or four attitudes: the wise child, the wicked child, the simple child, and the one who does not know how to ask. Each child has a different reaction to hearing about slavery. . .
What does the wise child say? “What are the testimonies, the statutes, and the laws that apply to this situation? How are we to discern what God demands of us?” You are to answer...
Pesach is many things to many people. Its customs are familiar and can be viewed with many lenses. The symbols are universal and are subject to almost any reading: social justice, class, the Holocaust, Middle East politics, American politics, agriculture, the environment, the list is endless, and the proliferation of interpretations is evidence that this is fertile territory.
A few things – maybe only two –...
Following the framework of the Four Questions of the Passover haggadah, we ask four alternative questions for discussion. These questions are meant to spark conversations that can happen throughout the seder.
Read this narrative aloud and then discuss the question below.
“When I found out I got into the University, I immediately called...
The central imperative of the Seder is to tell the story. The Bible instructs: “ You shall tell your child on that day, saying: ‘This is because of what Adonai did for me when I came out of Egypt.' ” (Exodus 13:8) We relate the story of our ancestors to regain the memories as our own. Elie Weisel writes: God created man because He loves stories. We each have a story to tell — a story of enslavement, struggle,...
Once upon a time, during a famine our ancestor Jacob and his family fled to Egypt where food was plentiful. His son Joseph had risen to high position in Pharaoh’s court, and our people were well-respected and well-regarded, secure in the power structure of the time.
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At the end of the meal, we eat the Afikomen. This is the piece of the middle Matzah, which was broken in half and put away until now. Traditionally this has probably been "stolen" by somebody, most likely the youngest child and has to be “ransomed” because without it the Seder is unable to continue. The Master of the house will therefore, have to ‘bribe’ by a promise of a present to the...
We have now concluded the whole of the Seder celebration according to the regulations and precepts that have been laid down for us by our teachers. We have invited those who are needy to join us in our celebration. The children have asked why is this night different from all other nights. We have reviewed our history beginning with Laban who tried to stifle our faith almost at its...