Why is this Haggadah different?
More than any Jewish book of prayer or study written since the close of the Bible 2500
years ago, the Haggadah has resisted attempts to change its format or content.
The reasons are immediate and apparent to anyone who has enjoyed a Seder conducted
by someone who knew what they were doing. The impression that remains is indelible
and enriching beyond compare.
Seder night is a journey into another time and place. It is a swift glance at the darkest
night of the human soul and a lingering dance with liberty and freedom. It is a long play
with family and food and a short sharp reminder of the depths to which we may plummet
when the framework and fabric of our life decays.
The Journey, more a procession, wends its stately way through fifteen points of interest.
There are washing of hands and breaking of bread. There are stories and unfamiliar
foods. There are roles for children and playful songs for adults. There is wonder and
enchantment, heroes and wicked adversaries, stories of Revelation and Retribution. There
is even time to partake of a full Festival meal. There must be time, in my father's house;
the Seder took upwards of six hours.
If the Seder is an adventure, the Haggadah is Map, Guide, Directory and Vehicle.
What is it?
Well, the main event of Pesach (Passover) and Seder night is the Exodus from Egypt, the
miraculous birth and redemption of the Jewish People. One cannot be long in Recovery
without becoming increasingly aware how close are the ideas of Exodus and Recovery.
My understanding of the steps and process of Recovery has deepened my appreciation of
the Seder. Now my Seder blossoms in the light of Recovery.
The Seder is not simply a description of the Exodus. It is an opportunity to scrutinize the
real issue: Our slavery. We were slaves and now we are free.
So what then is freedom? Does it mean we may now do whatever we want?
If we try that route we will soon find ourselves back on the road into Egypt. Freedom is
not license. It is the absence of constraint and an awesome life-long struggle. We have
learned this lesson, painfully, again and again. For when we became habituated to any
self-destructive behavior we were no longer free. Furthermore, of all the destructive
patterns of behavior to seduce a person, a "bad habit" is the most difficult to kick.
Whether the habit is heroin, gambling or fixing people's lives. Whether it is self-denial,
fasting, smoking or looking through people's windows.
This then is what the Haggadah is about. Long before the 12 Steps were formalized,
enlightened people knew a Way. The Haggadah describes the Recovery process of an
entire people, hundreds of thousands, adults and children. The distilled essence of their
experience boils down to this:
They were powerless, they admitted it.
They came to believe in a Higher Power.
They turned their lives and will over to it.
EXODUS FROM SLAVERY
THE MEANING OF CHOMETZ
It is a very ancient custom (dating back to around 1300 B.C.E.) to begin preparing for
Pesach 30 days in advance.
We do this primarily by learning about Pesach and cleaning our dwelling houses and
other properties of all CHOMETZ (leavened foods).
On the evening before Pesach begins, we search by the light of a candle all the nooks and
crannies where conceivably Chometz may have been carried and forgotten. We remove
all cooking pots, crockery and cutlery that have been used throughout the year and
prepare food for Pesach using Pesach foodstuffs and utensils.
The climax of all this frenetic activity is the Seder Night when we join with our families
and enjoy the ritual and tradition of the festival itself.
For those of us familiar with the Twelve Steps and terminology of Recovery, the essence
of our preparations for Pesach are a thorough First Step. Wherein we examine in great
detail all the manifestations of the disease and all the forms which it may be taking
control of our lives.
What is Chometz (leavening)? Technically, it is the action of particular enzymes in the
flour which are activated only by the presence of water. It is what transforms a lump of
pasta into the fluffy aerated palatable staple we know as dough which bakes into bread
No one in their right mind would sit down to a meal of raw yeast. It may indeed be the
secret, the essence of the goodness of bread. The fact that yeast makes the dough rise and
taste good, is not a reason to make a meal of it. Gorging on yeast or sour dough would
make anyone very ill. This has been our experience who have gorged ourselves on
"yeast". We have been used to abuse something or someone in our lives. A relationship
that might have been nourishing in the right circumstances or proportions has turned
toxic because we are extreme. We have lost the balance of sufficiency and health. We are
incapable of controlling the manner or frequency of our obsession or the nature of our
The First Step is an admission of powerlessness and recognition of the unmanageability
of our lives. Strangely though, the longer we work at recovery the trickier and subtler
grow the craziness’s. Here is an example: Once there was a man who vowed to himself
that he would have the perfectly Pesach-cleaned house. Towards the end of the winter he
began in the attic, and working his way downwards, took the house apart stick by stick.
Three weeks before Pesach there was no bread or Chometz in the house. People entering
had to examine their clothing and pockets for crumbs, wiping their shoes on a special
mat. He was satisfied that the house was completely free of Chometz, he had so to speak
achieved a spiritual Asepsis. He sat down to enjoy his Seder with a clear mind.
Now a bird flew over the house with a biscuit in its mouth. The biscuit fell down the
chimney into the soup cooking over the fire and appeared in the man's plate as he was
about to eat. He was horrified and aghast. He looked for a reason to explain this obvious
We in the Program do not have to look far for an explanation. The man was obviously a
control freak. His whole Pesach was the antithesis of surrender. The reality is that we are
powerless even over such a relatively simple thing as cleaning for Pesach.
Unless we receive the help of a Higher Power we are doomed to struggle in vain. If we
find the task of cleaning for Pesach daunting it is because we are supposed to find it so.
None of us has achieved a clear picture of the nature of our disease without
simultaneously being overwhelmed at the task of Recovery. That is why the Second Step
follows the first full recognition: A power greater than ourselves.
In the history of the creation described in the Book of Genesis the unfolding of evolution
is depicted over a series of six days beginning with the creation of Light. Each days
progress is accompanied with the comment "And the Creator saw that it was good".
Upon completion of the sixth day of creation, it is observed "And behold it was very
good". The Talmud asks "What happened on the six day that merited the superlative
description Very good?"
The answer says the Talmud is this: There was an addition of a certain ingredient to the
stew of creation, meriting that title. A final magic ingredient, the yeast that makes the
dough rise. Sometimes we call it the Evil Inclination, sometimes we refer to it as Satan,
sometimes we refer to it as the Angel of Death. It makes the world "Very Good".
This concept that the impulse to indulge our desires for comfort, sex and prestige is the
source of all that is excellent in the Universe is thematic through Rabbinical literature.
The disease model of addiction simply examines the effects of these desires when they
have become ruling passions. Another theme that runs through the literature is the
reference to the Evil Inclination as the yeast in the dough.
The full realization of how we have turned our lives into problems through the
misappropriation, as it were, of funds must be clear to us before we can recover.
In order to keep it simple let us explore those three areas of lives where ancient sages and
modern scholars agree we need to look.
Step four in the "Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions of AA" contains the following
"If men and women didn't exert themselves to be secure in their persons, made no effort
to harvest food or construct shelter there would be no survival. If they didn't reproduce,
the earth wouldn't be populated. If there were no social instinct, if men cared nothing for
the society of one another, there would be no society.
So these desires - for sex relations, for material and emotional security and for
companionship - are perfectly necessary and right, and surely G-D-given. Yet these
instincts, so necessary for our existence, often far exceed their proper functions.
Powerfully, blindly, many times subtly, they drive us, dominate us, and insist upon ruling
our lives. Our desires for sex, for material and emotional security, and for an important
place in society often tyrannize us. When thus out of joint, man's natural desires cause
him great trouble, practically all the trouble there is".
Compare the above with a much older quote, dating back around 150 C.E. Rabbi Eliezer
is quoted in the Mishna as saying;
"Envy, greed and pride take a man out of the world".
It is clear that the Evil Inclination hasn't managed since the dawn of time to invent even
one simple human pleasure. This stands at the crux of our understanding. Good and Evil
are not the same as right and wrong.
Now can we apply all this knowledge to the cleaning of the house before Pesach?
Can we see it as the opportunity to survey our possessions and take stock of every single
item in our lives. Can we bear to scrutinize them clearly and plainly? Ask ourselves how
we are meeting our basic human needs? Are we obtaining our supplies in a spiritual way?
Are we now living the excellence?
We will be in difficulty if we try arriving at a clear consensus of the meaning of
Spirituality. Though there are no perfect definitions of the word, certain aspects though
are self-explanatory. Spirit means breath, the stuff of life. Whatever is dead cannot be
spiritual. The more we celebrate the life we enjoy, the more we live inside our bodies in
the here and now the more we are reaching towards a spiritual existence. For many of us,
simply dwelling inside our skin has been the most difficult task in Recovery.
Preparations for the Seder have two distinct parts:
I. CLEANING HOUSE
As with all the rituals of Pesach (Passover) and the Seder, every little detail can be
examined and worked until it blossoms and sparkles. And so we will see, even the
mundane task of ridding the house of Chometz (leavened food) brings us an acute
awareness of the following shortcomings.
A. Our Denial of the prevalence of Chometz.
B. Our Procrastination over the jobs that need tackling.
C. Our powerlessness over the final outcome.
D. Our Perfectionism in setting standards we can't meet.
In order to Clean House properly for Pesach we have in some way to take the following
A. Break through our denial and become aware.
B. Confront procrastination and take action.
C. Admit powerlessness and surrender.
D. Abandon perfectionism and humbly accept our limits.
II. CREATING ORDER
The Hebrew word "Seder" has only one translation. It means "ORDER". To celebrate the
festival properly a good deal of attention must be paid to PEOPLE, PLACES AND
THINGS and a definite framework built around them.
A. PEOPLE - No one celebrates Seder on their own voluntarily. But the Seder is not
an impromptu party. The Seder should be enjoyed with loved ones and shared
with guests. In preparing for the Seder it is important to know who will be joining
B. PLACES - The Seder requires a table, chairs, kitchen, space. In short, we need a
place to call home. For many of us, this Seder will be an opportunity to take a
fresh look at our environment and its ambiance. Most of us have a comfortable
dwelling place, perhaps even luxurious. The Seder, however, doesn't take place in
a garden or a bedroom or a study. It is a place for the gathering of family and
friends where other standards apply.
C. THINGS - The Seder is a pageant of music, stories and symbols. There are
symbols of all descriptions from white linen and candles to books and
pillowcases. The majority of "props" are the items of food eaten at the Seder. All
this requires logistics that may take weeks of organizing. The Seder is lavish and
rich in detail.
PREFACE AND ABOUT THIS ANONYMOUS HAGGADAH
Because of undeniable and inalienable Rights to a Higher Power of my own
Because the Right to a Higher Power of my own understanding is total and without any
exceptions, I have not used the word "G-D" in this Haggadah. For me it carries baggage,
has connotations and brings associations which would deny me the right of free
Instead I have used the Hebrew word (translit.) HASHEM which means "The Name". I
know of no one who has written explaining its meaning. It is strangely, without millennia
of Linguistic and Philosophical impedimenta. No one has written a scholarly treatise on
the meaning of the word HASHEM. You may use whatever name you have for your
Higher Power. For me the name changes as my knowledge changes, even as my mood
"Hashem" seems the least tyrannical of all choices in the circumstances.
If I have referred to Hashem as "Him" it is only because I find "Her" equally arbitrary,
"It" inappropriate, and I am still hopelessly bound by literary convention and too timid to
invent something new.
It is interesting to note that the Haggadah does not mention Moshe (Moses) who was
central in the dramatic events described in the Exodus from Egypt.
The reason is pointedly an application of the fundamental rule of "principles before
personalities". Whilst Moshe may have been the most important person to carry the
message to us, we slaves in Egypt were the real cause of events. We mattered in ways
that Moshe didn't.
We were the people in trouble, enslaved and in need. The Haggadah reminds us that we
did not embark upon the EXODUS brimming with goodwill and fellowship. We were
physically, emotionally and spiritually bankrupt. All of us (excepting perhaps a few
women), were totally enmeshed in the spiraling insanity of life in Egypt. This then is the
story of our Recovery. The principles that become apparent through the story and rituals
of Seder Night are germane to our life tonight.
Moshe our teacher is not Author. Who then is the Author of the Haggadah?
There is another anonymous character whose presence pervades the Seder. If you both
should chance to meet, consider yourself fortunate. But remember what was said: “You
may say YOU were there, but you may not say whom you met there. You may repeat
what you heard there without attaching names to it. "
Knowing our selves as well as we do, and our penchant for evading the obvious
opportunity to self-examine. It is also fairly certain that any mention of Moshe would
have been the launching point for innumerable anecdotes and commentaries about his
role. We try and keep the focus on ourselves where it belongs.
THE FOUR CUPS OF WINE
One of the main symbols of the Seder, the four cups of wine, corresponds to the four
words for redemption mentioned in the Torah as it is written:
And I brought you out.
And I saved you.
And I redeemed you.
And I took you.
(There is a fifth term hence a fifth cup, but this by tradition refers to the future
And I brought you.
There are four characteristics we seem to have in common:
I think I'm bad, defective, worthless.
I'm afraid, should you ever discover who I really am, you must reject me.
No one but I myself can meet my needs.
My greatest need is for escape, ease, comfort, prestige, sex, etc.
To counter these delusions requires time and recovery. We allude to them in the process
of drinking the four cups.
1. The first we drink after Kiddush whose message is clear.
Hashem wanted us. He still wants us. He chose to bring us out of Egypt. We are
not bad or worthless.
2. The second cup we drink after telling the Haggadah which is the description of
the worst side of our character and personality. Even knowing that we were idol
worshipers, Hashem chose to embrace rather than reject us.
3. The third we drink after eating the holiday meal which symbolizes the satisfaction
of our needs, for companionship, food, for a place to belong, etc.
4. The fourth cup we drink after Hallel "Praise" when we sing Hashem's praises and
our wonderment at His unconditional love for us. It is this love which is our
So the four cups represent the four realities:
We are perfect just the way we are, and right where we're supposed to be.
We can be known intimately, totally and still be accepted.
We can and will have our needs met by others.
We are loved unconditionally, and this is our greatest need.
The fifth cup reminds us that we are never completely cured and we are always in the
process. Only after the end of time as we know it will we be recovered. So we pour it but
do not drink it. This is the cup of ELIYAHU the prophet whose arrival we anticipate.
There is a difference in custom as to when this fifth cup for ELIYAHU is poured. There
are those who pour it before the Ma-Nishtana when we pour the second cup. Indicating
that we feel secure knowing that no matter what we have done, at the end of time when a
final reckoning is made and all about ourselves is revealed, we will still not be rejected
by the Almighty.
The other custom is to pour this fifth cup before Hallel when we pour the fourth cup. This
reminds us that even when Recovery is achieved our greatest need will still be the need to
be loved unconditionally. Even when Moshiach comes it will be to teach us how to open
our hearts to those who are close to us and love them in the way that Hashem loves. As it
"Behold I send you Eliyahu the prophet before the coming of that Great and Awesome
day. And he will reconcile the hearts of fathers to sons and the hearts of sons to their
Before the Seder begins we prepare a dish of chopped fruit and nuts. (Symbolizing the
mortar we used building Pharaoh's cities in Egypt). This is the Charoses into which we
dip the bitter herb before eating it. Its main ingredients are Apple, Walnuts, Cinnamon
I. The Apple is our symbol for LOVE the main ingredient in the Charoses. When
Egyptians saw Jews multiplying, in spite of Draconian programs aimed at
controlling Jewish birth rate. They tried preventing men and women getting
together; by so arranging work-shifts and timetables that married couples would
never have time alone together. Jewish Women took the initiative. Acting in concert
they packed lunches for their husbands and went down to their work places on the
building sites. When the men were allowed to stop for a break, their wives led them
into nearby fields to enjoy privacy. When Hashem saw their intent, He caused apple
orchards to spring up wherever couples went to picnic. And in those orchards the
Jewish people was conceived as it is written (Song of Songs): "Beneath the Apple
tree I aroused you. There your mother birthed you, where she herself was born".
The playful nature of their lovemaking is also considered important by the Rabbis
in an appreciation of that epoch. A romantic interlude described in the Midrash
vignettes a scene:
The couples are seated beneath the apple tree, in the privacy afforded by its
drooping, blossom-laden branches. He has enjoyed the food she prepared. She takes
the cosmetics from her reticule and begins to "make" her face. Looking at herself in
the mirror she remarks to her husband: "Which of us is more beautiful, do you
think?" He leans closer to peer at his face beside her in the mirror....
(Those very mirrors the women used when applying cosmetics, were given an
elevated status in the Temple Building Fund towards which they were later donated.
Moses was instructed to take and cast them into the Great Copper Laver from which
the priests drew water to prepare their hands and feet before services in the
This little story has meanings on many levels of scholarship. In order to fully
appreciate its significance, know that the reference to the birth of the mother in the
verse from Song of Songs, alluded to a Cabalistic principle known as "The Field of
Holy Apples" or the Shechina, the dwelling presence of the Creator. That spot in the
Temple where the Presence of Hashem was seen in fire, crouching like a lion, was
known as the Apple.
When Hashem told Avraham our forefather that we his descendants would be
slaves in Egypt for 400 years, Hashem promised not to forsake us. Even assuring
Avraham that He Hashem would go into exile with us. This then was the Field of
Holy Apples where we were conceived, The Shechina.
The apple is bound up with the prime number 5 and the Hebrew letter HEH. The
number of seeds in the apple is 5. The number of bumps on the bottom of the apple
are 5. So its shape and associations, e.g. the way the seed is suspended in womblike
cells where decomposition must precede germination all have added to the layers of
meaning evoked by this symbol.
II. The walnut is notorious for its "Klipah", its shells. Before we can get at the kernel
we must strip away layer upon layer of defenses. The walnut symbolically is almost
an analogy of the world. It has four different layers of Protection:
(1) Dishonesty and self-deception,
(2) close-mindedness and blind prejudice,
(3) unwillingness and inertia,
(4) the fog and clouds of habit and history.
All of them have to go before we move forward. As we strive to change, the masks and
armor fall away and we reach a clear perception of ourselves. The walnut is a paradigm
of suppression, representing all the manifold efforts of dishonesty to prevent us seeing
ourselves as we really are. The walnut is bound up with the prime number 17 which is
also the value of the Hebrew word for SIN. It describes an arrow shot wide of the mark,
and represents the natural world severed from all its spiritual connections. The raw
material of our bodies, the tools with which we strive to serve the Spirit of Hashem's will
In the description of a soul surveying its body at the end of a lifetime, searching for assets
to salvage from the wreckage of the past, it is written (Song of Songs), "I went down to
the grove of walnuts to Look and See..." The Kabbalists saw in the shape of the walnut
many interesting things. The Kernel is reminiscent of the brain, with its convolutions and
striations. But whereas our brains have two lobes the walnut has four lobes. The universe,
according to the Kabbalists has four "lobes". The walnut has been used to imitate
symbols from the "Celestial Chariot" of Ezekiel, to the concept of Adam and Eve in the
Garden of Eden.
III. We add cinnamon to the Charoses. In its natural, stick form it resembles straw, which
was so necessary to the manufacture of bricks in ancient times. It is bound up with the
prime number seven, whose significance is a well known aspect of Judaism.
IV. The final ingredient is wine, the juice of the grape. (The ethyl alcohol manufactured
in the process of fermentation is but a tiny aspect of wine's multifaceted symbolism, and
its role in Judaism.) The grape has been chosen to represent the powers of the mind, the
capability for thought and faith, prayer and meditation. Wine represents the fulfillment of
that promise, the conscious contact with Hashem and the knowledge of His will for us.
Wine is a symbol for Prophecy which is the ultimate conscious contact where awareness
has been reciprocated.
The symbolism was acquired by the grape as a poetic expression of a mundane
phenomenon. The mysterious action (of airborne bacteria) which causes the fermentation
of the grape into wine, almost an analogy of the process of human thought. The
fermentation action with its vigorous bubbling, its transformation into "spirit" and its
spontaneous enhancement, simulates the thought process that occurs in our own mind
when ideas ferment, solidify and crystallize.
The Union of Man with Hashem was a state of mind, much sought by the prophets and
the school of Jewish Meditation. It was always preceded by joy and gratitude which were
prerequisites to the prophetic state. So the grape also came to symbolize joy and
gratitude. The only state that is elevated beyond the heights of prophetic communion are
those moments when we feel Love as it is written (Song of Songs): "But Your Love is
better than wine".
The Seder begins with a Benediction Sanctifying the Day. A declaration of a Yom Tov. It
has a standard form, Kiddush.
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