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Haggadah Section: Commentary / Readings

In the following section of the Haggadah, a text from the Torah found in Deuteronomy is analyzed in detail, giving a more complete picture of the threat to the Children of Israel and their redemption through Divine intervention. For each phrase, the rabbis brought in an additional proof text based on other sections of the Bible.  

NJOP's Beginners Haggadah takes explores the deeper elements of this section:

Who was Laban?
Laban was Jacob’s father-in-law, the father of both Rachel and Leah. When Jacob left his parents’ household, he went to his Uncle Laban, in Padan-Aram -- thus Laban is called an Aramean. Laban was a cheater and a thief -- accumulating wealth was his obsession. When Jacob wanted to marry Rachel, Laban indentured him for seven years, and then switched Rachel and Leah. When Jacob discovered the treachery the next day, Laban allowed him to marry Rachel as well, but at the price of another 7 years of labor. When Jacob and his family decided to leave Padan Aram after 20 years of working for Laban, his father-in-law was greatly angered, yet feigned being hurt by Jacob’s desire to take away his grandchildren (when all he really  wanted was Jacob’s wealth). The Haggadah mentions Laban before describing the Jewish enslavement and redemption in order to  underscore the cycle of history. Laban sought to use Jacob for his own purposes, to keep him in Padan-Aram for his own benefit, with false words. So too, Jacob’s descendents were lulled by kind words into a false sense of security in Egypt.

Into Slavery
One might question the swift descent of the Jewish nation from the esteemed family of the Viceroy (Joseph) to abject slavery. Xenophobia, the fear of foreigners, is a common historic phenomenon. One would think, however, that transforming a nation into slaves would take generations or cause an uprising. The Sages teach that the Egyptians were cunning and enslaved the Jews through artifice. This is understood from the Hebrew term used in the Bible to describe the rigorous work: pherach which can be broken up to mean peh rah, meaning evil speech, and can also be understood to relate to peh rach, soft, gentle speech.

Language is a powerful tool, and Pharaoh well understood this. When he decided to enslave the Jews, he declared a national labor week in which all loyal citizens were expected to participate in order to help build the great store cities of Pithom and Ramses, with Pharaoh himself in the lead. The Jews, wanting to show their devotion to their host country, joined enthusiastically. The next day, however, the Jews came, but the Egyptians did not return. Shortly there-after, the Jews found themselves surrounded by taskmasters who demanded that they produce the same amount of work that they had done as volunteers the day before. It was through soft, gentle and cunning words that Pharaoh lured the Jews into slavery.

National Jewish Outreach Program's Beginners' Haggadah

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