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 helpus, 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.
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