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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.
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.
Why do we wash our hands all the time?
This washing, even though it is an official task of the Seder, is done without a blessing. It is strictly for cleanliness purposes. And why not? We're about to handle food. It seems so easy for us. We turn on the tap, and there it is. But water is scarce. May we be aware of our water as we continue the Seder.
The blessings: Blessed are You, Lord, our God, sovereign of the universe, who creates the fruit of the earth. Ba-ruch ata Adonai, Elo-hei-nu melech ha-olam, Bo-rei pree ha-ada-ma.
Salt water represents our tears as slaves in Egypt. In my bereavement, as time goes by, what are still the sources of my tears? What still makes me cry? Is there anything that still enslaves me to my tears? The karpas, the spring vegetable, represents renewal that comes in the spring-time. As I move from grief and mourning back into a full and renewed life what is yet growing in me and what comes alive in me again?
The matza represents brokenness. As the matza is broken in half, the broken piece is set aside for the afikoman, which when found toward the end of the seder, symbolizes renewed wholeness and redemption. In my broken-heartedness, have there been paths of healing form me? in my brokenness, have I found places of greater strength within me? Am I moving back towards a new kind of wholeness?