Marvin Gold is one of the members of our weekly Chumash learning group.
This is dedicated to the memory of his wife Fanny Gold a”h, whose fifth yahrzeit is being observed this week. Fanny was born in Belgium to Holocaust survivors. As an adult she was a dedicated mother and wife and even more caring grandmother, until cancer caused her premature death two months before her 69th birthday. In this season of recalling our national suffering and then redemption, she is remembered with love by her husband; her children Chaim and Reva; and her grandchildren Jack, Stephanie, and Loren.
A Passover Compendium—2019
Passover Guide for the Perplexed
Ambassador (ret.) Yoram Ettinger
I. The Passover legacy constitutes the foundation of Judaism and is therefore included in most Jewish blessings ("in memory of the Exodus”). Passover symbolizes the rejuvenation of nature and mankind, spiritually and physically, individually and collectively/nationally. Passover stipulates that human rejuvenation – just like the rejuvenation of nature - must be driven by memory/history/roots. Therefore, parents are instructed to educate their children about the lessons of Passover. Passover was an early – and much more successful edition of the (19th century) Spring of Nations. It is celebrated in the spring, the bud of nature. The biblical scroll of Song of Songs, which highlights spring, is read during Passover. Spring, Aviv in Hebrew (אביב) consists of two Hebrew words: Father – אב - of 12 – יב – months/tribes. Spring is mentioned 3 times in the Torah, all about the Exodus. Passover – which commemorates the creation of the Jewish nation – lasts seven days, just like the creation of the universe.
II. Passover is the oldest Jewish national liberation holiday, highlighting the comprehensive nature of Judaism:
Language and history
Passover underlines the centrality of spiritual, physical, individual and national liberty and optimism. It plays a critical role in preserving Judaism, Jews and the yearning to reconstruct the Jewish Homeland during the super-challenging 40 years in the desert and the 2,500 years of exiles, destruction, pogroms, the Holocaust, wars and terrorism.
Passover – the role model of faith, education, morality, responsibility and governance-driven liberty – interacts with Shavou'ot/Pentecost - the role model of morality. Liberty and morality are mutually-inclusive. The interdependence of liberty and morality distinguishes Western democracies from rogue regimes – a clash of civilizations. The theme of liberty guided the Early Pilgrims and the Founding Fathers of the USA. Liberty was doubly appreciated in the aftermath of the 210-year-slavery of the Jewish people in Egypt. The strategic goal of the Passover concept of liberty was not revenge, nor imperialistic, nor subordination of the Egyptian people, but the enshrining of communal/collective liberty throughout humanity.
The essence of Biblical liberty is to contribute to-- rather than take from -- the community. Liberty is not a mere privilege; it is, primarily, a commitment undertaken by the individual. Instead of the classic form of slavery, liberty means the enslavement of the individual to collective responsibility – which entails obligations - and not to idleness, personal desires and whims.
The Hebrew word for “liberty” (Kheroot, חירות) is closely linked to the Hebrew word for “responsibility” (Akhrayoot, אחריות) which highlights the significance of liberty, as was underlined during the 40-year trial-and-error wandering in the desert. The intimate connection between liberty and responsibility leads people to accept – and not to be free of – communal/collective responsibility, in compliance with morality, rather than pursuing selfish desires, which could lead to anarchy.
Mosaic liberty (חירות) is also associated with the Hebrew word for “inscribed” (Kharoot, חרות) which refers, in Exodus 32:16, to eternal inscription, just like the Ten Commandments were inscribed in stone. One is instructed to retain and spread the lessons of the bondage in Egypt -- through education -- to fully appreciate liberty.
The Hebrew spelling of “responsibility” (אחריות) starts with the words “follow me” (אחרי), which behooves responsible individuals to assume leadership in advancing liberty. The Hebrew spelling of “responsibility” starts with the first letter of the alphabet (א), ending with the last letter (ת), attesting to the all-encompassing – not partial - nature of responsibility.
Moses, the hero of Passover, has been a role model of effective leadership, highlighting humility, faith, principle and endurance-driven leadership, along with human fallibility. Moses' name is mentioned only once in the Passover Haggadah, as a servant of God, a testimony to his humility. The only compliment bestowed upon Moses, by the Torah, is "The humblest of all human beings.”
"Since the Exodus, freedom has always spoken with a Hebrew accent” according to Heinrich Heine, the 19th century German poet.
III. The Exodus is mentioned 50 times in the Five Books of Moses, equal to the 50 years of the Jubilee - the Biblical symbol of liberty – which is featured on the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The bell was installed in 1751 – the 50th anniversary of William Penn’s Charter of Privileges: “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land, unto all the inhabitants thereof (Leviticus, 25:10).” Moses received the Torah - which includes 50 gates of wisdom - 50 days following the Exodus, as celebrated by the Shavou'ot/Pentecost Holiday. There are 50 States in the United States, whose Hebrew name is ארצות הברית = the States of the Covenant. And, in the US there are 50 towns and cities named JerUSAlem (18) and Salem (32; the original Biblical name of JerUSAlem).
IV. The Exodus has been an integral part of the American story since the landing of the Early Pilgrims in the 17th century. They considered themselves “the people of the modern-day Exodus,” who…
Departed from “the modern-day Egypt” (Britain)
Rebelled against “the modern-day Pharaoh,” (King James I and King Charles I)
Crossed “the modern-day Red Sea” (the Atlantic Ocean)
Headed toward “the modern day Promised Land” (America).
Hence, the abundance of US sites bearing Biblical names, such as JerUSAlem, Salem, Bethel, Shiloh, Ephrata’, Tekoa’, Bethlehem, Moriah, Zion, etc.
Thomas Paine’s Common Sense – “the cement of the Revolution” - referred to King George as “the hardened, sullen-tempered Pharaoh of England.” John Adams and Thomas Jefferson – the 2nd and 3rd US presidents - and Benjamin Franklin, proposed the Parting of the Sea as the official US seal. The proposal was tabled, but the chosen seal features thirteen stars (colonies), above the Eagle, in the shape of a Star of David. Ezra Stiles, the President of Yale University – which features on its shield “Urim and Thummim,” the power of the High Priest during the Exodus - stated on May 8, 1873: “Moses, the man of God, assembled three million people, the number of people in America in 1776.”
In 1850, Harriet Tubman’s (“Mama Moses”) “Underground Railroad” leveraged Moses’ “Let my people go,” paving the road to an Exodus of Black slaves. Paul Robeson and Louis Armstrong enhanced its popularity through the lyrics: “When Israel was in Egypt’s land, let my people go! Oppressed so hard they could not stand, let my people go! Go down Moses, way down in Egypt’s land; tell old Pharaoh to let my people go….!” On December 11, 1964, upon accepting the Nobel Prize, Martin Luther King, Jr., “the Moses of his age”, said: “The Bible tells the thrilling story of how Moses stood in Pharaoh’s court centuries ago and cried, ‘Let my people go!’”
In 1775, the president of Harvard University, Samuel Langdon, said that "the Jewish government [that God handed down to Moses] was a perfect republic.” The root of the term Federalism is "Foedus," the Latin word for "The Covenant." The Founding Fathers studied the political structure of the semi-independent 12 Tribes (the colonies), which were governed by tribal presidents (the governors) and by Moses (the Executive), Aaron (the Judiciary) and the 70 Elders (the Legislature). George Washington and John Adams, the first and second presidents, were compared to Moses and Joshua. Washington was eulogized as Moses and Virginia was compared to Goshen.
Yale University President, Ezra Stiles stated on May 8, 1783: "Moses, the man of God, assembled three million people – the number of people in America in 1776."
"Let my people go" and "Go down Moses” became the pillar of fire for the Abolitionists. "Proclaim liberty throughout all the Land unto all the Inhabitants thereof” (Leviticus 25:10) is inscribed on the Liberty Bell. The Statue of Liberty highlights a Moses-like tablet. The biography of Harriet Tubman, who dedicated her life to freeing other slaves, is called The Moses of Her People. Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of Uncle Tom's Cabin, was motivated by the laws of Moses, which condemn slavery. She promoted the teaching of Hebrew. Martin Luther King was considered the Moses of his age.
Daniel Boone, the famous frontiersman, was known as "The Moses of the West.”
A statue of Moses…
Stares at the Speaker of the House of Representatives
Towers above the Supreme Court Justices (in addition to seven additional Moses statues in the Supreme Court Building)
Is featured (along with a statue of Maimonides and 21 additional Law Givers) in the US House of Representatives Rayburn Building subway station
Is found in the Main Reading Room of the Library of Congress
Ten Commandment monuments were erected on the grounds of the Texas and the Oklahoma State Capitols. Cecile DeMille's hit movie, The Ten Commandments, promoted US liberty, morality and the freedom of religion and expression, in contrast to Soviet oppression.
Theodore White wrote in The Making of the President: "It is as if Kennedy, a younger Moses, had led an elderly Joshua [LBJ] to the height of Mount Nebo…and there shown him the Promised Land which he himself would never entering but which Joshua would make his own.”
V. Passover highlights the central role of women:
Yocheved, Moses’ mother, hid Moses and then breastfed him at the palace of Pharaoh, posing as a nursemaid
Miriam, Moses’ older sister, was her brother’s keeper
Batyah, the daughter of Pharaoh saved and adopted Moses
Shifrah and Pou’ah, two midwives, risked their lives, sparing the lives of Jewish male babies, in violation of Pharaoh’s command
Tziporah, Moses’ wife, saved the life of Moses and set him back on the Jewish course
Throughout our history, many women followed in the footsteps of Sarah, Rebecca, Leah and Rachel, the Matriarchs who engineered, in many respects, the roadmap of the Patriarchs
VI. Passover (פסח) highlights the fact that the Jewish People were passed-over (פסח) by the angel of death, in defiance of conventional wisdom. Non-normative disasters have characterized Jewish history ever since slavery in Egypt and the Exodus:
The destruction of the two Temples
Daily Arab/Muslim terrorism and wars, etc.
The 1948 re-establishment of Jewish sovereignty – against global, regional, economic and military odds - constituted a modern-day Exodus and Parting of the Sea. Principle-driven tenacious defiance of the odds is a prerequisite to Jewish deliverance in 2018, as it was during The Exodus some 3,450 years ago.
VII. Passover's centrality in Judaism is highlighted by the first of the Ten Commandments: "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery." The Passover ethos is included in daily Jewish prayers, Sabbath and holiday prayers, the blessing over the wine, and the blessing upon circumcision, the prayer fixed in the Mezuzah (doorpost) and in the annual family retelling of the Exodus on the eve of Passover. Passover symbolizes the unity of - and interdependence between - the People of Israel, the Torah of Israel and the Land of Israel. In Hebrew, Israel (ישראל) means "overcoming” (Jacob was named Israel because he wrestled and overcame the angel) and it is the acronym of the Jewish Patriarchs (אברהם, יצחק, יעקב) and Matriarchs (שרה, רבקה, רחל, לאה).
VIII. “In each generation, every individual must consider himself as if he/she personally participated in the Exodus from Egypt” according to Rabbi Gamliel, Head of the Sanhedrin, mid-first century.
Former Israeli President, Ezer Weizman stated that “Only 150 generations passed from the Pillar of Fire of the Exodus from Egypt to the pillars of smoke from the Holocaust. And I, a descendant of Abraham, born in Abraham's country, have witnessed them all. I was a slave in Egypt. I received the Torah at Mount Sinai. Together with Joshua and Elijah, I crossed the Jordan River. I entered Jerusalem with David, was exiled from it with Zedekiah, and did not forget it by the rivers of Babylon. When the Lord returned the captives of Zion, I dreamed among the builders of its ramparts. I fought the Romans and was banished from Spain. I was bound to the stake in Mainz. I studied Torah in Yemen and lost my family in Kishinev. I was incinerated in Treblinka, rebelled in Warsaw and migrated to the Land of Israel, the country whence I had been exiled and where I had been born, from which I come and to which I return…. And, like our forefather King David who purchased the Temple Mount, and our patriarch Abraham who bought the [Hebron] Cave of Machpelah, we bought land, we sowed fields, we planted vineyards, we built houses, and even before we achieved statehood, we were already bearing weapons to protect our lives…” (German Bundestag, January 16, 1996).
The ancient Jewish yearning, "Next Year in the rebuilt(re-unified) JerUSAlem" concludes the annual reciting of the Haggadah, the Passover saga. It reaffirms the ancient Jewish commitment to build homes all over Jerusalem, the 3,300-year-old indivisible capital of the Jewish people.
IX. Passover is celebrated on the 15th day of the Jewish month of Nissan ניסן – the first month of the Biblical Jewish year, and the introduction of natural and national spring (Nitzan is the Babylonian word for spring and the Hebrew word for bud). Nissan (Ness - נס is miracle in Hebrew) is the month of miracles including:
The Parting of the Reed Sea
The entry into the Promised Land (the 10th day of Nissan)
Jacob wrestling the Angel
Deborah's victory over Sisera
Daniel in the Lion's Den
The birth of the Jewish people was through non-normative, miraculous events, shaping the positive, non-normative nature of Jewish history. If the Jewish people were normative, there would not be any Jews left following the litany of catastrophes, which have afflicted the Jewish people since inception.
The 15th day of any Jewish month features a full moon, which stands for optimism – the secret Jewish weapon - in defiance of darkness. It links with…
15 parts of the Haggadah (the Passover saga)
15 generations between Abraham's message of monotheism and Solomon's construction of the first Temple
15 words of the ancient blessing by the Priests (recited until today by parents, blessing their children)
15th day of the Jewish month of Shvat, Arbor Day – the "Exodus" of vegetation
The Hebrew value of 15 corresponds to two Hebrew letters which are the acronym of God – י and ה.
X. Passover has four names:
The holiday of Pesach (פסח "Passed-over” and "sacrifice” in Hebrew)
The holiday of liberty (חירות)
The holiday of Matzah (מצה)
The holiday of spring (אביב)
The number 4 features in the Passover Saga representing…
o The four women who shaped the life of Moses (Batyah – Pharaoh's daughter, his savior; Yocheved - his mother; Miriam - his sister; and Zipporah – Jethro's daughter, his wife)
o Joseph's four enslavements- twice to the Midianties, once to the Ishmaelites and once in Egypt
o The 4 times that the word "cup” was mentioned by Pharaoh's jailed wine-butler when recounting his dream to Joseph
o The 4 sons (human characters) of the Haggadah
o The 4 glasses of wine drunk on the eve of Passover
o The 4 questions asked on the eve of Passover
o The 4 stages of the divine deliverance from Egyptian bondage
Passover is the first of three Jewish pilgrimages, followed by Shavou'ot (Pentecost), which commemorates the receipt of the Ten Commandments, and Sukkot (Tabernacles), and named after Sukkoth - the first stop in the Exodus.
XI. The Exodus took place in the second half of the 15th century BCE, during the reign of Egypt’s Amenhotep II, according to the late Prof. Yehudah Elitzur, one of Israel’s pioneers of Biblical research. The 40-year national coalescing of the Jewish people -- while wandering in the desert -- took place when Egypt was ruled by Thutmose IV.
Joshua conquered Canaan when Egypt was ruled by Amenhotep III and Amenhotep IV, who were preoccupied with domestic affairs, refraining from expansionist operations. Moreover, letters which were discovered in Tel el Amarna, the capital city of ancient Egypt, documented that the 14th century BCE Pharaoh, Amenhotep IV, was informed by the rulers of Jerusalem, Samaria and other parts of Canaan, about a military offensive launched by the “Habirus” (Hebrews and other Semitic tribes), which corresponded to the timing of Joshua’s offensive against the same rulers.
Amenhotep IV was a determined reformer, who introduced monotheism, possibly influenced by the ground-breaking and game-changing Exodus.
Further documentation of the Exodus is provided by Dr. Joshua Berman of Bar Ilan University.
The Torah commands us to remove chametz (leavened grain products) from our midst for the seven days of Pesach before we eat matzah.
Chametz represents Egypt and its fancy well-known breads and its societal arrogance (inflated self-view). It is this representation of Egyptian culture and behavior that we reject and distance ourselves from during the holiday. It is the puffing oneself in haughtiness and the evil inclinations that we seek to eliminate. The spring rebirthing period provides us with the opportunity to “clean (our internal) house”. Rabbi Norman Lamm adds that matzah, which is to be eaten as a broken piece, is a “symbol of iconoclasm or the breaking of the idols of our time”.
In Hebrew, both words contain the letters Mem and Tzadi. But chametz begins with a Chet and Matzah ends with a Hey. The letter Hey represents God and His Ethics. If a person decides to add even a little of his own to God’s law, he is adding to the Hey’s “leg” and converting the letter into a Chet. By giving his new addition prominence -- by making the Chet the first letter of the word instead of the last-- he has changed the word matzah to the word chametz. By declaring that his change to God’s word is both necessary and correct, he has morphed from the simplicity and goodness of a matzah-like personality into an inflated, egotistical chametz temperament.
In the frenetic cleaning of our homes of even the tiniest traces of chametz, it is easy to lose sight of the purpose of our efforts. Pesach is the opportunity to stop, face and then eradicate the chametz/evil inclination/negativity/foreign culture/inflated ego that we have absorbed from our surroundings.
Kitnyot (legumes) on Passover
Chametz and matzah come from the five major grains: wheat, rye, oats, barley and spelt. Only these grains can become chametz when they ferment. The fermentation of all other foods, whether we call them a "grain" or not, is not chametz. Since matzah must be made from a material that can become chametz, the Shulchan Aruch, a central Rabbinic text authored by Rabbi Yosef Karo, establishes the rule that matzah may only be made from the five grains and "not out of rice and other types of kitniyot, and these will also not become chametz." The word "kitniyot" is generally translated as "legumes" or "beans".
Some of the earlier Rishonim (leading Rabbis and poskim who lived in the 11th to 15th centuries-- before the writing of the Shulchan Aruch) rejected the prohibition of eating kitniyot on Passover, because the legumes are inherently permitted and the risk that grains of wheat might get mixed in was minimal. The Tur (Halachic code composed by Jacob ben Asher,1270-1340) rejects the ban, characterizing it as an excessive restriction (“chumrah y’eserah”).
The prevalent triennial crop rotation to enrich the soil that took hold in the Middle Ages in Western Europe, is also relevant according to Rabbi David Bar-Hayim of the Shilo Institute. In the first year wheat was planted; in the next, legumes and in the third year the field lay fallow. Therefore, there was concern that some leftover wheat grains in the field would become mixed the following year with the legumes crop.
Rabbi Bar-Hayim also speculates that the prohibition may be linked to the period of the Kararites. Adherents of this sect accepted only the original form of Judaism as prescribed by God in the Torah. Karaite Judaism rejects later additions such as the Rabbinic Oral Law.[ Judah Halevi, the 11th-century Jewish philosopher and rabbi, traces the origins of Karaism in the first and second centuries BCE, to the reign of Alexander Jannaeus ("King Jannai"].
Kararites would not eat any food that was fermented or sour on Passover because the Hebrew word “s’eor” (sounds like sour) appears in the Torah. Nor would they eat any cooked legumes, which can be fermented and expand when cooked. Their influence was strong during the Gaonic period (the heyday of Karaism), which was a time that numerous Halachic interpretations and customs made their way into normative Judaism.
Towards the end of the 1100’s, the poskim in France, recommended avoiding the use of kitniyot entirely on Pesach. These authorities were concerned that kitniyot might in some way become confused with true chametz. First, cooked porridge and other cooked dishes made from grain and kitniyot appear similar. Second, kitniyot are often grown in fields adjacent to those in which chametz is grown, and these grains tend to mix together. And third, kitniyot are often ground into a type of flour that can easily be confused with chametz. [Note: Kitniyot do not have the same status as chametz and one may derive benefit from them.]
The Vilna Gaon (1720-1797) cites a source for this custom in the Talmud in which there was an objection to workers cooking a food called chasisi (lentils) on Passover because it often was confused with chametz.
Based on all these considerations, the custom of the European Jews (Ashkenazim), was/is to avoid eating kitniyot. Even though the original motivation for avoiding kitniyot may no longer be relevant, this minhag (custom) has remained in full force. The Jews of Spain and the Middle East (Sefardim), however, follow the opinion of Rabbi Yosef Karo, and never accepted this restriction.
How Large is a Kezayis [olive]…?
…the minimum quantity of matzah that must be eaten to fulfill he mitzvah. After exhaustively researching this question, Rabbi Natan Slifkin (fondly known as “the Zoo Rabbi”) concludes that the Rishonim (early scholars) of Sefard held the kezayis to be the size of a regular olive, and the Rishonim of Ashkenaz only said that today’s olive is much larger than those in the time of the Talmud because, as some of them explicitly admitted, they had never actually seen an olive (because olives did not grow in the colder climates of Europe). Furthermore, all botanical and archeological evidence shows that olives were always the same size.
In view of this, Rabbi Slifkin is puzzled by the insistence of many that the kezayis must be substantially larger than an olive. The kezayis is a minimum. The Halacha says that eating anything less than a kezayis is just not called an act of eating. But when one becomes so obsessed with eating the right quantity (the bigger the better and the more religious one feels) one misses the main point of our feeling our miraculous and speedy redemption from Egypt.
The Seder Meal
Rabbi Menachem Leibtag likens the Passover Seder to a formal meal celebrating our miraculous emergence from slavery that is held in an upscale restaurant that specializes in well-prepared, fine, tasty “anti-Egyptian culture” foods. The focus is to remember both our salvation and our rejection of Egyptian (and other pagan) culture:
Reservations are required (s’eh l’bayis).
It is a family affair that includes invited friends, family and neighbors in the community who do not have enough people to bring their own Pesach offering
We dress in our finest clothing (“shoes on your feet”)
We behave like free men using a “walking stick in your hand” (a sign of importance).
The main course consists of the best cut of meat: well roasted (not boiled and not raw) lamb, the Egyptian deity.
There is a basic difference between cooking (boiling) and roasting. Cooking is an act that assimilates, while roasting separates. When cooking, we draw several other ingredients into the object we are boiling. These ingredients assimilate with the object, which absorbs and even adapts itself to the added components. It also expands, absorbing the other ingredients, and becomes soft and begins to disintegrate.
Roasting, however, does the reverse: it not only removes all the blood, but it also separates all ingredients that are not essential to the meat. As such, it shrinks the meat and makes it tough and impenetrable. This, explains the The MaHaRaL, is the symbol behind the korban Pesach. At the time of the Exodus, when the people of Israel are to become a nation for the first time, it is not yet possible to allow any (spiritual) absorption from outside. No outer influences that could compromise its essential spiritual nature may be permitted. The formation of the nation must involve a courageous stand against the world and must reject its culture. This is the time to strengthen its identity and reject all foreign elements. For this reason, the korban Pesach must be roasted. It symbolizes the need for inner strength and distinctiveness.
[Note: Judah Loew ben Bezalel,1520-1609, widely known as the Maharal of Prague, or simply The MaHaRaL, the Hebrew acronym of "Moreinu Ha-Rav Loew," ("Our Teacher, Rabbi Loew") was an important Talmudic scholar, Jewish mystic, and philosopher who, for most of his life, served as a leading rabbi in the cities of Mikulov in Moravia and Prague in Bohemia. He is known for his works on Jewish philosophy and Jewish mysticism and his work Gur Aryeh al HaTorah, a super commentary on Rashi's Torah commentary. He is also the subject of a 19th-century legend that he created The Golem of Prague, an animate being fashioned from clay.]
We eat until we are full
We are prohibited from leaving leftovers to try and lose the slave mentality of squirreling away food for the next day
We eat with enthusiasm, excitement and zest but not with haste, lest the animal bones be broken
Green salad is served, not with a sweet dressing but with one of bitter herbs to remind us of the bitterness of our Egyptian experience.
We eat only simple unleavened matzah with our meal— displaying our disdain for the fancy breads for which Egypt was famous.
Like nobility, we lean on our sides and relax, and we make use of finger bowls to rinse our hands
Understanding the Haggadah
Performance of a Mitzvah entails putting oneself in the place of those who first experienced the event being commemorated, to feel their inspiration and awe. Because we are so far removed from that moment, we need to work at recreating that emotion to make the ritual impactful, meaningful and positive.
What were the Jews feeling when they were protected by Succos in the desert? What was the awesome, inspiring emotion felt at Mt. Sinai? What was the mind set when bringing a korban? The full impact of a Mitzvah on us can be realized when we first analyze and discuss and then consciously try to emote. Then we may be inspired to change for the better. The artist Pablo Picasso observed that creation starts by contemplation.
This idea is best captured in the words of the Haggadah: “b’chol dor vador… “In every generation, each one of us has to imagine what it must have been like to be redeemed from Egypt”. This entails action, re-enactment and acting out. Some march around the table during the Seder with matzos in a bag over their shoulder in a re-enactment of the Exodus.
One meaning of the Hebrew word Haggadah is “to tell” or “to relate”. It is on the holiday of Pesach that we are commanded "And you shall tell (v'Higadeta) your children on that day...” Rabbi Jonathan Sacks points out that the root of this Hebrew word can also mean “to join” or “to connect”. It is through the reading of the Haggadah that we and our children link up to Jews around the world and become part of the Jewish experience. Despite various locations, different languages and diverse cultures, Jews around the world are bound together by our history and by our destiny.
In 1947 David Ben Gurion, when making the case for the creation of the State of Israel at the United Nations, noted that three hundred years earlier a ship named the Mayflower set sail to the New World. Despite the historic nature of this voyage he wondered aloud how many Americans know the details of the voyage--what time it sailed; how many people were on it; the quality of the food eaten. Contrast this with the Exodus from Egypt that took place 3300 years before the Mayflower. Any Jew anywhere in the world knows the date it happened (fifteenth of Nissan); the number of people who were redeemed: the time the people were redeemed, and the food eaten (matzah). Worldwide, they participate in a Seder, eat matzah and retell and re-enact the story of how the Israelites embarked on their journey to a new life in a “New World.” The Haggadah has, indeed, bound us all together.
The Haggadah was initiated by the Anshei Knesset Hagedola, the members of the “Great Assembly”, who were the first to compile and canonize many of the texts that we have today including Torah verses and rabbinical liturgies (from pre-Talmudic times). The Sages of the Talmud enhanced the Haggadah with additional liturgies, and by the end of the Talmudic era, the basic Haggadah as we know it today enjoyed widespread use. Various supplementary hymns were added in later years, and those hymns aren't (necessarily) found in all Haggadahs.
Over the centuries additions were made. Many of these embellishments gained such wide acceptance that they became part of the Haggadah. One of those additions is the Chad Gadya. Another is 'Dayeinu.' Rav Saadia Gaon (882 CE - 942 CE) included neither in his Haggadah, although he did recognize the existence of Dayeinu. Neither Rashi (1040 -1105) nor Rambam (1135 - 1204) included Chad Gadya in their versions of the Haggadah, although Rashi did include Dayeinu.
The oldest complete manuscript of the Haggadah dates to the 10th century. It is part of a prayer book compiled by Rav Saadia Gaon.
The earliest known inclusion of Chad Gadya is in Sefer Rokeach (1160-1238). Although we don't know who authored it, tradition has it that Chad Gadya is a very significant work and has great depth of meaning in its symbolism.
Rabbi Avrohom Dov Kahn in his The Chosen Nation Haggada proposes an intriguing approach to understanding the Haggadah. At the Covenant between the Halves (Bris Bein Habsorim) God promised Avraham Avinu that his offspring would become a nation with their own land, but they would first require an “iron crucible” Egyptian servitude experience.
The key message of the Haggadah that we need to recognize and declare and describe and repeat and re-tell and re-enact and transmit to our children is that for His own reasons God chose us, the Israelite people, from all the nations of the world. During the Seder, we identify with the Israelites redeemed from Egypt and communicate to our children this inheritance and the responsibility it carries. Teaching by example and using the question and answer method is the most effective educational method. Despite its overtones of universal freedom, the Seder is a uniquely Jewish experience.
With this unifying approach, we are better able to understand the wording of the text and to answer some troubling questions. Moshe Rabbenu is mentioned but once in the text (and only in passing) because it was God and not Moshe who chose, redeemed, and created a nation of Israelites. The holiday of Pesach is referred to as Passover, instead of the Torah’s name “Festival of matzahs” because it was God passing over the Jewish homes that most clearly expresses our having been chosen by Him.
Rav Kahn quotes the Sh’La HaKodesh who notes that the word Pesach consists of Pe (mouth) and Sach (speech). We are commanded to use our mouth and our speech to verbalize the idea that God selected us to be His chosen nation.
The heart of the telling of the Exodus story is the prayer that the farmer in the Land of Israel recites when he brings his first fruit offering to the Temple, Arami Ovayd Avi. With these words the farmer declares how fortunate he is now to have been saved from Egypt and to be able to bring the first fruit of the land. Even though he was not there physically, he imagines and tries to capture the excitement of that moment. Although the Exodus initiated the choosing of Israel, the process was not completed until the Israelites settled in the Promised Land.
A study by psychologists at Emory University demonstrated that people who grow up knowing a lot about their families tend to do better at dealing with stress and life challenges because their sense of being part of a larger family helps them form a strong “intergenerational self”. They know that they belong to something bigger than themselves. This capturing and preserving of one’s core identity that characterizes the Seder also has been identified as a successful strategy in business and in the military.
The “Seder” of the Seder
The order (Seder) of the Seder is attributed to Rashi (1040-1105) who, we may assume, created this listing for ease of recollection consistent with halachic considerations. This fifteen-word summary parallels the fifteen Shir ha’maalos (“song of degrees”) sung by the Levites on the fifteen steps of the Holy Temple that separated the Women’s Court from the Court of the Israelites.
KADESH is the recitation of Kiddush (sanctification over wine) with its blessings for sanctification of the holiday. According to some scholars, the blessing is also for the Mitzvah of Maggid—retelling the Exodus story. When Pesach falls on the Sabbath, the Sabbath takes precedent. Unlike in other religions where the sense of holiness and faith is reserved for the periodic holy days, explains Rabbi Sacks, in Judaism it is the day-in day-out “religious drama of daily, deeds, words and relationships” that is uppermost.
U’RECHATZ is washing the hands without a blessing. The halacha of foods dipped in water requiring washing of the hands generally is not applicable in our times except for Pesach night when we attempt to maintain a higher level of spiritual purity—just as the Israelites did when leaving Egypt.
KARPAS is eating a vegetable dipped in salt water, reliving the way the Jews ate in Egypt with salty tears of servitude, hopelessness and sadness running down their faces into their food. The act of dipping is important in the Exodus story. The lengthy process began when Joseph’s brothers dipped his cloak in the blood of a slaughtered goat and continued when the Israelites dipped bunches of hyssops in the blood of the paschal lamb and smeared it on their homes’ doorframe so that God would Passover their homes during the final plague (Rabbi Sacks).
Rav Michael Hattin of Yeshivat Har Etzion notes that the purification ceremony for one who has emerged from a state of tzara’as also involves dipping hyssop into blood and sprinkling. In both situations “…a liquid that is either exclusively blood or else at least includes it as a main ingredient, is first gathered into some sort of receptacle, typically earthenware. A bundle of organic material that includes hyssop is next dipped into the liquid and some sort of sprinkling or smearing is then done with it. Afterwards, the status of the afflicted individual is transformed.” The Israelites in Egypt suffered from moral decay, physical pain and isolation. The exodus from Egypt transformed a ragtag group in exile into a new nation filled with optimism and promise of a new life. Similarly, the metzorah in “exile” who prepares for a return to family and society utilizes the objects of the Exodus (hyssop, blood) as part of his transformation.
YACHATZ, breaking the Matzo in half and hiding one part, communicates poverty (“poor man’s bread”) in preparation for the immediately following MAGID section. There are two “halves” to matzah. One part conveys oppression and enslavement endured by the Israelites and then only later in the Seder, the second part represents redemption (because the speed of the Exodus prevented the dough that they were carrying from rising).
MAGID is the re-telling of the Exodus story. Rabbi Menachem Leibtag provides the following outline:
I. Introduction and/or invitation (Ha’lachma anya)
Setting the stage with words said at the first Seder in Egypt or words of sharing said to one another at our Seder. A kind of “icebreaker” among participants preparing to fulfill ritual requirements of the night.
Highlighting the continuity of our tradition by
connecting us with the first Seder during the Exodus
Unity and solidarity give meaning to the Seder (Rav J.B. Soloveitchik)
“Sharing food with others is the first act through which slaves become free human beings” (Rabbi Sacks)
Sharing and providing historical content
II. Getting children’s attention (Ma Nishtana).
Using questions to ensure participation and communication
During the time of the Holy Temple, the meal was eaten first, and these questions were asked after the meal concluded. The inquiries stemmed from the spontaneous observations of children. With the destruction of the Temple, and loss of the collective celebration in Jerusalem, the words took on a more compelling prominence in re-recreating the unique holiday mood
Four questions correspond to the “Four Sons” to be introduced soon
III. Explaining the obligation to tell the story
a. WHY? -- Avadim Hayinu (“We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt and God took us out…”)
b. WHO IS OBLIGATED TO RE-TELL THE STORY? --Everyone, even scholars who are intimately familiar with the details
c. HOW DO WE TRANSMIT TO OUR CHILDREN THE MESSAGE AND UNDERSTANDING THAT WE ARE GOD’S CHOSEN NATION?
In four places in the Torah reference is made to parents teaching their children the meaning of Jewish practice and its relationship to the Exodus. The Sages, aware that there are no superfluous words in the text, reasoned that the Torah does not support a “one-size-fits-all” approach. Instead, it offers four different approaches to education, tailored to meet each child’s (Four Sons) specific personality.
The Four Sons of the Hagaddah can also be a pedagogical technique for dealing with the four various aspects of one’s inquisitiveness or the four stages of one’s emotional maturation [apathetic, pure, rebellious, intellectual].
The Haggadah states that "The Torah spoke on behalf of four sons: a wise one, a wicked one, a simple one and one who is unable to ask." Each one of them has a unique purpose and value. And all of them together make up the Jewish family that sits down together at the table on Seder Night.
The wise child (intellectual facet) is keenly interested in all specifics of the religion: In the aydos—commandments that remind us of God’s presence in Nature and history; the chukkim—laws that at least on the surface appear irrational; and the mishpatim—laws of social justice. To him we teach all the detailed laws regarding the paschal lamb and encourage him to maintain the emotional “taste” of our special status; of the realization that God alone redeems and directs the affairs of men in mysterious ways. We hope these insights will remain with him long after he’s fulfilled the exhaustive requirements of the command to eat the paschal lamb.
The “wicked” child (rebellious facet) …
• Does not want to know and sarcastically asks “what is this service you are doing?” He derisively asserts that we have merely exchanged the enslavement to Pharaoh for the equally onerous servitude to God. Or he means to poke fun at the purposelessness of all the work his fellow Jews are doing. He denies God and makes no reference to Him [unlike the intellectual son who does]. Our blunt answer to him is that by his unwillingness to identify with the nation of which he is a part and to deny our “chosenness” he would certainly have perished with the Egyptians. We are obligated to blunt or break the power (hak’hei es shenav) of those who fail to see the uniqueness of our nation.
• Rabbi Sachs’ interpretation is that this son is really directing his question to his parents: What does Judaism mean to you? Though you insisted on my getting a rigorous Jewish education and marrying within the faith your behavior suggested that Judaism was not all that important to you. The child is confused and begging for clarity. The phrase “set his teeth on edge” echoes the prophet Jeremiah’s proverb “The fathers have eaten sour grapes and the children’s teeth are set on edge.” The prophet observed that it is the parents’ behavior that may have affected the child’s rebellious behavior. Here, the author of the Haggadah is demanding that we the parents examine our behavior and beliefs and their influence on our children.
• Rabbi Lamm thinks that this son should be called Mistaken, not Wicked, because he is a person who has natural intellectual gifts but fails to use them (or has misused them) in his Jewish religious life. He smugly and rhetorically asks why the need for all this. We are urged to engage him in debate; teach him; educate him. Teach by example and a warm relationship in the hope that eventually he will realize on his own that he has isolated himself from the community to the point where had he lived at the time of the Exodus, he would not have been redeemed.
The child who does not understand (pure facet), who is Wholesome (and not Simple), can only think in concrete terms so we explain that “with a strong hand God took us out of Egypt from the house of slavery”
For the apathetic child (apathetic facet) who does not know how to ask or does not want to consider his nation’s special status, we are obligated to initiate the dialog, to challenge him and to explain. Rabbi Lamm includes in this group the unconcerned; the embarrassed (who won’t ask for fear of revealing their ignorance); and the assimilated (who no longer know how to formulate the question).
Some wish to provide a contemporary flavor to the Four Sons by viewing them as four generations of Jews in America:
The first-generation Jew is the Wise son who is deeply connected to the beliefs and practices of Judaism, refusing to work on the Sabbath even at risk of losing his job.
The second generation of Jews is embodied in the Wicked son, the one who rebels against the Jewish values he has grown up with, preferring to lose his identity by assimilating into American society.
In the next generation, the Wholesome son has witnessed his grandfather’s way of life but is not much motivated to learn, understand and emulate.
The son who “doesn’t know how to ask” captures the condition of the fourth generation for whom the practice of Judaism by his great grandparents is something he has been told about and is a vague memory at best. He is so far removed from Judaism that he doesn’t know where and how to begin.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe adds:
“Unfortunately, there is, in our time of confusion and obscurity, another kind of a Jewish child: the child who is conspicuous by his absence from the Seder Service; the one who has no interest whatsoever in Torah and G-d's commandments... who is not even aware of the Seder, of the Exodus from Egypt and the subsequent revelation at Sinai.
“This presents a grave challenge, which should command our attention long before Passover and the Seder night, for no Jewish child should be forgotten and given up. We must make every effort to save also that “lost” child and bring the absentee to the Seder table. determined to do so, and driven by a deep sense of compassion and responsibility, we need have no fear of failure...”
d. WHEN? –Only on this evening when we have pesach, matzah and marror before us and not, as one may have thought, from the first day of the month (Rosh Chodesh) when the Israelites in Egypt were commanded to ready the lamb for the pesach offering.
IV. The MAGID story begins
a. Early on our forefathers were idolaters. Even so, God chose the Israelites because of the extraordinary forefather Avraham to whom God promised both offspring that will become an expanding nation, and a homeland
b. Gratitude to God for keeping His promise to Avraham to choose the nation of Israel and how this promise sustained our people throughout history in the face of enemies who sought (and still seek) to annihilate us
c. The essence of Magid--“Arami Ovad Avi” [“An Aramean attempted to destroy my father”]
d. The Ten Plagues:
Rabbi Günter Plaut sees the plagues as “a rising tide designed both to punish and to instruct” in a pattern of increasing intensity. It …
Starts with inconvenience and nuisance (scarce drinking water and the stench of dead fish when the Nile turned to blood; frogs running wild)
Ratchets up to bodily discomfort and attacks on person and property
Culminates in the most horrible…
• Terror of darkness (solitary confinement)
• Death of the firstborn
“Rabbi Yehudah would list the initials of the plague in acrostic abbreviation:
e. Discussion regarding the number of plagues that occurred at Yam Suf (Reed Sea)
a. Understanding, appreciating and praising God for each step of the redemption process. Any single one of these actions by God would have been reason enough to praise Him (say Hallel).
b. Enumeration of each event in the process in which “God publicized our special status as a chosen people having a special relationship” (Rav Kahn).
c. “Each step in the redemptive process deserves our recognition and requires that we praise God for it…and reminding ourselves of how we need to act-to be deserving of the next stage” (Rabbi Leibtag).
VI. Raban Gamaliel provides an educational opportunity with the statement that our obligation is to discuss and explain the meaning of the paschal lamb; matzah; and marror (bitter herbs)
VII. Our need to re-enact the Passover story—B’chol dor v’dor—AS IF NOW WE WERE THERE.
VIII. Hallel [Praise] usually recited as one unit but split into two parts in the Haggadah.
a. Two paragraphs here relate to the Exodus and our being chosen as God’s nation. The rest of Hallel that relates to future events is recited later (Rav Kahn)
b. No blessing is recited on this Hallel because that would interrupt the spontaneity of praise we utter as we re-live the Egyptian experience (Rabbi T. Sabolofsky)
RACHTZA. The sages established restrictions to guard against the possibility that the Cohanim (Priests) would inadvertently make the tithes given to them “impure”. To ensure that the Cohanim would remember to wash their hands before eating the tithes, the Sages declared that any Jew eating bread also must wash his hands.
MOTZI MATZAH. We eat matzah twice. The first eating (from the top and bottom matzahs) fulfills the requirement to eat bread or bread-like grain every Shabbat and Yom Tov. The second eating (of the middle matzah) is to fulfill the specific commandment to eat matzah on Peasch night.
MARROR. We eat bitter herbs to experience in some small way the bitterness experienced by the
Jews in Egypt.
KOREICH.Eating Matzah and marror together as a sandwich
SHULCHAN ORAYCH. The holiday meal is eaten. The final course is the Pascal lamb (or, in our times, the Afikoman).
TZAFOON. We eat the “hidden” piece of matzah. For some commentaries, the Afikoman symbolizes the Korban Pesach. Others maintain that the matzah eaten now is the fulfillment of our obligation to eat matzah on Pesach night.
BARAYCH. The Grace after meals expresses gratitude in historical prospective. The first three blessings are derived from the Torah:
• Thanking God for providing food
• Appreciation of the land of Israel and its bounty
• Gratitude for Jerusalem and the Temple
The fourth blessing, “Who Is Good and Does Good”, was instituted to commemorate the destruction of the city of Betar in 70 C.E. at the hands of Hadrian and his Roman legions. At that time, corpses were left in the street to rot but miraculously did not decompose and were ultimately buried some three years later, after Hadrian’s death. Rav Kahn views this as a pivotal point in the Seder when we turn from thanking God for choosing us (at the Exodus and in the Land of Israel) to thanking Him for his ongoing involvement with us throughout Jewish history.
HALLEL. This second part focuses on our historic ongoing relationship and “chosenness” that assures us of His constant vigilance over us. Even an individual who lives a harsh life celebrates special days like birthdays. So, too, our people whose history is replete with sadness and tragedy take this opportunity to celebrate the day of our birth as a nation.
NIRTZAH are songs and praise to God and expression of our hope for ultimate redemption.
Beginning with Disgrace…and Finishing with Praise
The Mishna informs us that fulfillment of the commandment to tell the Exodus story requires a format that begins with unflattering comments and concludes with praise (matchilim b’gnus u-mesymim b’shevach).
Rav and Shmuel debate what the opening statement should be. Rav’s view is that it is “at first our ancestors were idol worshipers”, the message being about spiritual freedom. Shmuel, who focuses on the physical release from slavery, believes the beginning is “We were once slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt”. Some speculate that it was during the Gaonic period that both approaches were incorporated to form our modern Haggadah.
Rav A.Y. Kook’s world view is that in life there is both Hachana (preparation) and Tachlit (achievement). Building on this concept, Rabbi T.H. Weinreb thinks that in the Haggada g’nus is the preparation stage and shevach is achievement. One cannot achieve true freedom/tachlit unless one has first experienced slavery/g’nus. Freedom contains within it elements of slavery (including imagination and creativity embodied in aspects of pagan worship), because it is only when one struggles and is conflicted that one can emerge truly free. The Haggadah describes a continuum starting with idolatry/slavery and building to freedom. Every step of exploring alternatives, making mistakes and experiencing frustration is part of the learning and maturing process for both Man and Society.
Rabbi Weinreb also quotes the Klosenberger Rebbe, Rabbi Yekutiel Yehudah Halberstam, who emphasized that:
Imagination and empathy are necessary as we read through the Haggadah
We need to fantasize, to imagine and to dream freely to experience what it would have been like if we were the ones who endured slavery
We also must imagine ourselves as if we were the other person, to feel his pain and suffering It is through these techniques of emote and feeling the pain that was endured that enables us to feel the sweet taste of liberty when freed from bondage.
Avadim Hayenu vs. M’shubadim Hayenu
The Haggadah describes how we were slaves (avadim) to Pharaoh in Egypt and, had God not rescued us, we still would be enslaved (m’shubadim) to Pharaoh. Why, asks Rabbi Weinreb, the variation in terminology?
Avdus is a role played by a person, even if he does not feel it; m’shubad refers to a sense of connection between slave and master. Had God not rescued us from our role as slaves in Egypt, the servant mentality would have become ingrained in us and shaped our persona.
Rabbi Eliezer Ashkenazi maintains that eved refers to the physical and m’shubad refers to mental enslavement. Had others redeemed us, and not God, we would be forever enslaved emotionally and feel obligated to them.
Rav J.B. Soloveitchik draws our attention to use of the phrasing that “we were slaves to Pharaoh…” rather than “we were Pharaoh’s slaves…” The former conveys a sense of distance between slave and master whereas the latter suggests a deep bonding in which the master becomes part and parcel of the servant’s self-image. The Rav concludes that though we were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, he never owned us. We always remained avdei Hashem, guarding our loyalty to and identification with God.
Building on this idea, Rabbi David Fohrman suggests that it was Pharaoh’s mistaken belief that he owned us-- we who are referred to by as (God’s) “My son, my first born, Yisrael”. He is punished accordingly with the smiting of the first born while God passes over (Passover) the homes of the Israelites.