Manfred and Anne Lehmann Foundation

Haggadah Thoughts ‘95

There is a word missing in the text of our Haggadoth, which the Rambam places in the beginning of the Halachma Anya: "bibhilu" -- "in haste." In the Haggadah just published with the commentaries of Rav J.B. Soloveitchik, he explains why that word is important: The matzah stands for two concepts -- slavery and liberation. We ate matzah in Egypt while still slaves -- "Di achala avoteynu be’ar’a de’Mitzrayim," -- but we also ate matzah as part of the haste ("chipazon") with which our forefathers were released from that slavery. In Rabban Gamliel’s words, "Ugeulam miyad shne’emar, ‘Vayofu et ha-batzeik ..." ("G-d released them hurriedly, as is written, `And they baked the dough ...’") In most Haggadoth from Sefardic and Oriental communities, Rambam’s text follows, and the word "bib’hilu" introduces the Ha lachma Anya. Haste (chipazon) is a central philosophical concept of Pesach, as symbolized through the matzah, according to the Maharal of Prague in his deep interpretation of the term.

Le’shanah habeah bnei chorin. You might ask, why do we say in the beginning of the Seder that next year we will be free men? It struck me that the reason may be the following: A few weeks ago, on Purim we refrained from saying Hallel. The Talmud tells us that the reason for this is that "akatey avdey de’Achashverosh annan," ("We are still servants of Achashverosh" and, therefore, cannot say the words "avdey Hashem" ("servants of G-d") in the Hallel. In other words, at the end of the Purim story, Jews continued to live in galut (exile) under Achashverosh, the king who had stopped the rebuilding of Jerusalem, according to the Book of Ezra.

By contrast, at the end of the Pesach story the Jews were totally free from political oppression. However, we today -- in 1995 -- are again in galut; so, perhaps we should not say Hallel at the Seder. But we are convinced that next year we will be totally free and, therefore, consider ourselves already free tonight and can therefore say Hallel. To reinforce that conviction we say at the end of the Seder "Le’shanah Habaah bi’Yerushalayim" (Next Year in Jerusalem").

Of the Four Sons, the Haggadah addresses itself mainly to the Chacham, the Wise Son. The main characteristic of the Chacham, according to Pirkei Avoth, is "ro’eh et ha-nolad." ("He sees the future.") The Chacham therefore can see our future -- as free men, next year!

"U’rchatz." This word, in Hebrew, means washing." But it also has another meaning, at least in Aramaic: "having trust." We use it every Shabbat before the Sefer Torah is taken out of the Ark. "Bey ana Rachitz" -- In Him I place my trust." So perhaps the sequence of the cue words for the Seder, "Kaddesh u’Rchatz." is a hint that we must first sanctify ourselves, and only then can we place our entire trust in G-d.

"Yachatz," Unobtrusively, a half matzah, the Afikomen, is tucked away at the beginning of the Seder. Other than eliciting the excitement of children, who will try to find its hiding place, it seems totally forgotten ... and yet hours later at the Seder, it plays a central role. Without the Afikomen -- or in the Temple days, the Pesach sacrifice -- no one fulfills his obligations on this night. It seems symbolic of the Jewish fate. How often in our history were we saved by communities whose origins at first were hardly noticed? This only of the discovery of America in 1492, which was hardly noticed among Jews at the time, and yet that discovery, 500 years later, became indispensable for the rescue of Jews in Europe and for the support of Israel. King David anticipated this concept in the unforgettable words in the Hallel: "Even ma’asa ha-bonim hayta le-rosh pinah" ("The stone that the builders spurned became in the end our cornerstone.")

"Al Hayam." When we reach the portion of the Haggadah where one rabbi after the other calculates the multitude of miracles we witnessed at the Red Sea, we are often too tired to delve into applicable interpretations. But we must consider that while the slavery in Egypt was terrible, it was not "life threatening." In other words, other than the first-born Jewish male children, the lives of the Jews were not threatened. It was only when the entire Egyptian army and cavalry chased after us that we faced certain death. Pharaoh would have slaughtered the Jews at the Red Sea. Therefore our redemption from him at the Red Sea was an even greater miracle than the plagues metered out to him in Egypt. No wonder that the rabbis calculated in ever growing figures the multiple miracles of the Red Sea in comparison to the miraculous plagues of Egypt.

Rabbi Eliezer ben Azarya. It has always bothered me that the portion where Rabbi Eliezer ben Azarya and the chachamim disagree about the saying of the Kreat Shemah at night really has no relevance to the Seder. For what they are discussing is a different Mitzvah -- the Mitzvah of remembering the Exodus from Egypt, zechirah not the sipur. Mitzvah of telling the story of the Exodus, sipur. But perhaps here we find a continuation of the Mah Nishtanah -- only this time a spiritual one. In the Mah Nishtanah we compare each of the four actions at the Seder with what we do the rest of the year. The rest of the year we eat bread and matzah -- this night, only matzah, etc. (This in itself is an unusual formulation and description, which we do not find in connection with other mitzvahs. Do we say on Rosh Hashanah, all year long we may blow any trumpet we want, but on Rosh Hashanah, only the ram’s horn, or all year long we can shake any sort of tree branch, but on Sukkot only a palm branch?) This theme is continued in the story about Rabbi Eliezer ben Azarya and the Chachamim. "All year long we can either remember (sachor) or relate (sipur) the story of the Exodus, but this night we only relate the story." I would call this a spiritual Mah Nishtanah, a fifth question.

Matchil bi’gnay u’mesayem bi’shvah." The outline or table of contents of the Seder has been set by the Gemara. Start with the bad news; end with the good news. The two versions given in the Gemara are Start with "Avadim hayinu" ("We were slaves."); end with "Vayotsiyeinu" ("He redeemed us."). Or: "Mitchilah ovdey avoda zarah" ("Our ancestors -- Tenach and before -- were pagans"); and "achshav kervanu le’avodato" ("Now -- in 1995 -- He has brought us near His service.").

According to the first version, we talk about a span of 210 years; in the second version a span of about 4,0000 years. Some difference! But here is a curious situation that constitutes a serious question in my mind to which I invite my readers’ solution. The Rambam (Hilchot Chametz U’matzah, Chapter 7, Section 4) says: Start with "Mitchilah ... " and end with the miracles of the Exodus. However, the Rambam contradicts himself in the text of his own Haggadah, which follows after Chapter 8, where the order is reversed: First is said "Avidim hayinu ... " and only a bit later, "Mitchilah ... " -- the same order that is followed in all Haggadoth. Why did he reverse the order when stating the halachah (law)?

My own proposed solution is the following: In Hilchot Chametz U’matzah the Rambam talks about the time of the Temple, since in his Mishnah Torah he includes laws that apply only to the Temple times (e.g. in the Mah Nishtanah is included a question about roasted meat, which can only be eaten at the Seder when the Temple is standing and we are able to offer the carbon Pesach -- Passover offering). His interpretation of " ... ve’achshav kervanu le’avodato" seems to be a literal one: G-d brought us to the Avoda, the Temple service. Therefore, in that context, he gives priority to "Mitchilah ... " and its tie-in with the Temple service, leaving "Avadim hayinu ... " to a second place. However, his Haggadah is given for us in the Galut, without a Temple service, and therefore, he delegates the reference to the second place, while putting "Avadim Hayinu ... " first.

Ancient Chinese Haggadah

The fabled Jewish Community in Kaifeng, capital of Honan Province in China, seems to have been founded in the 9th or 10th century, with a Jewish population of some 1,000 men, women and children. They probably came from Persia and some distant descendants of these early Chinese Jews are still reported to exist today. Their synagogue stood until relatively recently.

About 300 years ago one of their scribes wrote a beautiful Haggadah in early Hebrew script, which shows some influence of Chinese characters. Its text follows the Sefardic rite. As we sit down to the Seder it is worth contemplating how powerful the memory of the Exodus from Egypt has been over the thousands of years of Jewish history and the tens of thousands of miles of dispersion to all corners of the world. The Haggadah, with the ever-fresh Mah Nishtanah, has been said by Jews in all times, in all countries. Thus the Seder makes us truly one nation, united in its destiny and its hope for the repetition of the liberation from the Exodus through the Ultimate Redemption.

"Le’shanah habaah bi’Yerushalyim habanuyah."




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