April 21, 2024
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The Seder and the Haggadah: How to Tell the Story

The central paradigm of the Jewish religion is redemption. The Jewish religion is founded on the divine assurance and human belief that the world will be perfected. The messianic dream is the great moving force of Jewish history and of the Jewish role in the world. The central biblical event—the overthrow of tyranny, the redemption of the Jewish slaves, and the gift of freedom and dignity—will become the experience of all humankind in the future kingdom of God. When Jews observe Pesach, they are commemorating what is arguably the most important event of all time—the Exodus from Egypt. Our children must become involved for it is essential that they join in the unfinished work of liberation.

The Passover meal, as the medium through which the individual breaks out of his selfish slave mentality and begins to be concerned with others, was introduced by God in Egypt on the night of the 15th of Nissan prior to the miraculous exodus. The seder ceremony, centered around the Passover lamb sacrifice, aims at the emergence of a new chesed community, for kindness and sympathy is the characteristic of the free man. The slave is not spiritually capable of joining the chesed community because he is too much concerned with himself, too insecure, too fearful regarding the future, too frightened and too weak. The birth of the chesed community—of a nation within which people unite, care for each other, share what they possess—is symbolized by the Passover lamb sacrifice. “If the household is too little for a lamb, let him and his neighbor next to his house share it” (Shemot 12:4). The slave spontaneously does something he would never have believed he was capable of doing, namely, he knocks on his neighbor’s door, whom he had never noticed, inviting him to share the lamb with him and to eat together. No wonder our seder begins with “Ha lachma anya—this is the bread of poverty,” and we invite all to come and share with us: “Let all who are hungry come and eat.” This invitation is indicative of the sense of sympathy and responsibility we feel to others. Judaism contends that the slave does not understand the difference between the holy and profane. The Gemara says, “The slave prefers the decadent hedonistic life.” He takes as much as he can. Only physical power can stop him, a taskmaster or a policeman. The most amazing thing about the Exodus, far greater than the miracles, is the transformation of a nation of slaves who lived an immoral life, who did not understand the meaning of laws, discipline and self–control, of obeying laws when no taskmaster threatens you. Why should one obey a commandment like matzah, like eating the Passover lamb, like “You shall not break a bone of it” or “You may not leave any of it over until the morning,” if no taskmaster stands over you? When Moshe came and told them, “This is the law of the Passover lamb,” they should have laughed at him and answered, “We are only interested in the fleshpots, cucumbers and onions, why are you bothering us with mitzvot, with the laws of matzah, maror and Pesach? Why not break the bones of the lamb? If the bone is tasty, we’ll snap it and suck out its marrow.” And then there occurred the greatest of miracles: “And all the people of Israel did as God commanded Moses and Aaron. The slaves suddenly felt the duty of commandments, the power of life devoted to higher ideas and goals. They understood what it means to possess spiritual ideals, and what it means to enter into a covenant with the Almighty.

When the Torah speaks about yetziat Mitzrayim, it is careful to say, “Who took you out me-Eretz Mitzrayim,” not simply, “from Egypt.” What is the difference between the two? There are actually two exoduses. Me-Eretz Mitzrayim means from a certain geographical location, called the land of Mitzrayim. On the other hand, Mitzrayim alone means the people, their culture, their ideas, their way of life, their ethical and moral values. When God meets Moshe at the burning bush, He says the redemption from Egypt, mi-Mitzrayim, will start, not on the night on which you take the Jews out from the land of Egypt, me-Eretz Mitzrayim, but when you come here to Mt. Sinai and I give them a law, a Torah, a new world outlook, a new ethical code, a new perspective. It is then that the process of mi-Mitzrayim will start, and that process will be consummated later. That is why the night of Pesach is dedicated to two redemptions, the past and the future.

The exodus from Eretz Mitzrayim took place on the 15th night of Nissan and was complete. But the exodus from Mitzrayim is a long process. Who knows how long it will take until the Jew is liberated not only from Eretz Mitzrayim but from Mitzrayim? The messianic redemption is a continuation of the redemption from Egypt. Leaving Mitzrayim is a long road which the Jew has been traveling for 3,500 years, without yet arriving at his destination.

By Martin Polack

Martin Polack is a business analyst. He is in love with Judaism and awaits the Geulah.

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