A Wandering Aramean and Me

Haggadah #11

Arami Oved Avi: A Wandering Aramean Tried to Kill My Father, and Dayeinu: It would have been enough.


Three Torah sections and their interpretations constitute the core of the Maggid, Telling the Story, the seder account of our Exodus from Egypt. The first, Deuteronomy 6:21-25, (#7 above), recounts physical slavery first, and reminds us of our obligation to tell the narrative of freedom.


The second, Joshua 24: 2f (#10 above), takes us from the degradation of ancestors who chose idolatry to the glory of choosing the One God of the universe, Who saves us from our enemies.


The third biblical citation, Deuteronomy 26: 5f., biblically the oath sworn when bringing first fruits, is midrashically interpreted phrase by phrase, concluding with an explanation of the ten plagues visited by God on the Egyptians; followed by a debate of the additional number of plagues that the Rabbis imagine occurred on the sea when Egyptian soldiers pursued the Hebrews to the the Egyptians’ demise.


This most important biblical citation begins with the phrase of debatable meaning, “A wandering Aramean killed my father …” or “… My father was a wandering Aramean.” In either event, it may be seen as the continuation of the preceding lament that our enemies rose up to destroy us in every generation. Jacob grew wealthy, and Laban sought his destruction. It exemplifies and illustrates the theme that God redeems us in every generation, and that this first redemption from Egypt symbolizes God’s consistent watchfulness (hashgakhah) over Israel in every time and place. Jacob’s intention was the remain in Egypt for a limited time, but God had other plans, and the Hebrews multiplied and remained, which sealed their fate in Egypt.


The midrash tells us that the Hebrews were naked of mitzvot, the performance of commandments. But God redeemed them for two sets of reasons. The first involves two types of blood: that the Hebrews circumcised their sons, and offered the blood of the Passover sacrifice. Somewhat more logical is the second set, that the Hebrews did 4 things: 1. they did not Egyptianize their names; 2. they did not change their language; 3. they did not engage in immoral sexual practices; and 4. they did not slander others.


From this the midrash we witness a general theme: that God chose us as God’s people to perform God’s will and bring the nations of the world to God, despite the persecutions that will overtake us. Yet, God ultimately will save us, as God did with the ten plagues in Egypt and our miraculous exodus from Pharaoh’s servitude.


We conclude the midrash and the discussion of the plagues with which God punished the Egyptians on land and sea with the singing of the ever-popular Dayeinu, a medieval liturgical poem that celebrates God’s undeserved loving-kindness bestowed upon Israel. “How many good things did God bestow upon us?” They conclude with the Hebrews’ entrance into the land of Israel, and building the Temple in Jerusalem, the ultimate purposes of the Redemption from Egypt. These identical themes we also find in the Song of the Sea, Exodus 15:17-18. Dayeinu summarizes and epitomizes the purpose of the final midrash: God chose a people for enslavement and persecution so that God could redeem them from Egypt, defeat the presumptuous god-posing Pharaoh of Egypt, and bring the people to a special land where Israel’s God would dwell among them in their midst (Exodus 25:8).

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