The Haggadah: An Introduction

I'm going to start writing periodic articles, at least weekly, about the haggadah, the home prayer book used for the evening meal the first night of Passover. We still have a few months before the holiday, and perhaps some commentary will be helpful.


Here goes:

The Exodus from Egypt is termed "the Root Experience of the Jewish People." In other words, everything about Judaism is rooted in the experience and story of the Exodus. Therefore we celebrate the exodus daily in our prayers, and annually tell the story of the exodus in a prolonged celebratory dinner with family and friends.


Four biblical commandments tell us to recite the story, the most prominent of which is Exodus 13:8: "And you shall Tell Your Child on that day saying, it because of what the Lord did for me when I went free from Egypt."


The Hebrew word for TELL is higadta, from which the name of the prayer book reciting the story comes: Haggadah: the Telling.

Why is all of Judaism rooted in the Exodus? There are many answers for certain. But here's one: The exodus binds us to God and to freedom.

The most frequent statement in the Torah is: You shall know the soul of the stranger, because you were strangers in the land of Egypt. In other words, because Jews were slaves over 3,000 years ago we empathize, to this day, with the downtrodden of the earth. We recognize that human freedom and responsibility epitomize the human experience. We left involuntary servitude to Pharaoh in Egypt to become voluntary servants to God.


This, and its myriad ramifications, comprises the story of Judaism and Jews.


Now you might say, "But my story of liberation, my experience of freedom, is mine alone. No other person's experience is precisely the same as mine." And you'd be correct.


There are literally thousands of haggadahs, expressing in their own way the Jewish exodus experience. Some tell stories of social justice, of equality, of liberation. Others tell stories of persecution, of heroism, of courage. Sometimes you have to interpret the art of the haggadah to determine its message. Sometimes you must read the commentaries or between the lines. The story of liberation is everyone's story uniquely and individually, and everyone's story as the human family: billions of varieties to a single overpowering theme.


I know many Jews find the haggadah complex, and perhaps even indecipherable. Boring even! But if you take it as your personal story of liberation, of freedom, of the human experience: well, there's no story more exciting.


I'll be looking for topics of interest to you, so please feel free to send me questions. Hopefully I'll be able to answer them. About particular prayers, about the processes, about your own experiences. Let's see where this goes. I don't know about you, but I'm excited to begin.




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© 2016 by Rabbi Mark H. Levin.