Bar-Ilan University's Parashat Hashavua Study Center
Shabbat Haggadol-Metzora 5763/ April 12, 2003
Lectures on the weekly Torah reading by the faculty
of Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel.
A project of the Faculty of Jewish Studies,
Paul and Helene Shulman Basic Jewish Studies Center,
and the Office of the Campus Rabbi. Published on the Internet
under the sponsorship of Bar-Ilan University's
International Center for Jewish Identity.
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Inquiries and comments to:
Dr. Isaac Gottlieb, Department of Bible,
Shabbat Haggadol-Metzora 5763/ April 12, 2003
The Fifth Question: Why Is Moses Missing?
Dr. Michael Avioz
Department of Bible
The traditional Torah reading on the seventh day of Passover
is taken from Parashat Beshalah, which describes the splitting of the Red Sea
(Ex. 14-15). This depiction glorifies the wonders the Lord performed for
Israel. This miracle served several ends: to deliver the Israelites from their
oppressors and punish the Egyptians for enslaving Israel and not acknowledging
the Lord; to show the Israelites and the other nations an act that would make
them believe in the Lord's greatness and uniqueness, "Let the
Egyptians know that I am Lord" (Ex. 14:18); to strengthen Moses'
standing in the eyes of the people as G-d's emissary and faithful servant,
in line with the text, "they had faith in the Lord and His servant
Moses" (Ex. 14:31).
The splitting of the Red Sea is but one in a series of
miracles that were done for Israel in Egypt and in the wilderness, and in which
Moses was involved. Moses is described not only as taking the Israelites out of
Egypt, but also as working to mold them into a people. The figure of Moses is
deeply engraved in the national consciousness as one of the pillars of Israelite
faith. In the light of this, it is extremely surprising to find so few
references to Moses in the Passover Haggadah. He appears there only once,
incidentally, in the context of a quote from Parashat
Rabbi Jose the Galilean says: How do we know that the
Egyptians were smitten by ten plagues in Egypt? ... On the sea, what is said?
"And when Israel saw the wondrous power which the Lord had wielded against
the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord; they had faith in the Lord and His
The authors of the Haggadah had numerous opportunities to
mention Moses. The passage beginning with the words, "At the outset our
ancestors were pagans," quotes from Joshua's last testament to the
people (Josh. 24:2-4). Verse 5 of this speech mentions Moses explicitly
("Then I sent Moses and Aaron"), but the authors of the Haggadah
chose not to quote this verse. Moses' name is also absent from the
passage beginning, "My father was a fugitive Aramean," which gives
an overview of the history of the Israelites up to the entrance to the land.
Likewise, it does not appear in the poem, Dayyenu. This poem mentions the
exodus from Egypt, the splitting of the Red Sea, and the revelation at Sinai
– all events in which Moses' role was quite significant.
How, then, are we to understand the omission of Moses'
name from the Haggadah? Is this omission accidental or deliberate? Below we
present two possible explanations:
A. The omission of Moses' name could stem from a
desire to ascribe these miraculous acts solely to G-d. As we pointed out above,
according to the account in Exodus the description of the miracle of the parting
of the Red Sea served several objectives, one of which was to aggrandize Moses
as the Lord's faithful servant. It appears that the authors of the
Haggadah wished to focus attention entirely on the Lord, in accord with the
principle, "not by an angel, and not by a seraph, and not by an
emissary." In Exodus 14, the Red Sea is indeed split by the joint actions
of G-d and Moses: Moses played a part in the miracle by means of his
wonder-working staff (Ex. 14:15-21). In the Song on the Sea (Ex. 15), however,
splitting the Red Sea is ascribed to G-d alone. The miracle is also described
as the sole working of G-d in the Song of Miriam (Ex. 15:20-21), and in several
psalms: "Come and see the works of G-d, who is held in awe by men for His
acts. He turned the sea into dry land; they crossed the river on foot"
(Ps. 66:5-6); "He [G-d] split the sea and took them through it; He made
the waters stand like a wall" (Ps. 78:13); "He sent His blast
against the Sea of Reeds; it became dry; He led them through the deep as through
a wilderness... Then they believed His promise [not Moses], and sang His
praises" (Ps. 106:9-12); "who split apart the Sea of Reeds, ... and
made Israel pass through it, ... Who hurled Pharaoh and his army into the Sea of
Reeds" (Ps. 136:13-15).
The tension between Divine redemption and Moses' actions
is also expressed in the midrashic literature of the Sages (Mekhilta de-Rabbi
Shimeon bar Yohai, Beshalah 14.21):
Then Moses held out his arm over the sea
... When Moses
came and stood at the sea, he spoke to it in the name of the Holy One, and it
did not obey him; he showed it his staff, and it did not obey him. When the
Holy One, blessed be He, appeared before it, the sea saw and fled
said to it: I spoke to you in the name of the Holy One, and you did not obey.
I showed you the staff, and you did not obey. Now, what alarmed you, O sea,
that you fled
? It answered, "Not from you, son of Amram, but at
the presence of the Lord, tremble, O
Similar ambivalence over the identity of the miracle-worker is
also expressed in the stories of the wonders performed by Elijah and Elisha (I
Kings 17; II Kings 13). These stories portray works of wonder in several ways:
some are described as being wrought by G-d alone; some by partnership of G-d and
His prophets; and some by the prophet alone. The tension between the different
views prevalent in Israel in the biblical period regarding who worked the
miracles is, as far as we can tell, what accounts for this
Accordingly, perhaps the authors
of the Haggadah wished to ascribe the miracles to G-d, and G-d alone.
Incorporating Moses' name extensively in the Haggadah, as surely might
have seemed warranted, would have obscured this theological statement.
. The omission of Moses' name might also have
served anti-Samaritan polemics. The Haggadah appears to have taken shape over
several centuries, from the end of the Second Temple period through the time of
During these years,
especially towards the end of the Persian period, the struggle between rabbinic
Judaism and the Samaritans reached a peak, finding expression in an alternative
temple being built on Mount Gerizim in Shechem. Moses was a figure of great
importance to the Samaritans, considering the fact that they included in their
canon only the Pentateuch. According to their faith, the redeemer in the end of
days is described as a "second
This view is also reflected in
Hellenistic literature and in the New
Hence it seems quite reasonable
that the authors of the Haggadah might have wished to minimize the role of Moses
as part of their anti-Samaritan (and perhaps also anti-Christian) polemic. The
story of the exodus from Egypt, as it is recast in the Haggadah, shows an
attempt at coping with the personality cult that had developed around the figure
of Moses, which in its most extreme manifestations went as far as to deify
Once the role played by Moses had been reduced or eliminated,
the way was paved for the authors of the Haggadah to express other messages.
Maimonides, for example, believed that the central message of the Haggadah is to
acknowledge the kindness the Lord has done for us. Maimonides found this
message especially in the passage, "My father was a fugitive
Aramean": "The passage of bikkurim
[the passage from
Deuteronomy 26, recited when first fruits are brought to the Temple] also
contains the virtue of modesty ... and recognition of G-d's grace and
kindness, remembering the times of hardship when in a time of ease"
(Guide for the Perplexed
, Part III, ch.
This message of thanking G-d for the
good can also be found in Dayyenu
, as well as in the passage,
"Therefore we must give thanks, praise, and extol ... the one who
performed all these miracles for our ancestors and
Compensation for not mentioning Moses in the Haggadah can be
found in medieval illustrated Haggadot (such as the Sarajevo Haggadah). In
these Haggadot the text is illustrated with illuminations depicting various
periods in the life of Moses.
In some manuscripts of the
Haggadah even this verse has been omitted, so that Moses' name does not
appear at all.
Cf. Tractate Rosh
8.3: "Did Moses' hands do the fighting? ... Rather,
it is to say that as long as the Israelites cast their eyes upwards and enslaved
their hearts to their Father in Heaven, they would prevail, and if not, they
Cf. R. Kasher,
"Defusei ha-Pe'ilut shel Osei ha-Niflaot ba-Mikra
U. Simon (ed.), Iyyunei Mikra u-Farshanut, Menahot Yedidut le-Yehudah
, II, Ramat-Gan 1986, pp. 161-174; Y. Zakowitz, Al Tefisat
(Sifriyat ha-Universita ha-Meshuderet
), Tel Aviv
1987, p. 69ff.
For a discussion of the
development of the Haggadah, see D. Goldsmith, Haggadah Shel Pesah –
, Jerusalem 1969; A. Shinan, "Dor Dor
(Le-Toledoteiha shel Ha-Haggadah shel Pesah
, 13 (1991), pp. 44-60.
The basis for this notion is
taken from Deut. 18:18-19 ("I will raise up a prophet for them from among
their own people, like yourself"). These verses appear in the Samaritan
version of the Torah after the Ten Commandments. See Y. Ben-Zvi, Sefer
, Tel Aviv 1970, p. 138; J. Heinemann, Aggadot
, Jerusalem 1974, pp. 109-111.
For example, Moses and
Elijah appear alongside Jesus as heralding the Messiah or escorting him (Math.
17:1ff). See Heinemann, note 5 above, p. 111.
See E. Aderet, "
‘Arami Oved Avi
': Midrash Yetziat Mitzraim ba-Haggadah
," Alei Si'ah
, 12-14 (1982), pp.
Tabori believes the message
of the Haggadah to be that "there is no true Redemption for the Jewish
people except in upholding the Torah, while living in their own land, the Land
of Israel." See Y. Tabori, Pesah Dorot: Perakim be-Toledot Leil
, Tel Aviv, 1996, p. 384. Of course there are other themes that
can be viewed as the central message of the Haggadah, but this is not the place
for a lengthy discussion. For example, see the commentaries cited by Rabbi M.
L. Katzenelenbogen, Haggadah Shel Pesah – Torat Hayyim
On these Haggadot, see B.
Narkiss, "Haggadot Me'uryarot mi-Yemei ha-Beinayim
, I (1983), p. 31ff.