Bar-Ilan University's Parashat Hashavua Study Center

Shabbat Ha- Gadol--Passover 5769/ April 4, 2009

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. Prepared for Internet Publication by the Computer Center Staff at Bar-Ilan University. Inquiries and comments to: Dr. Isaac Gottlieb, Department of Bible, gottlii@mail.biu.ac.il

 

A Haggadah for Israel

Dr. Haggai Ben-Arzi

Center for Basic Jewish Studies

 

 

On the Sabbath before Passover, known as Shabbat ha- Gadol, it is customary for the Rabbi to deliver a sermon on matters of religious practice during the festival.   In many Jewish communities liturgical poems ( piyyutim) incorporating motifs from the Haggadah and the rules of Passover observance used to be recited on this Shabbat, as was the first part of the Haggadah itself.  In the spirit of Shabbat ha- Gadol, we shall devote this article to the Passover Haggadah.

In Pesahim 10.4, the Mishnah clearly defines the commandment of recitation (Heb. haggadah), requiring parents to tell their children (“you shall tell your son”) at the Seder table about the festival:  “The father should teach his son, in accordance with the son’s ability to grasp, beginning with the shameful tale and ending with the praiseworthy narrative, interpreting the text from the words, ‘my father was a fugitive Aramean,’ until he finishes the entire passage.”  In other words, the Haggadah is based on the passage in Deuteronomy (26:5-9) that was recited when bringing first fruits to the Temple. This passage is a brief history of the Jewish people from the patriarchs to the entry into the land. These verses are to be read by the father, exposited and taught to his children, according to their ability to understand.   Indeed, in the Haggadahs used in most Jewish communities the primary text consists of this passage from Deuteronomy, beginning with the words, “My father was a fugitive Aramean,” and additional homilies based on these verses, taken mainly from Sifre (the halakhic midrash on Deuteronomy).

"And Gave Us This Land"

 Nevertheless, it turns out that the traditional Haggadah does not satisfy the requirements of the Mishnah.   The Mishnah stipulates that one should exposit “the entire passage,” which actually ends with the verse, “He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey” (Deut. 26:9).  In no traditional version of the Haggadah do we find this text, which indeed is the high point of the entire passage.   This verse alone completes the cycle of Redemption, of the promise and its realization, of that which was sworn and its fulfillment:  “I acknowledge this day before the Lord your G-d that I have entered the land that the Lord swore to our fathers to assign to us” (Deut. 26:3).  What happened to this verse?  Why did it disappear?

It turns out that the formulation of the traditional Haggadah which we have today was completed by the Sages in Babylonia. [1]   For Jews in the Diaspora it was difficult to declare, “He brought us to this place and gave us this land,” when they were in exile and the land of Israel was in Roman hands.  It is hard to know whether the initiative for omitting this verse came from the Sages or whether it was a custom among the people that received approval by the Sages.   Be that as it may, the verse and the wealth of homilies on it disappeared from the Babylonian Haggadah, which became the standard formulation among the Jewish people. [2]

In recent generations, during which we have had the good fortune to witness an extensive ingathering of exiles from all over the world (some 5.5 million Jews, almost half of the Jewish people, now live in Israel) and a sovereign Jewish state in our own land, there is no reason not to return to complete performance of the commandment of haggadahof telling our children – using the original formulation from the land of Israel.  Indeed, this has been done by certain rabbis who published a “Land of Israel edition” of the Haggadah.  The first of these was Rabbi Menahem-Mendel Kasher (author of Torah Shelemah), who published a Haggadat Pesah Eretz-Yisraelit immediately after the establishment of the State of Israel. [3]   More recently, another such Haggadah, entitled Haggadat ha-Mikdash, was published by Rabbi Yisrael Ariel. [4]   Both contain extensive commentary on the verse "that I have entered the land" (Deut. 26:3) which had been deleted in the Babylonian Haggadah.

Rabbi Kasher even went so far as to claim that the commandment to interpret the text homiletically ( ve-doresh) should be taken not only in the formal sense of presenting homilies on the verse, but also by associating the Egyptian liberation from bondage with events of our times in order to fulfill the mishnaic requirement that “in every generation we must view ourselves as if we have just come out of Egypt” (Pesahim 10.5).  In this spirit, Rabbi Kasher added extensive appendices to his Land of Israel Haggadah where he presented the Holocaust of European Jewry as an expression of unparalleled bondage and annihilation, and the ingathering of the exiles and establishment of the State as an expression of return to the land and political liberation.   The appendices are accompanied by dozens of photographs documenting events of the Holocaust as well as those associated with the rebirth of the Jewish nation.

"I Will Bring You"

A similar thing seems to have happened to the four expressions of Redemption.  The expressions of Redemption are based on the tidings that Moses brought the Israelites in Egypt.   The four with which we are familiar appear in these tidings ("I will free you, … and deliver you, … I will redeem you, … I will take you"), but the climax of these tidings is in the last verse:   “I will bring you into the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and I will give it to you for a possession, I the Lord” (Ex. 6:6-8).  Here we have five expressions of Redemption, not four.

The association between the cups of wine at the Seder and the expressions of Redemption dates back to the Jerusalem Talmud.   The Talmud notes that Rabbi Tarfon used to drink five cups of wine, the fifth one being for the expression, “I will bring you.” [5]

It turns out that Rabbi Tarfon was preserving an ancient practice which gradually disappeared after the destruction of the Temple, since the Jews found it difficult to mention the fifth expression, “I will bring you,” when they were in exile.  Here, too, Rabbis Kasher and Ariel reinstated the practice of drinking a fifth cup, emphasizing its connection with the fifth expression of Redemption. [6]

Restoring the passages in the Haggadah that deal with the land of Israel should not be viewed merely as a reconstruction of the ancient version found in the land of Israel, [7] but rather as a self-evident obligation to give thanks and praise to the Creator for our good fortune in having returned to the Holy Land, the Lord’s portion, after two thousand years of exile, and for having been blessed with seeing the fulfillment of G‑d’s promise to our patriarchs and prophets in out time.

                                                                                                                                           

 



[1] The questions of the four sons as they appear in the Haggadah as we know it, for example, differs from their formulation in the Jerusalem Talmud (Pesahim 10:3), which reflects the version of the Haggadah that was current in the land of Israel.  See the Hebrew article by Menahem Ben-Yashar, “Al Midrash Arba’at ha- Banim she-be-Haggadat Pesah,” Bar-Ilan Parasha Page for Parashat Tzav and Shabbat ha-Gadol 2007 (no. 697).

[2]Even Maimonides, who ruled explicitly in Mishne Torah that one should complete the entire passage at the Seder ( Hilkhot Hametz u- Matzah 7.4), also omits this verse and the commentaries on it from the Haggadah which he presents at the end of Hilkhot Hametz u-Matzah.  This apparently explains why he stressed in his introduction to his Haggadah that this was “the version used by the Jews in exile.”

[3] New York, 1950.

[4] Published by Makhon ha-Mikdash and Carta, Jerusalem, 1995.

[5] For further reading, see “Kos Hamishi, in Rabbi Kasher, Haggadah Shelemah, Makhon Torah Shelemah, Jerusalem, 1957.

[6] For example, see Rabbi Ariel’s Haggadat ha- Mikdash, in which he says:   “Those who wish the embellishment of a fifth cup should say:  I am ready to observe the commandment of the fifth cup, for the fifth expression of Redemption, as it is written:  ‘I will bring you to the land, … and I will give it to you for a possession, I the Lord,’ and then they drink the fifth cup.”  Drinking a fifth cup was also practiced by the Maharal of Prague.

[7] In a similar vein, see the Hebrew article by Rabbi Dr. David David Mescheloff, “Hashlamah le-Haggadat Pesah le-Toshavei Eretz Yisrael,” Weekly Torah Study, Parashat Aharei Mot and Passover 2005 (no. 597).