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The Foundation Stone Haggadah: Themes of the Haggadah 1

In the Haggadah at the end of Magid, right before Hallel, we say, “This Matza which we are eating is because of what? There was not be enough time for the dough of our ancestors to rise until the King of Kings, the Holy One Blessed be He, revealed Himself to them and redeemed them.” That’s the text that everyone uses. Now the whole text of the Haggadah, or at least the structure of it and most of the text, is based on a Mishnah in Pesachim. The Mishnah reads, “Matza, why do we eat it? Because our ancestors were redeemed from Egypt.”


Why don’t we follow the text as prescribed by the Mishnah? The Noda B’Yehuda, the chief rabbi of Prague during the 18th century gives an answer in one of his drashot for Shabbat Hagadol. (A rabbi of that time would speak only twice a year, once on Shabbat Shuva, which falls on the Shabbat between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and once on Shabbat Hagadol, which falls on the Shabbat before Pesach.) In that address, he explained that during the time that the Temple was still standing, which was when the Mishnah was written, the Jews would read that the reason for eating Matza “is because our ancestors were redeemed.” This was because at that time we were living in Israel, it was acknowledged that Israel was our land, and we knew what it meant to be redeemed.

However, the Noda B’Yehuda continues, we cannot say that now. We no longer know what it is to be redeemed. We live in a state of exile. Even though we have returned to Israel, we have to answer to external pressures. And, in any case, the Temple is not standing. Therefore, today we eat Matza because of the process of redemption – we were in a rush. This, we can relate to. We know what it’s like to be kicked out of a country, to run away from Crusaders, and from Progroms. So in our time, we use the second reading.

What the Noda B’Yehuda has really introduced here is the concept that there is a difference between the Haggadah that was read when the Temple still stood, and the Haggadah of Exile. This difference affects many other things in the Haggadah. For example, the Klei Chemdah, in the introduction to his commentary on the Torah, asks one of the most famous questions ever asked on the Haggadah – Why don’t we celebrate Moses’s role in the Exodus? After all, Moses was the agent by which the redemption was effected. We do mention his name, but in a backhanded way. After the splitting of the Red Sea, the Haggadah says that the Jews believed in God and Moses His servant. Other than that, his part in the Exodus is not described at.

In his answer, the Klei Chemdah relates a Midrash. Why is it that the first redemption (from Egypt) and the second redemption (from Babylon) did not last? Because both were effected by human beings; Moses in the former, and Ezra in the latter. However, the third redemption (from the exile we are currently in) will be effected by God directly, and will therefore be permanent.

The problem with this is that the Haggadah says “God took us out of Egypt not through an Angel, not through a Seraph, not through a messenger, but by God Himself.” How do we reconcile this with Midrash? The Klei Chemdah answers that there were two levels of redemption that were necessary. One was the Geulat haGuf, the redemption of the body, and the other was the Geulat haNefesh, the redemption of the soul. Moses effected the redemption of the body, or the physical redemption. He led us out of Egypt, he was the agent for the plagues, and he split the Red Sea. The spiritual redemption, on the other hand, was performed by God. This level of redemption was permanent. Upon leaving Egypt, we went to Sinai and accepted the Torah. The final redemption, which is physical, will be performed by God, and will be permanent, as well.

And why isn’t Moses’s name mentioned in the Haggadah? – On Seder night we are not celebrating the physical redemption. We are celebrating the Geulat haNefesh, the redemption of the soul. That’s why the Haggadah reads that the Exodus took place “not by an Angel, not by a Seraph…but by God Himself.”

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