2003From The Passover Haggadah
Two Tales of Redemption: A Passover Primer
"We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, and the Lord our God brought us out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. And If the Holy One, blessed be He, had not brought our ancestors out of Egypt, we, and our children, and our children's children would still be slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt."
"In former days our ancestors worshipped idols, but now the All-Present has brought us to His service, as it is said: "And Joshua said to all the people: So says the Lord God of Israel, from the beginning your ancestors dwelled on the other side of the [Euphrates] river and they served other Gods (Joshua 24)."
Your Haggadah Navigator
The Talmud teaches that the Passover Seder celebrates our rise from a state of disgrace to a state of glory. The Haggadah offers the two passages quoted above as different perspectives on what is meant by "disgrace" and "glory".
1. In your mind, what is the greater disgrace, the physical servitude of slavery or the spiritual servitude of idolatry? Which is the greater rise to glory, being freed from slavery or coming to worship the one true God?
2. Can one be spiritually free while suffering physically? Can one be truly free if enslaved by false beliefs? Is service to God freedom, or another form of servitude?
3. What is the difference between using Passover to celebrate our freedom from Egypt and using it to celebrate our recruitment into the service of God?
4. The Maharal of Prague (Rabbi Judah Loew Ben Bezalel, 16th C.) sees the Passover Seder and its story of redemption as holding in it the promise of a future, and final, redemption. What is the nature of that future redemption as understood by each of our two passages? How would each define our current state of "slavery"? In your mind, are we currently "slaves" needing to be freed?
A Final Word
Two Fourth Century Babylonian Talmudists, Rav and Shmuel, argue over which of the two passages quoted above correctly identify our rise from disgrace to glory. Their argument has implications for how we understand our origins as a People.
To describe the beginnings of our disgrace, the Haggadah quotes the confession made by the Priest in the days of the Temple when bringing the First Fruit to the alter: "Arami Oved Avi..." (Deuteronomy 26:5). As understood by one of these Talmudists, this is to be translated as "The Aramean [Laban] sought to destroy my father [Jacob]". As understood by the other it is to be translated as "A wandering Aramean [Abraham] was my father". To one, our identity as a People begins with our enemy's attempt to destroy us. To the other, we begin our Peoplehood with the quest for God and Godliness. Which reading of Jewish history seems to resonate more for the American Jewish community? Which do you find more compelling?
Prepared by Rabbi Howard Alpert, Executive Director, Hillel of Greater Philadelphia.
Additional commentaries and text studies on Pesach at MyJewishLearning.com.