To our beloved Temple Beth Tikvah community:
Dave and I would like to wish each of you and your families a joyful and happy Passover, or in Hebrew: !שמח חג (a happy Chag). I would also like to engage you in one of Passover’s oldest and most encouraged traditions; to pose a couple of questions for your consideration:
- Does Moses’ name appear in the Passover Haggadah?
- If so, why, or if not, why not?
And most of you who know me by now, will probably guess my response, “well, that depends on who you ask….” I will add to my usual response that, “it also depends on in which of the Haggadot (plural for Haggadah) you are looking at” (go ahead, check out your own copy, then your parent’s and/or your grandparent’s copies).
In every Haggadah, at the very end of the recital of the Magid section, we read:
“In every generation, each person is to see him or herself as having personally come out of Egypt…For God did not deliver only our ancestors, but delivered ALL OF US along with them.”
“In every generation each person is to show him or herself…as having personally been a slave and having personally gone forth to freedom”
—Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Hametz Umatza 7:6
“But Where’s Moses?” Asks Rabbi Shlomo Yaffe in one of Chabad’s wonderful online teaching pages.
“In the Haggadah…Moses appears not at all. Why? Are we not leaving out the most important individual in the whole Exodus?!”
Rabbi Yaffe’s answer to his own question goes beyond the “yes” or “no” of Moses’ appearance, or lack of, in the Haggadah. He teaches that the most important point in the Passover story is that our “redemption” did not happen just long ago. Redemption is an ongoing endeavor, continuing throughout every stage in our lives and human history.
“Talking about Moses fixes the Exodus as a point in history. But Passover is not just about what was—it’s about what is, now….”
Thus fixing and associating the Exodus as a triumphant event associated with one extraordinary individual—even Moses himself—contradicts the focus of this holiday. On Passover we focus on our faith and trust in our own individual partnership with God, not in one human being—even an exceptional human like Moses. That is why Moses’ name is omitted from traditional Haggadot.
“Bubbkes!” says David Arnow, PhD in, The Passover Haggadah: Moses and the Human Role in Redemption (well, he didn’t really say “Bubbkes.” I added it for the “chuckle effect.” He refers to it as the more tactful, “curious myth”). For example, the 14th century Sarajevo Haggadah, the oldest surviving illuminated manuscript, includes this verse from Exodus:
“…and when Israel saw the great hand which the Lord had wielded against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord; they had faith in God and in God’s servant Moses” (u’v’Moshe avdo).
What we are to learn from the inclusion of Moses in that Haggadah is that both God (superior entity) and Moses (our human representative), have a hand in our own redemption from Egypt. We can never forget the role of human intervention in any redemptive process, even on the night of the Passover when we celebrate the work of God’s, “strong hand and outstretched arm” (be’yad chazakah u’vizroah netuya).
The Hebrew word for Egypt, Mitzrayim, literally means “narrow places.” Mitzrayim was a narrow and confining place for the Israelites. Not only physically, but also emotionally and spiritually as well. Thus we each have to consider the gift we are given each year; the opportunity to focus on our own source for confining, narrow mindedness. Every year Passover gives us the power to escape the personal bondage of habit and inclination.
In other words, as I mentioned at the beginning, there is more than “one, true way” to celebrate and interpret our tradition.
At your Seder, whether you use a Haggadah that does mention Moses’ name, or one that doesn’t, I think it is up to each of us to engage our children in conversation and teach one of Passover’s most important messages: that we each get an opportunity to choose to redeem ourselves from unhealthy sources of slavery. From common traps like, “the God of Perfection” (perfect body, perfect SAT scores, and so on), or from the enslavement to bad habits (smoking, overeating, substance abuse, and so on), from enslavement to toxic relationships with other human beings, and from Mitzrayim (my term for worshiping “The God of smartphones”—but that’s a discussion for another teaching…).
My point is that “enslavement” is not a constant in our history. Our ancestors broke free and so can we. The way to examine and free ourselves from slavery is by seeking and finding help. Yes, in days of old we had the “winning duo” of God and Moses; together they brought our ancient people out of slavery in Egypt. So here’s one last Passover question for you:
Who ya gonna call? Who would be your partner, your agent on your own journey to freedom?
And as you sit down to a delicious Seder in your lovely home on Friday evening, keep an eye out for Moses in your Haggadah. If you can’t find him in yours, then drop by my office; I have a whole collection of Haggadot from different parts of the world and from different eras. Moses has to be in at least one of them.
Again, I wish you all Chag Aviv Sa’meach; a happy renewed journey into springtime.
Your loving rabbi,
Rabbi/Cantor Meeka Simerly