...So I know the sea was not split in vain Deserts not crossed in vain
If at the end of the story stand Daddy and the kid Looking forward and
knowing their turn will come.
-from "The Kid of the Haggadah" by Nathan Alterman (trans. Arthur Waskow and Judy Spelman)
It is interesting to consider the power of the seder. The Jewish
people don't agree on much and the Jewish people here in the land of
Israel seem constantly to be screaming at each other over issues of
religion and ideology, even to the point of violence. But on seder night
they all sit down and do pretty much the same thing at the same time
and in many cases, they even do it together across religious and
ideological fault-lines, as family often trumps belief: We may be "left"
and the cousins or the in-laws may be "right," but this night is
different from all others. There is an interesting range of combinations
of the rituals observed and not observed by Israeli Jews, but surveys
show that very few from the ultra-ultra-Orthodox to the most atheistic
secularists skip the seder.
are more editions of the Haggadah than of any other Jewish book
around 4,000 print editions and some of the most beautiful illuminated
manuscripts of the middle ages. And every year new ones come out. This
year, for example, the Midrashah, a pluralistic study center at Oranim
College, has issued a women's Haggadah; but there are always new
traditional versions as well, with new commentaries and
illustrations. And the Haggadah is pretty much the only book in the
traditional Jewish corpus that is illustrated, so a lot of artistic
energy has been invested in it over the centuries. Our custom at seder
is to make sure everyone at the table has a different edition, so people
have to be alert and to help each other keep the place and the
differences in text and translation and illustration raise interesting
questions for discussion.
The Haggadah really is a remarkable piece of liturgical/educational
engineering, with its integration of experiences for all the senses, of
text and music, of history and theology, of family, of generations, of
past and future, of the heavy and the light. And although it consists of
a skeleton of core texts and actions and foods, it has invited, through
the ages, endless embellishments and adaptations: Melodies, artwork,
additions, commentaries, foods, folk and family traditions of "how it is
done." It is constantly changing, and every seder is different, yet it
is the same from century to century and continent to continent.
Which is not to say, of course, that there aren't lots of people,
especially in Israel, who attend out of obligation and find the ritual
dry or incomprehensible, or who try to "get it out of the way" quickly
so as to get down to dinner, or who feel the obligation to mumble all
the words even if no one is listening or understanding. The Haggadah is
full of mechanisms designed to prevent such phenomena (songs, four
questions, maror, afikomen hunt, etc.), but we are an ingenious people,
so there is always someone who will find a way to sabotage all these
safeguards and make the seder boring or oppressive. Fortunately, the
proliferation of creative Haggadot, and of workshops by the liberal
movements and the pluralistic study centers, are helping many families
make their sedarim more user-friendly and thus meaningful.
The bottom line, whether you are secular or Reform or ultra-Orthodox,
is to "see yourself as if you personally had come forth out of
Egypt." That's all. And if we could all do that then Elijah might
really stop by with some good news...