Ritual and commentary: The Pesach story

by Alan Jay Gerber

Rabbi Avigdor Nebenzahl, in a recent Dvar Torah on Parshat Tazriah noted the following observation: “We have spoken about using speech in a way prohibited by the Torah, one of the ways in which we can use our speech for mitzvoth is relating the story of the exodus from Egypt. Although it is important that we read the text of the Haggadah, we may and are encouraged to add and elaborate on the story of yetzias Mitzrayim, as we say in the Haggadah, ‘the more one relates the story of the exodus, the more praiseworthy is he’.

“It is important to keep in mind that elaborating does not mean pilpulim and chiddushim on the wording of the Haggadah. It may be true that gedolei Torah have written such commentary on the Haggadah, but we must keep in mind that they did not write it during their Seders.”

Rabbi Yosef Marcus editor of the newly published Chabad Haggadah in English by Kehot Publication Society picks up on this same theme wherein he writes in the introduction to his work the following admonition: “The importance of deed in Judaism is well known. One who meditates all night on the concept of matzah but fails to actually eat matzah has of course failed to perform the mitzvah.”

Rabbi Marcus makes the point that the recitation and elaboration of the events historic to this evening’s commemorative must be recited as an addendum to the actual ongoing rituals of the Seder. All commentary is but a sidebar to ritual observance. Nevertheless, it is the commentary that adds a richness and flavor to the evening’s proceedings.

Rabbi David Jay Derovan in his recently issued and beautifully written supplement to the Pesach Haggadah titled, You Shall Tell Your Son… states the following in his introduction: “Many years ago a Jewish librarian told me that there are two books on the Jewish bookshelf that have more editions and commentaries than any other. They are Pirkay Avot and the Haggadah.

“The reason there are so many commentaries on Pirkay Avot is that we are endlessly fascinated with the human condition. Without doubt our Talmudic sages teach us about being human with great wisdom.

“As for the Haggadah, these same sages tell us that whoever says more about the Exodus is to be praised. While I do not think that all of us who have written about the Exodus are seeking praise, we are actually fascinated by a singular event in Jewish history, the record of that event in the Bible and the annual ritual retelling of the event and its significance at the Seder.”

The historic events detailed from a spiritual perspective are sharply detailed in the two skillfully written works cited above. Each, coming from radically differing perspectives, when taken together in the spirit of ahavat Yisrael will surely give you a complete picture, as to what the Exodus has meant to our people down through the ages.

Also, an annual public service by Sh’or Yoshuv Institute has once again been graciously been made available to our community. The Commentator’s Pesach Seder Haggadah booklet supplement for 2011 by Rabbi Yitzchok Sender is now available and I strongly urge everyone reading this essay to purchase their copy from the Institute [516-239-9002] while they are still available.

Also, the latest edition of Hakirah magazine, volume 11 is now on sale featuring, among others, a special essay titled, “The Mystical Spirituality of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik,” by Heshy Zelcer.

Also, some local intellectual prowess in on display in an essay titled, “A Proposal to Improve Rabbinic Decision Making for Serious Medical Problems” by Dr. Brenda Breuer, Dr. Fred Rosner, and Rabbi Dr. Aaron E. Glatt. I strongly urge one to make this magazine a priority over the upcoming holiday.

The original article from The Jewish Star can be viewed here.

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