One of my favorite courses in Rabbinic School was Rabbi Larry Hoffman’s course on the Haggadah. Rabbi Hoffman made the text and the Seder ritual come alive in a way for me that continues to intrigue and enthrall me to this very day. Ever since, each year I find myself searching and researching some new dimension of the Seder, the Haggadah and our festival of freedom which can bring a new insight to my preparations for this most tangible of our holidays. After all, this is a celebration which truly calls for all of our senses to engage as we embrace our freedom and the ongoing journey to true freedom.
Every year duriong our observance at Temple Shalom, I comment that for me, the most important words we read in our litany of words are, “In each and every generation we are obligated to see ourselves (individually) as if we personally had gone forth from Egypt.” There is no shortage of ways in which to interpret these words, and they take on new meaning every year! This year is no exception.
In Rabbi Hoffman’s class I spent a considerable amount of time researching one part of the Seder ritual we will enact later tonight, the puzzling and enduring song, Chad Gadya. I will not rehearse all of my research here and now. But here are a few themes I developed in my work on this staple of the Seder night festivities:
• Chad Gadya was added to the Seder in the 15th century
• It was (and is) patterned on other “building songs” such as “The House That Jack Built” (or more recently “The Green Grass Grows All Around.)
• No surprise here — There are a myriad of interpretations explaining who each of the characters represents. Some claim the song is based on the law of lex talionis (“An eye for an eye” as we read in Exodus 21:24-25); others claim a Talmudic basis for the song, premised on the Rabbis’ belief in the ultimate triumph of good over evil.
Last year I came across a link between Chad Gadya and the fourth piece of Matzah on the Matzah plate (which in years past we have understood alternatively as the “Matzah of Freedom” for the Jews of the FSU; the “Matzah of Unity” calling for unity among Jews of various persuasions, etc.) Last year I found an interpretation from Elie Wiesel who writes, “And here we are, concluding the seder with Chad Gadya, a beautiful song, which is not just about a father who buys a goat for his child. It’s a song about God’s creatures destroying each other. It may be a puzzling way to end the joyous meal but one that is fraught with meaning. The song of Chad Gadya reminds us that in Jewish history, all creatures, all animals, all events are connected. The goat and the cat, the fire and the water, the slaughterer and the redeemer, they are all part of the story.”
As we prepare to sit around our Seder tables with our family and friends, Elie Wiesel’s words ring even more true for me then they did a year ago. As we watch the constantly changing realities in the Middle East, especially as they have changed the face of Egypt, we are reminded yet again that our world is not yet free and that it is not yet time to drink from Elijah’s Cup. And as we listen to the voices in our diverse and all too fractious Jewish community, we know that we are not yet ready for the sweet taste of the messianic world.
Bechol dor vador — In each and every generation, we are all a part of the story. In such fractious times, with redemption seeming so distant, what role(s) are we prepared to play in the evolving story in the year to come. We must each ask ourselves, what can I, what will I contribute to bringing freedom and peace to my corner of the world? I know that as our Seder ends later tonight, I will be uttering the words, “Next year in Jerusalem with the added words — a Jerusalem in which peace resides for all.