Judaism: Reading the Haggadah on Shabbat Hagadol
Rabbi Menachem ShraderThe writer is a member of Torah MiTzion, the Zionist Kollels. He is founder and head of JLIC (Jewish Learning on Campus).
The ancient Ashkenazic custom mentioned in the Ramoh, to read the Hagaddah this Shabbat from Avadim Hayinu until the end of the paragraph following Dayenu, is not widely fulfilled in our day, perhaps because of the objection to it by the Great Gaon of Vilna. Nevertheless, it is worth our effort to understand what brought our ancestors to do so, and learn from the principle of the custom in absence of its observance.
Actually, the rationale for this custom is easily understood, and its purpose fulfilled by other means. Our Torah institutions do not encourage us to walk into the Seder night without preparation. Our schools spend a good portion of class time going over the Hagaddah so that children will be familiar with its contents. Even advanced yeshivot and seminaries have seminars dedicated to its study. Many parents and others who will lead a seder spend significant time thinking and planning how each paragraph should be presented, which should just be read, which delved into, what stories to insert, what commentaries to be quoted, what paragraphs should be sung and what melodies should be used. Courses are given about how to lead a Seder for those who will be doing so for the first time.
The seder is an experiential educational lesson, with multiple sophisticated tools to get the lesson across.
The Seder has potential for great spontaneity. All sorts of things are done to provoke questions and questioning. The four sons described in the Hagaddah are characterized not by their knowledge or actions, but by the nature and quality of their questions. Yet we do not sit back and let the Seder "naturally" develop without direction. The seder is an experiential educational lesson, with multiple sophisticated tools to get the lesson across. The "teacher" is well advised to prepare the lesson well. Enough unexpected is likely to happen in any case.
The halakhic history of the Hagaddah is itself a centuries long preparation to maintain the experience of the Exodus as the central and essential redemption of the Jewish people. This is regardless of what other dispersal or redemptive event has taken place. During the Hagaddah we recognize that today we are "slaves" once again. We also say we will continue to tell the story of the Exodus after the Messiah comes. Our having been freed then is more important than our present enslavement, however we are to understand that, and more important even than the coming of the Messiah himself.
Divine Providence and Rabbinic genius has taken the Seder from a sacrificial orientation focusing on the Paschal lamb to having the Matzoh and Seder plate serve as the primary food and visual stimulus.
In effect, the powerful preparation for the Seder presentation parallels the preparation of the home for Pesach. The bdikat chametz, clearly an ancient institution even in Mishnaic times, demands maximal attention for the household preparation a full 24 hours before the beginning of the yom tov. We are forbidden to do anything else at the time when the bedikah is to be performed.The obligation of bedikah ritualizes the cleaning of the house for Pesach in an absolute way.
The Jerusalem Talmud also makes reference to very elaborate cleaning that regularly took place well before yom tov.
The burning of the chametz that must be done the morning preceding the Seder again demands a preparatory mindset that brings us into the Seder with powerful focus. Prohibitions of eating Matzoh all day prior to the Seder and anything substantial too close to the Seder prevents us from coming into the Seder right from work (or the golf course) with nothing but the Seder "interrupting" our daily life.
The Seder is not a sudden interruption. It is the culmination of a house long in preparation, and a mind in process, confronted with the expected arrival of this grand educational event.
We are required to start studying the laws of Passover 30 days before it begins. This itself places a strong measure of preparation on the Pesach observer. But it hides another preparation within it.
The celebration of Purim is a celebration from "Mavet lChayim", from near annihilation to salvation. The justification of this celebration is learned as a kal vachomer (an a fortiori argument) from the Passover redemption. If from slavery to freedom we celebrate, all the more so should we celebrate from death to life! However, Hidden in the celebration from death to life is an acceptance of life without any precondition. The haunting words of Esther in speaking to the king on behalf of the Jewish people says it all: " If only we had been sold as slaves and female servants I would have been silent." Our confrontation with death brings us to voluntarily accept slavery. According to Rava, the reason we do not say Hallel on Purim is because even after this redemption, we were still slaves of Achashverosh.
The salvation of Purim requires a recovery. It requires us to rise to the call of Freedom. It demands we be unaccepting of our status as slaves as long as we are alive, and demand we be subject to no being in the universe other than God. This too requires preparation. It is only through the immersement in the anticipation of the upcoming "zman Cheruseinu", the time of our being free, that we can sit down at the Seder and lean as ancient free men, subject only to Hashem.
Pesach and the Seder require preparation. The more the better.