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2024 Haggadah themes – one per cup

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This year will be a Pesach like no other I (and probably you) have experienced for too many obvious reasons. I have had a quick dip into the Haggadah I have so often recited by rote and drawn out what for me are four messages I feel are especially relevant to this Seder.

The Seder throughout is a mix of sorrow and hope. The Matzah we eat is both a reminder of slavery “the Bread of Affliction” and also of hope as we ate it on our journey out of Egypt. This is evident across the Haggadah and serves as a very powerful backdrop to this year’s Seder – the terror of 7th October and the last six months and the miracle that was last Motsei Shabbat. The Seder is structured as a set of contradictory actions representing slavery and freedom  – very much like our lives are today.

We have seen and are still experiencing unimaginable pain, shock and suffering with thousands killed and still hundreds held captive. For this there is no magic medicine but we can reflect that this is yet another part of our collective story for which G-d in His infinite wisdom has allowed to happen for reasons unknown to us . We have also seen deliverance from attack and seen the miracle of our young and older soldiers and defense organizations literally save us from an enemy that – yet again – seeks our destruction.

The Seder really is about – at its core – educating our kids on the values of being part of the chain of history that is the Jewish People. With immense pride I see this year how our younger generation has lived up above and beyond to its role as protectors of our nation. All the talk of an entitled Gen Z has given way to stories of heroism, self sacrifice and unbelievable service – whether in front line battle or as seen in the recent attack by Iran by those who man our air and cyber defenses as just an example. We are blessed with an amazing future generation.

This is just my attempt to put the seder into some context for me personally given the current situation. If you find it useful then great!!

Much of what is below is taken from the Haggadah available at sefaria.com and the Rabbi Sacks Commentary available on it.

Message no 1: We are there for each other!!

The first real statement of the Haggadah is strangely written not in Hebrew but in Aramaic

הָא לַחְמָא עַנְיָא דִּי אֲכָלוּ אַבְהָתָנָא בְּאַרְעָא דְמִצְרָיִם. כָּל דִכְפִין יֵיתֵי וְיֵיכֹל, כָּל דִצְרִיךְ יֵיתֵי וְיִפְסַח. הָשַּׁתָּא הָכָא, לְשָׁנָה הַבָּאָה בְּאַרְעָא דְיִשְׂרָאֵל. הָשַּׁתָּא עַבְדֵי, לְשָׁנָה הַבָּאָה בְּנֵי חוֹרִין.

This is the bread of destitution that our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt. Anyone who is famished should come and eat, anyone who is in need should come and partake of the Pesach sacrifice. Now we are here, next year we will be in the land of Israel; this year we are slaves, next year we will be free people.

It was deliberately written in the spoken language of the people at the time of the writing of the Haggadah so that all would understand. It is a clear statement for all of us that our primary responsibility is to make sure that anyone needy is taken care of. Taking care of the needy is not just for those who need, but is the very essence of freedom.

As Rabbi Sacks says: “Sharing food is the first act through which slaves become free human beings. One who fears tomorrow does not offer his bread to others. But one who is willing to divide his food with a stranger has already shown himself capable of fellowship and faith, the two things from which hope is born. That is why we begin the seder by inviting others to join us. Bread shared is no longer the bread of oppression. Reaching out to others, giving help to the needy and companionship to those who are alone, we bring freedom into the world, and with freedom, God.”

We have our major differences as a Jewish people – between secular and religious, right and left, Israel and Diaspora but we must remember that we are one family and this is evident a few pages after this quote when we talk about the four sons – four very different architypes of people and in fact according to some a parallel to how each of us as individuals goes through these four stages of life – without all of whom the Seder is not complete.

This year, I believe we have lived up to the example set by the Haggadah in the way society has pulled together for the greater good. In the aftermath of October 7th, we pulled together as one people in an inspiring way. Long may it continue and hopefully the seder serves as a reinforcement of this.

Message no 2: We have far more questions than answers and that is ok

The whole structure of the Seder is around asking questions and the most famous part of the seder is the kids reading out ‘Mah Nishtana’. These four questions are more important in the seder than their answers – so much so that in fact there are no specific answers given for the questions asked.

In our current situation we unfortunately have more questions than answers regarding the very basics of what is and will happen – it is an uncertain time.

The Seder at least gives assurance that this is something we have been through before many many times. The Israelites sitting in their houses on the night of Passover had only faith to rely on with no idea what comes next – that is our story.

As Rabbi Sacks says so eloquently: Religious faith has often been seen as naive, blind, accepting. That is not the Jewish way. Judaism is not the suspension of critical intelligence. To the contrary: asking a question is itself a profound expression of faith in the intelligibility of the universe and the meaningfulness of human life. To ask is to believe that somewhere there is an answer. The fact that throughout history people have devoted their lives to extending the frontiers of knowledge is a compelling testimony to the restlessness of the human spirit and its constant desire to go further, higher, deeper. Far from faith excluding questions, questions testify to faith – that history is not random, that the universe is not impervious to our understanding, that what happens to us is not blind chance. We ask not because we doubt, but because we believe.

Message no 3: We are living history on a much travelled road. We are yet another generation who are hopefully travelling from sorrow to joy and from mourning to a festival.

Having set out the story of the Exodus – warts and all – including all the pain of slavery the Haggadah says:

לְפִיכָךְ אֲנַחְנוּ חַיָּבִים לְהוֹדוֹת, לְהַלֵּל, לְשַׁבֵּחַ, לְפָאֵר, לְרוֹמֵם, לְהַדֵּר, לְבָרֵךְ, לְעַלֵּה, וּלְקַלֵּס לְמִי שֶׁעָשָׂה לַאֲבוֹתֵינוּ וְלָנוּ אֶת־כָּל־הַנִסִּים הָאֵלּוּ: הוֹצִיאָנוּ מֵעַבְדוּת לְחֵרוּת, מִיָּגוֹן לְשִׂמְחָה, וּמֵאֵבֶל לְיוֹם טוֹב, וּמֵאֲפֵלָה לְאוֹר גָּדוֹל, וּמִשִּׁעְבּוּד לִגְאֻלָּה. וְנֹאמַר לְפָנָיו שִׁירָה חֲדָשָׁה: הַלְלוּ יָהּ.

Therefore we are obligated to thank, praise, laud, glorify, exalt, lavish, bless, raise high, and acclaim He who made all these miracles for our ancestors and for us: He brought us out from slavery to freedom, from sorrow to joy, from mourning to [celebration of] a festival, from darkness to great light, and from servitude to redemption. And let us say a new song before Him, Halleluyah!

A number of people I have spoken to do not really want a Seder this year and I personally feel conflicted. However it is a reality of Jewish existence that we go through peaks and troughs, from sorry to joy and I hope that with G-d’s help we see good times soon.

Perhaps this year of all years in my 48 years we can live up to the strange statement of the Haggadah:

בְּכָל־דּוֹר וָדוֹר חַיָּב אָדָם לִרְאוֹת אֶת־עַצְמוֹ כְּאִלּוּ הוּא יָצָא מִמִּצְרַיִם, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: וְהִגַּדְתָּ לְבִנְךָ בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא לֵאמֹר, בַּעֲבוּר זֶה עָשָׂה ה’ לִי בְּצֵאתִי מִמִּצְרַיִם. לֹא אֶת־אֲבוֹתֵינוּ בִּלְבַד גָּאַל הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא, אֶלָּא אַף אוֹתָנוּ גָּאַל עִמָּהֶם, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: וְאוֹתָנוּ הוֹצִיא מִשָּׁם, לְמַעַן הָבִיא אוֹתָנוּ, לָתֶת לָנוּ אֶת־הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּע לַאֲבֹתֵינוּ.

In each and every generation, a person is obligated to see himself as if he left Egypt, as it is stated (Exodus 13:8); “And you shall explain to your son on that day: For the sake of this, did the Lord do [this] for me in my going out of Egypt.” Not only our ancestors did the Holy One, blessed be He, redeem, but rather also us [together] with them did He redeem, as it is stated (Deuteronomy 6:23); “And He took us out from there, in order to bring us in, to give us the land which He swore unto our fathers.”

We are effectively living through the story at the moment – it is our present as we fight a clearly existential threat to our security. We should have the faith that those generations before us had – even though they also found it difficult and struggled to stay united as they were led to freedom.

I believe the Seder offers us a chance this year to really understand the meaning of freedom and the value of it as a nation and as individuals.

Message no 4: We will prevail and I hope we will ALL be free to celebrate as soon as possible including those held captive

לְשָׁנָה הַבָּאָה בִּירוּשָלַיִם הַבְּנוּיָה.

Next year, let us be in the built Jerusalem!

As Rabbi Sacks writes below, the concept of Jewish Sovereignty is very real this year and as we saw only a few days ago we hold onto it with resolve and the blood and sweat of our precious soldiers and others who defend us. My hope is that next year we see a revitalized nation free of war and enjoying peace.

Even more important than the above, I pray that all of us including the remaining hostages will be able to celebrate with us as soon as possible – only then will we be complete.

Rav Sacks commentary:

As at the conclusion of Yom Kippur, so here – at the two supreme moments of the Jewish year – we pray Leshana haba’a biYerushalayim habenuya, “Next year in Jerusalem rebuilt.” Nothing in the imaginative life of peoples throughout the world quite compares to the Jewish love for, and attachment to, Jerusalem. A Psalm records, in unforgettable words, the feelings of the Jewish exiles in Babylonia two and a half thousand years ago: “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept as we remembered Zion…. How can we sing the LORD’s song on foreign soil? If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill. May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy” (Ps. 137:1–6).

Wherever Jews were, they preserved the memory of Jerusalem. They prayed toward it. They spoke of it continually. At weddings they broke a glass in its memory. On Tisha B’Av they sat and mourned its destruction as if it were a recent tragedy. They longed for it with an everlasting love.

The French historian Chateaubriand, visiting Jerusalem in the early nineteenth century, was overcome with emotion as he saw for the first time the small Jewish community there, waiting patiently for the Messiah. “This people,” he wrote, “has seen Jerusalem destroyed seventeen times, yet there exists nothing in the world which can discourage it or prevent it from raising its eyes to Zion. He who beholds the Jews dispersed over the face of the earth, in keeping with the Word of God, lingers and marvels. But he will be struck with amazement, as at a miracle, who finds them still in Jerusalem and perceives even, who in law and justice are the masters of Judea, to exist as slaves and strangers in their own land; how despite all abuses they await the king who is to deliver them.”

 Noting how this “small nation” had survived while the great empires who sought its destruction had vanished, he added, “If there is anything among the nations of the world marked with the stamp of the miraculous, this, in our opinion, is that miracle.”

It is said that Napoleon, passing a synagogue on Tisha B’Av, was struck by the sounds of lament coming from the building. “What,” he asked one of his officers, “are the Jews crying for?” “For Jerusalem,” came the reply. “How long ago did they lose Jerusalem?” “More than seventeen hundred years ago.” Napoleon was silent for a moment and then said, “A people that can remember Jerusalem for so long will one day have it restored to them.” So it has come to pass in our time.

 In summary

Perhaps more than ever, the story of Pesach resonates with our generation and we can use the gift of the Seder to make it relevant to our time and renew our faith and hopefully unite and collectively come together as a people reflecting on hope but also the pain. It has resonated for Jews during times of pogroms and other difficult times and yet again it maybe a point of reflection for us.

May our Pesach prayers be a comfort for those tragically lost and their loved ones and may we see the return of those held captive as soon as possible.

About the Author
I live in Yad Binyamin having made Aliyah 17 years ago from London. I have an amazing wife and kids including a son in Special Forces and two daughters, one soon to start uni and one in high school. A partner of a global consulting firm and a Parkinson's patient and advocate.
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