Walter G. Wasser

Passover Haggadah: Hope and Redemption

Let’s delve deeper into the questions and explanations surrounding Moses’ absence in the Haggadah, the interruption during the Sages’ discussion, and the themes of hope, renewal, and redemption in Jewish tradition.

Moses’ Absence in the Haggadah

Moses is undeniably one of the central figures in Jewish history, particularly in the story of Pesach and the Exodus from Egypt. Yet, when we examine the Haggadah, the text used during the Passover seder, we find that Moses’s name is notably absent, save for one passing mention in a quotation of the verse, “And they believed in God and in Moses, His servant.” This raises the question: Why is Moses, the hero and main protagonist of the Exodus story, all but absent from the Haggadah?

To understand this, we turn to a famous passage from the Haggadah that recounts a story about some of the greatest sages of the time gathered in Bnai Brak for the Pesach seder. They were deeply engrossed in discussing the Exodus from Egypt throughout the night until their students came and informed them that it was time to recite the morning Shema.

Interpretation of the Haggadah Passage

The interruption by the students seems abrupt and disrespectful at first glance. How could they interrupt such esteemed scholars like Rabbi Eliezer, Rabbi Yehoshua, Rabbi Elazar ben Azaryah, Rabbi Akiva, and Rabbi Tarfon during their discussion? However, a closer look at the passage reveals a deeper meaning.

By examining the wording of the Haggadah passage, particularly the placement of a comma, we gain insight into the context. Moving the comma slightly changes the interpretation: “The rabbis were discussing the Exodus all that night until their students came and told them: ‘Our Masters, the time has come for reciting the morning Shema.’”

In this alternative reading, it’s not the students but the rabbis themselves who acknowledge that it’s time for the morning Shema. This subtle shift in punctuation changes the narrative. It shows that the interruption was not an impudent act by the students but a realization by the sages themselves that a new phase was beginning—it was time to transition from discussing the past (Exodus) to embracing the present (morning Shema) and the future.

Symbolism and Themes

The night symbolizes darkness, both literal and metaphorical. The sages were not just recounting history; they were grappling with the dark and challenging realities of their time. The destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans had left a profound impact on the Jewish community. They faced questions about the future of Judaism, the rebuilding of their community, and the possibility of redemption.

The arrival of the morning and the students symbolize hope and renewal. The students’ interruption signaled a shift from darkness to light, from despair to hope. It represented the emergence of a new generation eager to learn, carry on the tradition, and contribute to the continuity of Judaism.

Moses and Elijah: Symbolism of Redemption

This interpretation helps us understand why Moses is relatively absent from the Haggadah narrative while Elijah, another prominent figure, receives more attention. Moses represents the past redemption—the liberation of the Israelites from Egypt. His absence in the Haggadah may signify a focus on looking forward rather than dwelling solely on past achievements.

Elijah, on the other hand, symbolizes the final redemption in Jewish tradition. He is associated with the Messianic era and the heralding of the Messiah’s arrival. The mention of Elijah, the Fifth Cup at the seder, and opening the door for Elijah all point to the anticipation of ultimate redemption and a brighter future.

Contextualizing Historical Challenges

The parallels between the challenges faced by the ancient sages and those faced by contemporary Jews add depth to this interpretation. Just as the sages grappled with the aftermath of the Roman destruction, modern Jews have faced challenges like the Holocaust, conflicts with entities like Hamas and Iran, and ongoing threats to Jewish identity and continuity.

Despite these challenges, there is a sense of optimism and resilience. The emergence of a new generation dedicated to Torah study and Jewish continuity echoes the hope symbolized by the arrival of the students in the Haggadah story. It signifies a belief in a brighter future and the eventual fulfillment of Messianic prophecies.


In conclusion, the absence of Moses in the Haggadah narrative and the interruption during the sages’ discussion both carry profound symbolic meanings related to hope, renewal, and redemption. These themes resonate deeply in Jewish tradition, reflecting a continual striving for a better future despite historical challenges.

By examining these elements in the context of historical and contemporary challenges faced by the Jewish community, we gain a richer understanding of the narratives and symbols embedded in Passover traditions. It reminds us of the enduring spirit of resilience and faith that has sustained Jewish identity and heritage through generations.

“Adapted from Rabbi Yossy Goldman.”Passover 2024 – The Light Has Dawned.” JNS, 17 April 2024,

About the Author
The author is a specialist in nephrology and internal medicine and lives with his wife and family in Jerusalem.
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