Personal Redemption: Choosing a Haggadah

By Rabbi Felicia L. Sol | Issue Date: March 2000

“Words are what I work with and through which I am made… There is no place words cannot take us if we don’t take them as authorities, with fixed codes hardwired into the language, but as springs to jump with, or as trampolines to hurl ourselves, inward and outward, upward and downward, aslant and agog, round and unrounded.”
-Charles Bernstein

The Pesah seder is based on the commandment, “You shall tell your child on that day, saying, ‘It is because of what Adonai did for me when I came forth out of Egypt.'” (Exodus 13:8) Through words we communicate the nature of our personal experience. The text of the haggadah is the word on the page, however the commandment is to tell, not to read so that the words of the text become the springboard to a lively, interactive experience. The telling of the story enables the personal experience of redemption.

The following haggadot provide various approaches to the seder in order to make this year’s telling one in which we leave our own Mitzrayim and feel the promise of redemption:

Passover Haggadah: The Feast of Freedom
ed. Rachel Anne Rabinowicz
Born of the ideology of the Conservative Movement, which seeks to maintain tradition while bringing innovation to respond to the present needs of the time. The text of the traditional haggadah is centered on each page and additional commentaries are presented on the side. These additions provide a deeper look at the nature of the symbols of the seder, commentaries from the Rabbis and Hassidic masters which enlighten various themes and rituals of the seder, and modern perspectives and alternative readings.
Illustrations: Color and modern, allowing for various interpretations
Gender Sensitive: No
Instructive: To the actions of the seder, but not to participation
Appealing for Children: Not engaging, except perhaps for the illustrations
Accessibility: Language is easy to understand and inviting

A commentary on One who does not know:

“Noting that the word “at” (you), in the phrase “at p’tah lo” (you should open the discussion for him) consists of the first and last letters (alef and tav) of the Hebrew alphabet, Rabbi Hayim Halberstam of Zanz sees all the heavenly gates, from the highest to the lowest, opening to those who know that they do not know. And to these individuals, who temper wisdom with humility, divine insights are accordingly accorded.

On the Wings of Freedom: The Hillel Haggadah for the Nights of Passover
ed. Rabbi Richard Levy
The text offers a beautiful dialogue between Shir HaShirim (the Song of Songs), traditionally read on Pesah, and the text of the haggadah. The reflections throughout provide insight through poetry and both modern day and rabbinic commentary while giving a variety of options for different sedarim and disparate communities (it was written for college students).
Illustrations: Lacking
Gender Sensitive: Yes
Instructive: To the actions of the seder , but not to participation
Appealing for Children:No
Accessibility: Relevant commentary, Hebrew is transliterated, has a leader’s addition
A reflection on the One who does not know how to ask:

“Perhaps (some Hassidic rabbis suggest) we should turn the order of the Four Children upside down and see the silence of the One Who Does not Know How to Ask as the most profound response, emerging out of the awesomeness of the Exodus and even of life itself….the One Whose Understanding Transcends Speech. The Haggadah tells us that this is the one to whom we must open up; it is through the Silent One, the one who has moved beyond the questions through whom we may understand what Adonai really did for each of us when we went out of Mitzrayim.”

The Breslov Haggadah
ed. Moshe Mykoff
Contains a wealth of commentaries of Rebbe Nahman of Breslov (1772-1811), interwoven with the midrashic stories of the Exodus and Hassidic lore. The teachings of Rebbe Nachman are translated to make them accessible to one searching for deeper understanding of the experience of Pesah. They provide rich insight into each aspect of the seder night giving us an ability to wrestle with experience of the exodus from a personal, spiritual framework.
Illustrations: No
Gender Sensitive: No
Instructive: To the actions of the seder , but not to participation
Appealing for Children: No
Accessibility: Directed towards one engaged in a deep spiritual search

Rebbe Nachman teaches the following on the child who does not know how to ask:

“Finally, there is the one who is unable to ask, the Sleeping Self. When we come in contact with one who is incapable or even ashamed to ask about God – when we experience a spiritual vacuum, a sleep, inside ourselves – it is we who must take the initiative. With the great Light which enters the world on the Seder night, we must illuminate all places. The “father” is aware and awake. He must rouse his “son” to ask. In others and in ourselves, we must awaken the Sleeping Self.

The Passover Haggadah
ed. Nahum N. Glatzer
Includes commentaries based on the studies of E. D. Goldschmidt which contain scholarly material on the development of the text, how the tradition was influenced by the social context of the time, and rabbinic commentary on the seder. In addition, the haggadah explains why certain passages are translated in various ways, based on midrashic comments etc.
Illustrations: Minimal, from the Prague Haggadah of 1526
Gender Sensitive: No
Instructive: To the actions of the seder, but not to participation
Appealing for Children: No
Accessibility: Very academic

A commentary on the Four Sons:

“This passage, a midrashic exposition of Deut. 6:20 24 (or Exod. 13:14), is an illustration to the Mishnah’s dictum: “According to the understanding of the son does his father instruct him.” (Pesachim X.4)

A Different Night: The Family Participation Haggadah
by Noam Zion and David Dishon
Recently published (1997), it creates a new genre of educative and interactive haggadot. It is “more responsive to contemporary needs and simultaneously truer to the spirit of the Rabbis as educators.” It provides participants with a vast array of explanations, stories, readings and meditation while including activities which will engage the whole family, from young to old. As a product of the Hartman Institute, this haggadah is imbued with a pluralistic understanding of Judaism.
Illustrations: Varied, from modern day cartoons to more traditional
Gender Sensitive: No
Instructive: To the actions of the seder and to participation
Appealing for Children: Yes
Accessibility: Very user friendly, has a leader’s addition

A commentary on the Four Children:

“I instinctively recoil from static stereotypes that label persons simplistically. Therefore, I choose to interpret the midrash of the four children as a diverse set of strategies for addressing four different facets of each and every child. Each personality combines these facets in different ways.” (Ya’ariv Ben Aharon, Kibbutz author)

All of the haggadot have something to offer us as we approach the seder this year. It is our obligation to do the learning, the cutting and pasting and the spiritual preparation to make the seder night different from all other nights.