18th April 2019 • Simon Eder • Much has been made in recent years of the intellectual and social bubbles that we construct in order to shelter us from the ideas that don’t conform to our own points of view. We tend to gravitate toward the comfortable and the familiar. Both the physical world that we inhabit and the use of social media in our digital worlds have become echo chambers in which we merely multiply the frequency and volume of the same old ideas and messages over and again. There are numerous writers and gurus advocating us to step out of our comfort zone when it comes to trying new activities but there are not nearly as many suggesting we do the same when it comes to exploring new ideas or embracing others with a different perspective to our own.
The Hagaddah is a remarkable antidote to these prevailing trends. The early passages of the Maggid for example have almost obsessive references to the words All or All of us “All who are hungry, let them come and eat; All who are in need, let them come and conduct the Seder of Passover. Even if all of us were wise, all of us understanding, all of us knowledgeable in torah, we would still be obligated to discuss the exodus from Egypt”.
This repetition emphasises the pervasive concern that the editors of the Hagaddah had for the inclusive and redemptive learning experience that they sought to foster. It is also these important ingredients of inclusiveness that set the seder apart from the Greek symposia which pertained to a far more exclusive social setting.
The Hagaddah is of course filled with creative hermeneutics none more famous than the midrashic invention of the “four sons”. Corresponding to the four times in Torah that we are urged to tell the story of the exodus to our children, the Mekilta de-Rabbi Ishmael, around which much of the structure of the Hagaddah is based, assigns personality types to four invented sons. This introduction of rabbinic psychology is yet a further example of the inclusiveness that the Hagaddah seeks to embody.
Taking the lead of the Rabbis many Hagaddot give their own modern interpretative flourishes on these character types. The one that most appeals to me is Rabbi Norman Solomon who designates four types of Jew who read the Hagaddah – the Halachic, the theologically minded, the philosophical and finally the political. “Passover demands such inclusiveness” as he concludes and “if we were all, in our infinite variety redeemed from Egypt, then let us all aspire together to the future Redemption”.
R. Elazar ben Azariah’s mention in the Hagaddah is yet another subtle hint as to its philosophical inclination to inclusiveness.
Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah said: “I am as if seventy years old, yet I did not succeed in proving that the exodus from Egypt must be mentioned at night-until Ben Zoma explained it: ‘It is said, “That you may remember the day you left Egypt all the days of your life”‘; now, ‘the days of your life’ refers to the days, [and the additional word] ‘all’ indicates the inclusion of the nights!”
The reference here to himself as “as if seventy years old” reminds us of the episode in Berachot 28a of his rise to the position of patriarch of the academy following the deposition of Rabban Gamliel II. We learn there that his hair miraculously turned grey overnight so as to give him the air of an elder worthy of respect. Rather than seeing this as a literal miracle the story should be seen as an instance of radical inclusiveness whereby a young man is invested with the authority of an older sage with the blessing of the community. R. Elazar ben Azariah was also the embodiment of inclusiveness as compared to Rabban Gamliel who was known for excluding those who did not meet his strict standards of study. It is also in this very passage from the Hagaddah, a reference to Sotah 9:15 in which he credits a central legal insight to Ben Zoma, a further example of his inclusiveness as Ben Zoma did not possess the status of Rabbi.
Much of the Haggadah in contrast to the line of inclusiveness for which we have been arguing does pit Israel against the Egyptians. When mentioning the parting of the Reed Sea and the drowning of the Egyptians, following the tradition of Elie Wiesel, at our seder, we like to quote the midrash in Sanhedrin 39b as the Holy One rebukes his ministering angels for wishing to utter songs of praise – “The works of My hands are drowning in the sea, and you would utter song in My presence”
Here too, is then also an appeal to an identification with the other and a radical inclusiveness. Indeed from the outset the Hagaddah is a manifesto for inclusiveness and with its participatory nature, the learning model that it lends itself to is thoroughly democratic. It certainly offers a radical critique of our natural inclination all too often today – to hibernate firmly in our comfort zones. The hagaddah and the seder urge us then to reach out both in thought and action to reach far beyond our echo chambers. Perhaps in making that journey we may indeed reach Jerusalem next year!