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Table of Contents

  • Ha Lachma Anya
    • In a Nutshell
    • Deep Dive
    • Further Thoughts
    • Questions to Think About (and Ask) at your Seder
    • Experiencing the Seder
    • A Story for the Night of Stories
    • A Quiz for the Night of Questions
  • Ma Nishtanah
    • In a Nutshell
    • Deep Dive
    • Further Thoughts
    • Questions to Think About (and Ask) at your Seder
    • Experiencing the Seder
  • Avadim Hayinu
    • In a Nutshell
    • Deep Dive
    • Further Thoughts
    • Questions to Think About (and Ask) at your Seder
    • A Story for the Night of Stories
  • The Four Children
    • In a Nutshell
    • Deep Dive
    • Further Thoughts
    • Questions to Think About (and Ask) at your Seder
    • A Story for the Night of Stories
  • The Ten Plagues
    • In a Nutshell
    • Deep Dive
    • Further Thoughts
    • Questions to Think About (and Ask) at your Seder
    • Experiencing the Seder
  • Dayeinu
    • In a Nutshell
    • Deep Dive
    • Further Thoughts
    • Questions to Think About (and Ask) at your Seder
    • A Story for the Night of Stories
  • Pesach, Matzah, and Maror
    • In a Nutshell
    • Deep Dive
    • Further Thoughts
    • Questions to Think About (and Ask) at your Seder
    • Experiencing the Seder
    • A Story for the Night of Stories
    • A Quiz for the Night of Questions
  • Hallel
    • In a Nutshell
    • Deep Dive
    • Further Thoughts
    • Questions to Think About (and Ask) at your Seder
    • Experiencing the Seder
    • A Story for the Night of Stories
  • Nirtzah
    • In a Nutshell
    • Deep Dive
    • Further Thoughts
    • Questions to Think About (and Ask) at your Seder
    • Experiencing the Seder
    • A Story for the Night of Stories
  • Chad Gadya
    • In a Nutshell
    • Deep Dive
    • Further Thoughts
    • Questions to Think About (and Ask) at your Seder
    • Experiencing the Seder
  • Educational Companion

Seder Night Companion

Seder night is a highlight of the Jewish calendar for parents and children alike. It is the night that revolves around children, and parents are reminded of the importance of their role as educators. (Thankfully the Haggadah gives them lots of tools and tips!)

Rabbi Sacks zt”l explains that on the eve of the original Pesach, at the very moment when a new chapter in the life of the Jewish people began, we found out what it means to be a Jew: “About to gain their freedom, the Israelites were told that they had to become a nation of educators” (Radical Then, Radical Now, p. 32). Being a Jew means being both a student and an educator, and Seder night is our opportunity to focus on both these roles.

This educational companion to Seder night will give you some ideas and thoughts on several of the core pages from the Haggadah and how Rabbi Sacks understands them. As well as educational insights, like all Ceremony & Celebration: Family Editions, this Pesach instalment also includes activities, stories, and reflection questions in each section, designed to engage all the participants around your Seder table, young and old alike.

You will notice many extracts from Rabbi Sacks’ writings, all sourced from The Jonathan Sacks Haggadah, published by Koren. This guide is designed to be used in conjunction with a Haggadah; it is not a replacement for one.


הָא לַחְְְמָא עַנְְְיָא

HA LACHMA ANYA

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IN A NUTSHELL

It is a mitzvah to tell the story of the Exodus on Seder night. We call this mitzvah maggid, and it is the key to Seder night. This is why the Haggadah begins with Ha Lachma Anya, which is an invitation to others to join our Seder and tell the story with us. This paragraph is written in Aramaic (instead of Hebrew) because this was the spoken language at the time the Haggadah was written. To make it a genuine invitation, it is important that it is stated in a language that is understood.

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DEEP DIVE

If we examine the wording of the invitation, we notice something strange: “This is the bread of oppression our fathers ate in the land of Egypt. Let all who are hungry come in and eat.”

What sort of hosts offer the hungry a taste of suffering? This may seem odd, but in fact it is a profound insight into the nature of slavery and freedom. Matzah represents two things: it is both the food of slaves, and also the bread eaten by the Israelites as they left Egypt in liberty. What transforms the bread of oppression into the bread of freedom is the willingness to share it with others.

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Sharing food is the first act through which slaves become free human beings. Someone who fears tomorrow does not offer their bread to others. But those who are willing to divide their food with others have already shown themselves capable of fellowship and faith, the two things from which hope is born. That is why we begin the Seder by inviting guests to join us. Bread shared is no longer the bread of oppression. By reaching out to others, by giving help to the needy and companionship to those who are alone, we bring freedom into the world, and with freedom, God.

Commentary on ‘This is the Bread of Affliction’
The Jonathan Sacks Haggada

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Reflect

What can you share in your life to show you are truly free?

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FURTHER THOUGHTS

Ha Lachma Anya is the beginning of the Seder narrative, known as Maggid. The word maggid has the same root letters as the word ‘haggadah‘, meaning relate, recount, declare, or proclaim. The story of the Exodus is known as the Haggadah because of the verse “You shall tell (vehigadeta) your child on that day, ‘[I do this] because of what the Lord did for me when I went out of Egypt’” (Shemot 13:8). However, the word ‘haggadah‘ derives from a verb that also means bind, join, connect. The story of the Exodus is more than a recounting (sipur) of things that happened long ago. It binds the present to the past and future. It connects one generation to the next. It joins us to our children. Jewish continuity means that each successive generation commits itself to continuing the story. Our past lives on in us.

Commentary on ‘This is the Bread of Affliction’
The Jonathan Sacks Haggada

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Reflect

Do you feel more connected to your parents and grandparents when you sit at the Seder table? If so, why?

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Questions to Think About (and Ask) at your Seder

  1. Why is it important to share your Seder table with others from outside of your close family?
  2. Does matzah represent freedom or slavery to you?
  3. How does the Seder night connect you to other Jews?
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Experiencing the Seder

If you have guests at your Seder table who are not from your immediate family, turn to them now and make sure they feel comfortable and welcome. Are they sitting comfortably? Do they know the names of everyone around the table?

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A STORY FOR THE NIGHT OF STORIES

Primo Levi survived the horrors of Auschwitz. In his book, If This is a Man, he describes his experiences there. According to Levi, the worst time of all was when the Nazis left the concentration camp in January 1945, fearing the Russian advance. All prisoners who could walk were taken with them on the brutal “Death Marches.” The only people left in the camp were those too ill to move. For ten days they were left alone with only scraps of food and fuel. Levi describes how he worked to light a fire and bring some warmth to his fellow prisoners, many of them dying. He then writes:

When the broken window was repaired and the stove began to spread its heat, something seemed to relax in everyone, and at that moment Towarowski (a Franco-Pole of twenty-three, typhus) proposed to the others that each of them offer a slice of bread to us three who had been working. And so it was agreed.

Only a day before, a similar event would have been inconceivable. The law of the Lager [concentration camps] said: “eat your own bread, and if you can, that of your neighbour,” and left no room for gratitude. It really meant that the law of the Lager was dead.

It was the first human gesture that occurred among us. I believe that that moment can be dated as the beginning of the change by which we who had not died slowly changed from Haftlinge [prisoners] to men again.

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A QUIZ FOR THE NIGHT OF QUESTIONS

The ‘PEOPLE’ Round

  1. Who is the first person to be mentioned in the Haggadah (in the Maggid section)?
  2. Who is the second?
  3. Who is not mentioned anywhere in the Haggadah (even though he is a key part of the story)
  4. Who was at the famous Seder night in B’nei Brak?
  5. Who grouped the Ten Plagues into groups of three?
  6. Can you name the three Rabbis who argued about how many plagues there really were?
  7. Who gave us the minimalistic way to fulfil the mitzvah of telling the story of Pesach?
  8. Whose sandwich do we eat on Seder night?
  9. Who is the surprise guest at the Seder?
  10. Who bought the little goat?

מַה נִּשְׁתַּנָּה

MA NISHTANAH

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IN A NUTSHELL

There are four places in the Torah where it speaks of children asking questions about Pesach – and each of these four verses are the sources for the Four Children’s questions. This inspired a tradition that the story of the Exodus from Egypt must be told, wherever possible, in response to the questions asked by children, and this is where the idea for the four questions in Ma Nishtanah comes from. The origin of the text is the Mishnah (Pesachim 10:4) although the words have changed slightly over time to reflect our changing practices (for instance, since the destruction of the Temple, we can no longer bring the Korban, so the fifth question (on serving roast meat) is no longer included in Ma Nishtanah).

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DEEP DIVE

The Torah has two words for inheritance, yerushah and nachalah, and they represent the two different ways in which a heritage is passed on across the generations. The word nachalah comes from the root nachal, which also means ‘river’. It represents an inheritance that is merely handed down, without any work on the part of the recipient, as water flows in a river. Yerushah, by contrast, means active inheritance. R. Shimshon Raphael Hirsch pointed out that lareshet, the verbal form of yerushah, sometimes means ‘to conquer’ or ‘to capture’. It means actively taking hold of what one has been promised. An inheritance for which one has worked is always more secure than one for which one has not. That is why Judaism encourages children to ask questions. When a child asks, they have already begun the work of preparing to receive. Torah is a yerushah, not a nachalah. It needs work on behalf of the child if it is to be passed on across the generations.

Commentary on Ma Nishtanah,
The Jonathan Sacks Haggadah

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Reflect

How does Ma Nishtanah and the role of children asking questions affect your experience of the Seder?

Questions HOMEPAGE vaetchanan
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FURTHER THOUGHTS

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.

The Art of Asking Questions,
The Jonathan Sacks Haggadah

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Reflect

How is asking questions “an expression of faith”? Doesn’t it show a lack of faith?

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Questions to Think About (and Ask) at your Seder

  1. Why do you think we encourage children to ask questions on Seder night?
  2. Are there any bad questions?
  3. Do all questions have answers? What do we do when no one we know has the answer to a question?
photo isidor rabi blackboard
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A STORY FOR THE NIGHT OF STORIES

Isidor Rabi won the Nobel Prize for physics in 1944. When he was asked why he became a scientist, he replied:

“My mother made me a scientist without ever intending to. Every other mother would ask her child after school: ‘So? Did you learn anything today?’ But not my mother. ‘Isi,’ she would say, ‘Did you ask a good question today?’ Asking good questions made me a scientist.”

Rabbi Sacks often used this example to illustrate the importance of learning by asking questions. Whereas other religions teach children to have unwavering, unquestioning faith, Judaism teaches us from a very young age to ask questions, and it all begins with parents teaching their children “Mah Nishtanah”.

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Reflect

Do you get more invested in learning when you are encouraged to ask questions?


עֲבָדִים הָיִינוּ

AVADIM HAYINU

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IN A NUTSHELL

This is the start of the act of Maggid – the actual telling of the story of the Exodus. It is also the start of the response to the questions asked in the Ma Nishtanah. Before we delve into the depths of the story of the Exodus itself, the Haggadah makes sure we realise how we are personally affected by this historical event. It reminds us that if not for the Exodus, we would still be slaves in Egypt! This passage also explains that the mitzvah of telling the story of Exodus is for everybody, (even the old and wise) and the story should be told at length to make it impactful.

Ancient Egyptian Pyramid 780x405 1
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DEEP DIVE

One of the rules of telling the story on Pesach is that each person must feel as if they had personally left Egypt. History becomes memory. The past becomes the present. At this stage, therefore, we speak of the continuing consequences of the past. Had the Exodus not happened, and the Israelites stayed in Egypt, none of the subsequent events of Jewish history would have occurred. What and where we are now is the result of what happened then.

There is a fundamental difference between knowing and telling the story. We do not tell the narrative of the Exodus to know what happened in the past. We do so because each telling engraves that event more thoroughly in our memories, and because each year adds its own insights and interpretations. Judaism is a constant dialogue between past and present, and since the present always changes, there is always a new juxtaposition, a new facet of the story. The Sages said, ‘There is no house of study without chiddush, some new interpretation.’ The story of Pesach never grows old, because the struggle for freedom never ends, and therefore each generation adds its own commentary to the old-new story.

Commentary on Avadim Hayinu,
The Jonathan Sacks Haggadah

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Reflect

What new aspect of the story (or the Haggadah) have you discovered this year? Share it with everyone at your Seder.

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FURTHER THOUGHTS

To be a Jew is to know that over and above history is the task of memory. As Jacob Neusner eloquently wrote: “Civilisation hangs suspended, from generation to generation, by the gossamer strand of memory. If only one cohort of mothers and fathers fails to convey to its children what it has learnt from its parents, then the great chain of learning and wisdom snaps. If the guardians of human knowledge stumble only one time, in their fall collapses the whole edifice of knowledge and understanding” (Neusner on Judaism: Religion and Theology). More than any other faith, Judaism made this a matter of religious obligation. Pesach is where the past does not die, but lives in the chapter we write in our own lives, and in the story we tell our children.

History and Memory,
The Jonathan Sacks Haggadah

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Reflect

Why do you think education has become so important in Judaism, and what impact has that had on Jewish history?

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Questions to Think About (and Ask) at your Seder

  1. Why does the Haggadah say, “We were slaves in Egypt”? Were you a slave in Egypt?
  2. Do you like long stories? Why do you think the Haggadah tells us that the longer we make this story, the better?
  3. Why does the Haggadah have to point out that old and wise people still have to do this mitzvah?
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Experiencing the Seder

On Seder night we try to feel as if we ourselves are being freed from slavery in Egypt. During a point in the evening when the younger people seem less engaged (perhaps after we read of the Four Children, until it’s time for the Ten Plagues) send them away from the table to find costumes and prepare their own play of the Exodus from Egypt.

They’ll have to work quickly! To make it more challenging, you could ask the adults to choose a new genre for the play, such as adventure, science-fiction, or fantasy. The play can then be performed later on, during the meal.


pesach book storytelling illustration paper stories haggadah

אַרְבָּעָה בָנִים

THE FOUR CHILDREN

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IN A NUTSHELL

The section of the Four Children in the Haggadah is based on the four different verses in the Torah which describe children asking their parents about the story of the Exodus. Rather than seeing these as just four examples of asking the same question, the Rabbis noticed four distinctive personalities from the different ways the verses are phrased – and this inspired the idea for four kinds of children.

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DEEP DIVE

The four children are a vignette of the Jewish people. One asks because he wants to hear the answer. A second asks because he does not want to hear the answer. A third asks because he does not understand. The fourth does not ask because he doesn’t understand that he doesn’t understand. Ours has never been a monolithic people.

Yet there is a message of hope in this family portrait. Though they disagree, they sit around the same table, telling the same story. Though they differ, they stay together. They are part of a single family. Even the rebel is there, although part of him does not want to be. This, too, is who we are.

The Jewish people is an extended family. We argue, we differ, there are times when we are deeply divided. Yet we are part of the same story. We share the same memories. At difficult times we can count on one another. We feel one another’s pain. Out of this multiplicity of voices comes something none of us could achieve alone. Sitting next to the wise child, the rebel is not fated to remain a rebel. Sitting next to the rebel, the wise child may share his wisdom rather than keep it to himself. The one who cannot ask will, in time, learn how. The simple child will learn complexity. The wise child will learn simplicity. Each draws strength from the others, as we all draw strength from belonging to a people.

Commentary on The Four Children,
The Jonathan Sacks Haggadah

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Reflect

Why do you think Jews argue so much with each other? Is this a strength or a weakness?

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FURTHER THOUGHTS

Through the Haggadah, more than a hundred generations of Jews have handed on their story to their children. The word “haggadah” means “relate,” “tell,” “expound.” But it comes from another Hebrew root, [a-g-d] that means “bind”, “join”, “connect”. By reciting the Haggadah, Jews give their children a sense of connectedness to Jews throughout the world and to the Jewish people through time. It joins them to a past and future, a history and destiny, and makes them characters in its drama. Every other nation known to humankind has been united because its members lived in the same place, spoke the same language, were part of the same culture. Jews alone, dispersed across continents, speaking different languages and participating in different cultures, have been bound together by a narrative, the Pesach narrative, which they tell in the same way on the same night. More than the Haggadah is the story of a people, Jews are the people of a story.

The Story of Stories,
The Jonathan Sacks Haggadah

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Reflect

How can a story link us to Jews across generations and across geography?

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Questions to Think About (and Ask) at your Seder

  1. Which of the four children are you most like (you can answer more than one)?
  2. What do you see as the message of including four different children in the Haggadah? What advice would you give to a teacher or parent who has many different types of children to teach?
  3. Why do you think that children are the central focus of such an important event as Seder night?
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A STORY FOR THE NIGHT OF STORIES

When I was a baby I wouldn’t talk. I was the youngest of five children, so I was surrounded by people who doted on me and gave me whatever I wanted. All I had to do was make a noise and point to get what I wanted. So it took me much longer to learn to talk. It worried my parents, and they took me to specialist doctors to make sure there was no deeper cause behind my late development.

When I started going to school, I couldn’t sit still and focus for a minute. My mind would wander and then my body would wander, and next thing I knew I was being told off, or worse, I would be sent to the Headteacher’s office. I wasn’t trying to be mischievous or rude. I just couldn’t sit in one place for long.

When I was a teenager I got angry. Angry about all the injustices in the world, about the way the government didn’t care enough about the environment, and angry that the school administration didn’t do enough to make everyone feel valued and included in our school. I organised all sorts of demonstrations and one day I even led the students in a strike. The school didn’t like that one bit, and I almost got expelled for it!

Then I went to university, and I took my passion for making a difference in the world and channelled it into my studies. Today I am a lawyer who represents the under-privileged and disadvantaged in society, and my dream is to one day become a judge.

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Reflect

Do you see any of the four children in my story? Do you see any of them in your own story?


Seder plate pesach haggadah passover karpas table

עֶשֶׂר מַכּוֹת

THE TEN PLAGUES

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IN A NUTSHELL

One of the most exciting and colourful parts of the story of the Exodus is the Ten Plagues. There is a custom to spill a drop of wine as we say the name of each plague. There are many reasons given for this, but the most beautiful is that of Abudraham, (a 14th century Rabbi from Spain who is best known for his commentary on the siddur), who interprets it in accordance with the verse, “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls” (Proverbs 24:17). We give thanks for the miraculous plagues which brought our ancestors out of Egypt and granted them freedom, but at the same time, we also shed a symbolic tear for those who suffered.

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DEEP DIVE

The plagues occupy the borderline, so common to the Torah, between the natural and the supernatural. Commentators have been divided between those who emphasise their miraculous character and others who have sought to provide a scientific account of the disasters in terms of a series of chain reactions to an initial ecological disaster, possibly the appearance of algae in the Nile, which turned the water red and caused the fish to die. Which view speaks more compellingly to us will depend on whether we understand the word “miracle” as a suspension of the laws of nature, or an event that occurs within nature but that, by happening when and to whom it does, reveals a providential pattern in history.

Commentary to The Ten Plagues,
The Jonathan Sacks Haggadah

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Reflect

Do you think the plagues were from natural causes or supernatural intervention? Do you think they are any less impressive if God performed them through nature?

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FURTHER THOUGHTS

The plague of lice is a sardonic comment on the monumental scale of Egyptian architecture. The Egyptians believed the gods were to be found in things that are big. God shows them His Presence in something so small as to be almost invisible. The irony recurs in the division of the Red Sea, where Pharaoh’s greatest military asset, the chariots, prove to be his undoing, as their wheels sink into the mud. The key to the plagues – as in God’s covenant with Noach – is the principle of reciprocity: ‘As you do, so shall you be done to.’ Those who harm others will themselves be harmed. Nations that begin by depriving others of their liberty in the end destroy themselves. Historically, this was so. Egypt never again recovered the greatness it had enjoyed in the earlier part of Ramses II’s rule.

Commentary on The Ten Plagues,
The Jonathan Sacks Haggadah

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Reflect

What is the message behind the plague of lice? How can we apply this lesson to our own lives?

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Questions to Think About (and Ask) at your Seder

  1. Why do you think God chose these particular plagues?
  2. Which do you think was the worst of the Ten Plagues?
  3. Who were the plagues really for?
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Experiencing the Seder

How many of the plagues can you simulate at your Seder night?

Here are a few ideas (some may require preparation in the days before Seder night):

  1. Blood: Spill a little ‘blood’ onto everyone’s plate, and /or (temporarily) confiscate all the bottles/ jugs of water from the table.
  2. Frogs: Get the children to jump around the table making “ribbit” frog noises.
  3. Lice: Ask the children to check everyone’s hair for lice. (If you plan this ahead of time, you could even plant some fake lice to find).
  4. Wild animals: Collect all the stuffed animals in the house and place them around the table.
  5. Pestilence: Throw all of the stuffed animals on the floor and then bury them under the table.
  6. Boils: Using forks, give all your guests boils (be gentle!).
  7. Hail: Have a snowball/hail fight with cotton balls, pillows, pre-prepared hail made from paper, or other soft materials.
  8. Locusts: Have the children lead everyone in making a humming, buzzing noise, and then grow louder, like a swarm of locusts about to descend.
  9. Darkness: Blindfold your guests (using scarves) and then try to play a game or continue with a section of the Haggadah.
  10. The striking down of the firstborn: Gather all the firstborn children together and take them away.

דַּיֵּנוּ

DAYEINU

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IN A NUTSHELL

Dayeinu is a song which explores the kindnesses of God to His people on the long journey from slavery to freedom. There are fifteen stages described between leaving Egypt, reaching the Promised Land, and building the Temple in Jerusalem. This song is a tikkun, a “putting-right”, for the ingratitude of the Israelites in the Wilderness. At almost every stage of their journey they complained: about the water, the food, the difficulties of travelling, the challenge of conquering the land. It is as if we are saying where they complained, let us give thanks. Each stage was a miracle. And each miracle would have been enough to convince us that Hashem is behind all the events in our history.

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DEEP DIVE

Why is Shabbat specifically mentioned in Dayeinu?

Shabbat is the ultimate expression of a free society, the antithesis of slavery in Egypt. On this day, all relationships of dominance and subordination are suspended. We may not work, or command others to work, “so that your manservant and maidservant may rest as you do” (Devarim 5:15). At many times in history, people have dreamed of an ideal world. The name given to such visions is “utopia” meaning “no place”, because at no time or place have these dreams been realised on a society-wide basis. Shabbat is the sole successful utopian experiment in history. It is based on the simple idea that utopia (in Judaism, the messianic age) is not solely in the future. It is something we can experience in the midst of time, one day in seven. Shabbat became the weekly rehearsal of an ideal world, one not yet reached but still lived as a goal, of a world at peace with itself, recognising the createdness, and thus the integrity, of all people and all forms of life. If Egypt meant slavery, Shabbat is collective freedom, a “foretaste of the World to Come.”

Commentary on Dayeinu,
The Jonathan Sacks Haggadah

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Reflect

Seder night is when we experience the Exodus, and Shabbat is when we experience freedom and utopia. Why do you think we need regular reminders of what freedom and utopia feel like?

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FURTHER THOUGHTS

The Exodus was more than an event in the past. It was a precursor of redemption in the future. Israel, as Moshe warned, would not dwell securely in its land. It would forget its moral and spiritual vocation. It would be attracted to the pagan culture of its neighbours. By so doing it would lose its reason for existence and find itself unable, at times of crisis, to summon the shared vision and collective energy needed to prevail against neighbouring imperial powers. It would suffer defeat and exile. But despair would never prevail. In the past, God had brought His people from slavery to freedom and from exile to the land, and therefore He would do so again. The Jewish people never completely lost faith in God, because its Prophets knew that God would never completely lose faith in His people. History intimated destiny. What happened once would happen again. That is what lies behind the words with which the Haggadah begins: “Now we are here; next year in the land of Israel. Now – slaves; next year we shall be free.” The Jewish people kept the vision alive. It is not too much to say that the vision kept the Jewish people alive…

That is what Pesach was during more than eighteen centuries of exile and dispersion: a seed planted in Jewish memory, waiting to be activated, to grow. Without it, Jews would certainly have disappeared. Lacking hope of return – hope tempered by faith into a certainty-like steel – they would have made their peace with their condition, merged into their surrounding societies and ambient cultures, and vanished, like every other culture deprived of a home. Pesach, like a seed frozen in suspended animation, contained the latent energy that led Jews in the twentieth century to create the single most remarkable accomplishment in the modern world, the rebirth of Israel, the land, the state, the nation, and the people. Michah’s vision, and Yechezkel’s, and Moshe’s, came true.

Pesach and the Rebirth of Israel,
The Jonathan Sacks Haggadah

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Reflect

Rabbi Sacks connects the Exodus to the modern return to Zion. How is this also connected to the poem Dayeinu?

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Questions to Think About (and Ask) at your Seder

  1. Would it really have been “enough” if God had stopped at any of these stages?
  2. What do you see as the message behind listing the 15 stages in Dayeinu?
  3. Where do you think the story of the Exodus actually ends?
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A STORY FOR THE NIGHT OF STORIES

Natan Sharansky is a hero of the Jewish people. Growing up in the Soviet Union, when it was almost impossible to live a Jewish life, he knew the term “Jew” only as something to hide. But then in 1967, following Israel’s dramatic victory in the Six-Day War, Jews began to reconnect to their ancestral faith with pride. Many began to dream of returning to their homeland but were prevented by the Soviet authorities. They became known as refuseniks. Sharansky, who was arrested at the age of 29 for his Zionist activities, was arguably the most famous refusenik, with thousands of people campaigning for his release from the Soviet Gulag prison system in Siberia. He gained his freedom in 1986 and realised his lifelong dream to immigrate to the State of Israel.

natan sharansky shimon perez plane nati harnik

At the beginning of the coronavirus global pandemic, when many Jews around the world were facing the notion of a Pesach Seder without their family around the table for the first time, he was interviewed about his experience of Pesach in the Gulag. The Soviet authorities knew the importance of Seder night, and cruelly ensured that Sharansky was in solitary confinement, where he was served nothing but three pieces of dry bread and three cups of water per day.

“I decided my three cups of water would be my wine and my three pieces of dry bread would be my matzah,” Sharansky recalled. “And my salt would be my maror. I found out that this is the great place to feel the unique struggle of the Jewish people – to be connected with every Jew in the world, and to enjoy thinking that this year we are slaves and next year we [will be] free people in Jerusalem.”

Sharansky concluded his interview by emphasising that even if we are not with our family on Seder night, we are still connected, for we are one big family, a people with a shared history, a shared future and a very special role in this world.

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Reflect

Will it be easier or harder for you to relate to the themes of Pesach during this year’s Seder, compared to other years?


פֶּסַח מַצָה וּמָרוֹר

PESACH, MATZAH, AND MAROR

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IN A NUTSHELL

These are the three mitzvot on Seder night which involve eating. Although we no longer eat the Korban Pesach, back when there was a Beit HaMikdash this was a biblical command. Normally, mitzvot are fulfilled by performing the required act with kavanah, with the intention of observing the commandment. To fulfil the duty of succah, for example, we do not have to tell the story of the wandering of the Israelite in the desert. We just have to plan to sit in the succah, and then we sit and say the brachah there. However, in the case of Pesach two commands coincide: the first, to eat the festive meal; the second, to tell the story. Rabban Gamliel argues that the two are connected. The story explains the food; the food allows us to relive the story.

The Torah states: “When you enter the land which the Lord shall give you as He promised, you shall observe this rite. And if your children should ask you, ‘What is this service you observe?’ you shall say, ‘It is a Pesach offering to the Lord, for He passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt while He struck down the Egyptians, but saved those in our homes’” (Ex. 12:25–27). Thus, from the very outset there is an intrinsic link between eating, asking, and explaining, and it is this connection on which Rabban Gamliel bases his view that all three elements of the Pesach meal must be explained.

pascahal lamb pesach haggadah sheep

Commentary on Pesach, Matzah, and Bitter Herbs
The Jonathan Sacks Haggada

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DEEP DIVE

The Pesach lamb symbolises freedom. The bitter herbs (maror) represent slavery. And the matzah combines both. This was the bread the Israelites ate in Egypt as slaves. It was also the bread they ate when 12 leaving Egypt as free people. Why do the symbols of freedom precede the bitter herbs of slavery? Surely slavery preceded freedom? The chassidic masters explained the answer: only to a free human being does slavery taste bitter. Had the Israelites forgotten freedom, they would have grown used to slavery. “The worst exile is to forget you are in exile.”

matzah pesach unleavened haggadah

Commentary on Pesach, Matzah, and Bitter Herbs
The Jonathan Sacks Haggada

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Reflect

Why is it important to remember and experience both slavery and freedom on this night?

maror bitter herbs haggadah
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FURTHER THOUGHTS

In the Torah, the festival of Pesach is more often called by different names. It is consistently described as Chag haMatzot, which translates as ‘The Festival of Unleavened Bread’. The name Chag haPesach, in the Torah, applies specifically to the fourteenth of Nissan, the day prior to the Seder, when the Paschal sacrifice was brought.

Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev gave a beautiful explanation for this dual terminology. The name Pesach signifies the greatness of God, who “passed over” the houses of the Israelites. The name Chag haMatzot suggests the greatness of the Israelites, who followed God into the desert without any provisions.

In the Torah, God calls the festival Chag haMatzot in praise of Israel. The Jewish people, though, calls the festival ‘Pesach’ in praise of God.

Commentary on Matzah
The Jonathan Sacks Haggada

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Reflect

Was the story of Exodus a triumph for God or for the Israelites?

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Questions to Think About (and Ask) at your Seder

  1. What is special about the educational methods used at the Seder table?
  2. Do any other chaggim have a similar aspect to them?
  3. Do you think our schools and other educational institutions can learn anything from the way we learn and teach on Seder night?
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Experiencing the Seder

At this point in the Seder, when we eat the matzah and maror (and remember the Pesach offering), we are experiencing the story we have been learning about. When you eat the matzah and maror, close your eyes and be mindful about what your senses are feeling and experiencing. What do these foods smell and taste like? What emotions and feelings do they create in you when you eat them? Take a moment to imagine what the generation who experienced slavery and left Egypt on the very first Pesach must have felt as they ate these.

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A STORY FOR THE NIGHT OF STORIES

Under the communist government in Russia, it used to be illegal to practice Judaism. There was once a Jew who was caught maintaining a whole network of Jewish education during these years, and in punishment he was sent to the harsh prison in Siberia. When he was finally released, he returned and told his friends:

“It was difficult to observe Pesach in the labour camp. One year we had no matzot. Another year we had no wine. But of bitter herbs, we were never short!”

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A QUIZ FOR THE NIGHT OF QUESTIONS

The ‘FOOD’ Round

Fill in the blanks for these foods eaten on Seder night:

  1. W _ _ e
  2. P _ _ _ _ h
  3. K _ _ _ _ s
  4. S _ _ _ W _ _ _ r
  5. A _ _ _ _ _ _ n
  6. M _ _ _ r
  7. C _ _ _ _ _ _ t
  8. K _ _ _ _ h
  9. M _ _ _ _ h
  10. S _ _ _ _ _ _ _ O_ _ _ h

הַלֵּל

HALLEL

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IN A NUTSHELL

At this stage in the Seder, we have finished telling the story of the Exodus, and just like the Israelites 3,300 years ago, we feel an overwhelming need to thank and praise Hashem for bringing us out of Egypt. So we begin to say Hallel (which is split into two sections, half before the meal and half after). This is one of the transitional moments of the Haggadah, when we move from story to song, from prose to poetry, from recitation (Maggid) to praise (Hallel).

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Music POST version

DEEP DIVE

Song plays a vital part in Judaism. At the end of his life, Moshe gave the Israelites the 613th mitzvah – that in every generation we should write a new Sefer Torah. On that occasion he used an unusual word. He called the Torah a “song” (Deut. 31:19).

Words are the language of the mind. Music is the language of the soul. Whenever speech is invested with deep emotion it aspires to the condition of song. This is why we do not merely say our prayers; we sing them. We do not read the Torah; we chant it. We do not study Talmud; we intone it. Each kind of text, and each period of the Jewish year, has its own melody. We learned this from Moshe, who called the Torah a song, to teach us this important message: if we want to transmit Torah across the generations as a living faith, it must be not just a code of law, but also the song of the Jewish people.

Commentary on ‘Therefore it is Our Duty to Thank’
The Jonathan Sacks Haggada

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Reflect

How does music change the experience of our prayers and the way we praise God?

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FURTHER THOUGHTS

Hallel (Psalms 113–118) is the great song of deliverance that, according to the Talmud, was sung at all the great triumphs of Jewish history. In more recent years we have added two new occasions when we say Hallel: on Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day, and Yom Yerushalayim, Jerusalem Day.

The late Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik asked an interesting question about the recitation of Hallel at the Seder table. The Talmud states that we do not say Hallel on Purim because “the reading of the Megillah is equivalent to saying Hallel” (Megillah 14a). Why do we not apply the same reasoning to Seder night? We have recited the Haggadah, the counterpart of the Megillah on Purim. Surely, then, the recital of Hallel is superfluous.

The answer I would give is that there are two different commands to say Hallel. The first is at the time of a miracle. The second is as a form of remembrance on the anniversary of the miracle. Thus, at the time of Chanukah the Maccabees said Hallel at the moment of victory. The next year they established it as an annual obligation. The two forms of Hallel arise from different psychological states. The first is expressive, the second evocative. The first gives voice to an emotion we already feel. The second creates that emotion by an act of memory, recalling an event that occurred in the past.

Telling the story of a miracle, as we do on Purim, is equivalent to the second form of Hallel. It is an act of memory. On Pesach, however, we do not merely tell the story. We relive it. We eat the bread of oppression and the bitter herbs. We taste the wine of freedom. We recline as free people. “Generation by generation, each person must feel as if they themselves had come out of Egypt.” The Hallel we say on the Seder night is therefore of the first kind, not the second. It arises out of the emotions we feel having lived through the event again. It is a “new song.” This kind of Hallel is not cancelled by telling the story.

Commentary on Hallel
The Jonathan Sacks Haggada

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Reflect

What is the difference in emotion between the two types of Hallel? Do you connect emotionally to Hallel on Seder night being the first type?

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Questions to Think About (and Ask) at your Seder

  1. What do we have to praise and thank God for on Pesach?
  2. Is it better to use our own words to do this, or using the words of someone else (like by reciting King David’s Tehillim)?
  3. Do you connect more to words or song as a medium for expressing emotions?
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Experiencing the Seder

Ask the guests around your Seder table to share as many tunes for the different parts of Hallel as they know. Spend a moment reflecting (either privately or in a conversation with the Seder participants) how it feels to sing as opposed to saying or reading the words.

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A STORY FOR THE NIGHT OF STORIES

Following the splitting of the Reed Sea, when the Israelites were finally safe from the pursuing Egyptians, Miriam the Prophetess took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women followed her song and dance with their own timbrels, in praise and thanks to Hashem.

The Rabbis in the Midrash ask why the women had musical instruments to hand (was this really a priority to take with them when they left Egypt in haste?) They answer their own question by praising their faith in Hashem. The women had deep faith that Hashem would perform miracles in the desert, to protect them and pave the way for their safe passage, and so they ensured they had instruments ready and dances prepared, so they could express their gratitude and praise Hashem.


נִרְצָה

NIRTZAH

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IN A NUTSHELL

Nirtzah means parting, and with this passage we reach the concluding section of the Haggadah. We pray that next year we may be able to celebrate it in a rebuilt Temple according to the original biblical rituals (which we can no longer fulfil). This passage is taken from a liturgical poem (kerova) composed by Rabbi Joseph Tov Elem in the eleventh century CE. Originally it was said in the synagogue on Shabbat haGadol, the Shabbat preceding Pesach, to conclude a detailing of the laws of Pesach, and it was transferred to the Haggadah in the fourteenth century.

Commentary on ‘The Pesach Service is Finished’
The Jonathan Sacks Haggada

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DEEP DIVE

As at the conclusion of Yom Kippur, so here – at the two supreme moments of the Jewish year – we pray Leshanah 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” (Tehilim 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.”

Next Year in Jerusalem
The Jonathan Sacks Haggada

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Reflect

Why do you think that both of these important days in the Jewish calendar (Yom Kippur and Seder night) finish with these words about Jerusalem?

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FURTHER THOUGHTS

Jerusalem is a place, but it is more than a place. It became a metaphor for the collective destination of the Jewish people. A city is what we build together, individually through our homes, collectively through our public spaces. So Jerusalem became a symbol of what Jews were summoned to build by creating a city of righteousness worthy of being a home for the Divine Presence. Its stones would be good deeds, and its mortar, relationships of generosity and trust. Its houses would be families; its defensive walls, schools and houses of study. Shabbat and the festivals would be its public parks and gardens. For Jews believed that, even in a violent and destructive world, heaven could be built on earth. It was their most daring vision. The architect of the city would be God. The builders would be ordinary men and women. It would be a Jewish city, but it would be open to all, and people from all faiths would be ordinary men and women. It would be a Jewish city, but it would be open to all, and people from all faiths would come and be moved by its beauty.

So Jerusalem, the “faithful city” (Yishayahu 1:27), became the destination of the Jewish journey, which began with Avraham and Sarah and will be complete only at the end of days. This is how the Prophet Yishayahu envisioned it, in words that for millennia have captured the human imagination:

In the last days

The mountain of the Lord’s Temple will be established

As chief among the mountains;

It will be raised above the hills,

And all the nations will stream to it.

Many peoples will come and say,

“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,

To the house of the God of Jacob.

He will teach us His ways, So that we may walk in His path.”

For the Torah shall come forth from Zion,

And the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.

He will judge between the nations

And settle disputes for many peoples.

They will beat their swords into plowshares

And their spears into pruning hooks.

Nation will not take up sword against nation,

Nor will they train for war anymore.

Yishayahu 2:2-4

These words, among the most influential ever written, sum up much of Jewish faith. They epitomise what it might be like to “perfect the world under the sovereignty of God” (Aleinu). And as they journeyed through the centuries and continents, Jews carried this vision with them, believing that their task was to be true to their faith, to be loyal to God, to exemplify His ways to humankind, and to build a world at peace with itself by learning and teaching how to respect the freedom and dignity of others.

An Afternoon in Jerusalem,
The Jonathan Sacks Haggada

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Reflect

What must the Jewish people do when they reach their final destination, Jerusalem?

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Questions to Think About (and Ask) at your Seder

  1. Do you think Jews in Israel should still say this at the end of their Seder?
  2. What does Jerusalem have to do with the Exodus story and Seder night?
  3. Has anyone around your Seder table celebrated Pesach in Israel? Was it special or different?
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Experiencing the Seder

Take a moment. Close your eyes and imagine what celebrating the Pesach Seder in Jerusalem would be like with a rebuilt Temple.

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A STORY FOR THE NIGHT OF STORIES

Rabbi Sacks once wrote about a very special Shabbat he had experienced with his family:

jerusalem stone shadows wall yerushalayim

It happened in Jerusalem, one Shabbat afternoon toward the end of the Gulf War. Our family had gone to the Holy City to find peace. Instead we found ourselves living in the midst of war. Within weeks of our arrival it became clear that the Middle East was yet again about to be engulfed in conflict. Yet as we stepped out into the Jerusalem sunlight that day, there was peace. The city breathed the stillness of Shabbat. The late afternoon sun was turning the houses of Jerusalem stone into burnished gold. As we looked across the valley to the walls of the Old City we could understand why, long ago, people had called this the city of peace and why, even when it lay in ruins, Jews were convinced that the Divine Presence had never left Jerusalem.

We had been invited by our neighbours to Se’udah Shelishit, the third Shabbat meal. When we arrived we discovered that they had also invited a group of Romanian Jews who had recently come to make their home in Israel. They had made the journey together, as a group, because they were a choir. In Romania they had sung the songs of Jewish hope and longing. Now, in Jerusalem, they began to sing again for us around the Shabbat table.

Then a rather moving thing happened. As the sounds of the choir reverberated around the alleyways of our quiet corner of Jerusalem, people from the neighbouring houses began to appear, drawn by the music. One by one they slipped in through the open door and stood around as, hesitantly at first, then with growing confidence, they joined the singing. Here was an Israeli artist, there a new arrival from Russia, here an American investment banker, there a family from South Africa, and in the doorway a group of tourists who happened to be walking by and had stopped to see what was happening and then found themselves drawn in by the warm atmosphere. No one spoke; no one wanted to break the mood. We continued to sing the songs of Shabbat afternoon. As the sun began to set behind the hills, I could feel the Divine Presence among us, joining our words to those of a hundred generations of Jews, uniting them into a vast choral symphony, the love song of a people for God, and I sensed something of the mystery and majesty of the Jewish people, and I knew that it was this that I had come to Jerusalem to find.

We had come together, each of us as the result of a long journey, in some cases physical, in others spiritual, and in many, both. We each had stories to tell of how we came to be in Jerusalem that afternoon. But just as our individual voices had united to sing the words of our ancestors’ songs, so our stories were part of a larger story. Our personal routes were stages on the most remarkable journey ever undertaken by a people, spanning almost every country on the face of the earth, and four thousand years of time. If we had been able, then and there, to trace back the history of our parents and theirs across the generations, we would have been awestruck at its drama and scope. Was there anything that could remotely compare to the long Jewish journey to Jerusalem? Was this, I thought, not the most vivid testimony imaginable to the power and endurance of faith?

As the singing ended, and Shabbat drew to a close, I understood that to be a Jew is to join the journey of our people, the story of Pesach and the long walk across centuries and continents from exile to homecoming. There is no story like it, and the journey is not yet complete.


חַד גַּדְיָא

CHAD GADYA

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IN A NUTSHELL

This strange and haunting song seems simple on the surface but has hidden depths. Concluding one of Judaism’s most important evenings of the year with a children’s song tells us a lot about how important children are, especially on this night. The Jewish love of, and focus on, children means that we look forward to the future even more than we look back to the past. Just as we began the Seder with the questions of a child, so we end it with a nursery rhyme, reminding ourselves that what sustains a faith is not strength or power, but its ability to inspire successive generations of children to add their voices to their people’s song.

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DEEP DIVE

chad gadya goat kid haggada seder koren pesach

The theme of Chad Gadya is the destructive cycle of vengeance and retaliation. In one interpretation, the young goat represents Israel. The “father” who bought it for two coins is God, who redeemed Israel from Egypt through His two representatives, Moshe and Aharon. The cat is Assyria, which conquered the northern kingdom of Israel. The dog is Babylonia, which defeated the southern kingdom of Judah. The stick is Persia, which replaced Babylonia as the imperial power in the sixth century BCE. The fire is the Greeks, who defeated the Persians in the days of Alexander the Great. The water is Rome, which superseded ancient Greece. The ox is Islam, which defeated the Romans in Palestine in the seventh century. The slaughterer is Christianity – specifically the Crusaders, who fought Islam in Palestine and elsewhere, murdering Jews on the way. The Angel of Death is the Ottoman Empire, which controlled Palestine until the First World War. The song concludes with an expression of faith that “this too shall pass” and the Jewish people will return to their land. So it has been in our days.

One Little Goat,
The Jonathan Sacks Haggadah

This song, disarming in its simplicity, teaches the great truth of Jewish hope: that though many nations (symbolised by the cat, the dog, and so on) attacked Israel (the goat), each in turn has vanished into oblivion. At the end of days God will vanquish the Angel of Death and inaugurate a world of life and peace, the two great Jewish loves. Chad Gadya expresses the Jewish refusal to give up hope. Though history is full of man’s inhumanity to man – dog bites cat, stick hits dog – that is not the final verse. The Haggadah ends with the death of death in eternal life, a fitting end for the story of a people dedicated to Moshe’s great command, “Choose life” (Devarim 30:19).

Commentary on Chad Gadya,
The Jonathan Sacks Haggadah

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Reflect

Living at the turn of the 21st century, do you feel this song and the message behind it is still relevant to Jewish history?

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FURTHER THOUGHTS

So, having earlier expressed the Jewish hope, “Next year in Jerusalem,” we end our Seder night with the universal hope that the Angel of Death will one day be defeated by the long-overdue realisation that God is life; that worshipping God means sanctifying life; that God’s greatest command is “Choose life” (Devarim 30:19); that we bring God into the world by reciting a blessing over life.

I find it almost unbearably moving that a people that has known so much suffering can summon the moral courage to end this evening of Jewish history on a supreme note of hope, and write it into the hearts of its children in the form of a nursery rhyme, a song. For what we give our children on this night of nights is something more and greater than the bread of oppression and the taste of Jewish tears. It is a faith that in this world, with all its violence and cruelty, we can create moments of redemption, signals of transcendence, acts of transfiguring grace. No people has risked and suffered more for a more slender hope, but no hope has lifted a people higher and led it, time and again, to greatness. So we end the night with a prayer and a conviction. The prayer: “God of life, help us win a victory over the forces of death.” And the conviction? That by refusing to accept the world that is, together we can start to make the world that ought to be.”

One Little Goat,
The Jonathan Sacks Haggadah

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Reflect

What is the main focus at the end of the Haggadah, and how is it different from the beginning of the Haggadah?

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Questions to Think About (and Ask) at your Seder

  1. Why do you think we end the Seder with a song for children?
  2. How do you think the message of the song is connected to the Seder night?
  3. How does this song connect to our lives today?
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Experiencing the Seder

Ask every person at your Seder table in turn to share what their hopes for the next year are: hopes for themselves, for the Jewish people, and for the world.

EDUCATIONAL COMPANION

HA LACHMA ANYA

  1. As Rabbi Sacks explains in his Haggadah, the root of the word “haggadah” means not only ‘to tell’ but also ‘to bind’ and the Seder evening binds us together as a people. Jews from all walks of life and religious backgrounds will find themselves at a Seder table and should be made to feel welcome. In fact, the biblical command to sacrifice the Pesach lamb had to be done in a chaburah, which is more than one family coming together. The freedom we celebrate on this night is not just about leaving Egypt where we were slaves, but also about journeying to the Promised Land and building a society based on the values of the Torah, where kindness to strangers is a core value. This starts tonight.
  2. The beauty of matzah is that it can represent both. In fact, without slavery we would not appreciate our freedom, so both concepts can co-exist in this experience.
  3. Although some families choose to have Seder night on their own (especially if they have young children, to allow the parents to focus on them) many people will find themselves at a Seder night with others from outside of their immediate family. It has always been a tradition that people come together for this ritual. But more than this, it is a powerful thought that the entire Jewish People find themselves at a Seder table at the same time, and if we take a moment to extend that thought, we can also visualise and feel connected to the many generations who came before us who also celebrated this festival in exactly the same way.

QUIZ ANSWERS:

1. Pharaoh; 2. Hashem; 3. Moshe; 4. Rabbi Eliezer, Rabbi Yehoshua, Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah, Rabbi Akiva, and Rabbi Tarfon; 5. Rabbi Yehudah; 6. Rabbi Yossi HaGelili, Rabbi Eliezer, and Rabbi Akiva; 7. Rabban Gamliel; 8. Hillel; 9. Eliyahu HaNavi; 10. My father.

MA NISHTANAH

  1. Learning through questions makes the educational process engaging and empowering for the learner.
  2. Any question asked from a desire for knowledge without secondary agenda is a good question. There are no bad questions in this case.
  3. Not all questions have answers, or at least answers that we as finite humans can find or understand. Some questions only the infinite God can answer. But we don’t stop asking the questions. The questions are more important than the answers.

AVADIM HAYINU

  1. As a nation, we have a national memory and identity. So when the Haggadah speaks of our experience in Egypt as slaves, while this refers to a specific generation and historical time period, as a nation we have that experience implanted in our memory and identity. The Haggadah encourages us to re-experience this every year on Seder night, and Avadim Hayinu reminds us that the experience does impact us directly, for if God had not redeemed us, we would be slaves ourselves to this day.
  2. A good story told well can have a big impact. A powerful story is experiential, in that the listener can imagine they are living the story, or at least empathise and identify with the characters. The longer and more detailed the story is, the more chance this will happen. So the Haggadah encourages us to tell the story at length, and engage with it, so we can experience the story as fully as possible.
  3. Because Seder night is not about “learning” or “reading” or “understanding” but rather about experiencing and living the story, the Haggadah tells us that even wise and experienced people who have done this many times before still have to tell the story. Because each year it is a new experience.

THE FOUR CHILDREN

  1. Obviously all answers are legitimate, but in the ensuing discussion it is worth encouraging everyone to realise that each of us is all of the four children at different times in our lives (or even at different times of the day!)
  2. All children are different and have different educational needs. Insightful parents and teachers realise this and try their hardest to cater to those individual needs.
  3. Children are the main focus of the evening because this night more than any other is when we pass on our national heritage to the next generation. Even though the process of learning about and re-experiencing the Exodus is a task which takes a lifetime, it begins when we are children, laying the foundation of our Jewish identity and allowing the national narrative to become part of our very core. We take our cue from the Torah itself, which focuses on the questions children will ask about the Exodus.

THE TEN PLAGUES

  1. Each plague attacked a different aspect of the Egyptian society’s physical and spiritual needs. The Egyptians could probably have managed without one or two or even more of the elements that were attacked, but this was a systematic destruction of their way of life.
  2. Every plague was terrible and designed to attack a different aspect of Egyptian society and cause problems. If you have to choose one… it doesn’t get more terrible than the final plague.
  3. God could have taken the Israelites out of Egypt without any miracles or fuss. But He chose to take the Egyptians on an educational journey, because the process was important. And even more important than the direct impact on the Egyptians was the impact on the worldwide audience who was watching (or at least heard the reports) and the effect on the Israelites themselves. The plagues were as much for these other groups as they were for Pharaoh and the Egyptians, if not more so.

DAYEINU

  1. Full redemption from Egypt was the establishing of a sovereign nation in the Promised Land, with the Temple at the centre of its religious life. If God had stopped short of this at any of the previous stages, then it would not have been complete redemption.
  2. The message behind Dayeinu is that each individual stage was miraculous and magnificent, and worthy of praise and gratitude.
  3. While the physical redemption ended with the liberation from slavery and leaving the geographical boundaries of Egypt, and the spiritual redemption took place at the Giving of the Torah on Sinai, the full religio-social redemption was only achieved once the Jews entered the Land of Israel and built a society there based on the Torah.

PESACH, MATZAH, AND MAROR

  1. They are experiential. We don’t just talk or learn or read about the story, but we experience it through food and other rituals (such as leaning, pouring for each other, etc.) in order to full immerse in the story.
  2. Yes, all the chaggim in Judaism do, although to a lesser extent than Pesach. For example, on Succot we sit in the succah, and on Shavuot we stay up all night learning to prepare to receive the Torah.
  3. While some of our educational institutions do practice experiential education (camp is an excellent example) and some of our schools find opportunities to do this as well (e.g. by having shabbatonim), perhaps institutions of formal Jewish education could find more creative ways to incorporate the methodology of experiential education.

QUIZ ANSWERS:

1. Wine; 2. Pesach; 3. Karpas; 4. Salt Water; 5. Afikoman; 6. Maror; 7. Charoset; 8. Korech; 9. Matzah; 10. Shulchan Orech.

HALLEL

  1. It is hard to know where to start. But it is important to articulate all the things God did for the Israelites and how we benefit from these acts until this day. In the words of the Haggadah itself, “And if the Holy One, blessed be He, had not brought our fathers out of Egypt – then we, and our children, and the children of our children, would still be enslaved to Pharaoh in Egypt.”
  2. If one is comfortable finding words that articulate genuine emotion, then there is room for that in our prayers. But for many this is a challenge, and so we fall back on the exquisite words of our greatest poets and spiritual leaders, to give us the words we need. Our challenge is then to channel our emotions into these words.
  3. For some, words capture the feelings and emotions that we need to express. But for others, only music can connect to our soul to do this sufficiently. While Rabbi Sacks was a masterful wordsmith and orator, he acknowledged that music has a spiritual power far beyond words

NIRTZAH

  1. They should (and do) because this section refers to a rebuilt Jerusalem in Messianic times when the Temple exists (allowing us to celebrate Pesach as originally described in the Torah) in a redeemed world of peace. This has clearly not been achieved yet, and so to pray for this at the end of the Seder night, even while sitting in the beautiful rebuilt modern city of Jerusalem, is appropriate.
  2. The Exodus is the beginning of a journey that we are still on. The destination of this journey is a rebuilt Jerusalem in a redeemed world of peace. We hope that this can be achieved in time for next year’s Seder.
  3. All the chaggim are special and unique in Israel. There is something very powerful about celebrating a Jewish festival in a Jewish state. It is also easier to remember that we are closer to the final destination of the Jewish journey now than at any point in history, when sitting in the ancient Jewish homeland, rebuilt in modern times.

CHAD GADYA

  1. The whole of the Seder is focused on children, and on transmitting our heritage to the next generation. This song (and the others at the conclusion of the Seder) are fun to sing, and also contain a strong educational message. A great way to end the Seder night journey.
  2. The message of Chad Gadya is that while it may seem during our history that there are powerful forces who will dominate and even destroy us, these forces come and go, and only God decides who survives in the long term. And if you consider Jewish history, it is clear that He has decided that the Jewish people have a destiny to fulfil, and therefore we have outlasted all these powerful nations who have tried to destroy us.
  3. Modern Jewish history reflects this same message. In the 20th century, an enemy of the Jewish people came closer than ever before to wiping them out, yet not only did the Jewish people survive, but in fact just three years later returned to their ancestral homeland, and re-established sovereignty there, and are now thriving like never before. We are part of a generation that is living the fulfilment of the message of this song.

Ceremony and Celebration Family Edition

The Ceremony & Celebration: Family Edition resources are designed for kids and students of all ages, to help them discover new insights within the Jewish festivals and to encourage dynamic discussion around your Yom Tov tables.