Excerpts From the Hagadda of the Jewish Idea

Introduction to the Haggadah of the Jewish Idea
The purpose of the Haggadah of the Jewish Idea is not to add yet another Haggadah to the collection of Haggadot already available to the public. It’s purpose is rather to present the concepts of the authentic Jewish Idea in general, and in particular the concept of faith in G-d, on this holy night of the year: the Seder night, which was ordained as the night which would define the faith of the Jew. There is no task more important today than that of rectifying those most fundamental Jewish concepts, including – indeed, in particular – among b’nei Torah, Torah scholars. For indeed, on one hand the long exile has caused us to forget the very soul of Judaism and the Jewish idea; and on the other hand, foreign cultures have penetrated deep, including into the halls of Torah, and have emasculated our ideology. So widespread have these phenomena become, that few today are capable of differentiating between hametz and matza, between Jewish ideas and foreign ideas.

Similarly, at the core of the necessity for this Haggadah stands the fact that many Jews sit at the Seder table in order to fulfill the mitzvah of the night, to recount the Exodus from Egypt, but find themselves entirely dependent upon “vortim” which have only the slightest of connections with the message of Pesach, or indeed the teachings of Judaism in general. I hope that this Haggadah will serve to aid all who are interested in expounding on the Exodus on the Seder night. “And all those who labor in it greatly are praiseworthy.”

This Haggadah was written according to the principles which I learned from my father and teacher of blessed memory, may G-d avenge his blood. Having said that, I have cited as primary sources his various books (in particular The Jewish Idea and the series of commentaries on the Bible, Perush Hamacabee) only when I quoted from them directly, or when I set forth an idea according to a specific source in his writings; however, I have not cited my father’s works when I concatenated several different sources, nor when I expounded upon a general trend of thought which appears in his writings… Having said that, it is important to emphasize that almost the entire commentary is based upon his words, and of course upon the principles of his teachings. And I hope that my work will cause no one to stumble.

During the months of work writing this commentary, I was “honored” to be harassed by the authorities, especially when they chose precisely this time to carry out an intensive interrogation against me; I was accused of the “crime” of writing various commentaries on the Torah – “incitement” by their definition. Indeed, even this very work was saved from falling into their clutches by the grace of G-d; I was but a step away from being forcibly prevented from publishing this commentary in time for Pesach of this year 5757 (1997). However, it was precisely this fact which ultimately gave me the added strength and impetus necessary to complete this work, to publish this Haggadah, and to spread the authentic Jewish Idea among the Jewish People – in spite of those who desire to delegitimize and to ban the truth, and to prevent us from speaking that truth.

In closing, I hereby thank all those who helped me in this work: David Cohen, one of the outstanding Torah scholars in the Yeshiva of the Jewish Idea in Kfar Tapuach, who toiled unstintingly in preparing the practical and halachic sources for the Seder night so that every detail be written accurately; he neither slumbered nor slept until he prepared a complete addendum (which is at the end of this Haggadah), which gives in a concentrated form the sources for all of the halachot throughout the Haggadah, as well as additional halachot and glosses. I also thank two other members of our Yeshiva – Uri Amit for donating his time to check the entire commentary and to provide his enlightening comments; also of course to the artist Avinadav Vitkin who was good enough to place his unique talent at our disposal. I also thank the anonymous benefactor who placed at my disposal his personal computer for the specific purpose of compiling this work, after the Israeli police saw it fit to confiscate my own computer from my house during the preparation of this Haggadah.

I conclude with the prayer that all those who study and learn this work will be enriched, and will be brought closer to the clear and straightforward concepts of Judaism in general and of Pesach in particular. I also pray that it will encourage them to study and to relate to the authentic concepts of Judaism throughout the year.

Binyamin Zev Kahane

Adar II, 5757 (March ’97)

* * *

“Why Is This Night Different?..”

If he has a son, the son asks. In contrast to Hanukah and Purim where we are commanded to “publicize the miracle” (and include everyone), on Pesach, the publicizing of the miracle starts first of all with the children. And this is for the reason we mentioned (in the introduction) – that here the goal of the publicizing of the miracle is that the father, at the first available moment, will pass down the principles of faith in the G-d of Israel and the exodus of Egypt to the small son, so as to continue the unbreakable chain. And how tremendous is the fact that the Emunah of Yisrael, despite it’s depth, is simple enough in its basis, that it can be conveyed from father to small boy, by means of a simple story appropriate for a child. This is the significance of the questions which appear here. And it is incumbent upon us to arouse each child, according to his ability, to ask more and more questions. Because the idea is better internalized if he asks and gets an answer, than if he just gets the answer (without asking). And from here one can learn that even if there are no children, the adult should provoke questions for himself and others, in order to sharpen the understanding.

On this night we add another link to the chain of our tradition, conveying the concrete basis of the faith through all the generations, because in such a way can the new generation ITSELF see things properly, despite the fact that “officially”, thousands of years have passed since the event took place. And, behold, he did not see it with his own eyes. But the passing down of the message from generation to generation in such a concrete and precise fashion makes it EXACTLY AS IF HE SAW IT. Just as no one doubts historical events which took place two hundred years ago, since everything is known and passed onward by humanity, so, too can the events of over 3,000 years not be doubted, because the people passed it down in the same way, each one to his children. And this is the difference between Hanukah, Purim, and Passover. For only on Passover was each one commanded to see himself as if he left Egypt, since this fact is the basis of our faith, and without it, our faith would not have survived in such a precise manner after so many thousands of years, hundreds of generations, and countless tragedies and exiles. In such a way, the child is not only connected to his father, but also to the father of his fathers who lived hundreds of years ago and thousands of years ago, each one being a special pipeline for this message which is intended PERSONALLY FOR HIM! On this night, the Jewish child will also receive upon himself his responsibility for the next generations, to continue the chain and the pipeline, and he will understand that if he does not connect himself to the Jewish People, there is no reason for his existence.

* * *

The Four Questions:

The Torah speaks to the Jew in the language and style he understands and can relate to. It even adjusts itself to different types of people. As the midrash in Yilkot Shimoni says, (Dvraim, 776 ): “That you should go with the strict types according to their understanding, and with the moderate types according to their understanding.”

But there are two limitations:

  1. You cannot change the Torah around as you see fit to do so. Adjustments for different people and different situations are already found in the “halacha”, and if it is not in the “halacha”, no man has the authority to change and adjust matters, even if he feels that he is “saving” the Torah. 
  2. Even if it is possible conveying the message in different ways to different people, if in the end it doesn’t work and that particular Jew still doesn’t want to listen, he is not dismissed from the Torah, and we are not dismissed from telling him words of Torah. The famous saying, “In the same way that it is a mitzvah to say something that will be listened to, it is a mitzvah not to say something that will not be listened to”, has nothing to do with the essence of the message, and one cannot dismiss someone from mitzvot from the Torah for such a reason. On the contrary, “And whether they listen or refuse to – let them know that a prophet was amongst them”. (Ezekhiel, 3) You just tell them Torah, even if there is a need to “blunt his teeth”, as the Haggadah eventually tells us we should do to the evil son. And even if he blunts OUR TEETH, we will not shut up, as G-d told Yishiyahu, “my children are rebellious. If you accept it upon yourself to be humiliated and beaten by my children, then you may go as my messenger; and if not – you will not go as my messenger…” (Shmot Raba, 7:3)

* * *

“Tonight We Recline”
This is one of the things we do to show that we are “Bnei Horin” (free men). In other words, there is a need for the Jewish People, who are a Holy Nation and a Priestly Kingdom, to partake in symbolic actions which give them the feeling of who they are and what they’re all about! We are not slaves! We have a destiny which is loftier than all destinies! Thus, we should respect ourselves as free men, and behave accordingly – not out of personal pride or ego, G-d forbid, but rather out of a national pride, that we belong to a nation which is the Nation of Hashem, and Hashem’s honor is our responsibility! This symbolism is expressed in our sitting in a reclining position – and how important it is to take the concept out of the framework of mere symbolism. It is incumbent upon us to LIVE like free men in a practical sense. We must shake off the shackles of bondage, and stop educating our children as if they still live in some ghetto, always worried about what the goy will say and think. If we do not do this, then these actions fall to the level of empty, sterile acts of ritual, no more meaningful than the rote manners of a trained monkey.


“Because He passed over” – The salvation in Egypt began with separation; that is to say, with the Jews’ willingness to demonstrate the practical difference between themselves and the gentiles by daubing the blood of the slaughtered ‘god’ of Egypt on their doors, without fearing the Egyptians’ reactions, as we explained in the Midrashic interpretation of the phrase in your blood you will live (above). And this willingness to set themselves apart (havdala) in spite of the apparent danger is the proof of faith. And just as in the first Redemption, so too in our days: the Redemption depends upon our willingness to adopt those same concepts of separation, concepts which stem from acceptance of the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven, without fearing being labeled “racist”, a tag both Gentiles and Jews will attempt to apply. It is no coincidence that the biggest internal struggle within Jewry today, the struggle between Judaism and Hellenism, centers around the concept of separation. It is no coincidence that the argument as to whether or not to vomit the Arabs out of the Land of Israel no longer centers around the question of whether it is practicable or advantageous, and not even whether it is morally justified or not; rather, the entire argument today is one of “racism” even though race should be utterly irrelevant in a confrontation against an enemy, when that confrontation is not defined in racialist terms. The fact is that the redemption depends upon our separating from the nations, and principally upon the Jews’ readiness to adopt this concept [of havdala], with all the halachic and practical implications that it carries.

* * *

The Sons
… and in answering the wise son, we tell him all the halachot, (for this too he requested to know) right up until the last one, which is the Afikoman. And there is a stress here that it doesn’t suffice explaining to him the general idea of Judaism, but rather the halacha, up to the last detail is also needed. This is to teach all those who stress “nationalism” and other aspects of the Jewish idea, but abandon the fulfillment of the halacha and all it’s details. Here we tell the wise son that as much as he gains wisdom in understanding the essence of Judaism, remember that all this is worth nothing if he forsakes the fulfillment of the practical mitzvot and it’s details. In any case, without a doubt the basis of the answer is the story of the exodus from Egypt (“We were slaves…”) which is the base of our faith, and if we believe in this, then we will come to understand that the Torah is truth and it is an obligation to fulfill it, because slaves we were to Pharo in Egypt, and now we are slaves to G-d…

The evil son – “What does this service mean to you?”
The Tanchuma (Shmot 5) says that the evil son says, “Let us be as Egyptians”. And this is the key to understanding this son. He wants to dismiss himself from the yoke of belonging to Am Yisrael and all this “service”. Thus we can understand why he says “to you”. After all, at first glance there should be no connection between throwing away service to G-d (mitzvot), and alienation from the Jewish People which is expressed by his saying, “to you”. But the author of the Hagadah sees the essential connection. Only for a very short time can there be a reality where one can feel a connection to his people without a connection to Torah and mitzvot. And so we see in these times how those who raised the banner of fighting against religion, lost their connection to Zionism, where as those who remained truly faithful to nationalism were those who strengthened their connection to religion.

“Had he been there, he would not have been redeemed”
Why? Because he would have died during the plague of darkness in which all the “Jewish criminals” died. Who “merited” such a nickname? Those WHO DID NOT WANT TO LEAVE EGYPT. And this fortifies what we said earlier: The connection between the evil son who throws away the service to G-d and his alienation from Am Yisrael. And what could symbolize the alienation from Am Yisrael more than his lack of willingness to make Aliyah to Eretz Yisrael, which is the base of the nation; the place which unites the nation and gives life to it and it’s Torah.

“… consequently you must blunt his teeth and reply to him…”
There is no behaving towards him with “Darke Noam”, and we don’t say, “you are our brother”. For the good of the rest of the Jewish People, we must act harshly towards him. He who willfully takes himself out of “Clal Yisrael” and rejects the people and land of Israel must be dealt with harshly. Without a doubt, this harsh treatment will convince others who are borderline (like the son who does not know how to ask) that it is not worthwhile to go in such a way, and thus encourage them to go in the way of the wise son, thereby saving themselves.

The simple son: The Yirushalmi and Rambam call this son, “foolish”. What does the simple son understand? “With a strong hand did Hashem take us out of Egypt”. Anyone is capable of grasping this message of Emunah. True, not everyone can reach high levels of understanding the way of G-d, but anyone can, even the most foolish of people, even he who is totally cut off from anything spiritual, even a gentile – is capable of grasping G-d’s existence through G-d’s strong Hand and Omnipotence. The truth is, that the Torah answers the wise son in the same basic way at the beginning, but with him, the answer is expanded upon greatly with all the details….(Dvarim 6) The simple son won’t understand this, so we mention to him G-d’s strong Hand, and this is sufficient for leaving an impression upon him that will bring him to real emunah. And an important thing here: The real Emunah, despite it’s awesome scope, does not demand deep wisdom in order for one to accept it (despite the fact that the wisdom certainly deepens the understanding). Any Jew can reach a real and simple level of truth which will obligate him. After all, if this were not so, the Almighty would not be able to expect anything from the foolish!

* * *

Here there is a double stress on “to destroy us” – The goal of the goyim is not just to distress us, but rather our very existence is what bothers them. And so it is in this generation, where a piece of territory or another is not what interests them, but rather the annihilation of Am Yisrael, and this illogical hatred of the nations was bred at Mount Sinai.

What a flat statement to make! And the question may be asked: Was there not a generation where they did NOT rise up against us to destroy us? But there are different methods to wipe us out. There are those who try to wipe us out physically, like Haman and Hitler; and there are those try to wipe us out physically through trickery, so we that we won’t prevent the attempt to do so. Then there are those who try to destroy us spiritually by assimilation, like Greece. In any case, the rule that Esau hates Yaakov holds in every generation, as we see in this statement.

These verses have been inserted towards the end of the Seder night to encourage us: Do not despair! The redemption will surely come! And it is significant that the rabbis chose specifically these verses for this encouragement, and not verses of comfort which speak of the redemption itself. Apparently, from living themselves under cruel Roman occupation, they understood that the greatest encouragement of all is the defeat of the persecutor. Unfortunately, when we speak of those who persecute Jews, many of us today ignore this central concept of vengeance. There are those who are filled with desire for revenge on a personal level, even though this is expressly forbidden (“do not take revenge against the sons of your people” – Leviticus 19:18), while at the same time self-righteously objecting to revenge on a NATIONAL level – which is a mitzvah.

CHAD GADYA (One single kid)
– The Vilna Ga’on explains chad gadya as being a parable of Jewish history throughout the generations up until the final Redemption; the author of the Ma’asei Nissim similarly interprets it. The end of this song brings us to the End of Days: Then came the ox these are the nations (principally Edom [Rome], who is symbolized by the ox); then came the slaughterer and slaughtered the ox this is Mashiach ben Yosef, who will wreak vengeance upon those nations who did evil to the Jews; then came the Angel of Death and slaughtered the slaughterer for Mashiach ben Yosef will be killed in
his war; finally, then came the Holy One, blessed be he, and slaughtered the Angel of death for the final stage of the redemption will be that God Himself will come with Mashiach ben David and redeem us and death itself will be forever cancelled. It is appropriate at this point to expand on the subject of Mashiach ben Yosef, for there are certain commentators who see the four cups of wine of the Seder night as paralleling the four Mashiachs, or the four Redeemers, one of whom is Mashiach ben Yosef who is pertinent to our present era of the beginning of the Redemption, referred to by the Vilna Ga’on (in Kol ha-Tor) as meshicha de’at-chalta (the Mashiach of the beginning). There are several sources that speak of the four Redeemers. The Midrash ha-Gadol (Exodus 6:7), for example, says: “For the four future Redemptions, God will raise up four Redeemers: Eliyahu, Mashiach ben David, Mashiach ben Yosef, and the High Priest.” In other midrashim, Mashiach ben Yosef is referred to as mashu’ach milchama (anointed for war). The reason for this is that his task is to fight against the nations and to conquer the Land of Israel, and thus he begins the process of Redemption. Only subsequent to this can Mashiach ben David come and complete the Redemption, the principal purpose
of which is spiritual redemption. Even though, as already mentioned, Mashiach ben Yosef is destined to be killed, this is not, nonetheless, inevitable. For if the Redemption is “hastened”, if the Jews repent of their sins and bring about the Redemption by being worthy of it, and recognize Mashiach ben Yosef and his task for what they are, then all these processes will be far quicker and more miraculous, and Mashich ben Yosef will not have to be killed. However, a Redemption that happens “in its time” comes about slowly, stage by stage, as the Jews refuse to carry out those actions crucial to bringing about the complete Redemption immediately. Mashiach ben Yosef thus faces tremendous difficulties, most of them internal Jewish problems, since the Jews will not recognize him. This is alluded to when the progenitor of Mashiach ben Yosef, the biblical Yosef (Joseph) himself, was approached by his brothers in Egypt: “and Joseph recognized his brothers, but they did recognize him” (Genesis 42:8). That is to say, Yosef’s love of Israel commits him to his
people, even when they “do not know him”. Those who “do not know him” are led by the erev rav, the ‘mixed multitude’ of non-Jews who left Egypt with the Jews (Ex. 12:38). It is against them, according to the Vilna Ga’on, that Mashiach ben Yosef’s main battle will be, since it is they who prevent the Holy Nation from believing in God and recognizing the conditions which will hasten the redemption; thus they both weaken the nation from within, and strengthen the nation’s enemies from without. Who is Mashiach ben Yosef? In every generation there is a ‘candidate for the post’ of Mashiach ben Yosef, as well as one who could be Mashiach ben David. It is the actions of the generation, and the subsequent judgement of God, that decide upon their being revealed. In any event, he who has the soul of Mashiach ben Yosef strives in every generation to bring the physical Redemption nearer; but it is only in our era that the generation has merited to see its implementation. We can but pray that all we have learnt about the Redemption will be actualized soon, swiftly and painlessly, that we may merit a ‘hastened’ Redemption, that our merits may bring Mashiach ben David, who will complete the process of redemption. Amen.

* * *

The Ten Plagues:
Couldn’t G-d have taken us out of Egypt without all this violence? After all, G-d is Omnipotent, and certainly he could have taken us out Egypt with “Darke Noam” or even by way of a “peace process”. After all, it would seem that what is most important is that the Jews got out of Egypt – for what all this cruelty and vengeance?

The answer is that the goal of the exodus of Egypt was not just that the people of Israel go free, but the major goal was that G-d-hating gentiles and desecrators of His Name who “did not know G-d” (as Pharo said upon seeing Moses the first time), — would know G-d. But the gentile does not grasp the existence of G-d, and certainly won’t accept the concept that He chose the Jews as His people, by way of “awe and spiritual elevation” or through pure intellectual understanding. Only by the way of him seeing and feeling Hashem’s Might and Power can the most obtuse of gentiles understand G-d’s existence and choice of Am Yisrael. And when the gentile insists on not believing in Him, and defames and fights against Israel thereby desecrating the Name of G-d, and empties the Name of G-d from the world, so to speak, then G-d unleashes His arsenal against him, so that “he will know that I am G-d”.

* * *

“Because He Passed Over The Houses…”
The salvation from the Egyptians started with the “havdala” (the separation) – that is the willingness of the Jewish People to show their differences between them and the gentiles in a practical way. It was exemplified by the placing of the blood from the slaughtered Egyptian deity on their doorposts without fearing the Egyptian reaction. This readiness for havdala displays proof to one’s emunah. And just as in the first redemption, so it is in our days, where the redemption is dependent on Am Yisrael’s willingness to adopt upon themselves concepts connected to “havdala”, through the acceptance of the yoke of Heaven., and without fearing that we will be labeled as “racists”. And it is not for nothing that the internal struggle today between the Jewish People and the Hellenists centers around this concept of “havdala”. Nor is it a coincidence that the entire question of whether to vomit out the Arabs or not, ends up being centered around – not whether it will work, and not even ethics, bur rather around “racism”, which at first glance has nothing to with anything. But the truth is that the redemption is dependent upon our separating ourselves from the nations, and most essentially our readiness to adopt for ourselves all the practical halachot which derive from the concept.

* * *

“Terach The Father Of Avraham…”
Why is Terach mentioned here as the father of Avraham? After all, Avraham is in a certain aspect a convert, and “a convert is like a new-born baby”, and so according to halacha, one should not relate the convert to his father. But perhaps it is to teach us a lesson that family lineage is not something important. For we see that the “gedolim” of our nation did not come from the purest of lineages. David came from Ruth the Moavite, and in the gemara, we see how the rabbis discussed whether or not a Moavite can ever convert to Judaism at all. And David himself came from Peretz, who was born from the problematic relation between Yehuda and Tamar. And with all this, King David is the father of the dynasty of the Messiah of the Kingdom of Israel. And if the Father of the Nation, Avraham, came out of a family of idol-worshipers, then certainly we shouldn’t be more stringent than the halacha demands when checking the lineage of other people. Rather, we must check who is the person HIMSELF. To such an extent that, “A bastard who is a scholar precedes a Cohen Hagadol who is an ignoramous.” (Mishnah, Horayot 3:8)

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