Family inside a room for passover vacation

The Haggaddah and Joel

Hello dear readers,

There are many reasons that a child (or anyone, really) would love the holiday of pesach, and the seders in particular. There’s the chance to see family and friends, or to go on a kosher Passover vacation, or the chance to go on a low-carb (or high-matzah) diet. Another reason that my kids love pesach: no school! So, it can be a little weird that kids are happy about being off from school… and then the bulky middle of the haggaddah, in the maggid section, is basically like a giant exercise in biblical cross-referencing.
Most people tend to love different parts of the seder: the singing, the wine, the food, the wine a second time, the animated discussion about the story of the exodus, the wine a third time, staying up late, spending time with family, and then what the heck the wine a fourth time (for the four cups, obviously). But I think it takes a different kind of appreciation to see how the story at the heart of the seder is built from references and calculations and quotations.

Every year, I challenge my children to bring a Dvar Torah, or three, to the seder, to bring a new wrinkle or insight to how we tell and retell and listen and relisten to the story of the exodus. Every year, they manage to bring something thoughtful or provocative or original, but let’s not forget that the original is sitting right in front of us, as the editors of the haggaddah made those cross-textual links for us to examine and re-examine every year when we read the haggaddah.

Of course, there are always the big-picture topics like the Four Questions or Echad Mi Yodeah, but I always like it when someone in our family (oftentimes my nephew Efraim) picks some smaller detail that might otherwise be overlooked, and really gives a fascinating insight into it. Here’s an example, from the middle of the maggid section:

A lot of the story of how the exodus happened uses other verses from shmot as proof texts. But there’s one that stands out a little bit: Right before we list the ten plagues, we mention Blood, Fire and Pillars of Smoke. Now, that’s not from shmot at all, or even the torah: rather, it’s from the prophet Joel. He’s not even talking about the exodus, so why is this here? Interestingly, Joel is talking not about the first redemption but about the final redemption, so it’s an interesting way of tying pesach to the upcoming redemption of the mashiach.

More soon,


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