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The Medieval Haggadah

z5Reviewed by Yochanan Gordon

There is a famous debate in the Talmud whether G‑d shows favoritism to the Jews over the rest of the peoples of the world or not. The Gemara asks on the terminology employed by the blessings of the Priests, “G‑d shall lift his countenance upon you . . .”: Does G‑d show favoritism? And the Gemara replies, “It says in the Torah, ‘You shall eat, be sated, and bless,’ and they take it upon themselves to offer grace even upon eating an olive-bulk or egg-bulk—‘how then could I not show favoritism?’ says G‑d.”

Perhaps similar is our commitment to literally fulfilling the precept that we recite in the Haggadah yearly, “And all who exceed in retelling the narrative of the exodus of Egypt, behold this is praiseworthy.” It could safely be said that the number of Haggadahs that get published annually surpasses even the commentaries of Torah and other biblical scholarly works. This is another example of how we as Yidden look to extend the boundaries in retelling the stories and shedding new light on a story of redemption that occurred thousands of years ago.

But the truth is that while our exodus from the land of Egypt took place thousands of years ago, the notion of leaving bondage and embracing freedom with our celebration of Pesach year after year is not just a commemoration of past events but rather a reenactment of our freedom from bondage. Explicit in the halachos of Pesach is that each of us should envision ourselves leaving Mitzrayim and entering the land of redemption. You see, the word “Mitzrayim” actually means “constraints” or “narrows,” which in a word describes the exile experience that at times pervades us when we are not in a spiritually heightened state of awareness. Through our fulfillment of the retelling of the story and prodding the youth to become involved in the Seder and through our cautiousness in fulfilling the halachic minutiae that present themselves, we further express our freedom.

Rabbi David Holzer is a familiar name to those that frequent Jewish bookstores. He has spearheaded the “Thinking Aloud” series, promulgating the philosophy and the thought processes of his esteemed rebbe, the Rav, Rabbi Joseph Ber Soloveitchik, zt’l. Employing the terminology of Chazal, Rabbi Holzer was doleh umashkeh from the Torah of his esteemed teacher and mentor, at whose side he sat for years, gaining an understanding of all aspects of the Torah—legal and Aggadic—as well as developing a sense of hashkafah, which he has been sharing with the world of Jewish scholarship.

His most recent release is The Medieval Haggadah Anthology, a coffee-table-sized Haggadah with glossy pages that is chock-full of enlightening material based on the Haggadah shel Pesach and the sippur yetzias Mitzrayim as it was manifested during the medieval era. This Haggadah was outlined based on the commentary of the Rav and contains conversations that the Rav had with the author as well as during classes that he gave about Pesach and the Haggadah.

For instance, on the topic of k’zeisim, which I discussed above based on the aforementioned Gemara, the Rav was asked about the precise size of a k’zayis, to which he replied, “I don’t know; according to most Rishonim it is the equivalent of half an egg, and according to the Rambam it is a third the size of an egg. But what I do know is that elephants don’t lay eggs.” This elicited a round of laughter from those in attendance.

This Haggadah really stands out from the rest. Rabbi Holzer continues to allow us a glimpse into the life of a giant among men, a true genius and a descendant of the Brisker dynasty whose love of the legalities comes through in almost all of his analyses. This Haggadah is beautiful aesthetically and rich in substance and will greatly contribute to the overall Pesach experience of anyone who peruses it. v

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Posted by on April 24, 2014. Filed under In This Week's Edition. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.