The more one expands and embellishes the story,
the more commendable it is
Haggadah recommends that parents
now go beyond the text of the Haggadah and improvise dramatically in retelling
the story of the Exodus. The traditional Haggadah does not include
a script for the storyteller nor even bring the appropriate Biblical
parents like to tell the story in their own words.
ask the children to retell what they have learned in school under three
What was it like to be a slave?
What do you know about Moshe as a baby and as a young man?
How did the Jews finally become free?
the seder ask the children to prepare drawings to illus-trate these themes
and then to show and tell what they drew).
parents prefer to use a script. Try
reading aloud one of the following selections (pages
48-55 in the Haggadah text). top
Philosopher at Home: David Hartman
labors a long time at our seder trying to grasp the first part of the
Haggadah: We were slaves in the land of Egypt. I ask
my children: What do you think it feels like to be a slave?
I TOLD my four-year-old a story about a boy who did not see
his Daddy for a year: The boy had a birthday and Daddy couldnt
come. Then Daddy called and said, Im going to come home.
The boy invited all his friends to come and see his Daddy, because he
loved him. He said, Abba is coming home. He watched
his Mommy cook kugel, his Daddys favorite. Just after his friends
had come, Abba called to say, The boss wont let me come.
The little boy said, What do you mean, the boss wont let you
come? Tell him your son wants you home. Everybody wants you. We miss you!
I could not help it, I started crying and my son started crying about
the kid in the story. I created this dialogue of the Abba trying to explain
to his little son: I cant make my own decisions. The boss
decides my movements for me. We felt the loneliness of the little
boy who wanted so much to see his father but who knew that his love is
not enough to bring him home. That is what it means to be a slave.
You cant control your life.
is the story I tell when my child is four. At twelve, I tell another story.
At sixteen, still another. On Pesach night I am a multi-faceted storyteller
because my autobiography encompasses so many dimensions)
Duty to Give Memories
The Haggadah transforms parents into storytellers.
It is a very serious task to tell stories. My parents bring me into contact
with my historical roots, with my grandparents and a world other than
me. Whether it is relevant, the child will decide; but the parent must
witness to a history and a memory that is needed in order to realize that
there is a dimension to existence beyond the self. People who learn
to honor their parents escape narcissism and acquire a memory. The parents
are the feeders of history.
Parents should not determine
their childrens future, but they must open for them their past.
In many ways we are today
human beings in search of a narrative who may find our personal story
by reconnecting to our peoples great story of wandering and homecoming,
of oppression and liberation, and of near annihilation and rescue. By
returning to our origins and following the journey of our people we offer
deeper resonance to our personal lives and develop a common language to
share our fears and our dreams. In retelling the Exodus we learn to commemorate
the moments of family and national crisis and to celebrate with profound
gratitude our emergence into a better life.
(David Hartman, Jewish Philosopher, Jerusalem)
by Bread Alone
IN THE SPRING OF 1945 a father and his teenage
son shared the harsh labor in the Nazi camp. The father suggested a pact
between them to save part of what little bread they received. After several
days of saving the father reported to his son sheepishly: I am sorry
but I have given away our whole store of bread to a new arrival.
Why? asked the son in desperation. The father explaned, There
are two reasons: First, he needed food even more than we and second, I
exchanged the bread for a miniature haggadah. Several days later
using this haggadah, the father was able to raise peoples spirits
by conducting a seder for many inmates. Even though matza was unavailable,
the seder gave everyone a special kind of nourishment hope.
Women and the Baby Moses
retold by Diana Craig (The Young Moses)
In one small corner of
Egypt, just where the great river Nile runs into the sea, there lived
some people called Israelites. They had come from Israel to Egypt many
years before to look for food.
God had promised
to look after the Israelites in their new home, and at first everyone
was very happy. There was plenty to eat, and they grew strong and had
lots of children. Soon their families filled the land.
But then everything changed.
The king of Egypt, who was called the Pharaoh, died, and a new Pharaoh
became king. He hated the Jews.
There are so many
of them, he grumbled. Just think what would happen if they
turned against us. They might even take sides with our enemies. We must
So he thought of
a plan. Well make them our slaves, he announced
with an evil grin. Well work them so hard they wont
even have time to think of fighting us...with a bit of luck they may even
die of exhaustion!
So the Jews slaved
from sunrise to sunset, making bricks and moving huge stones to build
Egyptian cities. When they were not building cities, they had to dig the
fields and plant all the wheat and barley.
The Jews were exhausted,
just as the Pharaoh had hoped. But they didnt die. In fact, they
didnt even get ill. They stayed just as strong and healthy as ever.
The Pharaohs wicked plan wasnt working.
So he had another
idea. He told the nurses that they must kill all Israelite baby boys as
soon as they were born. But the nurses knew that God would not approve
if they did such a terrible thing, so they made up an excuse.
Were so sorry,
Your Majesty, they lied, not daring to look the Pharaoh in the
eye. But the babies are born so quickly that we never get there
All right then,
replied the Pharaoh angrily. Theyll just have to be thrown
in the river instead!
All the Jewish mothers
were terrified and tried to hide their babies. One mother hid her newborn
boy in a corner of her house. If anyone heard him crying and wondered
about the noise, she knew what to say.
Its a sick sheep
Im looking after, she would tell them. Funny, isnt
it, how they sound just like babies when theyre ill? No one
But soon the baby grew too
big to hide. I know what Ill do, thought his mother.
Ill make a little ark of reeds and float the baby on the river,
near where the Pharaohs daughter comes to wash every morning, and
shes sure to find him. She has no children of her own, and shes
not nearly as cruel as that wicked king. Perhaps shell feel sorry
for my baby and save him.
So the mother took
a big basket and painted the outside with black, sticky stuff called pitch,
to stop the water from getting in. Then she laid the baby inside and put
the basket among the reeds near the river bank. She told her daughter,
Miriam, to stay and see what happened.
Sure enough, the princess
came down to the waters edge and stopped the basket. She sent one
of her servants to fetch it, and she was amazed to see a little baby tucked
up snugly inside.
Whatever are you doing here? she exclaimed, picking him up
and giving him a cuddle. And then she guessed the truth. You must
be one of the Jewish babies, and your mother has hidden you here for safety.
Well, I dont care what my father says, I wont throw you in
the river. top
Comes of Age
When the little boy was old enough,
his mother took him back to the princess. From now on, I shall be
his mother, the princess said, and Ill call him Moses,
because I took him from the water. So Moses was brought up like
an Egyptian prince, and had everything he could wish for.
But as the years went
by, one thing began to bother Moses more and more. Although he
lived with the Egyptians, he knew he wasnt one of them. He knew
he was really a Jew. He saw how cruel the Egyptians were to his people
and it made him very angry. How could the Egyptians treat them so badly?
They hadnt done anything wrong. It just wasnt fair.
One day, when Moses
had grown up, he decided to visit one of the building sites and see for
himself what was going on. He caught sight of one of the Egyptian slave
drivers beating a Hebrew slave. Moses completely lost his temper. He picked
up a stone and smashed it on the slave drivers head. The man fell
to the ground, dead. Moses was horrified at what he had done. Quickly,
he buried the body in the sand.
a word of whats happened, or the Pharaoh will have me killed!
he warned the slave. But the man just couldnt help telling his brother,
and his brother told his aunt, and his aunt told her friend...and soon
The next day, Moses
visited another building site, and saw a big, strong slave bullying a
small, weak slave.
Stop that, you great
bully! shouted Moses.
Just you try and make
me! the slave answered back cheekily. You cant boss
me about, or Ill tell the Pharaoh how you killed one of his men!
Moses was terrified.
His secret was out, and he knew that when the Pharaoh heard, that would
be the end of him.
So, that night, he packed
a few clothes and some food and, with a last, longing look at his home,
he crept away. top
Will Be Today's Midwives?
ONE SUNDAY morning in 1941 in Nazi-occupied
Netherlands, a mysterious character rode up on his bicycle and entered
the Calvinist Church. He
ascended the podium and read aloud the story of the midwives who saved
the Hebrew babies and defied Pharaohs policy of genocide. Who
is todays Pharaoh? he asked. Hitler, the congregation
replied. Who are todays Hebrew babies? The Jews.
Who will be todays midwives? He left the church, leaving
his question hanging in the air.
During the war (1941-1945) seven families from this little church hid
Jews and other resisters from the Nazis.
(See the full story in the Leaders Guide)
Shifra and Puah Award
AL AXELROD, the Hillel rabbi at Brandeis
University in the 1960s, established this annual award for non-violent
resistance to tyranny. He named it after the midwives who resisted and
outsmarted Pharoah and saved the Hebrew infants from drowning. (In Tel
Aviv the maternity hospital is located at the intersection of Shifra and
To whom would you give this
award this year?
(In 1849 Harriet Tubman deserved such an award. See
page 99). top
About the Exodus Churchill wrote: the
most decisive leap-forward ever discernable in the human story.
(Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of Great Britain,
who led the Allies in World War II, the greatest war of liberation ever
fought, sent this quote from his essay on Moses in a personal letter to
Prime Minister David Ben Gurion).
Batya Parent Association
THE NAME of the Biblical
heroine, the daughter of Pharoah who adopts Moses, is not mentioned in
One rabbinic midrash calls
her Batya which means the daughter of God and
regards her as a convert to Judaism. Her adoption of Moses was motivated,
they suggest, by her infertility. Appropriately the American association
of adoptive Jewish parents with infertility problems is called Batya.
Moses to the Haggadah
SOME HAVE ARGUED that Moses was deliberately
excluded from the Haggadah to avoid deifying a human leader. Certainly
the hero of the traditional Haggadah is and should be God.
But it is likely that Moses was often mentioned in the rabbinic seder
when parents told their children the story of the Exodus. We have introduced
Moses explicitly into our Haggadah as recommended by Moses Maimonides:
It is a mitzvah to tell the children about the Exodus even if they
did not ask ... If the children are mature and wise, tell them all that
happened to us in Egypt and all the miracles God did for us by means of
(Laws of Chametz and Matza 7:2).
WHAT KIND of spiritual transformation can
come from an act of murder? What has ensued in the years between Moses
being taken to live in Pharaohs palace and this act?
Being free, Moses was not
prey to the slave psychology. However, growing up as Pharaohs grandson
thrust him into an equal danger - the ambivalence of dual identity.
He was Hebrew and Egyptian. By birth he belongs to the oppressed, but
he is nurtured as a member of the oppressing group. It is wishful thinking
to assume that Moses was immune to the comforts and privileges of his
station in life.
There must have been times
when Moses felt like a traitor to his people, especially as he
relaxed on a hot day, a fine robe draping his body, servants offering
him pomegranates, figs, and dates, while his people worked in the hot
sun building pyramids. I wouldnt doubt that sometimes Moses wept
in silent helplessness as he tried to unravel the dilemma of appearing
to be an Egyptian while knowing himself a Jew. He is a stranger
in Egypt and a stranger to himself because he cannot live his true identity.
Nothing is so vital to psychological
well-being as identity. Through identity we know our place in the
world. If that identity is seriously divided or defined by a society as
negative, we are insecure in the world and insecure in ourselves. Moses
was possibly the first person in history to have to ask, Who am I? Everyone
else in the ancient world knew. They knew because society conferred identity
on them. Moses had no alternative but to confer identity on himself.
His first attempt to do
so comes when he goes to face the suffering part of himself in the persons
of his enslaved people. He looks on their burdens and weeps, saying
Woe is me for you! Would that I could die for you
(Midrash Rabbah). He feels their suffering as his own. It is
a moment of intense compassion, charged with the emotion of a life-and-death
conflict. Because true compassion compels one to act, he does. He kills
Psychologically he kills
a hated part of himself. Moses projects his self-hatred outward onto one
who most closely resembles that hated Egyptian part of himself. He wants
to be a part of his people, and murdering an Egyptian was the way to come
home. But this solution does not work adequately.
I imagine him looking at
what he has done. He feels no exultation, no sense of freedom or wholeness.
Instead, he is engulfed by remorse, shame, and guilt. He is more of a
stranger now than he could have ever imagined possible.
(Julius Lester, Civil Rights Activist, U.S.A.)