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A Different Night
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Arami Oved Avi •
Introduction: Torah and MidrashMy Ancestor Was a Wandering Aramean There is No Freedom Without First FruitsThe Aramean Who's Who
 

NOTE: A Different Night proposes that you substitute the SYMPOSIUM for this traditional Midrash. You choose one of six contemporary topics, based on passages from the original biblical text, as a starter for your symposium. If you wish to choose this option, after reading the introduction below, go to the next page, Symposium.


Introduction: Torah and Midrash
 
On seder night we do not stick to the facts of the Biblical story. Taking our cue from the five rabbis of B’nai B’rak who went on all night, we are urged to expand on the Torah’s version of the Exodus in the style of rabbinic commentary called midrash. The Mishna specifies the task at hand: Expound the whole section of “My father was a wandering Aramean” (Deut. 26:5-8; Mishna, Pesachim 10:4). This famous narrative recounts the story of a wandering people, exploited in Egypt, who finally came home to their own land in Israel. In the days of the Temple, beginning on Shavuot, the wanderers-turned-farmers would bring an offering of their first fruits balanced in a basket on their shoulders and recite their story of rags-to-riches, of wandering-to-rootedness in the land. Every Jew knew this narrative saga by heart.
     This concise narrative is a jumping off point for midrashic commentary, associating the words of the Biblical text with larger themes. The Rabbis recommended that each family begin to expatiate on it, phrase by phrase. The Haggadah includes one classic version of this rabbinic art of
interpretation, but the door is open to innovations. We have brought you a rich menu of Torah and Midrash organized thematically:
     1. The Torah : Deuteronomy 26: 1-10,
     2. The traditional Rabbinic Midrash of the Pesach Haggadah,
     3. Our contemporary commentary on the issues raised by the Midrash.
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"My Ancestor Was a Wandering Aramean"
 
May a Convert say: “God of my ancestors”?
     Question: I received a question from Ovadia, the wise and learned convert, may the Lord of Israel, under whose wings he sought cover, reward him for his work. You ask me if you, too, are allowed to say in the blessings and prayers: “Our God and God of our ancestors,” “You who have brought us out of the land of Egypt,” “You who have worked miracles for our ancestors.”
     Responsum: Yes. In the same way as every Jew by birth says his blessings, you, too, shall pray ... For Abraham our Father taught the people, opened their minds, and revealed to them the true faith and the unity of God; he rejected idols and abolished their adoration; he brought many children under the wings of the Divine Presence. “For I have known (Abraham) to the end that he may command his children and his household after him, that they may keep the way of the Lord, to do righteousness and justice” (Gen. 18:19). Ever since then whoever adopts Judaism and confesses the unity of the Divine Name is counted among the disciples of Abraham our Father.
     Therefore, you shall pray, “Our God and God of our ancestors,” because Abraham is your father. No difference exists between you and us, and all miracles done to us have been done as it were to us and to you.
     Know that our ancestors, when they came out of Egypt, were mostly idolaters; they had mingled with the pagans in Egypt and imitated their way of life, until the Holy One sent Moses our Teacher, who brought us under the wings of the Divine Presence, us and all converts, and gave to all of us one Law. Do not consider your origin as inferior.
(A Letter from Moses Maimonides, 12th century, Egypt, philosopher,    
Talmudist, court physician, and head of the Jewish community)
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There is No Freedom Without First Fruits
  
Why does the Pesach Haggadah’s central midrash focus on the story of the first fruits, which is associated with Shavuot?
     Perhaps the point is that Pesach is not only about the move from slavery to freedom, but from economic dependence to productivity, from the vulnerability of the alien to the security of the citizen.
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The Aramean Who's Who
  
THE MIDRASH on Lavan the Aramean who was “worse than Pharaoh” is an outrageously forced reading of the Biblical text. However Rabbinic midrash felt no compunction about twisting the text to make an eyebrow-raising point. Perhaps they wanted to take a jab at their contemporary enemies – the Romans who destroyed Jerusalem (70 C.E.) and later forbade the teaching of Torah (135 C.E.). Coincidentally the name “Roman” (Romi) in Hebrew has the same consonants as Lavan the “Aramean” (Arami). For sermonic purposes the Rabbis’ typically exploit a Biblical text which itself is unclear.
     The “wandering Aramean” of the Torah may also be Abram the Hebrew, who lived in Aram and crossed the Jordan. The name Hebrew (ivri) means the one who crossed over (avar) (Rashbam). Or perhaps he is Jacob, who wandered first to Aram and later to Egypt, where his grandchildren were enslaved. (Ibn Ezra)      top