Baal Shem Tov, or Besht — the founder of Chasidism —
Unlocking the Haggadah
Get the Haggadah of the Inner Seder, which maps out all of these secrets of the haggadah for you as you go through the seder!
At the bottom you can listen to recorded sessions about the mysteries of the Haggadah. The essence of the class is found in the first half of "The Mystery of Charoset". Here's a more detailed synopsis.
You may have noticed that many things happen in fours in the haggadah besides the obvious ones of four cups, the four questions and the four sons/children. These include the four times we do something ritually with the matsah, and the four times we explain Exodus 13:8. We start telling the story four times before we actually get going (Ha lachma, Avadim hayinu, Mit'chilah and Arami oved avi). And we transform the three matsot into four at Yachats. The number four corresponds to the four verbs for redemption used in one verse, but it means much more than that.
The secret of the fours in the haggadah is that each symbol or motif is gradually transformed from a symbol of slavery into a symbol of freedom. For example, matsah starts out as a symbol of slavery (ha lachma anya or poor bread הָא לַחְמָא עַנְיָא דִי אֲכָלוּ אַבְהָתָנָא בְּאַרְעָא דְמִצְרָיִם), then becomes a symbol of redemption from Egypt (matsah zo al shum mah "For what reason do we eat matsah? Because our ancestors didn't have time to let the dough rise..." מַצָּה זוֹ שֶׁאָנוּ אוֹכְלִים, עַל שׁוּם מָה? עַל שׁוּם שֶׁלֹא הִסְפִּיק בְּצֵקָם שֶׁל אֲבוֹתֵינוּ לְהַחֲמִיץ עַד שֶׁנִּגְלָה עֲלֵיהֶם מֶלֶךְ מַלְכֵי הַמְּלָכִים), then becomes the bread of political freedom that we ate when the Temple was standing (the "Hillel sandwich" זֵכֶר לְמִקְדָּשׁ כְּהִלֵּל) and finally the afikoman, the hidden part, which is the missing piece that completes the whole, also symbolizing that what is invisible is greater than what is visible – this is the bread that we will eat when Messiah comes. As we transform the meaning of matsah, we and it move from slavery to freedom. Of course matsah always means all of these things, but we put them in a specific order, in order to create this transformation. That's the real secret of the seder, and that's why it's called a seder.
This principle also applies to the four times we quote the verse "Because of this which Adonai did for me in taking me from Egypt."
Here are the times it's quoted.
1) to reprimand the "wicked son/child" *: רָשָׁע מָה הוּא אוֹמֵר? מָה הָעֲבֹדָה הַזֹּאת לָכֶם? לָכֶם - וְלֹא לוֹ. וְאַף אַתָּה הַקְהֵה אֶת שִנָּיו וֶאֱמֹר לוֹ: בַּעֲבוּר זֶה עָשָׂה יְיָ לִי בְּצֵאתִי מִמִּצְרָיִם.
2) to open up to the one who doesn't know to ask: וְשֶׁאֵינוֹ יוֹדֵעַ לִשְׁאוֹל - אַתְּ פְּתַח לוֹ, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: וְהִגַּדְתָּ לְבִנְךָ בַּיוֹם הַהוּא לֵאמֹר, בַּעֲבוּר זֶה עָשָׂה יְיָ לִי בְּצֵאתִי מִמִּצְרָיִם.
3) to explain why we tell the story at night on the full moon: יָכוֹל מֵרֹאשׁ חֹדֶשׁ, תַּלְמוּד לוֹמַר בַּיוֹם הַהוּא, אִי בַּיוֹם הַהוּא יָכוֹל מִבְּעוֹד יוֹם, תַּלְמוּד לוֹמַר בַּעֲבוּר זֶה - בַּעֲבוּר זֶה לֹא אָמַרְתִּי אֶלָא בְּשָׁעָה שֶׁיֵּשׁ מַצָּה וּמָרוֹר מֻנָּחִים לְפָנֶיךָ
4) to remind us that we ourselves left Egypt: בְּכָל דּוֹר וָדוֹר חַיָּב אָדָם לִרְאוֹת אֶת עַצְמוֹ כְּאִלּוּ הוּא יָצָא מִמִּצְרַיִם, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: וְהִגַּדְתָּ לְבִנְךָ בַּיוֹם הַהוּא לֵאמֹר, בַּעֲבוּר זֶה עָשָׂה יְיָ לִי בְּצֵאתִי מִמִּצְרָיִם.
The verse at first is used to exclude others, but by the end it is used to include ourselves on the deepest level. The one who is transformed is the teacher.
Another less obvious meaning of one of the fours of the haggadah: we usually think that the four children are in some kind of decreasing order of virtue or intellect, with the wise one being the best. It can actually be seen as the opposite: the "wise one" is at the bottom, unable to penetrate the meaning because he cannot see more than the rules. The response he gets, "explain to him the laws until 'we don't add after the Pesach offering an afikoman' ", represents an acceptance of the fact that this one is not ready to reach towards redemption. The wicked one has entered the gates, understanding that avodah/service must mean something more, though he/she is too full of ego to easily partake. The simple one and the one who doesn't know to ask have reached higher states, and one might even say that the one who doesn't know to ask is closest to enlightenment and redemption. But each of these is no more than a symbol for who we each are at different times. If we truly reach the level of "in every generation one must see him/herself as if he/she left Egypt" – which comes when all four children, i.e. all parts of ourselves, are brought together into the experience – then we have attained the purpose of the seder.
What follows are the .mp3 files from the Beit Midrash Ruach v'Lev session on "Unlocking the Mysteries of the Haggadah" held at Chochmat Halev in Berkeley CA, around 2004, led by me (Rabbi David Seidenberg).
Part 1 – the obvious fours of the haggadah, what they mean, and a list of the hidden fours to be discussed.
Part 2 – the first two meanings of matzah, the true meaning of "seder", and the transformation of the symbol of matsah.
[The following sections are unedited and the end of the class is yet to be filled in. Someday with God's help all that will happen.]
Part 3 – the second two meanings of matzah; redemption and the afikoman.
Part 4 – the transformations of the verse "Ba'avor zeh..."; psychological dimensions; beginning of discussion of the four sons/children (last section incomplete).
* "Wicked" is a problematic English term, seeing that it comes from Wiccan. But I haven't found a better one. "Evil" is far too harsh. "Froward" is too frumpy/freaky. "Rebellious" is possible but not really related enough to the Hebrew. So for now it's wicked.
Design in progress © Rabbi David Mevorach Seidenberg 2006