By Date

Dear Friends,

One of the emails waiting for me in my inbox this morning was from a company urging me to “download my Haggadah of choice now so there won’t be an issue if the power goes out.”

(It is sage advice that is lost on me since the Seder is one of the few places, I still tend to use a paper copy of the text.)

The titles of some of their Haggadah offerings caught my eye.

There was The Passover Coloring Book. I can see that Haggadah being great if there are a lot of young kids attending your seder.

There was the 10-Minute Dayenu Seder. I can see that being a favorite of those of you who are hoping this Shabbat message ends now.

There was the Comedy Seder for those who need a laugh (don’t we all at that point), and as one might expect, there was a Haggadah entitled “Honoring People of Ukraine.”

But of all the various Haggadot they offered there was one that truly stood out- The Schitt’s Creek Haggadah.

Don’t get me wrong- I loved the show. But why would you need a Schitt’s Creek-themed Seder?

Isn’t the Exodus story dramatic enough without Moira Rose retelling it in one of her terrible accents?

And did we really need one of the Four Questions to be
“On other nights of the year we eat fondue.” Tonight we ask, “what does it mean to fold in the cheese?”

It struck me as a bit ridiculous. And then I thought of other Hagaddot I have seen and used over the years. There was the UAHC Basking Haggadah I grew up using and the “Santa Cruz Haggadah for the Liberated Mind” I used in Rabbinic School. And there were so many others along the way. Each Haggadah offers a different lens through which to see and retell the story of the Exodus. Rather than that lens being disrespectful to the core narrative from the Torah, I think that lens is CENTRAL to the Passover experience. There are two main reasons for that assertion.

First, when we take an ancient story that has been retold for generations and offer a slightly different frame or perspective on it we bring the text to life. We make it relevant to the time we are living in and by virtue of our perspectives shifting, we may very well see things in the text that we never saw before. That process turns an ancient text into a living story that is more engaging than ever.

But there is also a personal reason why this is important. In the Haggadah we read the statement,

“In each generation we should see ourselves as if we personally escaped Egyptian slavery.”

In other words, the Haggadah itself is challenging us to literally “see ourselves in the text.” “Do not,” it seems to suggest, “think this is some ancient tale. Because while the story may be old, the lessons it seeks to impart are eternal, and you will only learn them if you feel personally addressed.”

Thus, when we offer a new frame around the Exodus story, we transform it from “THE Exodus” to “OUR Exodus.” That small change has the power to transform the entire tale. Now when we read the story, we realize that we were slaves in Egypt. And now we are free. But with that freedom comes the responsibility to avoid following Pharaoh’s example by hardening our hearts. Instead, we should be filled with compassion for those who now stand where we once stood. And then, once the matzah and charoset have finally digested, we need to roll up our sleeves and get to work turning our story of redemption into a universal story.

Whether you use the Schitt’s Creek Hagaddah or the Maxwell House Hagaddah, this evening I wish you all a Zissen Pesach.

Chag Sameach and Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Daniel Cohen