OpinionJewish & Israeli Holidays

Passover 2024

The light has dawned

‘Yesh tikvah,’ there is hope!

The Haggadah is read during the Passover seder commemorating the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt some 3,500 years ago. Photo by Hadas Parush/Flash90.
The Haggadah is read during the Passover seder commemorating the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt some 3,500 years ago. Photo by Hadas Parush/Flash90.
Rabbi Yossy Goldman
Rabbi Yossy Goldman
Rabbi Yossy Goldman is Life Rabbi Emeritus of Sydenham Shul in Johannesburg and president of the South African Rabbinical Association. He is the author of From Where I Stand, on the weekly Torah readings, available from Ktav.com and Amazon.

Jews have always been fond of answering one question with another. In fact, Golda Meir was once asked by a journalist, “Why do Jews always answer one question with another question?” She replied, “Why not?”

So here’s Question 1: Moses is the hero and main protagonist of the story of Pesach and the Exodus from Egypt. Yet the Haggadah hardly mentions his name at all. There is only one passing mention of him in a quotation of the verse, “And they believed in God and in Moses, His servant.”

That’s not exactly getting his name in lights. But surely, Moses is the “star of the show” and deserves to be highlighted throughout the narrative. Why is he all but absent from the Haggadah?

Allow me to answer that question with another.

One of the most famous passages from the Haggadah recounts a story: Some of the greatest sages of the time gathered in Bnai Brak for the Pesach seder. “They were discussing the Exodus from Egypt all that night until their students came and told them: ‘Our Masters, the time has come for reciting the morning Shema.’”

Question 2: If your rabbi was giving a shiur (“lesson”) and he was going on a bit, sunset was approaching, and it was time to daven Mincha, would you interrupt and tell him? I can say with certainty that if I was listening to my teacher and mentor—the Lubavitcher Rebbe—and he was giving a talk and sunset was approaching, I would remain absolutely shtum. I would never have the chutzpah to interrupt my saintly teacher.

And the Haggadah story involves some of the greatest sages of their generation: Rabbi Eliezer, Rabbi Yehoshua, Rabbi Elazar ben Azaryah, Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Tarfon. How did these young students have the cheek and audacity to show them their watch and tell them to hurry and finish their discussions as it was getting late to recite the Shema?

I once came across an interpretation that answers this question beautifully. It is somewhat tangential, but it is in the classic mode of drush, what we call “homiletics.” It is where the word drosha comes from—meaning a sermon. In sermons, rabbis often employ the methodology of drush to expound on and interpret a Torah verse in an original, creative way. This gives the congregation a meaningful message beyond the simple, straightforward explanation of the Torah verse.

Now, in the Haggadah passage, if we move a comma just one word forward, it sheds completely new light on the story. The traditional understanding is that the rabbis were discussing the Exodus all night and in the morning their students arrived and said, “Our Masters, the time has come for reciting the morning Shema.”

However, if we move the comma just one word later, the passage would read: “The rabbis were discussing the Exodus all that night, until their students came and our rabbis told them, the time for the morning Shema has arrived.”

In other words, the statement about the time for the morning Shema was not made by the students, but by the rabbis themselves.

You see, these great rabbis were awake all Pesach night discussing the Exodus story, and its deepest meaning and interpretation. Night symbolizes darkness. Indeed, they were living in the dark, depressing era after the Romans had destroyed the Second Temple and were brutally occupying Israel. No doubt the rabbis were bemoaning the state of the Holy Land and its Jewish community in that terrible era. Would there be a future for Judaism? Could the Jewish people rebuild and regenerate after such a calamitous tragedy? These must have been the questions they were grappling with.

Then morning dawned, and their students arrived. Suddenly, the rabbis were encouraged, and their mood lightened. The arrival of a group of young Torah scholars hungry to learn brought the rabbis new hope for the Jewish people. They saw a brighter future, assured by a new generation of dedicated students eager to keep the faith and study the Torah. “The morning has arrived!” the rabbis gratefully proclaimed. They beheld a new light that gave them new hope for and confidence in the Jewish future through the dawning of a new generation.

Thus, we can better appreciate the absence of Moses’s name from the Haggadah story. While there is barely any mention of him, there is another prophet who does feature prominently at the seder table: Eliyahu Hanavi, Elijah the Prophet. He is prominent in every Jewish home on seder night. There is the very visible Fifth Cup of Elijah, and in the latter part of the Haggadah recital, we open the door for Elijah.

Moses is described as our first redeemer. Elijah, however, represents the final redemption. In Jewish tradition, Elijah is the harbinger of the Messiah. The prophet will arrive and announce the great redeemer’s imminent arrival, please God. “Behold, I will send you Elijah the Prophet before that great, awesome day,” says the verse from the Book of Malachi that we read on Shabbat Hagadol just before Pesach. Elijah will be the herald of the final redemption.

The rabbis of old were comforted and reassured by the arrival of a new crop of young Torah students. At our own seder tables, we want to focus our attention not only on the past but on the future—not only on the redemption from Egypt, but on the final redemption of the Messiah. Hopefully, this can help us to better understand why, at the seder, Elijah gets more coverage than Moses.

Like Rabbi Akiva and his colleagues, we also live in the shadow of destruction—in our case, that of European Jewry and the Holocaust. Nor are we yet finished with Hamas, Iran & Co. But despite all our challenges, we are heartened by the emergence of a new generation dedicated to Torah study and Jewish continuity. Like the rabbis at their seder, we, too, have reason to be confident that a new dawn has risen, a generation that will proudly proclaim the Shema Yisrael and the eternal Oneness of God.

I wish all my readers a chag kasher v’sameach. Wherever we may be celebrating Pesach this year, may we all be together “Next Year in Jerusalem!”

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
You have read 3 articles this month.
Register to receive full access to JNS.

Just before you scroll on...

Israel is at war.

JNS is combating the stream of misinformation on Israel with real, honest and factual reporting. In order to deliver this in-depth, unbiased coverage of Israel and the Jewish world, we rely on readers like you.

The support you provide allows our journalists to deliver the truth, free from bias and hidden agendas. Can we count on your support?

Every contribution, big or small, helps JNS.org remain a trusted source of news you can rely on.

Become a part of our mission by donating today
Thank you. You are a loyal JNS Reader.
You have read more than 10 articles this month.
Please register for full access to continue reading and post comments.
Never miss a thing
Get the best stories faster with JNS breaking news updates