Connecting to an Ongoing Tradition

Levi Morrow

Ma’aseh Be’Rabbi Eliezer, Ve’Rabbi Yehoshua, Ve’Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah, Ve’Rabbi Akiva Ve’Rabbi Tarfon Shehayu Mesubin Be’Bnai BerakThis section shifts the register of the Haggadah, from a retelling of the exodus from Egypt to a retelling of retellings of the exodus from Egypt. We don’t just recall God’s miracles as Bnei Yisrael were taken out of Egypt, we also recall how Jews have told the story of these miracles throughout history.

In fact, when we return to the original contexts of critical biblical verses in the Haggadah, we find that they come from some of the earliest recountings of the exodus story. “Avadim Hayyinu” comes from Devarim 6, which discusses how Bnei Yisrael should speak to their children about the exodus. “In the beginning, our forefathers were idolaters” comes from Yehoshua 24, which recounts the history of Bnei Yisrael until that point, including a detailed account of the exodus. “Arami Oved Avi,” the Haggadah’s midrashic exploration of how Lavan tried to destroy Yaakov, comes from liturgical account of the Egyptian exile and exodus recited by a person bringing bikkurim, sacrificial first fruits, to the Beit Hamikdash in Devarim 26. Instead of returning to the Torah’s depiction of the exodus from Egypt itself, the Haggadah keeps going back to verse that depict a retelling of the exodus.

Intriguingly, the Torah seems to see the retelling of the miracles as somehow more important than the miracles themselves. God tells Moshe that the whole back-and-forth with Paroah and the plagues is “so that you will tell in the ears of your children and grandchildren what I did you Egypt, the signs I have placed in them; and you will know that I am God” (Shemot 10:1-2). Already while the miracles were ongoing, the act of retelling them and instilling their images in the minds of the next generation was of the utmost importance. When we retell the story of the exodus from Egypt, we don’t just connect ourselves to the history of Bnei Yisrael who left Egypt, we also make ourselves part of the long tradition of people who have retold this story.

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