The spirit of Pessah

The Pessah Seder is known to be one of the most observed Jewish rituals in Israel and the Diaspora - even among those who never go to synagogue or attend services only for reciting Yizkor on Yom Kippur.

tekhlet book 88 298 (photo credit: )
tekhlet book 88 298
(photo credit: )
The Tekhelet Mordekhai Haggadah By Rabbi Mordechai Elon Keren Yishai/Rubin Mass 135 pages, NIS 60 The Pessah Seder is known to be one of the most observed Jewish rituals in Israel and the Diaspora - even among those who never go to synagogue or attend services only for reciting Yizkor on Yom Kippur. But even some observant families, after all the pre-Pessah cleaning and cooking, rush through the familiar Haggada until they reach Shulhan Orech - the section that means it's time to eat the full meal. Although many Jews know many melodies and sections by heart, there is always something new to be discovered in the story of the Ten Plagues and the Exodus from Egypt. Indeed, this night - which traditionally requires all Jews to regard themselves as having been saved from the Egyptians and having exited that land of slavery rather than just retelling the experience of their ancestors - is different from all other nights. Rabbi Mordechai Elon - the charismatic head of Jerusalem's Yeshivat Hakotel, former head of the Horev Yeshiva, prolific writer, lecturer and TV personality - helps make the Seder memorable for English speakers with this new translation of his commentary on the Haggada. Called the Tekhelet Mordekhai Haggadah, the hardcover translation of the original Hebrew text got its title from a play on the rabbi's name: The title refers to the rich sky-blue clothing that, according to the Book of Esther, Mordecai was dressed in by the wicked Haman (against his will) and mounted on King Ahasuerus's royal horse as appreciation for the Jew's saving the Persian king's life. Keren Yishai, which has produced the English-language version with Rubin Mass publishers, is a non-profit organization made up of Elon's friends and students that disseminates his teachings. It begins with a glossary containing explanations in English for a few dozen Hebrew words that are not translated within the English text that appears opposite the original Hebrew. Unlike most Haggadot, this volume has no colorful, fancy illustrations - in fact there are no illustrations at all. But it is rich in Elon's commentary, which is about three times the length of the Haggada text itself. Elon uses a variety of sources, from Maimonides to the Vizhnitzer Rebbe, as sources, but most of the insights are his own. The commentaries appear from the pre-Seder search for leaven until the meal, with the songs and blessings after the meal translated into English but left without explanation. Explaining the Yahatz section, in which the middle of the three matzot is split in two, with the larger piece hidden for the afikoman, Elon notes that destitute people who finally manage to find bread (not on Pessah, of course) eat some and put the rest aside for possible consumption later. This middle matza is laid between the two pieces required for lehem mishne (the double loaves required for Shabbat and festival meals that symbolize the double portion of manna that was collected by the Israelites in the desert on Friday to compensate for the lack of manna falling on Shabbat). On weekdays, manna could not be stored, as if it was, it decayed and became ridden with worms. The Israelites were taught to have faith in God and believe that He would supply more manna the following day. But on the night of the Seder, although we are quite happy to conceal one piece of the middle matza, "we are no longer poor and destitute; we no longer require every crumb of bread," Elon notes. "It is specifically on the Seder night that we will merit to be liberated from the reality of Yahatz. Tonight, we may succeed in truly escaping the reality of Egypt. We will move through the Haggada until we restore the hidden matza when we eat the afikoman," which is comprised of two words - afik ("take out" in Aramaic) and man (manna)... We are to free ourselves from our destitution, from our need to amass supplies, and we openly eat our measure of the afikoman while leaning." Elon's insights provide spiritual dessert throughout the Seder, and the translation is well worth buying.