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The Passover Haggadah: Retelling the Exodus

Greco-Roman Period
Among the earliest of Rabbinic texts is the midrashic exposition of Deut. 26-5-8 and some additional passages. It originated in Second Temple times and was adapted for the Passover Seder in the home after the destruction of the Temple. The basic structure is the quotation of phrases from the Deuteronomic passage followed by other verses, mostly from Exodus, which provide explication.

Come and learn what Laban the Syrian tried to do to our father Jacob. While Pharaoh
decreed only against the males, Laban desired to uproot all. For so it is written- “A Syrian
sought to destroy my father; and he went down to Egypt and dwelled there, a handful,
few in number. There he became a nation, great, mighty and numerous” (Deut. 26-5).
“He went down to Egypt”—Why did he go down to Egypt? He was compelled by
God’s decree.

“He dwelled there.” This means that Jacob our father did not go down to Egypt to settle
there but only to stay for a short while; for so it is said, “And they said to Pharaoh, we
have come to dwell in the land because there is no pasture for the flocks of your servants,
since the famine is very bad in the land of Canaan; and now let your servants dwell in the
land of Goshen” (Gen. 47-4).

“Few in number” as it is said- “Your forefathers went down into Egypt with seventy
persons. Now the Eternal your God has made you as numerous as the stars in heaven”
(Deut. 10-22).

“And there he became a nation” —from this we learn that Israel became a distinct
nation in Egypt.

“Great and mighty” —as it is said- “And the children of Israel were fruitful and
increased and multiplied and became very strong and numerous, so that the land was full
of them” (Ex. 1 -7).

“And numerous” —as it is said- “I have increased you as the growth of the field and you
have become numerous and grown big and reached to excellence in beauty. You are fully
grown, yet you remained naked and bare” (Ezek. 16-7).

“And the Egyptians did evil unto us” —as it is said in the Bible- “Come, let us deal
craftily with them, lest they increase yet more, and it may be that when war occurs they
will be added to our enemies and fight against us and go up out of the land” (Ex. 1-10).
“And they made us suffer”—as the Bible relates- “So the Egyptians set taskmasters over
them in order to oppress them with their burdens; and they built Pithom and Raamses as
store cities for Pharaoh” (Ex. 1-11).

“And they set upon us hard work”—as the Bible states- “And Egypt made the children
of Israel labor rigorously” (Ex. 1-13).

“So we cried unto the Eternal, the God of our fathers, and the Eternal heard our voice,
and He saw our affliction, and our burden, and our oppression” (Deut. 26-7).
“So we cried unto the Eternal, the God of our fathers”—as the Bible recounts- “And it
came to pass in the course of those many days that the king of Egypt died, and the
children of Israel moaned because of servitude and cried out, and their outcry from
servitude came up unto God” (Ex. 2-23).

“Annd the Eternal heard our voice”—as the Bible tells- “And God heard their groaning,
and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob” (Ex. 2-24).
‘‘And He saw our affliction”—this phrase suggests the enforced separation of husband
and wife under Pharaoh’s persecution, as it is written- ‘‘And God saw the children of
Israel and God understood their plight” (Ex. 2-25).

‘‘And our burden-—this recalls the drowning of the male children, as it is said- “Every
son that is born you shall cast into the Nile, but every daughter you may keep alive” (Ex.
1 -22)….

‘‘And I will pass through the land of Egypt on that night, and I will smite all the first-
born in the land of Egypt from man to best, and against all the gods of Egypt I will
execute judgments. It is I, the Eternal” (Ex. 12-12)”— I and not a ministering angel; “and
I will smite the first-born in the land of Egypt”—I and not a fiery angel; “And against all
the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments”—I and not a messenger; “I the Eternal”—I
and no other.

“With a strong hand”—this refers to the cattle plague, as it is said in the Bible; “Behold,
the hand of the Eternal will be against the cattle that is in the field, against the horses, the
donkeys, the camels, the oxen and the sheep, a very grievous plague” (Ex. 9-3).
“And with an outstretched arm”—this refers to the sword, as the Bible states- “His
sword drawn in his hand, outstretched over Jerusalem” (1 Chron.21-16).

‘‘And with great terror”—this refers to the revelation of God to Israel, as it is said- Has
any god ever tried to go and remove one nation from the midst of another nation, with
trials, with signs and with wonders, and with battle, and with strong hand and
outstretched arm, and with great terrors, as all that the Eternal your God “did for you in
Egypt before your eyes?” (Deut. 4-34).

‘‘And with signs”—this refers to the rod of Moses, as it is said- “And you, Moses, shall
take in your hand this rod with which you shall do the signs” (Ex. 4-17).
‘‘And wonders”—this refers to the plague of blood, as is written in Scripture- “I will put
wonders in heaven and on earth- Blood, Fire, Pillars of smoke” (Joel 3-3).
Another interpretation is as follows-

“With a strong hand”—refers to two plagues; “with an outstretched arm”—two; “with
great terror”—two; “With signs”—two; and “with wonders” refers to two plagues. Thus
we have the ten plagues that the Holy One, blessed be He, brought upon the Egyptians in
Egypt; and they are as follows-

1.Blood, 2.Frogs, 3.Vermin, 4.Beasts, 5.Cattle disease, 6.Boils, 7.Hail, 8.Locusts,
9.Darkness, 10.Slaying of the first-born.

78. Trans. N. Goldberg, Passover Haggadah (New York- Ktav, 1973), pp. 12-17.

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