A Haggadah for Our Troops

by Rochel Goldberg

It’s the question that keeps rabbis up at night: how is an exodus from a kingdom that no longer exists, that happened thousands of years ago, relevant to today’s Jew? On March 29, millions of Jews will bless and drink a cup of wine (the first of four), signifying the start of an hours-long ceremony of reading, reciting, and ancient ritual. After Passover, we return to the world of melting economies, climate change and belligerent nuclear-armed nations. Can a Seder celebrating outbreak from slavery in 1313 BCE be meaningful today?

Rabbi Chaim Miller, author of the Slager Edition Haggadah, clearly believes that the ideas of the Seder speak to the twenty-first century Jew participating in it. For example, Miller points out that reigning superpowers have come a long way since Egypt; humanitarian aid to foreign nations (witnessed mostly recently in Haiti) has replaced enslavement. Such a dramatic swing to the side of good, Miller explains, is an unmistakable indication that that the world we live in is steadily progressing towards a time when goodness and kindness will fill the world.

To illuminate these profound ideas of the Seder, Rabbi Miller mines over seventeen centuries of fascinating Jewish thought. In the Haggadah are the original insights of over eighty seminal Jewish thinkers. These range from the Rabbi Isaac Luria, who lived in sixteenth century Palestine and laid the foundation for all future Kabbalah study, to the “Tzemach Tzedek,” a Chassidic Rebbe who received “honorary citizenship” from Czar Nicholas for his achievements in Jewish education. Thankfully, Rabbi Miller distills these two millennia of scholarship into short, sweet “Question and Answer” segments placed alongside the original Haggadah text.

Also accompanying the text are instructions for completing each stage of the Seder – a good thing, as there is an imposing total of fourteen. Like highway signs the instructions guide the reader with directions of what to do (and say, and eat); unlike many highway signs, the instructions are skillfully placed, giving advance notice of upcoming ritual steps, and allowing the reader to move smoothly through the Seder.

The Haggadah is exceptionally user-friendly. The instructions for conducting the seder are clear and informative, and liberally sprinkled throughout the text; there are no cracks of confusion for the average Seder participant to fall between. Evidently an author committed to communicating with his audience, Rabbi Miller transmits his remarkable store of knowledge in simple, straightforward language. The Slager Edition is, as the Orthodox Unions aptly put it, the “Haggadah for Everyman”.

The icing on the cake (or in this case, on the matzah) is the Haggadah’s presentation. In 2009, the judges of the prestigious IBPA Benjamin Franklin Award named the Slager Haggadah the best-designed book of 2008. It’s easy to see why; besides the arty fonts and pleasing border ornamentation, the layout is clear and uncluttered – similar to the instructions and explanations.

If sitting at the Seder table used to be like attending a foreign sports game – not knowing the language, not knowing the rules, and not caring about either – participating in the Seder with the Slager Haggadah is like watching your team play baseball; they speak your language, you know the rules…and you sure do care.

It is no surprise that the Slager Edition has been a consistent best-seller in its genre; or that the President of the United States chose the Slager Haggadah to autograph and send to Jewish troops in Iraq, as a show of support for the approximately one thousand Jews there in uniform.

Kol Menachem’s edition of the classic Haggadah is everything a contemporary edition should be. Its power lies in its seeming contradiction: it simplifies the process while intensifying the meaning. The hold-your-hand instructions complement the mystical illuminations, and vice-versa. Rabbis – and anyone looking for an engaging and relevant Pesach Seder experience – can sleep soundly.

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