web analytics
November 28, 2014 / 6 Kislev, 5775
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post
IDC Herzliya Campus A Day on Campus

To mark IDC Herzliya’s 20th anniversary, we spent a day following Prof. Uriel Reichman, IDC’s founder and president, and Jonathan Davis, VP for External Relations, around its delightful campus.



Home » InDepth » Op-Eds »

A Rabbi’s Rabbi Shares His Seder Secrets


The ideal drashah (sermon) combines science and art.

There is the scientific component, where the darshan embodies deep and authentic Jewish scholarship: breadth of knowledge, methodology, and faithfulness to tradition. Equally significant are the artistic elements of the drashah: eloquence, presentation, and a penetrating understanding of one’s intended audience.

It is no easy feat to compose good Pesach sermons. One must envision creative twists to well-trodden ancient texts, emerging with new understandings that educate, inspire, and delight.

As an accomplished scholar, and armed with a lifetime of experience as a community rabbi and then president and rosh hayeshiva of Yeshiva University, Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm brings all his credentials as a master darshan to our Pesach Sedarim in his newly published commentary on the Haggadah, The Royal Table (OU Press).

Perhaps the core philosophy of this treasure-trove of insights can be identified in Dr. Lamm’s interpretation of the preface to the first half of the Hallel (Psalms 113-114), where we promise to sing a “new song” (shirah chadashah).

Dr. Lamm expresses amazement that this “new” song is none other than “the old, tried, worn Hallel.” His response: “Our people throughout the ages have instinctively understood that the rhythm of Torah combines the old and the new new insights are possible, insights that come with age and wisdom and experience . We must keep the old in sight; perceive in it the new through Insight; and as a result learn – to excite our souls and galvanize our spirits.”

That interplay between tradition and creativity receives magnificent expression throughout his elucidations of the classical Haggadah text.

Dr. Lamm stresses that ethical living is central to Judaism: “The highest form of creativity is neither intellectual nor artistic; it is ethical.” Elsewhere he even converts the korech sandwich into a lesson in balancing the different elements of our personalities – represented by the symbols of matzah and marror – to achieve perfection. Extremes must be avoided.

There is a talmudic debate about whether we should begin the negative aspect of the storytelling from our physical slavery or from our idolatrous origins. Instead of tackling that debate, Dr. Lamm explores a more basic question. If the Talmudic sages cannot even agree on so fundamental a point, how can we ever speak about “tradition”?

Dr. Lamm answers that uncertainty provokes machloket l’Shem Shamayim (debate for the sake of Heaven), and that uncertainty coupled with ongoing study makes life more interesting and energizing.

Religious existentialism emerges in the discussion of the plague of darkness. Darkness and solitude can indeed be a plague, and this is how the Egyptians perceived it. However, one with a healthier perspective finds blessing in moments of solitude. Loneliness can be painful, but also can become a creative opportunity to hear the voice of God and discover ourselves.

Dr. Lamm infuses ironic meaning into our practice of reclining. We recline as a relic from the Roman period, when nobles did so on couches while they dined. In an age of great technological advances such as chairs, however, of what value is this fossilized custom?

Dr. Lamm responds that our Seder is profoundly lacking because there is no Temple, and it was the ancient Romans who destroyed it. We shall not allow that destruction to undo us as a people.

Our response is to celebrate a living tradition from the era of the Temple with a Roman practice, while that once invincible Roman Empire is long gone.

Along with his perspicacious discussion of the Four Children, Dr. Lamm delights the reader with another section that outlines traits of the Four Parents. Education should not be focused exclusively on children and their respective differences. Rather, our continuity as a people depends heavily on the religious-educational attitudes of parents and how they speak to their children.

Dr. Joel Wolowelsky has provided an invaluable service in reading Dr. Lamm’s sermons, selecting and abridging them, and placing them alongside the text of the Haggadah as a running commentary. He also has succeeded in retaining Dr. Lamm’s authentic voice (as stated in the general introduction, Dr. Lamm reviewed the volume).

The Royal Table is a veritable gold mine for rabbis and educators. In addition to the wealth of insight, it is a consummate model as to what makes a great drashah. The Royal Table similarly is a welcome addition for all committed Jews seeking to enhance their Sedarim and ultimately their personal religious growth. The book is accessible to Jews of all backgrounds, as Dr. Lamm combines his hallmark eloquence and subtlety with clarity and a keen understanding of a diverse Jewish community.

About the Author: Hayyim Angel is rabbi of Congregation Shearith Israel of New York (the Spanish-Portuguese Synagogue, founded in 1654), and teaches advanced undergraduate Tanach courses at Yeshiva University. He has published two collections of studies in Tanach - "Through an Opaque Lens" and "Revealed Texts: Hidden Meanings."


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “A Rabbi’s Rabbi Shares His Seder Secrets”

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry .
NYT Ignores US Condemnation of PA Incitement, Prints Info on Ferguson Cop
Latest Indepth Stories
Kessim (religious leaders) mark the opening of a synagogue in the village of Gomenge, Ethopia, one of five built in Gondar with JDC aid, 1988
Courtesy of American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, New York.

In a world where people question whether they should be engaged, we are a reminder that all Jews are responsible for one another.

Greiff-112814-Levaya

My son is seventeen; he didn’t want to talk about what happened, or give any details of the Rosh Yeshiva’s words of chizuk.

Protesters in Ferguson, Missouri

All involved in the Ferguson debate should learn the laws pertinent to non-Jews: the Noahide Laws.

Charley Levine

Prominent Jewish leaders acknowledged that their predecessors had mistreated the Bergson Group.

Abbas has been adding new layers of rhetoric to his tactical campaign to de-Judaize Jerusalem

The Jew’s crime is his presence.

Hamas’s love for death tried to have as many Palestinian civilians killed as possible

Israel recognizes the fabrication called a Palestinian nation; So what do we want from the Swedes?

Arab attacking Jews in the land date back a century, long before Israel was created or in control.

Creativity without clarity is not sufficient for writing. I am eternally thankful to Hashem for his gift to me.

Golden presents a compelling saga of poor but determined immigrants who fled pogroms and harsh conditions in their homelands for a better life in a land of opportunity.

It seems to us that while the Jewish entitlement to the land of Israel transcends the Holocaust, the Jewish experience during that tragic time is the most solid of foundations for these “national rights.”

Too many self-styled civil rights activists seemed determined to force, by their relentless pressure, an indictment regardless of what an investigation might turn up.

Unfortunately, at present, the rabbinate does not play a positive role in preventing abuse.

More Articles from Rabbi Hayyim Angel

The ideal drashah (sermon) combines science and art.

There is the scientific component, where the darshan embodies deep and authentic Jewish scholarship: breadth of knowledge, methodology, and faithfulness to tradition. Equally significant are the artistic elements of the drashah: eloquence, presentation, and a penetrating understanding of one’s intended audience.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/a-rabbis-rabbi-shares-his-seder-secrets/2010/02/10/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: