Photo Credit: Jewish Press

The Seder celebration is intended to be a profound personal experience and not merely a commemoration of a historical event. The vehicle to achieving this – the very text and guidebook – is the haggadah. Most people have their own personal favorites – dyed with wine stains and filled with matzah crumbs – until they stumble upon a new favorite. Or at least that is what happened to me.

I was fully content using a haggadah that mechanically spelled out instructions for the what, when, and where of all I was supposed to do, and then leaving the explanatory stuff to my memory of Rav Nisson Alpert, ztl’s, enchanting and magisterial shiurim on the haggadah.


That was until last year when I was presented with two new haggadot that changed everything. These haggadot really marked a sea change from what often emerges in the English market. Although the haggadah is the essential tool to convey historical occurrences, the development of our People, and Jewish self-awareness, frequently the new releases have so many sideshows and kitschy illustrations that the message gets lost in the sauce.

This is not the case with the Shalom Rav Haggadah by Rabbi Shalom Rosner. I still remember the first daf yomi shiur I heard from Rabbi Rosner when I was penned up in a hospital with my son. Nearly two decades later I can still remember that shiur. The same expansive knowledge, piercing analytical questions, and scintillating explanations that we have come to appreciate, revere, and love in all of Rabbi Rosner’s shiurim are present in his haggadah in spades.

It is really handy to be thoroughly familiar with Tanach and Shas (obviously, I speak only as a spectator) when delivering a shiur. Rabbi Rosner can, and does, pack an entire panoply of the prophet’s sentiments, the rabbi’s opinions, and what the L-rd has enjoined on virtually every subject encountered. What is really remarkable about the Shalom Rav Haggadah (and indeed all of Rabbi Rosner’s other works) is that they manage to capture the same excitement, enthusiasm, and verve that transfixes the tens of thousands of listeners of his auditory shiurim.

Of special note is that this hagaddah is blessed with 30 pages of essays, or as Rabbi Rosner calls them, “Reflections,” on the paramount lessons of Pesach and the haggadah. As awkwardly evident as this may sound, having Shalom Rav is really like having Rabbi Shalom Rosner leading your Seder, with the great advantage that you do not have to constantly adjust the playback speed, and can clutch the words in your hands: review, savor, and cherish every one of them. Special credit must be awarded to Marc Lesnick who compiled and edited this masterwork.

Another outstanding hagaddah that has joined the dazzling offerings of this most plentiful source of Jewish literature (with well over 3,000 different haggadot in existence) is Rabbi Immanuel Bernstein’s Darkness to Destiny. How this marvelous sefer, already on the market for ten years, escaped my scrutiny for so long, is a mystery. In an ironic way, this too is vintage Rabbi Bernstein, always enlightening and stimulating, but very, very quietly.

This is the very same Rabbi Bernstein who took Rav Yehuda Copperman’s monumental and scholarly three-volume work, P’shuto Shel Mikra, and unmasked it to the English-reading audience in a lucid and understandable way – such that even the layman can comprehend the underpinnings, rationale, and logic of the Torah that otherwise would have escaped one with even the finest yeshiva education (how much more so, one deprived). And the very same Rabbi Bernstein who wrote Teshuva. That was not a typo: He wrote a book about the process of coming home to the Almighty, and since he ferrets out the obstacles that prevent this homecoming and connects all of the laws, customs, and practices that have been instituted to achieve it, the only title left for this invaluable compendium is, simply, Teshuva.

I found out rather quickly that the Bernstein haggadah has so many nuggets of wisdom and clarity that it is not the type of haggadah to just open at the Seder, peek at here and there, and snatch a quick vort from (although you can do this too), but it is the kind of sefer that you will wish to learn way before the Seder: to ponder, highlight, and take notes. In my version there are already more highlighted lines than non-highlighted.

And just like our favorite haggadot have matzah crumbs tumbling out of select folios, Darkness to Destiny has wisdom pouring out of every page, making the reader scoop from every page so as not to miss a drop.

Rabbi Berel Wein wrote, “Everyone has a haggadah book inside oneself.” In other words, just as no two people are the same, likewise no two Pesach sedarim are alike. As far as my own personal haggadah, I am so gratified that I have the above two incorporated into mine!


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Rabbi Hanoch Teller is the award-winning producer of three films, a popular teacher in Jerusalem yeshivos and seminaries, and the author of 28 books, the latest entitled Heroic Children, chronicling the lives of nine child survivors of the Holocaust. Rabbi Teller is also a senior docent in Yad Vashem and is frequently invited to lecture to different communities throughout the world.