Title: Pesah: Insights From the Past, Present, and Future
The Habura, 262 pages
Hakham Benjamin Artom encapsulates the essence of the story of the Exodus with the following quote: “Yet indefinitely more significant are the moral lessons which we may derive from each phase of that startling event, from each page and each line of that wonderful narration.” His article, which focuses on the more subtle lessons for the newly freed Israelites, among most other articles in this publication of the Habura have shed new light on both the famed broader themes of the Exodus and some of the more niche aspects within the Jewish outlook and practice.
Several of the works in the second half of the book explore the finer details within the debate between Moshe and Pharaoh, providing meaning and background to the seemingly superfluous details noted alongside the biblical description of the plagues. Similar insight is provided behind the messages and lessons of the mon in the desert as an antithesis to the life the Jews had become accustomed to over their years of slavery. Each of the articles is highly convincing, enriching the reader’s overall outlook of the range of messages Pesach is meant to impart. On a philosophical level, though through a broader prism, this understanding of a well-known theme within its broader context is created by Rabbi Abraham Faur in his comparison of the role of the bayit in Pesach in comparison to Chanukah.
The translation of the writings of Rav Ben Zion Uziel provides a particularly eye-opening comment on freedom, a theme we so often revisit when discussing Pesach. In his words: “A slave may see their master act in such a way and believe that freedom would be mimicry and an imitation of their actions, as monkey emulates a human.” A similarly insightful comment on an often-visited sub-theme of freedom, namely the nature of time, is well articulated by Rabbi Joseph Dweck, who highlights how control of our own time is significant in giving us the ability to influence our future. In light of the fact that the historically more recent emancipations have often led the newly free to seek wealth and the opportunities that their former masters enjoyed, these ideas resonate distinctly. The work of the Habura in not settling for merely publishing the work of current students and scholars but translating the work of leaders of the past century and making them accessible to a far broader range of people is something I would like to give particular commendation.
Professor Y. Tzvi Langerman’s translation of an unidentified halachic responsa from the Medieval period provides a fascinating precedent of the sale of chametz of a Jew to a gentile before Pesach. While I have encountered many discussions of the interplay between halacha and secular law regarding the laws of acquisition, these have largely been in responsa compiled in the last two centuries, not from the Rishonim. Jacob Chereskin provides a thought-provoking historical backdrop to the contrast of tefillin with the totems and practice to which the Jews would have been exposed over their time in Egypt, giving a new angle to a daily practice of observant Jewish males.
Rav Yonatan Halevy and Rav Yitzchak Berdugo enrich this publication with halachic angles on Pesach practice, both in terms of the expenses of Pesach and the surprising phenomena that Ashkenazi Jews avoid eating soft matzah, even though this issue is not raised in many of the most widely used halachic works. The synthesis of articles on halachot of Pesach alongside more philosophical writings gives a strong feeling of well-roundedness to the publication.