Occasionally I buy a new Passover Haggada filled with enough commentary to last for a few years of Passover preparation and learning during the holiday. Eventually another Haggada joins my shelf and takes over. I recently used the “Higionei Halacha” Haggada, and afterwards a Haggada called “Marei Cohen” which is based on the commentary of Rav Pam z’l of NY.
This year I purchased the (Rabbi) Jonathan Sacks Haggada published by Koren. While quite different than my recent choices, I am glad I did. This Haggada offers big picture, “macro” explanations of Passover and the seder. Rabbi Sacks puts the seder into a mix of historical, religious and philosophical contexts illustrating that the seder is no simple holiday meal or even an important holiday meal. It may be the most important activity Jews take part in all year. Yet, no matter how important his ideas and interpretations are (and they are), Rabbi Sacks serves them up in a very digestible way. Profound ideas can also be understandable, and this seems to be a hallmark of Rabbi Sack’s writing. Rabbi Sacks explains how the seder is THE tool for ensuring the continuation of the Jewish people and religion by inculcating values such as compassion for the downtrodden and the belief that there is a Creator writing the script of human history while giving meaning to our lives. Almost any reader will approach the seder with a renewed sense of mission and appreciation after reading the Sacks Haggada.
While the mention of secular Zionist heroes in a Haggada may seem jarring to some readers, Rabbi Sacks brings them to illustrate important points such the inability for even the most assimilated Jews to escape Jewish destiny. On the other end of the spectrum, Rav Pam z”l mentions the UN in his Haggada commentary and alludes to the reality of modern Jewish statehood. It seems fitting that current historical figures or events be considered when looking at the Haggada, even if one doesn’t identify with all of them. They illustrate how the story and ideas of the Haggada have been relevant throughout history and today. Modern events and ideas can be considered without participating in what has become the almost annual re-branding farce of Jewish holidays to match current trends (so Jewish holidays can now be “green” etc.).
The Sacks Haggada has an attractive cover and is typeset elegantly. Yes, this Haggada is different than all others because Rabbi Sacks offers new perspectives on Passover while being strongly rooted in Jewish tradition. It is not just “another Haggada”. Thanks to both Rabbi Sacks and Koren for this new addition to the modern Passover library.