Blech, Benjamin Rabbi. “Redemption, Then and Now: Pesah Haggadah with Essays and Commentary” , Menorah, 2017.
Insights into the Seder
One of my biggest pleasures around the time of the holiday of Passover is to survey the new Haggadot that are published. This is a lean year in that I have only found two really new books, one of which is pure comedy and it reviewed elsewhere on this website. The other is Rabbi Benjamin Blech’s very serious look at redemption as the major theme of the story of the Exodus that we read at the traditional Passover meal.
This haggadah edition is double-sided: the Hebrew side comprises the Koren Haggadah and translation, accompanied by the author’s commentary. On the English side we have 23 short essays on the themes of Pesah, the Seder and its rituals. They are easily accessible and include Blech’s love for gematria and word play and these are featured throughout.
The commentary is insightful, comprehensive, and informative and it explains a great deal including why Jewish tradition includes a unique blessing to be said over wine, the symbolism of the wine, why the middle matzo is broken in half during the Seder and the bigger half (itself a question since if it is broken in half, the two halves should be equal) is saved to be eaten at the end of the Seder, why are four questions asked at the Seder and why the youngest child does the asking, what is the significance of mentioning four types of sons, why were the Israelites not in Egypt for 400 years despite a prophecy that this would occur, the meaning of the secret of Jewish survival and the meaning of the plagues in Egypt and these are just a taste of the topics.
Have you ever wondered what are the five most important things about Passover, about the meaning of the fifteen parts of the Seder, the miracles of Jewish history, why does Jacob become Israel, the meaning of Shabbat HaGadol: history and destiny, why is bread burned before Passover begins, and more? You get the answers to those questions here and this gives us so much that we can impart to others thus making the Seder even more meaningful.
Passover is also known as the holiday of freedom and with this Haggadah we can free ourselves from so much that we do not know and never asked about. I find that the more I study topics about the Jewish religion, the more questions I have and with this new look at the Seder I get the answers to questions I was always either afraid to ask or told not to ask.