Episode 1 The DNA of the Haggadah—Politics and Theology

About the Course

The most widely read, beloved, and perplexing book of the Jewish tradition is the Passover Haggadah. It is also a serious work of Jewish political philosophy. In this audio course, Rabbi Meir Soloveichik explores the social, civic, and political teachings of the Haggadah. He will show how every prayer, passage, symbol, and song aims to describe and preserve the Jewish understanding of the good society, and why the festival of freedom is so central to understanding what Judaism stands for in every generation.

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8 Illuminating Episodes

From freedom and food to law and theology, each episode is jam-packed with fresh insights on this ancient text.

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Theology and politics are deeply intertwined in the text of the Haggadah. In this introductory lecture, Rabbi Soloveichik discusses the intimate link between freedom and monotheism in the story of the Exodus from Egypt.

One of the strangest facts about the Haggadah is that in telling the story of the Exodus, it doesn’t mention Moses. Rabbi Soloveichik explains how the rabbis sought to honor Moses not as leader, but as teacher, and how this helps us understand why children are the focus of the Seder.

Eating, in Judaism, can be act of religious worship full of ethical meaning—perhaps never more so than during Pesach. Rabbi Soloveichik explains the deep political and theological significance of matzah and chametz as symbols of the Jewish attitude toward time.

The Hagaddah teaches us that Judaism does not view law as an imposition upon human freedom. Rather, we became free for the sake of the law. In this lecture, Rabbi Soloveichik elucidates the counterintuitive relationship between law and freedom in the Seder and highlights the resonance of this Jewish teaching in the modern world.

Nowhere in the Torah is the holiday we know as Pesach given that name. Rather, it is called the “Festival of Matzah.” How does matzah, the iconic unleavened bread of the Seder, bind Jews together across past, present, and future, while reminding us of our loyalty to God even in our darkest moments?

In this episode, Rabbi Soloveichik examines some misunderstandings about maror, the bitter herb of the Seder plate, and its relation to the paschal lamb. How does it point to the connection between the celebrations of our freedom and the suffering of past generations? And if maror represents our slavery in Egypt before liberation, why doesn’t it come first among the Seder foods?

In this episode, Rabbi Soloveichik demonstrates the often-missed political wisdom in the Haggadah’s story of the sages who were discussed the Exodus from Egypt “all night.” In doing so, he brings into relief how Judaism preserves rabbis’ philosophical and theological insights even when they do not become the law.

In the final episode of this course, Rabbi Soloveichik examines Elijah's cup, and what it says about knowledge and the relationship between Athens and Jerusalem.

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