The Seder Night: An Exalt­ed Evening

Rab­bi Joseph B. Soloveitchik; Rab­bi Men­achem Genack, ed.
  • Review
By – September 16, 2011

The Bible tells us to recount the sto­ry of the Exo­dus annu­al­ly. The Rab­bis have taught that he who expands upon the sto­ry of the Exo­dus is most praise­wor­thy. This explains why there are more com­men­taries on the text of the Passover Hag­gadah than on any oth­er Jew­ish text. Rab­bi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, pos­si­bly the great­est rab­binic sage and thinker of the 20th cen­tu­ry, did not write such a com­men­tary. How­ev­er, through­out his half cen­tu­ry of teach­ing Tal­mud, writ­ing essays and novel­lae, deliv­er­ing lec­tures, and speak­ing at var­i­ous forums in Eng­lish and in Yid­dish, he elab­o­rat­ed on many themes relat­ed to the Exo­dus, to Passover, to the Hag­gadah, and to cog­nate subjects. 

Rab­bi Men­achem Genack, a devot­ed and tal­ent­ed dis­ci­ple, has gath­ered and arranged many of Rab­bi Soloveitchik’s teach­ings from dis­parate sources into a com­men­tary on the Hag­gadah. Unlike some com­men­taries which offer pithy obser­va­tions or brief com­ments on the text, this com­men­tary is the­mat­ic and exam­ines top­ics a bit more in depth. 

Rab­bi Solove­ichik (“The Rav”) felt strong­ly that the recita­tion of the Hag­gadah should be an exer­cise in Torah study and his com­ments are informed by that phi­los­o­phy. Sim­ple acts such as eat­ing the var­i­ous seder food­stuffs are ana­lyzed and ele­vat­ed through the prism of Tamu­dic and rab­binic debate regard­ing the nature of the mitz­vah, its sources, and its sta­tus. In one essay, the Rav ana­lyzes the oblig­a­tion of women to drink the four cups since they are nor­mal­ly exempt from time bound com­mand­ments, and else­where he com­ments on the cus­tom to recite Next year in Jerusalem” at the con­clu­sion of the seder and the con­nec­tion this has to a sim­i­lar cus­tom at the end of the Yom Kip­pur service. 

For those not priv­i­leged to have stud­ied with the Rav, or not able to delve into his philo­soph­i­cal and rab­binic writ­ings, this anthol­o­gy of com­ments on the Hag­gadah is a won­der­ful intro­duc­tion to the teach­ings of Rab­bi Soloveitchik.

Wal­lace Greene, Ph.D., has held sev­er­al uni­ver­si­ty appoint­ments, and cur­rent­ly writes and lec­tures on Jew­ish and his­tor­i­cal subjects.

Discussion Questions