Dec­o­rat­ed ini­tial-word pan­el with foli­ate scroll spread­ing to the upper mar­gin from the Hag­gadah for Passover (the Sis­ter Hag­gadah’), 1300s, British Library

Sev­er­al years ago, I asked Tiki Bar­ber — the leg­endary New York Giants run­ning back — who the most under­rat­ed ath­lete was. It took him bare­ly a moment to respond.

Tom Brady.”

Tom Brady? I respond­ed that it was hard to think of a more cel­e­brat­ed per­son, with every­one — even non-sports fans — acknowl­edg­ing his prowess on the field.

Right,” Bar­ber said. All that is true. And yet even all of that under­states what Tom has accom­plished on the foot­ball field.”

Tiki was, as ever, right. That dis­cus­sion was around five years ago — before Brady was once again a Super Bowl cham­pi­on, con­tin­u­ing to be an impres­sive play­er at an uncom­mon­ly old age for a quarterback.

I find myself reflect­ing on Tiki’s obser­va­tion as the pub­li­ca­tion of my book approach­es, which looks at how the mean­ing of life is revealed in the Hag­gadah. The most cel­e­brat­ed Jew­ish hol­i­day is Pesach, with far more Jews com­mit­ted to attend­ing a Seder than observ­ing any oth­er hol­i­day. This is all the more remark­able when we think of the oth­er hol­i­day oppor­tu­ni­ties there are for Jews to avail our­selves of: Shab­bat and Purim, Hanukkah and Sukkot…and so many others!

And yet, Pesach is still the most under­rat­ed Jew­ish hol­i­day — the Tom Brady, per­haps, of Jew­ish holidays.

The rea­son why Pesach is at once the most pop­u­lar and the most under­rat­ed hol­i­day is revealed in the dis­tance between how we con­duct the Seder and how we could con­duct the Seder. Many Jews, at all lev­els of obser­vance, go around the Seder table and read the Hag­gadah. The dif­fer­ence may lie pri­mar­i­ly in how much of the Hag­gadah is read and how much is skipped — which rolls up to the data point of how long the Seder lasts.

The prob­lem is that the Hag­gadah is not real­ly a book. Yes, it has words, pages, and is bound like one, but the same can be said of a song­book. And yet no one would say that the expe­ri­ence of, say, Queen’s Some­body to Love” can best be had through read­ing the lyrics, stan­za by stan­za, around the din­ner table. One needs Fred­die Mercury’s voice, accom­pa­nied by the back­ground instru­men­tals. And the Hag­gadah needs each of ours, accom­pa­nied by the gen­uine­ly awe­some Jew­ish teach­ings and traditions.

This is not just a nice sen­ti­ment; it’s in the text. The Hag­gadah, quot­ing from the Torah in Gen­e­sis 46:27, tells us that, 70 peo­ple went down to Egypt.” The prob­lem: there are only six­ty-nine peo­ple list­ed in the Gen­e­sis text. So who is num­ber sev­en­ty? This ques­tion has vexed com­men­ta­tors for a long time. Many have sug­gest­ed that num­ber sev­en­ty is Moses’s moth­er. But then why did the text not list her name, as it list­ed every­one else’s?

Num­ber sev­en­ty must be some­one. And the answer, I think, is revealed in the com­mand to regard our­selves as hav­ing been in the Exo­dus. As the Tal­mud states, In each and every gen­er­a­tion a per­son must view him­self as though he per­son­al­ly left Egypt, as it is stat­ed: And you shall tell your son on that day, say­ing: It is because of this which the Lord did for me when I came forth out of Egypt.” (Pesachim 116b)

Each of us is the sev­en­ti­eth per­son. There is no Hebrew word for his­to­ry because we don’t real­ly rec­og­nize his­to­ry, which is the sto­ry of what hap­pened to oth­er peo­ple. Instead of his­to­ry we have mem­o­ry, which recalls what hap­pened to us. The Jew­ish sto­ry is con­tin­u­ous and unbro­ken — and each of us should regard our­selves as the sev­en­ti­eth per­son who went down to Egypt.”

Every­one has a role in this Pesach sto­ry — or in any sto­ry that we are in. So, what is the role of each of us in our capac­i­ty as the sev­en­ti­eth per­son? Moses makes this very clear in Exo­dus 12 and 13: to teach the sto­ry to our chil­dren, and to ensure that this is done as an eter­nal decree” at the head of months.”

As every teacher, pro­fes­sion­al or not, knows — edu­ca­tion is a mutu­al activ­i­ty. Teach­ers learn just as much from their stu­dents, as stu­dents learn from their teach­ers. And one of the many things that a teacher learns is about them­selves — both with regards to who they are and who they would like to become.

This process begins with an aware­ness of when the Seder occurs, and what it is. The Seder occurs two weeks into what the Torah calls the head of months.” It is, in oth­er words, our authen­tic Jew­ish New Year cel­e­bra­tion. The Hag­gadah is our guide to liv­ing hap­pi­er, more mean­ing­ful, and more ful­fill­ing lives in the New Year. Or, more sim­ply, it is our guide to just liv­ing better.

The ques­tions that the Hag­gadah enables us to ask go to the heart of who we are and who we might want to be.

The con­tents of the Hag­gadah reflects just what we do with our New Year. We edu­cate our chil­dren and our­selves in, as Moses instructs, the Exo­dus. But we define the Exo­dus very broad­ly, with ref­er­ences in the Hag­gadah to events that pre­cede the Exo­dus (such as Abra­ham) and to events that hap­pen sub­se­quent­ly (such as Ezekiel and Joel).

The Hag­gadah is real­ly the Great­est Hits of Jew­ish Thought — with the Exo­dus as its defin­ing event. Like all great events, it did not real­ly begin at any sin­gu­lar moment, just as it nev­er real­ly end­ed. In 1972, the Chi­nese Pre­mier Zhou Enlai was asked about the impact of the French Rev­o­lu­tion. It’s too soon to say,” he replied.

That is the case with the Exo­dus. The impact of the Exo­dus will nev­er be over. It is up to each of us to cre­ate the impact, and the Hag­gadah instructs us how.

The ques­tions that the Hag­gadah enables us to ask go to the heart of who we are and who we might want to be. This is true for us in our capac­i­ty as indi­vid­u­als, Jews, par­ents, com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers, and even Amer­i­cans. For instance, there is a seem­ing­ly strange sto­ry at the end of the first sec­tion of the Hag­gadah (Maggid),where the three Rab­bis have a plague (or mir­a­cle) count­ing con­test; Rab­bi Aki­va wins with 250. This teach­es us that it is bet­ter to count more rather than few­er mir­a­cles in our lives, and invites us to think about how such an exer­cise might com­plete­ly trans­form how we expe­ri­ence the world.

Beyond mir­a­cles, the Hag­gadah address­es the deep­est themes of life, includ­ing: mis­sion, music, good and evil, actions and moral char­ac­ter, Jews and gen­tiles, begin­nings and (non) end­ings, order and free­dom, how to feel and express grat­i­tude, joy and hap­pi­ness, self-trans­for­ma­tion, false humil­i­ty, bless­ings, par­ent­hood, edu­ca­tion, fam­i­ly, for­give­ness, sec­ond chances, ide­ol­o­gy, watch­ing, new­ness, Zion­ism and our rela­tion­ship with God—and much more.

As we approach the authen­tic Jew­ish New Year, on Pesach, the Hag­gadah gives us the oppor­tu­ni­ty to ask, pon­der, answer, and ulti­mate­ly live these great Jew­ish ideas, which come from deep inside our tra­di­tion and rest on our Seder tables today. The Seder, through the famil­iar small book that is right in front of us, affords us the easy abil­i­ty to have the great­est Jew­ish expe­ri­ence of the year — with the result of mak­ing us hap­pi­er, bet­ter peo­ple in the year to come. All we have to know is how to expe­ri­ence — not read, but real­ly encounter — this great­est of all expe­ri­ences: the Haggadah.

Mark Ger­son, an entre­pre­neur, and phil­an­thropist is the co-founder and Chair­man of Unit­ed Hatza­lah, the crowd-sourced sys­tem of vol­un­teer first response that enables Israelis to be treat­ed with­in the moments sep­a­rat­ing life from death fol­low­ing any med­ical trau­ma. He is also the co-founder and Chair­man of African Mis­sion Health­care, which enables Chris­t­ian med­ical mis­sion­ar­ies to pro­vide clin­i­cal care, train­ing, and med­ical infra­struc­ture for peo­ple through­out Africa. A grad­u­ate of Williams Col­lege and Yale Law School, Mark is the author of books on intel­lec­tu­al his­to­ry and edu­ca­tion. His arti­cles and essays on sub­jects rang­ing from Frank Sina­tra to the bib­li­cal Jon­ah have been pub­lished in The New Repub­lic, Com­men­tary, The Wall Street Jour­nal, and USA Today. He hosts the pop­u­lar pod­cast The Rab­bi’s Hus­band and writes a week­ly Torah col­umn for Chris­t­ian Broad­cast­ing Net­work. Mark is mar­ried to Rab­bi Eri­ca Ger­son. They and their four chil­dren live in New York City.