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Monday, April 10

The Weekly Shtikle - Leil Seder

This year's installment once again is inspired by a thought expressed in R' Jonathan Sacks' haggadah, although it is not necessarily his own original thought. While discussing the main themes behind the purpose of the haggadah, he points out that while the word derives its etymology from lehagid, to tell, it is also related to the word eged, to bind, to join or to connect. The retelling of the haggadah connects us to previous generations as well as with other Jews around the world in different continents engaging in the same practice.

It occurred to me that this two-letter tandem – gimmel and dalet – is indeed quite a versatile pair and forms the body of many diverse words, each of which – with a little homiletic license – can be applied to a theme of the haggadah.

We first encounter the word Gad when Leah uses that name for her son (Bereishis 30:11.) The word already has its own meaning with Rashi translating it as mazal tov, good fortune. Indeed, the story of the haggadah is the beginning of our first "winning streak" as a nation. When Gad receives his berachah (49:19,) we find the word gedud, an army battalion. As evidenced by the famous passage of the four sons, the haggadah is a very significant component in the eternal battle that is the education of our children and the challenge of ensuring they follow in the correct path. If we can successfully help them gain a true appreciation of the story of the haggadah, the battle has already begun to swing in our favour.

Still in sefer Bereishis (32:33) we have the word gid, which refers to a tendon. I imagine this is closely related to eged, discussed above, as the tendon is what connects the muscles to the bones.

In the mishnah (Parah 2:2) the verb yagud means to remove something that doesn't belong, in this case a parah adumah's black horns and hoofs. We endured the long, arduous exile in Mitzrayim and survived by not blending in and making sure we constantly felt that we were where we did not belong. Sure enough, HaShem ultimately removed us. But in truth, this word (whose source is Daniel 4:11,) might very well also be a derivation of eged. Many words are used as their own opposites and in this case, yagud, seems to imply the severing of a connection. To add to the previous ideas behind the theme of connection, although the haggadah is the retelling of a well-structured story, its text is made up of many seemingly disparate parts which often don't seem to fit together. But of course, they do all connect to each other. For another contemporary rendition dedicating to uncovering these bindings, see my father's The Haggadah Connection.

We even find the gimmel-dalet combination forming words in Aramaic such as guda denahara (Eruvin 24b,) the river bank. The banks of the river keep its waters contained and prevent them from overflowing, keeping the water moving in the right direction. The story of our exodus from Egypt is one of the foundations of our belief system and, as mentioned above, a necessary element in keeping the waters of Torah flowing down the proper path.

Finally, one can't ignore the presence of the very same letter combination in the word gedi, kid goat. This little animal plays quite a prevalent role in our history. It was the gedi that was used as the delicacy for Yitzchak and whose fur was used to fool him, allowing Yaakov to usurp Eisav's blessings (Bereishis 27.) It plays a role in the story of Yehudah and Tamar (38,) an episode which set the stage for the Davidic Dynasty. The same animal (although not referred to as gedi) is used by the brothers to fake Yosef's death in the episode that ultimately leads to our exile in Egypt. The gedi is also the animal of choice to illustrate the prohibition that makes up such a significant portion of our halachah text – the mixing of meat and milk. It is therefore fitting – although I haven't quite figured out how it all does fit – that we end the haggadah with the story of the father who bought the one kid goat, chad gadya.

In the passages that instruct us to embark on this quest to educate our children about this great chapter in our history, the word ve'amarta, or a variation thereof, is used three times (Shemos 12:27, 13:14, Devarim 6:21) whereas vehigadta is only used once (Shemos 13:8.) A whole essay could be devoted to the nuances which differentiate those two terms. But perhaps the above sheds some light and why our text is referred to not as the amirah, but the haggadah.

Have a Chag Kasher ve'Sameiach!

For a collection of previous seder night shtikles, please check out my archive of past Seder shtikles.

Eliezer Bulka

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