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April 14, 1989 - Image 2

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1989-04-14

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PURELY COMMENTARY

Moses The Lawgiver Unmentioned In The Haggadah

PHILIP SLOMOVITZ

Editor Emeritus

F

or a couple of generations of Pass-
overs, believing in the repetitive,
for the sake of emphasis on the
unforgettable, I always mentioned
Moses the Lawgiver at the Sedorim. He
was the chief character in the Seder
drama, yet he is unmentioned in the
traditional text read every year by the
millions of the festival observers.
I always took pride in the claim of
a great quality in Jewish commitment
and devotion. I always went into ecstasy
over pride in the belief that we never
deified fellow beings. We respect them.
We learn from them. We call every per-
son we learn from teacher — rabbi
"M'lamdai hiskalti" — I take pride in
asserting the benefit of having acquired
knowledge from a fellow human.
There is a better explanation than
the one I provided in all humility. The
interpretation is the same, the acquired
respect for Rabbenu Moshe is deeper. I
owe a debt to another teacher and I now
hope to repay it.
There is real fascination in tracing
historical data regarding our people's
major personalities. Moses the Law-
giver assumes the first position in all
times!
Last week we shared the privilege
of learning the manner in which our
prayers were defined by a scholar of
great distinction. We learned anew
about the Siddur, its origin, its develop-
ing influence through the centuries! It
was from Service of the Heart — The
Guide to the Jewish Prayer Book by
Evelyn Garfiel (Jason Aronson). We
return to it now for its reference to the
Passover Haggadah. It is in this connec-
tion that Dr. Garfiel referred to Moses,
and as in our Seder recollections in-
dicated that Moses, the heroic character
of the Haggadah, is not mentioned in
the Passover recital. This is the in-
sipired text of her lesson to us:
Jewish tradition from the
days of the Bible has always
been careful to humanize its
greatest leaders and heroes. The
greater the man, the more con-
spicuously were his faults
pointed out. It was their way of
making sure that no man would
be deified.
Even Moses, the greatest of

THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS
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Vol. XCV No 7

2

FRIDAY, APRIL 14, 1989

April 14, 1989

I

Moses holding the Ten Commandments
woodcut by Jakob Steinhardt.

the prophets — Moses, who had
come nearer to seeing God than
any other human being — even
Moses was only a fallible human
being. He was a man of short
temper; he had killed an Egyp-
tian. In fact, he had struck the
rock in anger, disobeying God's
clear command, and as a result
he was not permitted to enter
the Promised Land.
In rabbinic tradition there
are numerous tales about
Moses. They tell of his
marvellous deeds, but at the
same time the Rabbis are very
careful not to exaggerate his im-
portance. In the Haggadah of
Passover, for example, Hamlet is
played without the Prince of
Denmark! It is no accident that
in this rabbinic text, the long
special service for the Eve of
Passover, Moses is not mention-
ed even once.
While the paragraph we
have been discussing contains
the only glorification of Moses
in the liturgy, the rabbis have
allowed his name to be mention-
ed in the Siddur on two more oc-
casions. When the Ark is open-
ed to remove the Scroll for the
Torah reading, a verse from the
Book of Numbers quotes Moses
briefly. The point of emphasis in
the quotation, however, is not
Moses but his call to the Lord:
"Rise up, 0 Lord, and Thine
enemies . . . shall be scattered
from before Thee."
Just once more is Moses
mentioned. Before the Torah is
returned to the Ark it is raised
up for all to see, and the con-
gregation says, in the words of
Deuteronomy, "This is the Torah
which Moses set before the
Children of Israel according to
the command of the Lord, by the
hand of Moses:'
It is interesting that on both
these occasions the name of

Moses enters only because the
relevant biblical quotation in-
cludes it. Though he is the
greatest of the prophets, we are
made to understand that Moses
acted in these instances merely
as God's instrument. For it is
God Who brought us up out of
Egypt and God Who gave us the
Torah, not Moses. A clear line is
drawn between reverence for so
remarkable a leader and raising
him to the status of a demi-god.
That line Jewish tradition was
extremely careful not to cross.
What a remarkable identifica-
tion! We learn so much from it as an
addendum to the Haggadah and the
reason for non-deification of our
Lawgiver.
The importance of Moses in our
studies, our devotions and admira-
tion, encourages a follow-up to this
theme.
Meanwhile, without mentioning
the name of our great teacher dur-
ing the Seder, he'll be in our minds
nevertheless as the most dynamic
inspiration in our dedication to
history and tradition. ❑

Daven With Devotion:
Etymologically

rayer and daven are inter-
changeable factors in devotional
worship.
In my absorption with gratitude
and deep appreciation of the lessons
provided me by the Siddur compiled in
the highly scholarly work by the late
Evelyn Garfiel, the word daven was im-
plied. Dictionaries, insofar as I know, do
not explain it. Inspired by the eminent
scholar Dr. Garfiel, we are invited to
daven and not necessarily to explain

p

Sol Liptzin

the word. I went for a definition to one
of our most eminent linguistic
authorities, Professor Sol Liptzin, one-
time head of the German department
at City College of New York who has
enriched our knowledge in Hebrew and
Yiddish as well as in English and Ger-

man. From his home in Jerusalem he
sends me the following.
"The question as to the etymology
of "daven" is very easy to answer: it
stems from the same root as divine,
divinity — Latin: divin-are, to pray to
the Divine. It is the among the oldest
words taken over from Christianity."
There may be some cringing over
such linkage, but the illuminative fact
is fascinatingly welcome.
Dr. Liptzin is also an excellent judge
of Jewish experiences and of
developments in Israel where he settl-
ed upon his retirement from U.S.
academia. His view on the solidarity
conference held in Jerusalem is worth
quoting. He asserts in addition to his
comment on "davenen" as follows:
"Today in Jerusalem is the opening
of the 'Solidarity with Israel Con-
ference' with over a thousand Jewish
leaders for the Diaspora, mainly from
the USA. They add color, vigor and en-
couragement. Youth, however, is today
more interested in the Purim mas-
querade. They rejoice at the fall of
Haman who wanted to destroy us
milennia ago. They have faith that we
will also witness the downfall of Arafat,
PLO, intifada and other contemporary
irritants. Though no solution is in sight,
we'll muddle through. It is easier to live
with optimism . . . for a 'that and a
that.' "
There are endless privileges to be
able to benefit from scholars like my
friend Sol Liptzin.



The Best-Selling
Passover Haggadah

u

niversally, the Bible is the
continuing best seller, without
publishing competition.
In folklore, in popular ritualism
that enthuses group observances of
Jewish traditionalism, with emphasis
on the family observance which
perpetuates the story devotionally, the
Passover Haggadah has acquired a
dominant role.
Therefore, Haggadah enjoys the ti-
tle of best-sellership.
There are understandable reasons
for it. It gains power in the enthusiasm
of children and the adults are privileg-
ed to share in it. It is a combination of
the storytelling, illuminations, art, with
biliographers taking pride in producing
the most attractive texts.
There is a competitive spirit among
publishers to produce the most attrac-
tive Haggadot, and for the children
there is a desire to make the product
that combines so many qualities a ge-
nuine delight.
It is no wonder, therefore, that at
least one Haggadah has already exceed-
ed the 300,000 circulation mark. My
Very Own Haggadah is the title of the
appealing Passover theme. It is a nar-
rative about children celebrating
Passover and it is inseparable from the
entire ritual. Two ladies who found en-
chantment in creating and publishing
children's stories achieved the high aim
Continued on Page 55

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