The Haggadah: Elucidated, Illustrated, Annotated — What is it Good For?

Written by Stan Lebovic on . Posted in Torah

Tradition posits that there are 613 commandments written in the Five Books of Moses. After 612 of them, the Torah gives us one final task: pass it on. “Write for yourselves this song [the Torah], and teach it to the Children of Israel,” it says (Deuteronomy 31:19).

Teach it, how? Write it!

Though we may inherit a perfectly good Torah from our forefathers, it remains our responsibility to write one for ourselves. At the heart of this directive is the requirement for every individual to be personally involved with the preservation and transmission of the Torah. The existence of the Torah, by itself, does not guarantee its survival, it must be written in our own handwriting and read with our own lips.

 

While all commentators understand this final commandment in its literal sense, I believe we can broaden its message to include not only our penmanship, but our authorship as well. In addition to resting in our capable hands, the Torah must reside in a warm body, a contrite soul, and a focused mind, as it says, “And you shall set these words of Mine upon your heart and upon your soul, and bind them for a sign upon your hand and they shall be for ornaments between your eyes.” Only then will you be able to “teach them to your sons” (Deuteronomy 11:18,19). If we remain detached from the teachings, we remain virtually ineffective as transmitters and inefficient as communicators. On the other hand, if we allow ourselves too great an influence, we run the risk of error, delusion, and even blasphemy.

Judaism is a religion steeped in mesorah (tradition). Innovation must be made from within the conventional, not in opposition to it. The Torah must be understood, revealed, interpreted not invented or, G-d forbid, perverted. It stands beyond the construct of the human intellect. Daas Torah (Torah knowledge) is exactly that… the Torah’s knowledge
not man’s. Man is unable to intuit Torah knowledge, he can only deduce it. He can use the tools at his disposal to reach an understanding and achieve a harmony between the eternal truths of the Torah and the finite demands of the mortal mind.

At no other time is the balance between the raw teachings of the Torah and the creative involvement of man’s intellect more essential than on the Seder Night. As the author of the Haggadah, the Ba’al Haggadah, explains, “Even if all of us were wise, all of us understanding, all of us knowing the Torah, we would still be obligated to discuss the exodus from Egypt.”

Why must we?

For the same reason, we rewrite our own copy of the Torah, and for the same reason we must place the words upon our hearts and upon our souls.

For the children.

“[To] tell your child, on that day…” (Exodus 13:8). The seder night is about conveying information from one generation to the next. It is about transmitting our faith and our love for a G-d Who loves us back. The only way to communicate that love – that faith – is in one’s own handwriting, no matter how shaky the hand, and in one’s own voice, no matter how weak or inarticulate.

Simply put: the story is yours to tell. Not Rashi’s, not the Ramban’s, and certainly not one of the plethora of newer iterations of Haggadahs – but yours alone. It is your story that your children will resonate with, your emunah (faith) they will identify with, your passion they will feel.

Everything in nature vibrates at a certain frequency. The Torah also resonates at a certain frequency. When that frequency is discovered and combined with the unique frequency inherent in every individual, a truly original concept of beauty and grace will be created. When two frequencies seek to harmonize, the lower frequency will rise to the higher one. The most powerful connection between two objects occurs when they can achieve a harmonized frequency – when one object resonates with the other.

Although there is a great disparity between the Torah’s frequency and that of man’s, the harmonizing of the two can create the necessary resonance with which to appreciate the profound messages intended by the Ba’al Haggadah.

The initial Torah thought is but a vibration planted in our minds. It must be disturbed, pushed, pulled, and stretched until you can tap into that vibration’s resonant frequency. Then you will unleash the true power of a Torah thought.

Does it strike us that the timing is off in Ha Lachma Anya when we invite guests once we’ve already raised our glasses? Do we feel the Haggadah has introduced a sour note when it asks us to shake off the sweet charoset it has just instructed us to dip our marror into? Then there begins a question, and an opportunity to discover how to adjust our personal frequency so it will mesh with the music of the Ba’al Haggadah. Once harmonized, the vibration becomes a force. The result is not just a thought, but a statement of faith. It is the conversion of the thought into a statement of faith that, in turn, can resonate with others.

Resonant frequency, alone, can take down bridges and skyscrapers. When applied to the realm of Torah it can inspire and melt the most frozen of hearts.

So, if a specific Haggadah, because of its commentary, design, or illustrations,manages to inspire you to seek your own connections, strike your own harmonies with the Exodus story, then it will have fulfilled its purpose. But even the fanciest Haggadah, at its very best, is still no more than one man’s rewriting. There lies a beautifully illustrated Haggadah within everyone’s own heart. It is that Haggadah that must make it to the Seder table. It is your specific frequency that must encounter the many rituals and rich customs of this special night.

Stan Lebovic is based out of Baltimore, Maryland. He is the author/illustrator of two books. His first book, “Black is a Color,” depicts his personal struggle as the son of a survivor of Auschwitz to reconcile the horrors of the Holocaust with his belief in G-d. His second book is a Haggadah entitled “Escape Velocity,” and is available on Amazon and his own website www.blackisacolor.com. He is currently working on a third book, as well as traveling the country lecturing and exhibiting his artwork. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .