The “Maggid” section (#5) is the longest one of the seder. It’s the most intricate to read, and invites the most discussion. It can also be the most confusing.

What makes it “confusing” is the seeming repetition.

It opens with the “Four Questions,” and continues into the response “Avadim hayi-nu…” — “We were slaves…”.

We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt. But the Lord our G-d brought us out from there with a strong hand and an outstretched arm…”

This leads to the “Four Children/Sons” (“Four Students,” really).

Then, the narrative suddenly jumps back to “Mit’chilah ov’dei avodah zarah” — “At the beginning, our ancestors were idol-worshippers” —

At the beginning, our ancestors were idol-worshippers. And now, G-d has brought us out to serve Him…”

This is followed by another dramatic recounting of the liberation from Egypt, including the “drops of wine” as each plague is recited.

 But — we’d already referred to the Exodus in “We were slaves…”

Why does the narrative here jump backwards to a historical point that even precedes the Israelites entering Egypt altogether, then proceed up through an event we’ve already read about — maybe even already discussed?

The reason isn’t found in the text of the haggadah at all, but can be found in some commentaries to it.

There are actually two answers to the initial “Four Questions,” each answer taught by a different rabbinic authority. One answer is by Sh’muel (c. 165-257 CE) [1]; the other by Rav (Abba Arikah; 175-247 CE) [2]. Following the “Four Questions,” Sh’muel’s answer begins with “Avadim hayinu…;” Rav’s with “Mit’chilah ov’dei…”.

Both were great rabbinic authorities in Babylon.

Sh’muel has been said to see the story of the “Exodus” as the political birth of the Jewish nation.

Rav is said to have seen it as the story of our spiritual growth from being “idol worshippers” to receiving Torah. In this regard, it’s interesting to note that Rav is also traditionally credited with having composed the Musaf service for Rosh Ha-Shanah (Malchuyot,  Zichronot and Shofrot). This, too, would reflect an emphasis on spirituality.

Thus, the text of the “Maggid” section gives us a disagreement between two rabbis as the characteristic starting-point for our own discussion and learning.

So, as you go through the “Maggid” section at your Seder this year, try to see it as actually consisting of an “A” answer and a “B” answer. Compare them.

What can we learn from each?

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[1]  for more information:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samuel_of_Nehardea
[2] for more information:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abba_Arika

Rav is best known as the author of the Musaf service for Rosh ha-Shanah, from which virtually every Jewish congregation still borrows the “Aleinu” as the concluding prayer.

I’ve also done a 3-part post on “Pharaoh” as an abusive personality:

Pharaoh: Abuser I   https://rabbielimallon.wordpress.com/2011/01/17/1-18-11-pharoah-abuser-%d7%90/
Pharaoh: Abuser II  https://rabbielimallon.wordpress.com/2011/01/20/1-20-11-pharaoh-abuser-%d7%91/
Pharaoh: Abuser III  https://rabbielimallon.wordpress.com/2011/01/23/1-23-11-pharaoh-abuser-iii/

and on the Egyptian army at the Red Sea:

Judaism: Karma at the Red Sea
https://rabbielimallon.wordpress.com/2011/04/10/4-10-11-judaism-karma-at-the-red-sea

These can be useful in your discussion during the “Maggid” section.