3/20/05 Haggadah class - Our fathers were...
After the four sons, the Haggadah moves into a discussion of when to start telling the story. And they conclude, that you start to tell it on the 15th in the evening, the first night of Passover.
Then it moves back to the history with this paragraph:
In the beginning, our fathers served idols, but now G-d has brought his close to his service...
2 problems with this paragraph:
1. In the Talmud and throughout the commentary, when we were refer to "our fathers" we refer to Patriarchs. But now we're referring to "our fathers" as idolaters.
2. Why cite the verse in Joshua? Can't we get something better about history from Genesis? But the Haggadah cites Joshua to prove its point. What makes Joshua recounting history better than the actual account of the history?
Maimonades writes in his Hagaddah: In the beginning our ancestors were worshipers of other gods. He doesn't say they worshiped idols. He uses the words "avoda elohim acharim" (worshipped other gods), instead of the conventional "avoda zarah" (worship alien (gods)).
You could justify this by saying that he's censoring himself. Maimonades didn't want to use a term that might be considered offensive to other religions. But when he censored himself, he had ways to let you know, he made it obvious.
The Mishnah says you have to tell the story. You can't select the parts you like from the parts you don't. You have to show both sides, talk about bad with the good. And the Mishnah says you should begin with the not happy (the disgrace of Israel) and end with the happy because you want to leave people with a good feeling.
Talmud Pesachim - What is meant by the disgrace mentioned in the Mishnah, Rav said, you must say we began with idolaters. Shmuel disagrees by saying the disgrace is that we're slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt.
Our Haggadah does both, to reconcile the difference, but there's still a difference. According to Rav, you'd start with the avoda zarah right after the four questions, instead of avadiim hayiinu, but Shmuel would have you skip the idol worshipping entirely.
Is the ancestral history of idolatry part of the problem that led us into Egypt? It would be like starting the history of the Holocaust with the Spanish Inquisition. Do you need to say that the seeds of the Holocaust were sown during the Inquisition?
Our Haggadah starts with Avadiim Hayiinu, and then goes back to the idol worshipers.
Should you talk about the Egyptian redemption and bring in the ancestral history of the idolatry?
The Vilna Gaon was bothered by this Joshua reference. He writes: Where do you learn from Joshua that we were idolaters? When we're about to cross the Jordan river and enter Israel. I want to tell you why the verse of Joshua becomes the foundation to this paragraph about Jewish history of idolatry: Just like the Jordan separates between Israel and Diaspora. There's an absolute separation between Diaspora and Israel. There is no comparison. It will never become one, so to the spiritual Israel of above and the finite world. This is the great secret, why the verse says "your forefathers sat on the other side of the river."
Just like there is a divide between the lands, there is a separation between Abraham and his family. He went to the other side of the river. Don't connect Abraham to his past, there was a total separation there. Don't think that their idolatry bears a relationship to our ancestry. The reason why we're Jews today has nothing to do with the idolatry of the past. And that's why we quote Joshua, which meets the letter of the law, but conveys the spirit that we've disconnected from the past.
How can we say that Abraham was completely disconnected from his past?
The Midrash brings a parable of a king who'd lost a gem in the sand. His couriers shifted through piles and piles of sand to find the gem. Abraham is the gem and the sand is only worthy of mention because he was in it. Otherwise, the king would have driven by and paid no attention to the sand, so to are the brief mentions of the lineage of Abraham, which are worthy of being mentioned only because Abraham resulted from it.
The Torah which begins telling the story of Abraham at the end of parshat Noach, and then in Lekh Lecha, immediately begins with "leave your home."
The RAMBAN comments on this, saying: Abraham suffers much evil in Ur, but the Torah doesn't want to spend time dwelling on the opinions of idol worshipers.
We have to ask ourselves, is there really no need to understand how monotheism immerged from the idol worshipping community. But isn't that a key tenant of Judaism?
But the philosophy of idolatry offers no value to the scholar of monotheism. Idolatry didn't provide any insights that Abraham was able to build on to discover monotheism.
Why if we don't think there's anything to Rav's position (about beginning with idolatry), do we even mention it?
The Kol Bo writes, The Haggadah wants to stress that Eretz Yisrael was not given to Israel as a birthright, because we were born on the other side of the river, but to point out that this is an extraordinary reward that Abraham was given and we inherit. This is intended to comfort us in the exile and to remind us that G-d will ultimately redeem us.
The Malbim says that implication is that dwelling on the other side of the river was the reason they were idolaters. Nahor is mentioned to point out that Terah didn't do anything special to bring Abraham to monotheism because if he'd taught his children about G-d, Nahor wouldn't have been an idolater. The fact that Abraham was alone shows how special he was and how alone in righteousness.
The Jews journey from Egypt parallels Abraham's journey. Is it a symbolic mirror?
These commentaries are not emphasizing the idolater element of this paragraph. And yet, Rav thinks it's important to mention.
In the Zohar, it quotes: "Remember the days of old, consider the years of generations" from Tehilim.
R. Abba said "The six days of the world" are the days of old," and all the days of the world were created at the same time. "Ask thy father and he will show thee" This is the Holy One Blessed Be He who will reveal depths of wisdom. The reason why the world was created was for the sake of Torah. G-d made a deal with the world that the Jews would accept Torah or the world will revert to chaos.
Others had spiritual truth and identify, but the Lord's portion is His people, Jacob is His inheritance. G-d separated us from them. But Terah had a way of identifying with G-d, that was a valid way. Abraham, however, He took away from that. For Abraham, he reserved the ultimate spiritual truth, but that does not mean he denied others the opportunity to draw near to G-d. Terah still had a destiny and a spiritual identity.
Returning to the Joshua question:
Certainly all Israel knew this history (including Joshua). Joshua knew there were righteous people before Abraham, but none had the lofty soul of Abraham. They were spiritual and righteous, but Abraham was unique and beyond the righteousness of the idolater.
[For Joshua, was this a way of saying that they had a right to conquer because even though the people were righteous, they weren't spiritual enough?]
Following the Zohar, we determine that Terah and Nahor had virtue, but Abraham had to utterly separate himself.
People followed Avraham during his life, but then they reverted to their old ways because they felt there was truth in their ancestral ways. Why did they need Abraham's ways? There were righteous peoples in Abraham's time. The struggle was ongoing in the generations of the patriarchs to keep monotheism going, because they had no revelation to show that G-d wanted to be worshiped this way.
In Maimonades' book on the laws of idolatry, he writes: In the time of Enosh mankind made a great mistake and they gave bad council (including Enosh). They believed in monotheism, but they saw the stars and planets in the sky and they thought, G-d put them on high because He wanted us to worship them and in so doing, give him honour. And they built their system of religion based on that. Saying in effect, G-d doesn't want to be involved in the world, and He gave us agents, the sun, the moon, the stars, and we honour them to honour G-d.
This is still a major struggle in Judaism today; how much involvement does G-d have in daily life?
What is Abraham separated from? He's not uncomfortable with worshiping a monotheistic G-d, as the people of his time did, he's just uncomfortable with divorcing himself from G-d by worshipping the finite elements created by the infinite G-d.
The Jewish people in Egypt returned to idolatry, worshipping the finite elements of G-d, except for Levi. And G-d's love brought us out before we lost the fundamental principles of Abraham. And therefore we start with the basic tenants of what Abraham was trying to accomplish. It shows the continuity of the story. They weren't worshipping "alien" things, they were worshipping G-d, in an improper way.
Shmuel disagrees and believes it was "avoda zorah" something utterly foreign and alien and should not be discussed.