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Moshav Me'or Modiim, Israel
Rabbi Avraham Arieh and Rachel Trugman have over thirty years of experience in the field of Jewish education.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Fifteen Steps of the Hagadah

An excerpt from Seeds and Sparks by Rabbi Avraham Arieh Trugman

The Hagadah of Pesach and all the rituals and mitzvot of the night are ordered according to fifteen steps. These fifteen stages in which the Seder unfolds are also referred to as “signs.” Our Sages tell us that signs and symbols have great significance (Kritot 6a). For example, we begin the year on Rosh HaShanah night by eating all sorts of foods, each one symbolic of certain blessings we hope for at the beginning of a new year. The steps of the Seder likewise have great significance and symbolize the process of personal, national and world redemption. There is a custom of calling out the name of each step or  “sign” at the Seder as if announcing a lost object which needs to be reclaimed and redeemed (See The Chassidic Haggadah by Rabbi Eliyahu Touger).
     The fifteen steps of the Seder also relate to the fifteen physical steps in the Holy Temple, on which the Levites stood while singing praises to God. King David wrote fifteen “songs of ascent” to parallel the fifteen steps of the Levites in the Temple. The correspondence of the fifteen steps of the Seder and the fifteen steps of the Temple gives us the feeling of rising from one level to the next during the Seder, as if being carried on the wings of song to ever greater heavenly heights.
     Fifteen is the numerical value of the Hebrew letters yod and heh, the first two letters of the four~letter name of God, and a name of God in their own right. This name significantly appears in the book of Exodus in the story of Amalek, the arch enemy of the Jews, when God figuratively puts His hand on His throne and promises war with Amalek in every generation (Exodus 17:16). Rashi points out that only the first two letters of the name of God are written and the word for throne is also written missing a letter. This, Rashi explains, indicates that until Amalek, the embodiment of evil, is wiped out, God’s name and throne are, as it were, incomplete.
     The recital during the Seder of Pesach of the words: “ In every generation they rise up against us to destroy us…” reflects the same archetypal reality as expressed in the story of Amalek. The primordial energy of good versus evil, as expressed first in the story of Adam, Eve and the snake, and their final confrontation in the prophesies of the “end of days,” is very relevant to the energy surrounding Pesach and our present situation in Israel.
     There are “signs” all around us as Israel and the world confront the terrorist threat so prevalent today. But, as in every sign or dream, much goes after how we choose to interpret it. We are most certainly being challenged and are being spoken to by God through the events around us.
     As much as we need to react to evil and deal with the perpetrators, a more fundamental spiritual accounting is called for. We are told that the month long search and cleaning process for chametz, unleavened products,  preceding Pesach must be accompanied by the realization that physical chametz is but a reflection of the inner spiritual work we need to do to truly prepare for Pesach. Each person, community and all of Israel needs to look deeply within to see what we can do to rectify the present situation. There is certainly a need for a renewal of commitment to personal spiritual growth. To increase Torah learning and observance, to integrate sound Jewish morals and ethics, to increase our love of our fellow Jews and humanity, to give greater support to the land of Israel, and to recommit ourselves to Jewish collective responsibility. Let no one be oblivious to the fact that if Israel is seriously weakened (God forbid), every Jew in the world will be affected in a very negative way.
     The Ba’al Shem Tov taught that every Jew contains a spark of the Messiah deep within his soul and that the ultimate arrival of the Messiah depends on each and every person activating his greatest spiritual potential, thus creating a critical mass of redemptive energy. This then will be transformed into the figure we call the Messiah.
     In Egypt, when the slavery became so unbearable, we cried out in unison from the weight of our burdens and God heard and acted. Once again, we as a people need to feel the suffering and danger surrounding us and shake off our numbness and complacency in order to cry out to God to deliver us. There is no more auspicious time for us all to do this than on Pesach. We as a people have suffered enough - We Want Redemption Now!! 

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