Thursday, April 02, 2009

The Naked Passage in the Haggadah

My maternal grandfather used to say the Haggadah all by himself in Hebrew, so it was easy to miss a passage here or there. However, my paternal grandfather (and now my father) used to go around the table and have everyone read from the Haggadah in their choice of Hebrew or English. In my experience, this leads to greater attention paid by everyone.

There was always one passage that stuck out in my youthful mind because it refers to a naked woman with a little detail (see below). As I grew older and learned what the passage means from a rabbinic perspective (naked of mitzvos), I still wondered why there wasn't a way of expressing that which did not include such provocative language.

Click here to read moreIn the recently published Haggadah from R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik (link), he explains this (pp. 68-69):

"Numerous" -- as it is said: "I caused you to thrive like the plants of the field, and you increased and grew and became very beautiful, your bosom fashioned and your hair grown long, but you were naked and bare. (Ezek. 16,7)ורב כמה שנאמר: רבבה כצמח השדה נתתיך ותרבי ותגדלי ותבאי בעדי עדיים. שדים נכנו ושערך צמח ואת ערם ועריה...
"You have increased and waxed great...yet you are naked and bare" (Ezek. 16:7) -- the sages apply this verse to the slaves destined to leave Egypt, saying that they were "naked of commandments" (Ex. Rabbah 1:35; Mekhilta, Bo, 5). Their life was a naked one, a beastly one, controlled by lusts and desires. And then there occurred the greatest of al miracles: "And all the people of Israel did as God commanded Moses and Aaron, so they did" (Ex. 12:28)! The slaves suddenly felt the duty of commandments, the power of a life devoted to higher ideals and goals. They understood what it means to possess spiritual ideals, and what it means to enter into a covenant with the Almighty. This transformation is a hidden miracle of great import. The Jews were able to distinguish between sacred and profane.
Put simply, the Exodus is also a story of moving from base animal desires to spiritual ideals.

(This should not be taken to imply that sexuality is inherently bad. It is following after those desires thoughtlessly and in an uncontrolled fashion that is animalistic.)

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