The Haggada is probably the most published and commented upon Jewish text. A large number of Jewish scholars have analyzed, explained and written on the traditional guide to the Passover Seder service. With every new commentary on Haggada, people ask why another commentary. In Unlocking the Haggada, Rabbi Shmuel Goldin says that the issue for him is the big picture when it comes to the Haggada. The big picture emerges only when we consider the overall goals of the Seder evening and understand how the Haggada enables their realization. The first evening of the Pesach festival is the most important date on the Jewish calendar. Jewish families of all stripes and backgrounds gather on this evening to mark the first footfalls of their national journey.
Rabbi Goldin says that the Hebrew word Seder means “order” or “structure.” The Seder is designed to move its participants along a structured path from one specific place to another. And the Haggada is the guidebook for this personal passage, outlining the steps that must be taken if each Seder is to achieve its general goals. A fundamental problem arises out of the very character of the Haggada itself. The Haggada text is so rich in wonderful detail that it is easy to lose sight of the big picture and to be captured by the nuances of the Seder service at the expense of its overall vision. When that happens the carefully planned Seder evening becomes a series of disjointed ritual events, each beautiful and significant in its own right, but lacking a coherent flow and plan. In order to avoid this problem, Rabbi Goldin views the evening from a distance, through a series of essays focusing upon the Seder’s overall structure and purpose. Then he enters the Haggada, examining the methodology of this ancient handbook as it leads each Seder participant toward fulfilling the evening’s goals.
The commentary accompanying the Haggada text builds upon the studies trough primary material and original thought selected to deepen our understanding of the evening’s overall proceedings. Rabbi Goldin has prefaced each section of the Seder with explanatory notes highlighting that section’s place within the evening’s general structure. This makes this Haggada different from most others. Wide-ranging observations on minute details that populate many Haggadas are absent. These observations draw our attention away from the global flow and structure of the text. As much as possible, our focus is on what we do and say on the Seder night, why we do and say it, and how each word and deed fit into the evening’s general structure.
Rabbi Goldin has gathered some of the best teachings and practices in this volume. He makes it a lot easier to follow the order of the seder. He expertly renders the text of story, prayer, and song with his own commentary, weaving it with new perspectives and insights on the Haggadah. Unlocking the Haggada is the best of Haggadah in recent years. If you are someone who usually attends someone else’s Passover, you will be tempted to lead the seder next year. It is a powerful and veritable book of treasures. Most, importantly, it is a delightful read.