An Aramean Destroyed My Father

Commentaries on the Haggadah contrast the evil of Laban with Pharaoh and see Laban as a symbol for political, sociological, and psychological evil.

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Shame to Praise

In Temple times, people would recite this passage from Deuteronomy when they brought their first fruits on Shavuot. The Mishnah describes its use in the seder as part of the teaching that proceeds from shame to praise. The shame is the desperation brought on by hunger; the root oved is the same as the root of the word in the second paragraph of the shema "[if you stray from God,] the land will stop producing its fruit and you will quickly perish (v'avad'tem) off of the good land" (Deuteronomy 11:17).
"My ancestors were starving Arameans." The person bringing the first fruits to the Temple in Jerusalem remembers the shame of the famine that led his ancestor Jacob and the Jewish people into slavery in Egypt and praises God for the redemption from Egypt and the restoration to the Land of Israel with its abundant harvest. The person at the seder recalls this hunger with his invitation, "Let all who are in need, come and eat." And throughout Passover, we remind ourselves of our blessings by eating lehem oni, the bread of poverty.
--Rabbi Roy Tanenbaum, Congregation Beth Tzedec, Toronto

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Jeffrey Spitzer is Chair of the Department of Talmud and Rabbinics at Gann Academy, The New Jewish High School, Waltham, Mass., and a member of the Institute's Tichon Fellows Program.