A Mystical Choice, A Mystical Haggadah

By | Tagged: holidays, texts

The one thing I’m never last-minute about is having a haggadah. With countless different versions available — last year, when I was researching an article, the most current number I could find was over 4,000 — and so, when I think about our 30-person seder where everyone has a different haggadah, it seems so very unremarkable.

All of this is just a way of saying: do we really need another Passover haggadah?

a mystical haggadahIf the standard they’re being held to is Rabbi Eliyahu Klein’s A Mystical Haggadah, the answer is a resounding yes. I was really prepared to be disappointed. It promised a combination of cheese-laced personal polemics and watered-down Hasidic mysticism.

Klein, in his introduction, tells a number of personal stories. They start out as tame stories of his childhood in Detroit, but get sidetracked to that Galician region of Poland, and his experiences dabbling in Hasidic culture in Boro Park. In the middle of one of his recollections, there is the most extreme and beatific description of the Bobover Hasidim, who finish their seders by 11 P.M. in order to converge at the seder table of the Bobover Rebbe:

It would be an understatement to say that at least a thousand men, women, and children would surround the rebbeh; all the womenfolk (the wives, daughters, and granddaughters of the rebbeh’s family) would be allowed to sit at the rebbeh’s table surrounded by all his male Hasidim. All the women, dressed mostly in white and light, colorful clothes, would sit close to the rebbeh, and many women who couldn’t get in would be standing, throwing back the partition curtains in the back of the synagogue….The Passover Seder would proceed slowly and majestically. The “Galiziyaner” Hasidim (Hasidim from western Poland) would sing at least thirty or forty melodies throughout the night until the moment before dawn when the last words of the Haggadah would be recited.

This book, like the best haggadahs, mixes explanation, insights, and texts about the haggadah with the words of the haggadah itself and the steps of the seder. Ideally, I think, a seder is a combination of a bunch of people who have tons of stuff to contribute and who share about a tenth of it. The rest of the time, you can save for next year, or you can keep to yourself–so there’s enough time to listen to everyone else and their insights.