Includes the full traditional Passover Haggadah text in Hebrew with a new translation and original commentary in English by: Michael Kagan
translations of Hallel and Blessings over the Meal by Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi
includes illustrations by Sandra Pond
Hardcover, 239 pages
Publication: March 2004
The Holistic Haggadah is a fascinating guide to the inner journey that the Passover Seder evening offers us. It is a daring commentary that challenges each of us to go down into our self-imposed Mitzraim (Egypt) and face our attachments and the false gods that confine us. It then beckons us forth to true freedom and a more meaningful relationship between ourselves and God.
Besides the ritual question – “How is this night different from all other nights?” – the most common question asked at the Seder table is probably, “When is the food coming?” The Holistic Haggadah asks deeper questions: “How are you going to be different this night? How are you prepared to let this night change you?”
This commentary incorporates a holistic approach to Judaism, which activates the four worlds of the individual: the world of action, the world of emotion, the world of intellect and the world of spirit. It weaves a beautiful tapestry, illuminating the treasures available to us within Passover and the yearly festival cycle.
It is the hope that this Haggadah will find a place in the hearts of all those whose souls, regardless of denomination, yearn for greater depths and higher vistas, and will provide spiritual sustenance not only on Passover but the entire year.
The Holistic Haggadah presents a contemporary spiritual commentary on the meaning of freedom and its relationship to serving God.
From The Holistic Haggadah:
"The Alienated Child is angry. With compassion and understanding must come the answer. Help the child soften. Explain that a rejection of the Divine is a rejection of Self; that giving up leads to self-condemnation in the crucible of enslavement; that there are many questions but not necessarily corresponding answers. The entire evening, in fact, can be seen as being dedicated to this dejected and rejecting child."
"Hametz is bread – soft, delicious bread. It consists mainly of empty space produced by a gas that does not sustain human life. Its great volume is an illusion of its true essence. Hametz is symbolic of our inflated, swollen egos – mostly hot air."
"Matzah is unleavened bread produced by mixing flour and water, but fermentation is prevented by immediate baking. Matzah is what it appears to be – the essence. It is uninflated. It may not be as soft and as tasty as hametz but it doesn’t need those facades to be what it is. It represents being. It represents being just you, just who you are – with your ego, but an uninflated ego. For after all, the ego is not bad, as it is a necessary part of the interface between the physical world and the spiritual world."
About the author:
Through The Holistic Haggadah, Michael Kagan shares his teachings and holistic approach to Judaism that he has developed through experiential workshops and lectures in Israel and around the world. He moved to Jerusalem in 1977, has a Ph.D. in Chemistry from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, is married to Ruth Gan Kagan and has five children. He describes himself as an ortho-practicing, but unorthodox, Jew.
Praise for The Holistic Haggadah:
Each year I try to find a few new Haggadot to make my s’darim more creative, interesting and fresh. Fortunately, I have not failed to find what I seek. It seems that each year the publishers are able to find new or old authors whose words inspire, are different, and bring something new to the ancient words of the Pesah ritual. These two books certainly fit into that category, as they are both creative, unusual and reflect thinking out of the box.
The Holistic Haggadah is put together by Michael Kagan, who made aliyah in 1977, and has a Ph.D. in chemistry (that alone should tell you that this is no ordinary Haggadah). Kagan is married, has five children, and describes himself as an ortho-practicing, but unorthodox Jew. He finds unusual ways to make the Haggadah become personal. Influenced by Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, he brings the perspective of Reb Zalman, Reb Shlomo Carlebach, and other joyous, spiritual teachers.
In the early part of his Haggadah, Michael tells his readers that at the beginning of [the month of] Nisan one should begin making a list of ways in which we are slaves to the physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual planes of our lives. “Food, sex, money, time, car, house…looking good, clothes, etc.”
He also explains Reb Zalman’s preference for the use of the word “Yah” instead of Lord or HaShem. People are familiar with “Yah” since it appears in “HalleluYAH – Praise God. “Furthermore, YAH is the name associated with the Godly attribute of Hokhmah, which is the level of greatest expansion and is thus fitting for the Pesah theme of ‘from the narrow [related to mitzra'im, or Egypt] straits I cried to YAH, from the great expansion YAH answered.’ (Psalm 118). To [further] support this, the Talmud states (Eruvin 18b) that: Since the Sanctuary was destroyed it is enough for the world to use only two letters [of the Tetragrammaton].”
Later he gives an interpretation from his 8-year-old daughter. For the blessing “al netilat yadayim,” which we recite before the motzee, Ayelet Kagan explains that the Hebrew “netilah” also means to “cut off.” We should detach the hands from the selfish mind and hand them back to their Master.
-Dov Peretz Elkins, Jewish Media Review
"How is this night different from all other nights?" is the traditional Passover question. But Kagan (who describes himself as an "ortho-practicing, but unorthodox, Jew") wants seder participants to look beyond the obvious and ask themselves a different question: "How will this night change me?" Using the Exodus story as an allegory of an individual's spiritual slavery and redemption, Kagan advocates a holistic approach to Judaism that merges the worlds of action, emotion, intellect and spirit. Readers are asked to reflect upon what is keeping them enslaved in their "inner Mitzraim" (Egypt). Kagan spiritualizes the various elements of Passover observance; burning the hametz (leavened bread), for example, symbolizes a willingness to let go of attachments and anything that puffs us up.
It's long been a fact that Pessah is the holiday that many Jews, no matter how assimilated, take part in to some degree or another. The centerpiece of Pessah is of course the Seder, a night where we are commanded to tell the story of the Jewish exodus from Egypt.
It has also long been a fact that the Seder is either for the super-educated or the super-young, many of us having lived through Seders that outlasted most of its participants. With his new book, The Holistic Haggadah, Michael L. Kagan sets out to change all that. He charges us not to remain chained to the text, but to enliven it with his (and eventually our own) commentary - to make ancient references more applicable.
His is a noble, if flawed endeavor. From the cover, in which a yin yang lies super-imposed on a shmura matzo, it is obvious the author has some radical ideas about Judaism. Calling himself an unorthodox Orthodox Jew, Kagan culls many of his teachings from such disparate places as Kabbala masters, Jewish Renewal teachers, movies, psychology books and family members. In his Haggadah, Kagan invites the reader to fully engage with the text, to see it not as a monologue from long-dead sages, but as a dialogue between tradition and modernity.
As Kagan teaches in one of his footnotes, "holism and holistic come from the Greek 'holos' which means 'whole.' The word 'holy' is also derived from the same Greek root, as is 'health.'" He then delves into the meaning of practicing holism: "Whole and parts mutually and reciprocally influence and modify each other; the one is pliant to and molded by the other."
And this is the shape and point of his work - to relate parts of the Seder to parts of our lives, Pessah to other parts of the year, and ourselves to the outside world.
To each part of the text (which he translates into English), he adds his own commentary. He divides the text into four levels: doing, saying, being and deepening. For instance, there is the level of opening the door for Elijah the Prophet, the level of saying the words in the Haggada, the level of what it means to us personally and lastly, how we can internalize the experience and make it a part of us.
Some of this works beautifully. In the case of the four sons (translated here into the politically correct four children), Kagan shows us how each of the four attributes - wise, alienated (again, his own translation), na ve and the one who doesn't know how to ask - must all be a part of a person's journey. In fact, if they're read in the opposite order, he says, they aptly describe the natural development of an individual.
Other times, his modernist and liberal leanings left me uneasy. There is a prayer in the Haggada called shefoh hamatcha (pour out your wrath) that is filled with biblical injunctions for God to pour out His wrath upon the nations that do not honor His name or His people. Kagan adds to this and includes his own shefoh ahavatecha (pour out your love), which is a prayer for God to remember and bless all the nations that help and honor Him. This is certainly a nice sentiment, that just as we need to hate, we also need to love. But, in reading Kagan's own prayer, I wondered why something like it wasn't a part of the original Haggadic text.
Why did the rabbis choose to leave out the other, more compassionate side? In fact, just pages before, we are told to take wine out of our glasses so as to remember that Egyptians died while chasing us into the Red Sea. It seems that while we need to be taught compassion for the other, we also need to learn strength for ourselves.
There were other times as well where I felt that his freedom to deviate from the text took away from the power of that text. This is perhaps the shortcoming of a personal collection of teachings on traditional and well-known material. At times it can feel enlightening, while at other times it feels unfaithful.
As an aside, a few technical problems bothered me throughout. For one, there were English instructions on both the Hebrew side and English side of the page, something I felt to be a real waste of space. Why not instructions in Hebrew and English, or just on one side? Also, sometimes the breakdown between the being and deepening levels were continued on the next page in an awkward way, disturbing the flow of the layout.
To be sure, this Haggada is not for the strictly traditional. There are new-agey graphs and diagrams and lots of talk about blessing each other and sharing each other's experiences. However, while much energy has been expended of late in order to revitalize Judaism and its rituals, to make it more meaningful to present times, not many people are succeeding.
Whatever its faults, The Holistic Haggada gives Jews the opportunity to turn their Pessah Seder into something more than an excuse to eat too much and stay up too late.
-Rena Rosenblum, Jerusalem Post Literary Quarterly
"Letter to the Editor" which appeared in the Jerusalem Post during the week following the (above) review in the Jerusalem Post Literary Quarterly:
Rena Rosenblum clearly has reservations about Michael Kagan's Holistic Haggadah, and I agree with some of her sentiments ("A new-age exodus," Literary Quarterly, Spring 2004). However, a number of aspects of her review disturbed me.
One has to do with the shefoh ahavatecha (pour out your love) prayer. Rosenblum claims this prayer was composed by Kagan. This is not true, as Kagan's note at the bottom of page 173 makes clear. He borrowed this passage directly from an earlier haggada, A Different Night, by Noam Zion and David Dishon. Not only did Kagan not compose this passage; had Rosenblum checked Kagan's source she would have found that Zion and Dishon did not compose it either. Rather they drew upon a medieval manuscript from Worms. Furthermore, the manuscript from which shefoh ahavatecha was drawn is ascribed to the descendants of Rashi.
Furthermore, just as the strength and resilience of the oppressed is a central trait in Judaism, so is compassion. Rosenblum refers to the removal of wine from our cups at the mention of the plagues; I refer her to the talmudic passage in Tractate Megillah (10b) where God advises the angels against praising the death of the Egyptians. Even when the Egyptians, whose evils need not be recounted, were killed, we were enjoined not rejoice at the death of God's creations.
-Omri Flicker, Jerusalem
A source of Deepening Meanings for your Seder
How many Haggadah's that you know of mention the film, The Matrix? Urim publications has created another winning haggadah.
The holistic Haggadah includes readings and insights that will make your seder better and more interesting. Technically, this haggadah moves right to left with a full Hebrew text in a very nice, voweled font, with English translations, but no transliterations. It has at least twice as much explanations as your average haggadah. It also includes translations of Hallel and Blessings over the Meal (the source of food and nourishment) by that holistic big-daddy, Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi.
The theme of this haggadah is "How will YOU be different this Passover night?" More than a 12 step program approach to Passover, it reinforces Pesach as the Spring holiday that regenerates yourself for the coming planting season, rids your home of leavened bread, and rids you of that yeasty, puffy, poori-like inflated ego.
Each section of the seder contains commentaries under the headings of "BEING" and "DEEPENING." Some holistic viewpoints that can be found in these sections of this haggadah are: The period between Purim and Passover as period akin to the month of Elul; The search for hametz as a search for one's inner spoilage, namely one's slavery to materialism, and fears of loss, success, and embarrassment; The burning of the hametz as a letting go of attachments; The candle lighting as the introduction of illumination and knowledge; The Seder as an ordering out of the chaotic hiddeness of Adar's Purim; and a silent Urhatz (washing without a prayer) as a sign of enslavement. Other insights are the salty Karpas as a form of connection to your inner, narrow, Mitzraim; Yahatz as the broken self; the Four Questions as the call to hear the inner child; the treasures of Egypt as a choice to debasment or being true to oneself; and the Afikoman as... well you'll have to read the book for that precious tidbit.
The traditional four sons are rendered as four children; in this case they are female. The Rasha child is here "alienated" and not wicked (did you realize that the Haham, Rasha, Tam children spell the acronym of HeRut [freedom]?) There are so many ideas upon which your seder participants can expound. And the ones above only scratch the surface. This is highly recommended.
-Larry Mark, MyJewishBooks.com
The Holistic Haggadah: How Will You Be Different This Passover Night? (Urim), with commentary by Michael Kagan, is a guide to the inner journey of Passover, with contemporary spiritual commentary geared to individuals of all denominations. Kagan reflects on the meaning of freedom and its relation to serving God.
This volume makes for meaningful pre-Passover preparatory reading; Kagan translates the traditional Haggadah text and Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi offers new translations of the Hallel and other sections. Kagan, who leads experimental workshops and lectures on holistic Judaism around the world, lives in Jerusalem and describes himself as “an ortho-practicing but unorthodox Jew.”
-Sandee Brawarsky, The Jewish Week
In the contemporary self-help spirit and to some degree its style while
consistently remaining rooted in the Jewish Haggadah and the Passover Seder
ceremony it is used in, Kagan takes the holy book section by section. He
explains each section, and also raises questions for introspection or contemplation
related to the respective section. The author living in Jerusalem describes
himself as "an ortho-practicing, but unorthodox, Jew." The Haggadah is recorded
in a dual Hebrew/English translation in this attractively-produced book that
can be used in the Seder ceremony and for individual study and spiritual growth.
-Henry Berry, University Press Book Review
"Holistic" and "integral" have long been buzz words in the New Age community, and now they are beginning to make inroads into the Jewish mainstream. What these words mean, in essence, is that a deep religious ritual ought to involve the whole person -- body, heart, mind and spirit -- and the breadth of human experience, including history, art, psychology, literature, ethics -- you name it. The terms may be new, but their meaning certainly isn't: Jewish ritual has long involved the use of food and movement for the body, music for the heart, texts for intellectual reflection and sources for spiritual contemplation. And Judaism is a "holistic" religion at heart; witness how many people can say that it's fundamentally "about" ethics, or culture, or nationhood or, again, you name it.
In a way, Passover embodies these values. After all, it's a holiday with a lot of body-centered ritual (eating) as well as intellectual debate over the meaning of the Exodus. And its essence has been variously described as spiritual (the noted kabbalist Isaiah Horowitz said that "All the aspects of freedom that we deal with during this night refer to freedom of the soul"), political-ethical (such as the "Haggada of the Liberated Lamb"), national or entirely social-familial.
Yet Passover can also be frustrating. We should be so lucky that all we do is debate what the holiday means; much of the time we're just confused, or bored. Or hungry.
Two new Passover books aim to restore balance and liveliness to Passover Seders.
* * *
The first, Michael Kagan's "The Holistic Haggadah: How Will You Be Different This Passover Night?" (Urim Publications), offers multiple levels of interpretation for the familiar -- yet often perplexing -- rituals and ideas.
Kagan weaves mystical, ethical and literary interpretations into the traditional Haggada text. Yet while most innovative Haggadot have altered and trimmed the Seder liturgy, Kagan has not, which makes "The Holistic Haggadah" a useful choice for Seders like mine, in which a wide variety of Haggadot are used. Multiple perspectives enrich the Seder, but multiple texts are just confusing. The greatest contribution "The Holistic Haggadah" makes to the already large Haggada bookshelf may be that we no longer have to choose between tradition and innovation.
This Haggadot also marks the first time that Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi's translation of the Psalms -- a project he has been working on for several years -- has appeared in print. While they may seem unconventional at first, Reb Zalman's translations hew closely to the Psalms' meaning, sometimes with surprising insights: "Can you peak so high as to sit with Yah, our God? And at the same time encompass and scan both Heaven and Earth? Getting the poor to stand firm, raising from groveling in the dust, having dignity in the eyes of generous people?" These words, from Psalm 113, are strikingly relevant, as many of us struggle to balance our own religious/psychological health with our obligations to improve the lot of others. And yet they are right there in the Hebrew as well.
Kagan, a self-described "Ortho-practicing, but unorthodox, Jew," has created an unusual Haggada, as is apparent in its title and even on its cover image (a matzo with the Taoist symbol of the yin and yang superimposed on it). Yet the "Holistic Haggadah" doesn't jettison the traditional text, inviting us to wonder whether it was really so "traditional" in the first place....
The Seder is one of the most widely practiced Jewish rituals in the American community. Don't let yours be about rote repetition followed by a feast; pick up one of these books, or the many others in the Passover lit genre, and find a story that suits you. After all, man does not live on unleavened bread alone.
-Jay Michaelson, Forward
A product of our multi-disciplinary, new-age times, the author uses the traditional Haggadah as more than a theological, historical narrative. It becomes for him a springboard to integrate history and religion with emotional awareness and psychological self-discovery.
The depiction on the cover of the Yin Yang symbol made out of matzah leaves us with no doubt about the atuhor's interesting, unconventional, cross cultural, syncretic approach to the seder even as he borrows from the teachings of Reb Zelman Schachter-Shalomi and Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav.
-Mordechai Ben-Dat, Canadian Jewish News
Those looking to expand their knowledge and bring more to the Seder table could do some preparation with one of the lateral haggadot on offer. The new Holistic Haggadah comes out of the growing meditation and spiritual movements within Judaism and offers “deepening” reflections as well as revivals of traditions such as Miriam’s cup. There is nothing to offend tradition but plenty to expand it.
-Deborah Stone, Australian Jewish News
Michael Kagan, described as an "ortho-practicing, but unorthodox Jew," would like the Seder to take on a dimension of a personal spiritual experience in addition to its historic meanings. In The Holistic Haggadah each step of the Seder features facing pages, one in Hebrew and one in English translation. These are followed by two levels of commentary: "The Being" commentary is on an intellectual, historical, here and now level. "The Deepening" commentary is more meditative and spiritual. The reader is led to think about new, deeper, and more spiritual meanings of the Passover story and its symbols. The book's introductory chapter discusses the wholeness and interconnectedness of the cycle of the Jewish year. The print is large, and easy to read. The book is basically an English language text, but reads from back to front, as if it were a Hebrew language book. I found this strange. The Holistic Haggadah would be appropriate for synagogue, day school and Jewish center libraries and for home reference for anyone preparing a Seder.
-Harriet Reiter, AJL Newsletter
"...focuses on personal self-examination during the Passover holiday season by merging different levels of mystical and kabbalistic texts."
Steven K. Walz
The Jewish Press
"Without question, it’s the best commentary on the Haggadah that I’ve ever read. The comments from your family especially make it very sweet and real. I like your hiddushim (originality) very much, like your drash on the Yin and the Yang of the festival cycle and your eclectic style, drawing from your whole experience of life. I hope it sells at least 600,000 copies.
The Holistic Haggadah – don’t leave Mitzraim without it!
-Jonathan Zuess, MD, Holistic Physician
Author of The Wisdom of Depression and Editor of Complementary Health Practice Review
Michael L. Kagan, the author of “The Holistic Haggadah,” has tried hard to be all-inclusive. God bless him, he really tries. At the beginning, he cites the book “Roots,” a timeless novel of the black American experience, as an example of retelling the story of our salvation—only he credits the author as “Arthur Hailey” instead of Alex Haley, and, while he describes the experience as hopeful and inspirational, it actually takes place when Haley’s ancestors are about to get sold into a hundred years of slavery.
It’s minor inaccuracies like this that plague Kagan’s commentary, along with an inconsistent translation that switches without warning (or explanation) from male to female and from “God” to “Yah” and back again. Which is a shame because so much of what he has to offer is so interesting, and it’s a commentary you won’t find anywhere else.
In the introductory section, Kagan offers a Kabbalistic interpretation of Hasidic dances, as dancers form a circle with a point in the center—a point at which everyone is looking and at which nobody stands, which he calls “a point of harmony with the Divine Oneness.” He explains how that circle-with-a-point evolves into a yin-yang, the Hebrew letter “aleph” and, ultimately, the formation of a Star of David, and how each of these symbols feeds a stream of holiness. The details are somewhat complicated, but it actually does make sense—and it’s pretty ingenious.
But Kagan’s determination to create an aesthetically perfect Haggadah often gets in the way of understandability. The commentary is split into two parts: “Being,” which includes quicker or more plaintive insights; and “Deepening,” which includes alternative and in-depth thoughts. There are also footnotes on each page, commenting on his own commentary and introducing parallels to the movies Dune and The Matrix. The idea of multiple explanations is good, but the book’s format makes the flow of three different paragraphs rather hard to follow. A fascinating read if you can stay with it.
World Jewish Digest
If you find yourself wondering how to truly make the seder relevant to your life, you'll want to pick up "The Holistic Haggadah" (Urim Publications, 2004). This Haggadah does for the seder what the Artscroll siddur does for prayer: it offers commentaries for and explanations of the seder. Its central question: how will you be different this Passover night?
In his explanation of Mah Nishtana, for example, commentator Michael Kagan says: "The exodus from mitzraim is about the willingness to let go and be different. If, by the end of this experiential evening you come away unmoved, then it will be as if you were never there. Remember, more than half of the children of Israel opted to stay behind rather than take the risk of letting go!"
This is a haggadah that will make you think, compel you to re-examine Passover and inspire some self-reflection. For those who want to add animated discussion, thought and commentary to their seder, this book will be a handy companion.
Western Massachusetts Jewish Ledger