LIGHT OF REDEMPTION: A Passover Haggadah Based on the Writings of Rav Kook

LIGHT OF REDEMPTION: A Passover Haggadah Based on the Writings of Rav Kook
    Price: $22.00

    LIGHT OF REDEMPTION: A Passover Haggadah Based on the Writings of Rav Kook

    by Gideon Weitzman

    Hardcover, 159 pages, Hebrew text with English translation and commentary.
    Grow Publishers, Urim Publications, 2005
    ISBN: 965-710-871-3 

    This Passover Haggadah presents the ideas of the great Israeli rabbi and thinker, Rabbi Kook, on the Haggadah and on Passover in general, making them available to the English speaking public for the first time.

    When the Jews left Egypt they achieved more than just physical freedom. They were now able to flourish and become a nation. This process did not stop, but continues until today.

    Rav Kook was one of the greatest Jewish leaders and thinkers of recent history. He understood that the Zionist awakenings were the realization of the prophetic visions of rebirth and return. It was in this context that Rav Kook explained Pesach and wrote a commentary on the Haggadah. His poetic and kabbalistic style meant that his writings have been largely inaccessible to the English reader.

    Rabbi Weitzman presents these ideas in a lucid and readable style that will enhance the understanding of the Seder and will be an excellent addition to any Jewish library.

    About the Author:
    Rabbi Kook (1865-1935), the first Chief Rabbi of modern Israel, is recognized as one of the greatest Jewish leaders and thinkers of the past century. He taught that the gatherings in Israel and Zion were the early realization of the prophetic visions of rebirth and return. The poetic and kabbalistic style of his writings have been largely inaccessible to the English reader.

    Rabbi Gideon Weitzman founded the Kansas City Community Kollel and served as its first Rosh Kollel. He currently teaches and is the Head of the English Speaking Section of the Puah Institute for Fertility and Gynecology in Accordance with Halachah. He is the author of Sparks of Light, a book of essays on the weekly Torah portion based on the philosophy of Rav Kook, and In Those Days, At This Time, a volume on the festivals based on the philosophy of Rav Kook, as well as many halachic articles.

    Praise for the Rav Kook Haggadah:
    "Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Kook was one of the greatest rabbis, teachers and mystical thinkers of the 20th century. His massive writings have been translated into English book by book over many years since his death in 1935. Each new publication reveals the depth of his thought and the profound understanding he had of Jewish tradition and human existence.. His insights on Pesah and the haggadah are very useful, as are all his writings. His interpretations of the various customs and rituals of the Pesah Seder give a new twist to many of the practices which we have been doing over and over for many years. We are grateful to Rabbi Weitzman, who has already published several collections of the writings of Rav Kook, for bringing these insights on the Hagaddah into book form in English for the first time." 
    - Dov Peretz Elkins, Jewish Media Review

    "In Light of Redemption: A Passover Haggadah based on the Writings of Rav Kook by Rabbi Gideon Weitzman (Grow Publications/Urim), some of the ideas of Rav Kook, who served as Israel's chief rabbi until his death in 1935, appear in English for the first time. The author explains that Rav Kook saw Zionism as a realization of the prophetic vision of return to the Land of Israel, and he approached the Exodus from Egypt in this context, as an ongoing process to bring the Jewish people back to the Land of Israel. For Rav Kook, Passover was the spring of all mankind, the festival of reawakening and rebirth. Rabbi Weitzman, author of other books on the teachings of Rav Kook, teaches in Israel."  
    - Sandee Brawarsky, The Jewish Week

    "Rabbi Abraham Isaac (Avraham Yitzhak) haCohen Kook (1865-1935) was born in Latvia, studied in the great yeshivot of Lithuania (and Volozhin). Rav Kook became a Zionist leader and the first Chief Rabbi of Palestine. His Zionist infused essays and analysis of the festival of Pesach (Israel being a modern day exodus of the Hebrews) became a mainstay of Israeli haggadahs and Passover seders. Now, finally, these essays and thoughts are available to an English speaking and reading audience.

    The Haggadah's format is Right to Left, with Hebrew text on the right pages, and English translations on the facing left pages. Commentaries are at the bottom of the pages. There is no transliteration of the Hebrew; and the four sons are "sons" and not "children." The Haggadah opens with five essays, one of which is "Four That is Really Five," which discusses four cups of wine, four sons, four questions, four redemptions.. or is it really five? Is there actually a fifth son that is not talked about?

    There are songs at the back of the Haggadah, the Hallel, as well as Shir haShirim (no English, just voweled Hebrew), since some families have a custom of reading the Song of Songs at their Seder. It also includes the Search for Leavening, and illustrations of three ways to arrange a seder plate: according to The Ari; The Gaon of Vilna; and Rabbi Moshe Isserlis.

    But the reason to buy this Haggadah is the Kook commentaries. Here are just a tiny bit of examples: For Kaddesh, Rav Kook asks, why Kaddesh and not Kiddush for this recitation of the kiddush? Because Kaddesh is singular and an imperative for each individual to sanctify. Why is the simple function of washing your hands U'rechatz before the Karpas a way to transport oneself to Jews around the world? For Karpas you dip a vegetable in salt water. Which is the food? The solid vegetable or the liquid? Is the salt water merely tears of the slaves? Or is the fluid more; is the fusing consumption of fluid and solid more significant than just salty water on a vegetable? When the hungry and the needy are invited to the seder, Rav Kook asks why are the hungry and needy BOTH mentioned. How do they differ? What are their differing needs and characteristics? I was especially drawn to Rav Kook's commentaries on the nature of freedom. Passover is the festival of freedom; we are commanded to feel free, but yet we are constrained by the format of the seder. Rav Kook cuts to the heart of the matter. How can you be free yet forced to follow a format at the same time. Rav Kook wrote that freedom is not achieved by each person doing whatever s/he wants, but the freedom to act without coercion but within a framework. Regarding the "wicked son," Rav Kook says that the almighty saves those who want to be saved, and that some are content with their slavery. They see the seder as work and service. Rav Kook comments on "The Egyptians mistreated us" by writing that that 'the Egyptians made us bad', and that servitude causes one to lose faith and leads to Hebrews mistreating fellow Hebrews as well as others. For "with a strong hand", Rav Kook relates that God required a strong hand to extricate the Hebrews from Egypt. Rav Kook asks why Maror is eaten after Matzah. Would it not be better to taste the Maror of slavery before the Matzah of freedom? Or must we first taste freedom, and then only eat of slavery to better understand servitude from the vantage point of freedom?
    Although this is a holiday of leavened bread, reading this book will truly levitate your seder."  
    - Larry Mark,

    "Thoughts on redemption: 
    In an excellent little book called Exodus and Revolution, American philosopher Michael Walzer marvels at the power with which the story of the deliverance of the people of Israel from oppression in Egypt has gripped Western political thought. The sheer moral force of this endlessly re-imagined story has inspired the sermons of Savonarola and the pamphlets of John Milton, the English Puritans and the American revolutionaries, the leaders of the civil rights movement and the authors of Catholic "liberation theology."
    But the story of miraculous liberation retold in the Pessah Haggada is, of course, first and foremost a Jewish one, and dreams of a "new Exodus" have fired the Jewish imagination from the prophesies of Isaiah and Jeremiah to the longings of the Zionists.

    A pair of new books shows how two of the previous century's greatest religious thinkers read that story, thereby serving as useful introductions to these two figures as well as to the holiday that celebrates one of the most far-reaching Jewish ideas.
    In Light of Redemption, Gideon Weitzman provides a commentary on the Haggada loosely based on the writings of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Hacohen Kook. In language considerably less evocative than the original, Weitzman explains that the iconic drafter of national-religious Zionism took the Exodus to be the archetypical redemption - the event from which the idea of messianism itself derives.
    "We are summoned," Kook writes, "to stand before the entire world with a pure, refined soul which appears in its full glory on the stage of the world, to shine as an everlasting beacon for all the nations under the heavens... This is the attribute that binds the Passover of Egypt with the Passover of the future."
    Since Kook sees everything as a kind of eternal recurrence of the narrative the Pessah holiday urges us to remember, he thinks it's crucial to understand the theological import of the flight from Pharaoh's "iron furnace." The main thing to notice, he says, is that the Exodus began in impurity. The Bible records that God heard the Israelites' cry even though they were deeply sunk in the fleshpots of Egypt. In a similar spirit, the Haggada begins by reminding its readers that their ancestors were idolaters.
    For Kook, the lesson here is that holiness can - perhaps even must - come from impurity, and perfection from imperfection. "We needed the fervor of idolatry in order learn real divine service," Weitzman says. Or, as he notes in examining the meaning of the Seder's bitter herbs: "the bitterness [of slavery] was essential and was part of the freedom itself."
    To illustrate Kook's idea of the profound interdependence of the holy and the profane, Weitzman cites a talmudic passage in which the evil inclination to idolatry takes the form of a fiery lion emerging from the Holy of Holies, of all places.

    RABBI SOLOVEITCHIK'S book on Pessah, S'firat Ha-Omer, and Shavuot consists of 11 rather technical halachic essays David Shapiro has ably cobbled together from sources ranging from tapes of Soloveitchik's lectures to the Haggada commentary edited by Yitzchak Lichtenstein, preserving in the process much of the style and language of modern Orthodoxy's preeminent teacher.
    We immediately encounter Soloveitchik's characteristic brilliant technique, which is premised on the assumption that, as he puts it here, "halacha is more than a collection of laws; it is a method of thought." Soloveitchik, like Kook, takes redemption to be a key theological category. God, after all, presented Himself at Sinai not as the creator of the world but as the redeemer of Israel.
    But far more than Kook, Soloveitchik hews close to halachic sources. In his deft hands, theology arises directly from halachic puzzles - an interpretive knot in a Maimonidean text, say - so that his ideas are generated by and act in the service of halachic exposition before they open up into something larger.
    From the laws of the counting of the Omer that begins on Pessah, for instance, Soloveitchik develops a philosophy of time to explain the mix of remembrance with anticipation and expectation that characterizes both the Haggada and Halacha generally.
    "The halachic approach to time is the experiential memory that reaches out for the future," he writes.
    To take another example, a detailed study of the obligation to eat matza gives Soloveitchik the chance to introduce his insistence that to perform a commandment is not necessarily to fulfill it; fulfillment goes beyond mere performance, in that it depends "on attaining a certain degree of spiritual awareness."
    Finally, a discussion of how Jewish law regards slaves together with an examination of one of Rashi's comments on the book of Exodus yield an extraordinary riff on the dangers inherent in modern society.
    "Some slaves," Soloveitchik writes, "are owned by real individuals; some slaves are owned by the state, that is, by a juridical person, by a corporation. It is better to have a real person as a master; at least he has a heart... That is why the Torah calls all Pharaohs by the name Pharaoh, and not by their personal names. [The relationship] was depersonalized and dehumanized. The Jews were enslaved to a soulless machine."

    These are just a few samples of the discernment to be harvested from these two books. In the end, Kook and Soloveitchik, like many of the most sensitive readers of the Exodus story before them, see in it, reflected back in amplified form, the very highest of their spiritual and intellectual impulses. And they invite us to do the same."  
    - Benjamin Balint, Jerusalem Post