Spring brings to mind warm breezes, blue skies, and invigorating sunshine. The ground has thawed, flowers are beginning to blossom, and trees are starting to bud. Throughout the world, feelings of renewal resonate.

This pattern extends into the human realm. Spring is a time of renaissance, when new life and vitality bloom. With relaxed, natural joy, we open ourselves to new experiences.

Pesach is chag ha’aviv, the festival of spring, a time when both individuals and our nation as a whole experience feelings of renewal. Indeed, this is implied by the very name Pesach, which means “jump,” i.e., a leap forward to a new frame of reference.

Pesach commemorates the Exodus from Egypt. But the Jewish holidays do more than commemorate history; they make history live. Whenever a holiday is celebrated, the same spiritual forces which brought about the holiday are again potently expressed and reflected in the private world of our souls.

In a spiritual sense, every one of us has his own Egypt. Mitzrayim, the Hebrew for Egypt, relates to the Hebrew wordmeitzarim, meaning boundaries and limitations. On Pesach, we leave behind the forces which confine our spirits and begin a new phase of divine service.

Encouraging Emotion

The fifteenth of Nissan, the date of the Exodus, remains eternally the season of our freedom, the time when we are granted the potential for the renewal described above. Nevertheless, although this potential is granted, we cannot express feeling on command, and the mere arrival of the date will not necessarily evoke such an experience.

What will inspire feelings of renewal? A setting created for that purpose. This is the intent of the mitzvos we are commanded to observe on Pesach: ridding our homes of chametz (bread and other leaven), eating matzah, and telling the story of the Exodus. These mitzvos create an environment which naturally leads to the expression of the above feelings.

This is the purpose of the Seder night. The word Seder means “order”; it is a structure of readings and practices intended to usher in spiritual experience.

The Haggadah guides us through this set of experiences. It is a classic text; its main body is recorded in the Mishnah,1 and perhaps dates back even earlier. Throughout the ages, it has been treasured by all the four types of sons who make up our people.

As our nation has wandered from country to country, the Haggadah has undergone certain changes. The text and the basic practices have remained without substantial variation — there are only minor differences between our text and that quoted in the Mishnah, and almost no variation from the texts used by the Geonim of the post-Talmudic era. But in every age and in every community, commentary and customs have been appended which have imparted unique flavors to the standard text. The spiritual aspirations of each Jewish community are often reflected in the insights which its leaders shared in connection with Pesach.

Almost a Dream Come True

There isn’t a chassid who doesn’t dream of spending the Seder at the table of his Rebbe. The goal of the commentary to this Haggadah is to approximate this experience to the greatest degree possible by sharing insights of the Baal Shem Tov, the Maggid of Mezeritch, and all seven Lubavitcher Rebbeim, and presenting them as “living Torah” — truths which a person can relate to and apply.

Since the expressed intent of this text is to communicate the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbeim, certain components of the commentary may be comprehensible only to those experienced in their style of thought. Nevertheless, since outreach is a fundamental element of Lubavitch life, an effort has been made to open windows to those less familiar with this thought system by presenting a variety of ideas with broad applications and communicating them in terms which do not restrict readability.

Sources and Customs

The text of the Lubavitcher Haggadah was originally prepared by the Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, as part of his Siddur, and was published in 1803. Its goal was to synthesize the teachings of Lurianic Kabbalah with the Talmudic and Halachic sources regarding prayer, with the intent of producing a text that was linguistically faultless, adhering scrupulously to the laws of Hebrew grammar and syntax.

Together with the text, Rav Shneur Zalman included instructions. These were added to and, in certain cases, amended by the Rebbe to reflect the prevailing Lubavitch custom. These instructions were first published in his edition of the Haggadah, Haggadah Shel Pesach im Likkutei Ta’amim U’Minhagim (the Haggadah of Pesach with a Collection of Explanations and Customs).

In our translation of the text, the intent was to provide a readable English version that remains true to the Hebrew original.

With regard to the instructions: To preserve the integrity of the Alter Rebbe’s Haggadah, no changes were made in the Hebrew text. In the translation, however, our intent was to provide instructions that can be easily followed and that will enable a person to apply Lubavitch practice. This required original work, interpreting the instructions in Rabbi Shneur Zalman’s text as amplified by the Rebbe’s notes to his edition of the Haggadah, Sefer HaMinhagim (The Book of Chabad-Lubavitch Customs) and other sources.

Many of these customs are minhag beis harav — the custom of the Rebbe’s household. There are times when such customs are exclusive to the Rebbeim and are not intended to be followed by others, (e.g. the taking of a silver tray for the matzos). In most cases, however, the custom of the Rebbeim has become the custom of the chassidim. To distinguish customs of this nature, we refer to them with the term “the prevailing Lubavitch custom....”

One further word with regard to the translation: All the different Hebrew names of G‑d, י-ה-ו-ה (Havayah), א-דני (A-donai), and א-להים (E-lohim), are translated as G‑d unless two names feature in the same verse or blessing. In such an instance, י-ה-ו-ה is translated as “G‑d” and א-דני and א-להים are translated as “L‑rd.”

In Acknowledgment

A Seder involves the vibrant interaction of four sons, different individuals with different perspectives. Similarly, this text synthesizes the contributions of many people, each adding his own expertise. Acknowledgment must be made of: Rabbi Eliyahu Touger, who adapted the texts from their Hebrew and Yiddish originals; Rabbi Aharon Leib Raskin, who researched the sources which served as a basis for much of the commentary; Gershom Gale who contributed his editorial expertise; Uri Kaploun, who gave the work a critical reading; Rabbi Moshe Wiener, who checked the Halachic content, Yosef Yitzchok Turner, who labored tirelessly to produce the attractive typography and layout; and Rabbi Yonah Avtzon, Director of Sichos In English, who conceived of the project and nurtured it to completion. Thankful acknowledgment must also be made of Rabbi Nissen Mangel, whose translation inSiddur Tehillat HaShem served as the basis for our translation of certain portions of the Haggadah, and to Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet whose translation of Haggadah Shel Pesach im Likkutei Ta’amim U’Minhagim was a valuable resource.

From Redemption to Redemption

The prophet promises:2 “As in the days of your exodus from the land of Egypt, I will show [the people] wonders.” The question is raised:3 Since the Jews departed from Egypt in one day, why does the prophet use the word “days”? In resolution, it is explained that the exodus from Egypt opened the channel, not only for the redemption from Egypt, but for all subsequent redemptions to be experienced by the Jewish people, including the ultimate Redemption to be led by Mashiach. The entire period preceding Mashiach’s arrival is thus referred to as “the days of your exodus from Egypt.” In this vein, the Seder is not only a reliving of the exodus from Egypt, but a foretaste of Mashiach’s coming.

Herein there is a connection to the content of this Haggadah. In a celebrated letter,4 the Baal Shem Tov records that he had a vision of Mashiach, and asked him: “When are you coming?”

Mashiach replied: “When the wellsprings of your teachings shall spread outward.”

The teachings of the Baal Shem Tov were communicated and enhanced by the Maggid of Mezeritch and his students. In particular, they were given a unique inward slant by Rav Shneur Zalman of Liadi and the subsequent Rebbeim of Lubavitch-Chabad. This anthology of their insights therefore constitutes a dissemination of the Baal Shem Tov’s thought and precipitates Mashiach’s coming.

“G‑d is King; He has garbed Himself with grandeur”

The publication of this volume comes in connection with the Rebbe’s 92nd birthday, Yud Alef Nissan, 5754. The Baal Shem Tov taught5 that every day, a person should recite the psalm in the Book of Tehillim that corresponds to the number of years he has lived.

The Rebbe’s 92nd birthday thus reflects the transition from psalm 92 to psalm 93. May he merit the blessings mentioned in the conclusion of psalm 92: “The righteous will flourish like a palm tree.... They shall blossom in the courtyards of our G‑d. They shall be fruitful even in old age; they shall be full of sap and freshness.” And may he lead our people and the world at large to the perfect state alluded to in the beginning of psalm 93: “G‑d is King; He has garbed Himself with grandeur,” i.e., the Era of the Redemption, when G‑d’s Kingship will be revealed throughout all existence.

Sichos In English

11 Nissan, 5754 [March 23, 1994]
The 92nd Birthday of the Rebbe

Publisher’s Foreword to the Second Printing

After the warm acceptance of our first printing of “At Our Rebbes’ Seder Table” last year, we are happy to offer a revised and enhanced edition.

This year has brought marked changes in the lives of all those whose hearts were touched by the Rebbe. For every one of us, the Pesach narrative has taken on a more contemporary meaning. We have tasted the bitterness of exile in a far more comprehensive manner than ever before. Our yearning for Redemption has grown, and when we take the Rebbe’s teachings to heart, the glimmers of Redemption have become more palpable.

Pesach is “the festival of Redemption,” a celebration of our redemption from Egypt and a catalyst for the dawning of the ultimate Redemption. May we merit the fulfillment of the prophecy,6 “As in the days of your exodus from the land of Egypt, I will show [the people] wonders,” with the coming of the Redemption. And then we will again spend Pesach “at our Rebbes’ Seder Table,” for “those who repose in the dust will arise and sing.”7

Purim Katan, 5755