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    Rabbi Dr Raymond Apple z”l

    April 12th, 2024

    Rabbi Dr Raymond Apple z”l passed away in January 2024. As an archive of the Rabbi’s written contributions across his many fields of interest, this site is a tribute to the man and his work. More information about his life is available in the About section. Y’hi zichro baruch.

    Happy or sad on Seder night?

    April 12th, 2024

    Rabbi Irving (Yitz) Greenberg once pointed out that we face a dilemma on Seder night.

    The Seder, a 19th century print from the Ukraine

    Seder is a moment of memory, but which memory are we talking about – happy or sad?

    The Haggadah tells us to imagine that we are the Hebrews of the Exodus, but what memory is uppermost in our minds – the bondage or the freedom?

    There are two possibilities.

    We can think back to the hard times when we had no independence, no time to call our own, and had to jump to the command of our taskmasters.

    Alternatively, we can think of the liberation, when the metaphorical chains were gone.

    Greenberg says that every generation must decide for itself which memory to emphasise.

    If we focus on the past we remind ourselves what it was like to be powerless.

    If we think of the present and future we are no longer powerless but we have a new problem, that of learning responsibility.

    Neither memory is easy. The thought of the past recalls our victimhood and suggests that we will always feel unsafe because of the resurgent masters of today: as the Haggadah says, “In every generation they rise against us to eliminate us”.

    On the other hand. if we concentrate on the liberation we no longer need to be frightened … but now we need to make sure that we can be responsible towards others and not make them afraid of us.

    Best-sellers in the Middle Ages

    April 12th, 2024

    How different this Pesach is from those of the Middle Ages.

    Mah Nishtanah, from the Sarajevo Haggadah, 1350

    Mah Nishtanah, from the Sarajevo Haggadah, 1350

    In those days printing had not been invented (nor of course computers), so Haggadot were not as profusely published and widely sold as today. If you had a Haggadah it would be in manuscript form, a valuable heirloom, one per family if you were lucky!

    Most people would have had to rely on memory, which was a problem for those who found memorising difficult.

    Some communities had walking Haggadot, experts who knew the Haggadah by heart and conducted a Seder for one or more family groups apart from their own, moving on from house to house before coming home… the original walkie-talkies!

    Complications were caused by the constant persecutions and expulsions of Jewish communities, who often had little chance of packing their goods to take on their way to a hoped-for new haven.

    Many of the end-of-Seder songs were not yet known, so the Haggadah was shorter than today.

    If a family enjoyed stability they could hold a Haggadah for centuries. Talented artists worked long and hard on Haggadah manuscripts, producing illuminated versions that have sometimes come down to us (and raise vast sums if they find their way to auction sales). 30-40 such Haggadot are extant, remarkable pieces of art, some now reproduced in facsimile.

    These include the 14th century Sarajevo Haggadah written in Catalonia and the Golden (i.e. gold-leaf) Haggadah, a treasure of the British Library. An attempt at creating an artistic 20th century Haggadah was made by Arthur Szyk, using one of Cecil Roth’s texts. The illustrated Haggadot depict Biblical scenes using clothing styles of their times. Some even mimic church art styles and are part of cultural history.

    I came out of Egypt

    April 12th, 2024

    Cairo airportI really did come out of Egypt.

    Looking for a route from Australia to Israel, my wife and I decided one year to go via Cairo. We took Qantas from Sydney to Cairo and then El Al to Israel. We had one day in Cairo, a story of its own; when we left we took one overwhelming memory of Egypt, that it was a place of history where what happened long ago (pyramids, Pharaohs, etc.) was of supreme importance.

    We landed at Ben Gurion Airport and encountered a contrast – life, bustle, today and tomorrow.

    We asked ourselves why the Mishnah says, as repeated in the Haggadah, “In every generation a person must regard himself as if he personally came out of Egypt” (Pes. 116b).

    A hint comes in a duality of rabbinic expressions – Pesach Mitzrayim and Pesach L’Atid, the Egyptian Passover and the Passover of the Future. The Mishnah is telling us to note both of them, to recall the historic bondage in Egypt and to acknowledge that there are so many people today whose lives are constrained and constricted.

    What is important is not just the suffering but the determination to rise above it and leave it behind.

    It is the Exodus, the going out, that really matters. Knowing that the Egyptian bondage came to an end inspires us with confidence that whatever bondage still occurs in the world will also come to an end.

    Nisan – one of the busiest months

    April 12th, 2024

    nisanThe two busiest months of the year are Nisan and Tishri. Tishri actually has more festivals, but Nisan has a unique multiplicity of activities, domestic, liturgical, social and intellectual.

    The demands that Pesach makes on us are almost unbelievable, and yet it is the one festival that almost every Jew on earth observes, at least to some extent.

    Samson Raphael Hirsch explains why the other name for Nisan is Aviv, “The Month of Spring”. In springtime the earth is a season of hope. As Shir HaShirim puts it (2:11-12), “The winter is past, the rain is over and gone; the flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing is come”.

    In history this is symbolic of the people of Israel on the very first Pesach, when the gloom of night gave way to dawn and the people were about to experience national rebirth.

    Hirsch adds that this should also be a source of comfort to the individual when “the bitter hours of trial in your own life… bring you near to God as your Guardian and Shepherd”.

    Those who live in the Southern Hemisphere with a different springtime can still learn the same lesson.