Where is Moses?
Soon, at the Seder, we will be sitting and reading, learning, teaching and questioning the Haggadah – the story of Pesach and the Exodus which we are obligated to review, to investigate, and to convey to our children and grandchildren on the night of Pesach.
It is fascinating to note that there is something fundamental that is missing from the Haggadah. If you look through the Haggadah there is a great personality who was primarily responsible for the Exodus who is absent – Moses is just not there, he is not mentioned. He is mentioned in one place as an aside – coincidentally. Rav Yossi of Galilee was talking about how many plagues hit the Egyptians – he said they had ten in Egypt and they were smitten by fifty at the sea, because in Egypt Pharaoh’s magicians said this is “the finger of G-d upon us”, and then at the sea it says “and the Jews and Israel saw the great hand that G-d has wrought against the Egyptians and the nation believed in G-d and in Moses his servant”. So here is evidence that there must have been five times as many plagues at the sea as there were in Egypt, because in Egypt is says the finger of G-d and at the sea it says the hand of G-d. So coincidentally, since it is quoting the verse it concludes the verse with the last phrase, “the nation believed in G-d and in Moses His servant.” That is the only place that Moses is mentioned in the entire Haggadah. This is like producing the movie “The Ten Commandments” without Charlton Heston. And, by the way there are certain Haggadah’s that have that section of the verse in parenthesis and in one particular version of the Haggadah the part of the verse mentioned Moses is left out completely. So what is going on?
One way of understanding it is that the Haggadah that we read today, as Maimonides says, is the Haggadah of the Diaspora, the Haggadah of the exile. So if that is true, there are two components to freedom from Egypt. The first aspect is the physical redemption from Egypt, from slavery and from oppression. The second component is the spiritual redemption – we were given the Torah, we were given a relationship with G-d, we were given the spiritual power of free will to overcome any spiritual or moral challenge.
Commentaries point out that Moses played a part in the physical redemption of the Jewish People, but the spiritual redemption of the Jewish People was from G-d Himself. Now, we Jews living throughout our lengthy diaspora and exile, since the destruction of the second Temple, no longer have the full benefit of the physical redemption. We have had horrific slavery since the exodus from Egypt. We have experienced inquisitions, crusades, pogroms and wars since the Exodus from Egypt, which means that the physical benefits of the Exodus, are to some degree, no longer with us. We are therefore primarily celebrating the spiritual Exodus and the spiritual redemption from Egypt. We always have the freedom of our attitude, of our inner self and of our moral decisions. That is a freedom that we never lost. But that is a redemption in which Moses played no role – that was G-d and G-d alone. One reason that we don’t mention Moses is that our main celebration today of the Haggadah is our spiritual redemption and not so much our physical redemption.
There is another possibility I think, which is that the exodus from Egypt was not only about freeing us from physical slavery, but was freeing us from the idolatry of the Egyptians. As Maimonides says, the flame of monotheism that was kindled by Abraham was almost extinguished when the Jews were in Egypt. We were pagans, we worshiped the Egyptian gods, we were superstitious, and we lived in fear of the Egyptians idols and of Pharoah.
Maimonides tells us that the origins of idolatry were not in people denying G-d, but rather with people setting up an intermediary between them and G-d. Whether it was the sun and moon and the stars, whether it was natural forces, whether it was a person, a prophet a pious person – the origin of idol worship was the slow progressive separation from a direct connection to the Creator. Eventually, the intermediaries “replaced” G-d completely and now there was a pantheon of gods – of natural forces, of angels, of this and of that. People lost their direct connection to G-d. G-d wants us to have a direct connection to Him. Jewish law prohibits praying to to any intermediary. You are not allowed to pray to an angel, you cannot pray to a righteous person, you cannot pray to a dead person. You can pray only to G-d Himself. When we go and visit a grave, we visit the grave because it is an inspiring place, we remember the deceased there but we don’t, Heaven forbid, we do not pray to the dead people – ever! We pray only to G-d.
Mentioning Moses in the Haggadah would be a danger of placing an intermediary in between us and G-d. The Exodus was about redemption from the slavery of idolatry from the enslavement to hundreds of intermediaries between the human being and the ultimate Creator. Of all people in history, who is there the greatest danger of making into an intermediary? – Moses; because he was the greatest human, greatest prophet and greatest leader of all time. Moses is, therefore, specifically left out of the Haggadah, as an eternal lesson that it is us and G-d, G-d and us. Each person has a direct connection to G-d, we don’t need an intermediary, we don’t want an intermediary, we don’t pray to an intermediary.