Where is Moses?

Pesach is approaching very quickly and in about a week we will be sitting around the table eating, drinking, reading, learning, teaching and questioning in fulfillment of the Pesach Seder.

It is fascinating to note that if you look through the Haggadah there is a great personality who was the hero of the Exodus, and he just doesn’t really play a part in the Seder at all.  Moses gets just one, offhand, coincidental mention in the Haggadah. Rabbi Yossi of the Galilee talks about how many plagues hit the Egyptians, and in the course of his discussion he quotes the verse, “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.”  That citation is the only place where Moses is mentioned in the Haggadah, and, in Maimonides’ version of the Haggadah, the second part of the sentence is left out, so that Moses is not mentioned even once in the entire Haggadah! This omission is clearly deliberate and is clearly trying to teach us a fundamental lesson about the Exodus.

One approach is that the Haggadah that we have is the order of the Haggadah which the Jews read in the time of exile. In fact, in the time that there is a Temple in Jerusalem, when the Jews were living in the Land of Israel there was quite a different Haggadah. 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. Component number one is the physical redemption from Egypt, we were not slaves we were not oppressed, we were not in a foreign land – we were taken out of there. There is a second component which 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 anything on a spiritual level and on a moral level. Those are the two components of the freedom from Egypt.

Now 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, since we – and by “we” I mean the Jews living nowadays, since the destruction of the second Temple, we no longer have the benefit of the physical redemption. We have had horrific slavery since the Exodus; we have experienced holocausts, Inquisitions, Crusades, pogroms and wars since then. The physical benefits of the Exodus and the redemption are no longer with us.  So we celebrate primarily the spiritual redemption – the Torah that we have, and the moral free will that is our inheritance.  But these aspects of the redemption were from G-d alone, and Moses was not involved in that side of the redemption. Therefore, we don’t mention Moses, because our main celebration today is our spiritual redemption and not so much our physical redemption.

There is another possible explanation.  The Exodus was not only about freeing us from physical slavery, but it was also about freeing us from the idolatry of the Egyptians.  Maimonides says that the flame of monotheism that was lit by Abraham was almost extinguished when the Jews were in Egypt. We were pagans, we worshiped the Egyptian gods, we had their superstitious and we were terrified by their gods.

Maimonides tells us that the origins of idolatry were not people denying G-d outright, but rather idolatry started with people setting up intermediaries between themselves and G-d. Whether the intermediary was the sun, the moon, nature, a person, a prophet or a priest, it served to disconnect people from a relationship with G-d. Originally people worshipped these intermediaries in order to worship G-d Himself, but matters degenerated and they forgot that they were intermediaries and they started worshipping the intermediaries as gods themselves. Eventually, the intermediaries replaced the whole idea of G-d and then suddenly you had a whole pantheon of gods – of natural forces, of angels, and people lost the connection to G-d.  After the Exodus G-d wanted us to have a direct relationship with Him. We are not allowed to pray to any intermediary, we may not pray to an angel, or to a righteous person, dead or alive.  We only pray to G-d Himself.

Mentioning Moses in the Haggadah is dangerous. Precisely because of his greatness and his pivotal role in the Exodus, there would be a danger of thinking of him as an intermediary between us and G-d.  The Haggadah is about the creation of the direct, intimate relationship between G-d and the Jewish people, and nothing and no one can come between that relationship. Therefore, Moses is deliberately 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 – it’s directly us and G-d.

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