Pour Out Thy Wrath. . .

I was totally dismayed when I read on the first day of chol ha-mo’ed Pesach, an article entitled Offensive Liturgy in the Passover Seder: Take It Out, by Joshua Stanton.

In the article he described his personal seder and highlighted a passage in the Haggadah which he termed “offensive,” and at which (he wrote) the Jewish guests winced. He made a point to say that the non-Jewish guests were not the ones who were offended, but that the Jewish participants cringed at reading those words. And then, he proposed removing this “offensive” passage from the Haggadah entirely.

What is this special paragraph, and why was it considered so offensive? This behooves a little historical background: the Haggadah* which has the order of the Seder* and is read on Seder night, was codified into booklet form around the thirteenth century. Before then, it had been appended to the Hebrew prayer book, the siddur. It itself dates back to the period of the Tannaim, who compiled the Mishna part of the Talmud, around 170 C.E. It is mentioned by Rabban Gamliel who was the head of the Sanhedrin* at the time. In the eighth to the tenth century, the Haggadah was formulated to a similar version to what it is today.

The Haggadah relates the story of the humble background of the Jewish people, their period of slavery in Egypt and how G-d through Moshe Rabeinu* slowly formed the Israelites into a nation, first through His miracles, signs and wonders which caused the Egyptians to finally release them, only to pursue them into the split waters of the Reed Sea (almost always mistranslated as “Red Sea”) and come to their deaths as the waters returned, crashing down upon them and drowning them all except for their Pharoah, who was on the Egyptian side, watching (as opposed to modern Israeli officers, true leaders who lead their troops into battle, and whose famous motto was “aharai” – ‘after me’).

We are supposed to read and discuss the Haggadah with the mindset that this is our story, not just our ancestors’ – we need to feel as if this is happening to us, today: that we ourselves were slaves and are now free men and women, and show gratitude to Hashem.

We even show, in the ritual of reading the ten plagues, a little sadness, by removing a drop of wine from our cup with our little finger, one drop for each plague read out loud in the liturgy. Wine symbolizes joy and happiness, and by removing ten drops, we remove some of our happiness, because even though the Egyptians were our enemies and slave-masters, they were G-d’s creations too, and we regret that Ribono shel Olam* had to destroy them. What other people ever shows that kind of understanding and empathy for an enemy in their liturgy?

The controversial passage was added in the Middle Ages at a time of great persecution during the Crusades, and after centuries of other nations and later the world's "great" religions--the Greeks, Romans, Christians and later Muslims—forcing Jews to convert upon penalty of death, blaming Jews for economic ills, perpetrating blood libels accusing Jews of murdering Christian children in order to use their blood in baking matzah, and then going on pogroms murdering the Jews for this heinous lie.

The passage, “Shfoch Hamatcha,” or “Pour out Your wrath” was a verbal response to these atrocities and heinous crimes. It can be translated thus:
Pour out Your wrath upon the nations that do not acknowledge You, and upon the kingdoms that do not call upon Your Name. For they have devoured Jacob and laid waste his habitation. Pour out Your indignation upon them, and let the wrath of Your anger overtake them. Pursue them with anger, and destroy them from beneath the heavens of the L-rd.
Did the Jewish people retaliate? Could the Jewish people defend themselves? They had every right to, for at least 2,000 years of frequent brutal persecution. But they didn’t. They didn’t have a country. They didn’t have an army. All they had was an unshaken faith in the G-d who “chose” them to be His people. And they turned to Him to protect them and avenge their persecution.

Why are we ashamed of this? We are ashamed because of a lingering “ghetto mentality.” Because, in our touchy-feely-goody world of nicey-nicey where it is politically incorrect to tell the truth and call evil by its rightful name, this passage doesn’t ‘fit.’ It is blunt. It is biting. It is angry.

And it is right.

We are not the ones who should be ashamed. Those other nations and religions, some of whom perpetrated these terrible crimes, and the others who stood by and looked the other way—they are the ones who should be ashamed.

Finally, for the first time in 2,000 years of exile, we have our country back--you know the one: the one promised to us in the Bible by G-d.

It is a Jewish country, and should remain so. We rule it. We have an incredible army, strong, yet ethical. On the eve of Holocaust remembrance day (should we forget that, too?), it is very appropriate to cite this passage in the Haggadah which we have just read so recently. To emphasize, "Never Again."

We, with G-d’s help, will never allow the destruction of our people to happen again.

The passage should stay.

*Haggadah: comes from the Hebrew verb “le-haggid,” to narrate.
*Seder: Hebrew word meaning “order”.
*Sanhedrin: the Jewish legislative body in Jerusalem
*Moshe Rabeinu: Moses our Teacher

*Ribono shel Olam: Master of the Universe


Aunt Laya said…
Did you send a link to this article to the guy who wrote the post about being offended?

Yasher Koach LadyLight!!!
Norma said…
Amen! Great post.
Batya said…
good post
l'havdil all these pc editings, remind me of those who tell me that the lognest lasting shiur here, our women's on Shabbat is at a bad time. Obviously it's a good time, since for over 28 years we've been having it.
Lady-Light said…
Aunt Laya: Good idea. I just did, on his article and on Twitter. Turns out he's a 'rabbinical student' at Hebrew Union College. Figures.

Norma: I do not offend for the sake of offending. I just tell the truth, as blunt as it might be. Guess I'm just "Israeli" that way (and getting worse as I age)!
Thank you for continuing to be a reader...

Batya: It's always a 'bad time' to write anything, to learn anything, to tell the truth, right?
But why do 'those' (who are "those", anyway?) say your shiur is at a bad time?
Reb Mordechai said…
I remember something similer about 10 years ago. The BBC World Service radio gives religious leaders from the UK a special slot to make a serman to the Commonwealth. They invited a Reform Rabbi, a Mrs Somebody to speak about Purim. She proceeded to explain that she had banned Purim in her congregation because it was celebrating the deaths of Persians. This cruel and primitive festival should be stopped she argued.

Lady-Light said…
Reb Mordechai: I was reminded by reading Sara K. Eisen's blog that the concept of gloating over an enemy's death is not a Jewish concept. See Mishlei 24:17.

That Reform "Rabbi" lady did not understand the story of Purim. Nor probably the whole history of the Jewish people.

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