Excerpted from ‘The Seder Night: An Exalted Evening’ A Passover Haggadah with a commentary based on the teachings of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik; Edited by Rabbi Menachem D. Genack
In my experiential – not intellectual – memory, two nights stand out as singular, as endowed with a unique and fascinating quality, exalted in their holiness and shining with a dazzling beauty: the night of the Seder and the night of Kol Nidrei. As a child I was fascinated, indeed entranced, by these two clear, moonlit nights, both wrapped in grandeur and majesty. I used to feel stimulated, aroused, inspired; illuminating vision heightened my senses, which were sharpened and liberated from all inhibitions. A strange silence, stillness, peace, quiet, and serenity enveloped me. I surrendered to a stream of inflowing joy and ecstasy.
I can still hear the solemn, sad, nostalgic melody of “YaKNeHaZ ” – the mnemonic acronym for the order of the sections of the Kiddush and Havdalah – which I heard most probably at the age of seven, when my grandfather recited the Kiddush on a Seder night that happened to coincide with the end of the Sabbath. I still remember the finale of the blessing, “ha-mavdil bein kodesh le-kodesh, Who distinguishes between holy and holy.” The melody gradually faded away – or, shall I say, was transposed into another melody, namely, one of silence. As a child, I used to brood for hours over the notion of “ha-mavdil bein kodesh le-kodesh” – two sanctities, one of the Sabbath and the other of the holiday. I liked both, I cherished every spark of holiness; I hated the everyday, the gray, the routine, the workaday dreariness. I always saw in my frail young mother, with her pale face, deeply set eyes, and aristocratic, gentle features, the personification of the Sabbath, of the Princess. I saw the holiday in all its glory represented by one of my uncles, an athlete, tall, dark and handsome. All these memories are at the root of my religious Weltanschauung and experience. Without them, I would miss the ecstasy accompanying religious observance and the depth and sweep of religious meditation and thinking. However naive and childish, these emotions and visions have always been, and still are, the wellspring of my colorful religious life.
On the night of the Exodus, the people met God, had a rendezvous with Him, and made His acquaintance for the first time. On Pesaĥ night, man, free, hopeful, and courageous, enhanced by fulfillment, exalted by his independence, surges forward, expands, grows, ready to accomplish all that is related to his blessedness and freedom. All selfishness renounced, he forgets himself, rising like the mighty river to do, to practice, and to immerse himself in ĥesed.