Myself and Not Through a Messenger
Judaism has always deemed a differentiated an approach a desideratum, long beforethe modern pedagogical establishment, however belatedly, recognized its indispensability.The Proverbist's dicta, 'educate the child according to his own path'
has served as a clarioncall to Jewish educators for some three millennia. Thus, the emphasis placed on a differenti-ated approach in the Haggadah is best understood not as a strategic departure from the con-ventional
, but an intensification of the generally advocated approach, giventhe heightened stakes of the Passover experience.Maimonides, following in the wake of the Mishnah's mandate, 'according to the intel-lectual capacity of the child, the father must teach'
prescribes a substantially different mes-sage for children of differing capacities. Perhaps most notably, Maimonides, in his instruc-tions for communicating with a child of limited capacity, omits any mention of the role whichMoses played during the Exodus, or its immediate aftermath. In contradistinction, Mai-monides mandates the father, in teaching the mature child, to 'inform what happened to us inEgypt, and the miracles which were wrought on our behalf through Moses our teacher.'
Mai-monides does not specify which miracles, performed through Moses' agency, ought to becommunicated.The Rav argued that what Maimonides had in mind was actually a series of miracleswhich happened subsequent to the Exodus itself, in the context surrounding the covenantalmoment at Sinai. Given that the question posed by the cognitively advanced child pertainedto the normative content of mitzvot, it would stand to reason, the Rav argued, that part of thefather's educational responsibility on Seder night would be to mention the source of thecovenantal norm in Sinaitic revelation, and the role which Moses played in that context.
For a number of reasons, it seems to me that this interpretation is not correct. First, if what Maimonides had in mind was the giving of the Torah at Sinai, he ought to have stated in plainly. Moreover, even if Maimonides is referencing Sinai in an oblique fashion, one wouldhave hardly have described that experience through referencing 'miracles' wrought throughMoses' agency.' Finally, the plain reading of the passage from Maimonides indicates that themiracles being referenced indeed took place in Egypt itself, in as much as it is attached to the previous clause, 'what happened to us in Egypt'. What, then, did Maimonides have in mind,and why did he restrict its communication to the cognitively developed child, the chacham?Perhaps the answer is quite simple. The miracles which Maimonides had in mind are precisely what one would have expected, those performed in the context of the Exodus itself.However, the reason that Maimonides directs the father to mention the agency of Moses onlyto the intellectually mature child, and not to the simple child, has to do with confusion of theultimate source of power, Almighty God, and his earthly agent, Moses. Only a developedchild can appreciate that what meets the eye, a human being with staff in hand seemingly di-recting supernatural events, is profoundly misleading. The potential theological cost of con-fusing a child with the idea that Moses was acting independently, through his own power, athis own behest, is far too steep a price to pay on the night when we try to communicate, firstto ourselves, and subsequently, to our children, the intimacy and the direct nature of the sa-cred bond we share with Almighty.
For the sake of this message, the single most important educational theme of Passover, we are prepared to sacrifice another cherished Jewish ideal, gratitude and attribu-tion of the heroic acts of human beings in service of God. Knowing Moses, humblest of all
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