Passover once again. We will soon open our Haggadahs and find the familiar prologue stories to the Maggid section of the Seder. And soon we all will wonder, Who was Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah?
Maggid is literally the “telling” of the story of the Exodus from Egypt, the event that we celebrate in our evening of dramatic activity. My teacher Rabbi Soloveitchik always underscored that this is not a mere retelling of a story. The Maggid is an archetypal session of rabbinic Torah study. The major section that we read is a classic rabbinic midrash that expounds upon a few condensed biblical verses. This is the exodus story as told by the rabbis, not by the Torah of Moses. To make the point unmistakably clear, the rabbis go so far as to omit the mention of Moses altogether in the Haggadah.
The rabbis do mention several of their own rabbis by name and top among them is my favorite, Eleazar ben Azariah. He was a second century rabbi in Israel who also held the highest political position in his community.
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