What is a Haggadah ?
A Haggadah - also transliterated from Hebrew as - Hagadah, Haggada, Haggaddah, Haggadda, Hagaddah, Hagadda, and Hagada - is the "instruction manual" for properly performing the Seder, the festive meal that is the highlight of the Passover or Pesach festival. Haggadah means either "telling" or "narration" in Hebrew, and this refers to the fact that the central theme of the Haggadah is to tell or narrate the story of the Hebrews' Exodus from Egypt.
What is the purpose of the Haggadah and significance of the Haggadah ?
The Haggadah's purpose is to provide a guide to how the Seder is conducted. In fact, each section of the Haggadah has a single name in Hebrew that was carefully chosen by the ancient rabbis so as to make it easier for a person to recall the sections of the Haggadah should that person not have a written copy of the rituals to properly perform the Seder according to Jewish law. In other words, all the names of the sections of the Haggadah are arranged into a musical-type mnemonic for easy recall.
How is the Haggadah arranged? The Haggadah consists of 15 rabbinically prescribed and ordered steps or sections that must be performed in their proper order, with each step being titled by a Hebrew word that, as mentioned, was carefully selected for easy recall in relation to all the other word titles for each step, resulting in a musical-type mnemonic. Although the 15 Steps of the Haggadah are generally performed in the same order for all Jewish people, within each step there are various rituals where the order in which they are performed can vary slightly depending on the custom one follows, be it the Ashkenazi, Sephardi, or Mizrahi rite or custom [Ashkenazi Jews are descended from Central, Northwestern, and/or Eastern European Jews. "Ashkenazi" means "German" in Hebrew, referring to Germany, the country where this Jewish religious rite originated; Sephardi Jews are descended from Spanish and/or Portuguese Jews. "Sephardi" means "Spanish" in Hebrew, referring to the country where this Jewish religious rite originated; Mizrahi Jews are descended from Middle Eastern Jews and Jews who first settled in North Africa (known as "Edot Ha-Mizrachim", meaning "Communities of the East" in Hebrew) before the Sephardi Jews migrated there after 1492 and 1497 respectively following the Inquisitions in Spain and Portugal, as well as Central Asian Jews. Yemenite Jews are sometimes included in this group, but are often classified as a separate Jewish group altogether, with their own unique customs. "Mizrahi" means "Eastern" in Hebrew, referring to the Jews of the Middle East as well as Jews living east of Israel in general].
The significance of the Haggadah is rooted in it being a special tool of education which teaches the adult generation how to transmit the story and messages of Passover/Pesach to their succeeding generation of children according to the personality type of their child, and to teach them as soon as possible for "if the son does not know what to say, his father teaches him what to ask" (Talmud, Mishnah, Pesachim 10:4). For all participants at the Seder table, the significance of the Haggadah is that these 15 steps and their rituals make the participants at the Seder aware that they are moving from a position of slavery - the past - to the position of the present, political and physical freedom for those who have attained it - and finally, to the future, in Messianic times, when all humanity will have attained complete political and physical freedom as well as spiritual freedom and universal peace. At the same time, another purpose of the Haggadah is to link all previous generations of Jews and their forebears, the Hebrews, to our generation by connecting us to our Jewish and Hebrew ancestors in our daily lives by stressing that we must envision as if we ourselves had participated in the Exodus from Egypt, and so one must be constantly aware in one's daily life that since "I myself was once a slave in Egypt", then I must empathize with and work toward achieving physical and political freedom for those still living under oppression. In other words, the primary message of the Haggadah is that one is always looking to improve the world by enhancing oneself physically, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually while actively seeking to enhance the lives of others in these areas as well with the ultimate purpose of bringing on Messianic times as soon as possible. This can be achieved with the help of G-d - by internally focusing and listening quietly to the internal messages that G-d tells you for any given situation. In conclusion, the purpose of the Haggadah is to show that, like the Hebrews who listened and followed G-ds' will for them to leave their physical, political, and spiritual slavery in Egypt to eventually attain their physical, political, and spiritual freedom out of Egypt, in every generation, each individual and group - whether Jewish or from other faiths - has the potential to reach those same goals.
The Haggadah has had a long and storied history. From its earliest time as a tool created by the ancient rabbis to ensure the continuity of the Passover or Pesach traditions of Judaism among the Jewish people after the Romans had taken control of Judea in 63 B.C.E., to the establishment of the Haggadah as a separate book, to the invention of printing and the creation of stylized Haggadot or Haggadahs that reflected the period of time in which they were created, to the creation of contemporary Haggadot or Haggadahs that reflected the political, social, and/or religious streams of Judaism that a Jewish person follows in order to interpret the story of Pesach or Passover in as many ways as possible so as to spread the timeless messages of the Passover or Pesach festival to as many people as possible so that they, too can learn from the experiences of the Hebrews in the Exodus from Egypt story, the Haggadah has survived and thrived to become the ever-reminding beacon of freedom and hope in Judaism, and an inspiration to all humanity.
To view a chronology of the Haggadah, just click on the following link: Haggadah Chronology - Timeline.