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Night of Belonging

Yonoson Rosenblum

Rav Reuven Leuchter finds a place at the Seder table for an entire generation

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

shiur

 Photos: Lior Mizrachi

Though it's still nearly two weeks before Pesach, I’m feeling better prepared for the Seder than I can ever remember. The reason: I’ve been learning Rav Reuven Leuchter’s newly released English-language translation of his popular Haggadah Living Our History, in preparation for our conversation.

Every year as I approach the Seder, I feel that the dozens of vertlach in my hands are only tangentially related to the Seder night mitzvah of sippur yetzias Mitzrayim — more talking about the telling than the telling itself. Rav Leuchter’s major achievement is, more than anything else, to have presented the Haggadah as Chazal’s concise and powerful relating of the story of galus and geulah.
The ability to be mechadesh even in a text as familiar as the Haggadah undoubtedly derives in part from Rav Leuchter’s long tutelage under Rav Shlomo Wolbe ztz”l. When Rav Wolbe was leaving his position as menahel ruchani of Yeshivas Beer Yaakov to move to Jerusalem in 1981, he received a call from a Swiss-born yungerman named Reuven Leuchter asking Rav Wolbe if he would be willing to continue their rebbi-talmid relationship as chavrusas.
“To my amazement, he said yes,” Rav Leuchter told Mishpacha. For the next 20 years, Rav Leuchter traveled to Rav Wolbe once a week, where they studied Rav Chaim of Volozhin’s Nefesh HaChaim and other works. Rav Leuchter became one of Rav Wolbe’s most prominent disciples and today, he runs numerous mussar vaadim in Israel, trains young rabbanim for careers in outreach, heads a kollel, and is a prolific author.
As we sit at his dining room in the new section of Telshe Stone outside Jerusalem, Rav Leuchter explains what drove him to write a commentary on the Haggadah — the feeling that “we have lost the forest for the trees.”
But didn’t he find it intimidating writing about a text that almost every great figure from the Rishonim until today has addressed, with a dozen or more new Haggados appearing every year?
He stands up and pulls down from the bookshelf a Koren Haggadah with no commentary. “This is the Haggadah I use at the Seder, and my preparation is to study the text over and over again.” He confesses that he has never had any trouble finishing the entire Seder, including Hallel, by chatzos. A visiting married son confirms that, and adds that when he was a kid he was always embarrassed the next morning in shul when everyone was asking, “What time did your Seder finish?”
In Rav Leuchter’s description of his personal Seder preparation, I recognize what he recently described at an Aleinu conference in London as learning “b’oni,” — i.e., without a lot of seforim, but rather by “banging your head against the wall until the words of the text become clear.”
Rav Leuchter insists that the power of his Seder is increased by its comparative brevity. “In most families, the rest of the year the father speaks and the children listen, while on Seder night, the children all share what they have learned and the father listens. By me, though, it’s the exact opposite. I’m conscious of fulfilling the mitzvah of “Vehigadeta l’vincha” — of telling over the story of the Exodus. Of course, one has to be careful to shape the story in a way that is appropriate to every age level, and to encourage the children to ask. But at the end of our Seder, everybody is still awake and entranced — from seven to 87.”

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