This Passover, Mark Gottlieb brought with him to the seder the Passover Haggadah Graphic Novel, which presents the classic text in comic-book format. One particular illustration led him to new insights into the Haggadah’s invocation of the prophecy in Genesis 15, where God tells Abraham that his descendants will be slaves in foreign land. Thanks to this volume’s layout, Gottlieb came to appreciate the connection between the citation of this passage and the declaration that “it was not only one man who rose up to destroy us: in every single generation people rise up to destroy us—but the Holy One saves us from their hands.”
[God’s] promise of both oppression and redemption was not merely a one-time occurrence, an oath to Abraham exhausted by the Exodus from Egypt, never to be repeated. No, this was a perennial promise, with elements of painful oppression and beatific salvation, made to the Jewish people for all time. Egypt is not a relic of ancient history, [an] event to be realized at one particular time and place but no more.
What kind of deity can make such a promise, one not only of raw power but of timeless and loving empathy? Surely no god the world had seen before Abraham’s family arrived on the historical scene. At Moses’ first encounter with God on Mount Horeb, there’s no getting around this question: . . . “Behold, when I come to the Children of Israel and say to them, the God of your forefathers has sent me to you, and they say to me, What is His Name?—what shall I say to them?” (Exodus 3:13).
This is God’s answer to Moses’s request: “I Shall Be as I Shall Be. And He said, So Shall you say to the Children of Israel, I Shall Be has sent me to you” (Exodus 3:14). . . . [T]he God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, is not only historical, . . . but insists on His loving relationship with His firstborn child (Exodus 4:22) and, by His identity as a transhistorical Creator, with all His creatures through empathy and engagement, throughout time. As the 11th-century, French exegete Rashi puts it, “The Divine Name ‘I Shall Be’ suggests His relationship to the sufferer, ‘I shall be with them in this sorrow as I shall be with them in other sorrows.’” This is precisely the kind of loving God of compassion and constancy foreshadowed [in Abraham’s prophecy] and annually reconfirmed at seder tables around the world.