A good friend, who is unjustly incarcerated in FCI Petersburg, told me about his insights. An Orthodox rabbi conducted the seder for the Jewish inmates, and he asked about a particularly harsh passage that deals with asking G-d to destroy our enemies. He was referring to the passage known as "Sh'foch chamatcha," "Pour out your fury on the nations that do not know you," which is recited in the traditional Haggadah toward the end of the seder. Here is the full passage:
Pour out your fury on the nations that do not know you, upon the kingdoms that do not invoke your name, for they have devoured Jacob and desolated his home.
Pour out your wrath on them; may your blazing anger overtake them. Pursue them in wrath and destroy them from under the heavens of the Lord!"
My friend Gons expressed his view that it was quite negative in tone and that it was difficult for him to identify with it. The rabbi, in turn, explained that this was a late addition to the Haggadah, and it was not until the bloody crusades and several massacres of Jewish communities that these verses of Divine wrath were added to the Haggadah.
Seeing things in historical context certainly helps to understand them. Still, my friend said, he would have chosen a more positive and uplifting message for the present and future.
Indeed, there is an alternate text, and instead of "Pour Out Your Fury" starts with the words "Pour Out Your Love" ("Sh'foch ahavatcha.") It keeps to the same rythmic and poetic style, but it highlights love and peace rather than wrath and destruction. This passage was found in a medieval Haggadah from 1521 attributed to the descendants of Rashi, and it's printed in the Family Participation Haggadah published by Noam Zion and David Dishon (Shalom Hartman Institute, 1997):
Pour out your love on the nations who have known you and on the kingdoms who call upon your name. For they show loving-kindness to the seed of Jacob and they defend your people Israel from those who would devour them alive.
May they live to see the sukkah of peace spread over your chosen ones and to participate in the joy of your nations.
During the Holocaust, many non-Jews acted heroically to save Jews, sometimes at a great risk to their own lives. On Rosh Hashanah 1943, for example, the Germans planned a secret round up of all the Jews in Denmark. But the Danish underground spirited away almost all of the 8,000 Danish Jews the night before. They crossed the sea in little boats to neutral Sweden. These acts of bravery and solidarity are what we should remember while saying "Pour Out Your Love."
It's up to us whether to regurgitate texts that were written for a different era or, in the true spirit of the Haggadah, engage in discovering and adding new texts to highlight the values we cherish.
And a question for comments: What other parts of the Haggadah would you delete or edit, and what passages would you add to the Haggadah?