The Royal Table: A Passover Haggadah
How is it that an elder statesman of the Jewish community, a man with wide-ranging responsibility in a massive organization he helped build, can find the time to write a beautifully flowing commentary on the Haggadah that combines exquisite language, brilliant insights and powerful messages? Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm, chancellor of Yeshiva University, has a schedule packed full of meetings with a Who’s Who in the Jewish world. As not only a leader of his university but also the doyen of Jewish scholars, he is a man in constant motion. Yet, despite this, he has many books all-but-written. These are not books that Rabbi Lamm has authored in the conventional manner, but are in the form of a vast repository of magnificent sermons that he delivered over the course of a rabbinic career that has spanned more than half a century.
Over his long and illustrious career, Rabbi Lamm has developed the wellearned reputation of being an expert darshan, a sermonizer par excellence. If darshanut were a tournament event like chess, Rabbi Lamm would be titled a grandmaster. Each of his carefully crafted speeches is a tour de force of homiletics. Rabbi Lamm dissects Biblical and rabbinic passages, offering brilliant interpretations and applications that make the wisdom of the Torah directly relevant to our communal priorities and personal lives. You don’t sleep during one of his sermons. You dream; you soar; you feel uplifted and inspired. A rabbi and administrator of Rabbi Lamm’s caliber keeps careful files. But a man as busy as he rarely has time to consult those files, let alone prepare them for publication. Two years ago, Yeshiva University unveiled its Lamm Archives, part of the Lamm Heritage project. The Lamm Archives is an online database containing over 800 of Rabbi Lamm’s sermons from 1951 through 2004, scanned in unedited and in their original typed or handwritten format. This is a treasure trove for researchers interested in the history of mid-to-late twentieth century American Judaism. It is also the main source for a new project to select sermons by topic and, after a careful editorial process, publish them as themed books.
The first book in this projected series is The Royal Table: A Passover Haggadah, edited by Dr. Joel B. Wolowelsky, who pored through the Lamm Archives and selected Rabbi Lamm’s most original insights on the Haggadah and on Pesach. His main difficulty was making the painful decisions of what to exclude, given the space limitations that inhere when creating a usable Haggadah. Throughout Rabbi Lamm’s long career, he may have given differing interpretations to certain passages and usually only one could be included in the commentary.
Dr. Wolowelsky’s guiding principle was to include insights that continue to speak to contemporary readers. After Dr. Wolowelsky’s yeoman effort in selecting, editing and adapting the sermons, turning them into a Haggadah commentary, Rabbi Lamm carefully reviewed the manuscript. Not only did he make changes to his original essays, he added significant new material so that the commentary stretches across the decades, combining new and old into a unified whole. The final touch was a supplement of essays on Shir HaShirim, newly revised sermons that develop contemporary themes from this Biblical book traditionally appended to the Haggadah. The OU Press team, led by General Editor Rabbi Menachem Genack, shepherded this process along and arranged for a beautiful layout of the page and an exceptional cover for the book. The extraordinary Haggadah that emerged from this combined effort is a fitting testament to Rabbi Lamm’s visionary rabbinic leadership and stands to be a major contribution to Torah literature.