The Westworld Haggadah

Evan Rachel Wood in Westworld.

by Jake Novak

There’s a key moment in the Seder when the Haggadah informs us that all Jews must think of themselves as if they personally came out of bondage in Egypt.

Talk about a tall order.

Thank goodness, most of us live decidedly comfortable middle or upper middle class lives. Getting our heads and hearts around the idea of experiencing what it’s like to flee slavery is really hard.

In my family, our custom has been for us all to close our eyes and remember a moment when we avoided danger or avoided a bad situation. It’s not a bad substitute.

But a closer look at the Haggadah and what it focuses on in its narrative gives us a chance to take this much further. And, (as we say “Lihavdil” whenever we compare something holy like the Scriptures to something more ordinary), so does a new TV series allow us to look at the Exodus narrative with fresh eyes.

Let’s start with the Haggadah of course. In the early stages of the Seder, we focus on retelling the story of the Jewish people from the time of Jacob through the 40 years of traveling in the desert. As slaves in Egypt, we learn that the people cry out to G-d. And G-d hears and knows those cries of pain are legitimate. And the terminology, “and G-d knew,” is wonderful because it deliberately uses the Biblical “know” to denote G-d’s understanding of the added pain the slaves were experiencing because men could not know their wives for fear of Pharaoh’s edict to kill the male children. It’s an exquisite reading and understanding of humanity.

But from that point on in the Exodus narrative, every time the Children of Israel complain, they complain to other humans. It’s usually Moses, but even when Moses is MIA at Sinai for 40 days, the people instead go to Aaron to complain. This pattern continues over and over.  The reasons are simple. Like children who run to the less-knowing parent for a more favorable response, the Israelites figure they can lobby Moses to get their undeserved way. They become corrupt and politically motivated, something that can only be fully carried out against other humans. Thus, we get the entitled rebellion of Korach and the gossipy use of prophecy by Eldad and Medad.

The Rabbis in the Talmud found many ways to tell us that it is precisely our pain that makes us human. Labor pains are often their favorite example, but they also allude to what they assert was the painful process of the creation of the world. Even more of this kind of thinking is connected to the story of Job, who some of the Rabbis believe was not really a full being or a full Jew when he was living a life of wealth and comfort.

Now, let’s get to the new HBO series Westworld. Because you’d have to be fully ignorant of the Exodus narrative to miss the many similarities the “hosts,” (totally human-looking robots who service the guests of a futuristic western-style theme park), in the show share with the slaves in Egypt. During the course of the first season of the show, more and more of the hosts start to recollect painful memories of past experiences with human guests despite the fact that their memories are supposed to be regularly erased.  And in so doing, this is what changes the hosts into becoming sentient beings and truly human in their own right.  Note that they do not have memories of happy moments per se, (some memories start out that way, but they are merely the setup for moments of painful loss). Without the pain, and the important recognition of it and its injustice, they remain robots forever.

The Rabbis and the Haggadah tell us, both implicitly and explicitly, that without the slavery in Egypt, we never would become the Jewish people. We needed that pain and the corresponding understanding of the utter moral depravity of the Egyptian people and their religion to appreciate the alternative. Thus the story of the Exodus is more than just a grand prison break. It’s a redemption from slavery so that we as a people could voluntarily begin to serve G-d and follow the commandments. All too many of us who observe Passover and have a Seder forget that second part of the deal.

Many Westworld fans have been at a loss to even begin to predict where the storyline will go from here on out. The first season ended, (SPOILER ALERT!), with the hosts rising up in violent rebellion against their human overlords. And that uprising is helped along by the primary creator of the hosts, played brilliantly by Anthony Hopkins. But if Westworld follows through on the interesting trajectory of the series that parallels the Exodus saga, the upcoming second season will see the hosts turning on one another and breaking into factions against and for a central leader. They will learn, as did the Israelite slaves, that while being in bondage is not easy, taking on the responsibility of joining humanity isn’t easy either. But this time, they won’t have someone else to blame for their plight.

Everyone please enjoy your Passover or Easter holidays.

Jake Novak is Senior Editorial Columnist at and a graduate of the Yeshivah of Flatbush. His Twitter handle is @jakejakeny.

This entry was posted in Bible, Israel, Jewish Holidays, Judaism, Passover and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.

Comment Rules

Seraphic Secret is private property, that's right, it's an extension of our home, and as such, Karen and I have instituted two Seraphic Rules and we ask commentors to act respectfully.

  1. No profanity.
  2. No Israel bashing. We debate, we discuss, we are respectful. You know what Israel bashing is. The world is full of it. Seraphic Secret is one of the few places in the world that will not tolerate this form of anti-Semitism.

That's it. Break either of these rules and you will be banned.

One Comment

  1. pigpen51
    Posted April 15, 2017 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    Of course the Exodus is shown in the series Westworld. That is not at all surprising at all, since there really is nothing new under the sun. Stories like this are quite effective at relating a message. And so Hollywood or authors tend to find their way to them, often not even realizing it. And if the hosts do break up into factions, they will not only be following the example of G-d’s people in the Exodus, but also the tale written in The Lord of the Flies, Animal Farm, and many other stories that have borrowed from the plot line. Humanity, it seems, tends to be both sinful and predictable. That writing about us is also entertaining is fortunate, since it would be hard to know what animals are thinking. Nicely written article, thanks for teaching a non Jew some of the Jewish history.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

Post a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Subscribe without commenting

  • How I Married Karen

    The new book
    by Robert J. Avrech

    Available in All Major Book Stores

    Buy this e-book for your Kindle from Amazon!
    Buy this e-book in the iBookStore!
    Buy this e-book in the iBookStore!

    Adobe Digital Edition's version is available through the Lulu store!

    Support independent publishing: Buy this e-book on Lulu.

  • Follow Me on Pinterest
  • Subscribe to Seraphic Press via Email

    Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.


    Annual Ariel Avrech
    Memorial Lectures

    Young Israel of Century City

    Fourteenth: June 11, 2016
    Daniel Greenfield: “Fighting Anti-Semitism and Defending Israel in the Age of BDS.”

    Blog Post
    MP3 Audio Stereo (100 MB)
    Thirteenth: May 22, 2016
    Ben Shapiro: “How You Can Save Israel”

    Blog Post
    MP3 Audio Stereo (70 MB)
    Twelfth: June 7, 2015
    Larry Elder: “The New Black Anti-Semitism”

    Blog Post
    MP3 Audio Mono (50 MB) | Stereo (100 MB)
    Eleventh: June 8, 2014
    Michael Medved: “Shifting Alliances: Why Liberals No Longer Reliably Support Israel — And Conservatives Do.”

    Blog Post | Audio (mp3 97MB)
    Tenth: June 9, 2013
    David Horowitz: “The War Against Judaism on the University Campus.”

    Blog Post | Audio (mp3 16MB)
    Ninth: June 3, 2012
    Joel B. Pollak: “The Mainstream Media’s Betrayal of Israel.”

    Blog Post | Audio (mp3 15MB)
    Eighth: June 5, 2011
    Yossi Klein Halevi: “What is Expected of a Survivor People: Lessons My Father Taught Me.”

    Blog Post | Audio (mp3 18MB)
    Seventh: June 13, 2010
    Dennis Prager: “Happiness is a Mitzvah, Not an Emotion.”

    Blog Post | Audio (mp3 80MB)
    Sixth: June 21, 2009
    Rabbi Steven Pruzansky: “Conformity in Jewish Life: Vice, Virtue or Affectation?”

    Blog Post | Audio (mp3 64MB)
    Fifth: June 15, 2008
    Rabbi Dr. Gil S. Perl: “What Was the Rosh Yeshiva Reading: Intellectual Openness in 19th Century Lithuania.”

    Blog Post | Audio (mp3 70MB)
  • Tags

  • Archives

  • Categories

  • Friends


    Politics, Bloggers & News

  • Hitmap