Shefokh Chamatekha in Art


At the Seder, immediately before reciting the second part of the Hallel, several verses1 are read which call for Divine revenge on the nations which are the enemies of Israel. The first of these begins with, "Pour out Your wrath upon the nations" ("שְׁפֹךְ חֲמָתְךָ אֶל הַגּוֹיִם"). The three Haggadot shown here, the Washington Haggadah,2 the Sassoon Haggadah,3 and the Mantua Haggadah,4 all illustrate this passage. While both the Washington and Mantua Haggadot share similar iconography and connect "שְׁפֹךְ חֲמָתְךָ" to Messianic times, the Sassoon Haggadah illustrates a more literal reading of the passage, depicting a cup being poured over several figures' heads. The artists' choices suggest both different interpretations of this section of the Haggadah and varying customs related to it.

Contrasting Images

Washington Haggadah

The upper two thirds of the page are devoted to the ornamented "שְׁפֹךְ" and the continuation of the verse, while the bottom contains a rich scene of the coming of Mashiach, or perhaps Eliyahu the Prophet. The harbinger of redemption is depicted carrying an entire family on his ass as he approaches the city. One of the riders lifts a cup in her hand. The others grasp tightly to one another while a child is humorously depicted catching a ride by holding the donkey's tail. In the left foreground, a man stands by his open door, greeting the redeemer with a raised cup.

Sassoon Haggadah

This Haggadah, like the others here, decorates the word "שְׁפֹךְ", in this case with large gold lettering. Here, though, the accompanying illustration surrounds the word "שְׁפֹךְ" rather than being in a separate scene below.5 An angel is depicted pouring a fiery red substance into the cups of several figures, presumably representatives of the nations "who do not know [Hashem]" which are mentioned in the verse.6

Mantua Haggadah

In this Haggadah, next to the verses calling for Hashem to pour out his anger, there is an image of an armored man wielding a spear. As in the Washington Haggadah, under the verses there is a scene of the Mashiach's arrival. Here, he is depicted riding a donkey, while Eliyahu blows a shofar behind him. They approach a gated house but nobody comes out to greet them.

Relationship to the Text of the Haggadah

The artists' choices reflect certain ambiguities in the text of the Haggadah and different possible interpretive stances:

Mashiach or Cups of Wrath

The opening verse of "שְׁפֹךְ חֲמָתְךָ"‎7 calls on Hashem to pour out His wrath on the nations. What, though, does this entail? Both the Mantua and Washington Haggadot illustrate the passage with an image of the arrival of Eliyahu and/or the Mashiach, while the Sassoon Haggadah opts instead to depict a celestial figure pouring a fiery red liquid into cups being held by several people. How is each rendering the passage, and what connection do their illustrations have to Hashem's wrath?

While all three Haggadot appear to understand the verse to be referring to Messianic Era,8 each attempts in its own way to avoid a graphic depiction of the consequences of Hashem's exacting retribution from the heathen nations. The Washington and Mantua Haggadot accomplish this by focusing on the positive and redemptive aspects of Messianic times, portraying merely the redeemer's arrival and ignoring the verse's explicit beseeching of Hashem to avenge His honor by subduing the nations.

In contrast, the Sassoon Haggadah adopts a more subtle approach. It appears to link the "חֵמָה" in our verse to the prophecy in Yirmeyahu 25, where the prophet is instructed to compel the enemy nations to drink a "wine cup of wrath" ("כּוֹס הַיַּיִן הַחֵמָה") which portends their destruction.9 Hashem's "pouring of his wrath upon the nations" thus becomes an image and metaphor, albeit one laden with implications.10

Warring Nations?

In the Mantua Haggadah, the figure representing the evil nations is a warrior dressed in armor and holds a spear. In contrast, in the Sassoon Haggadah, the people of the nations are dressed in regular garb, with no suggestion of any militant motives.11 Is there any significance to this distinction?

It is possible that the Mantua Haggadah is supplying the reason for the vengeance mentioned in the verse; the heathen nations, not only "do not recognize Hashem", but they have also tried to destroy the Nation of Israel. This reasoning is in fact stated explicitly in the very next verse in Tehillim, "כִּי אָכַל אֶת יַעֲקֹב וְאֶת נָוֵהוּ הֵשַׁמּוּ".‎12 The Sassoon Haggadah, on the other hand, may find the reason (of not recognizing God or idolatry) given by the first verse to be sufficient.13

Opening the Door

Although each of the Washington and Mantua Haggadot depict the arrival of the Mashiach, only in the former does a person emerge from his door to greet him, holding a cup of wine. The difference might reflect varying customs regarding the pouring of the "Cup of Eliyahu" and opening the door at this stage of the seder. Although the custom of leaving the door ajar on the evening of the Seder dates to Geonic times, it was not always associated with "שְׁפֹךְ חֲמָתְךָ".‎14 In fact, the Washington Haggadah is one of the earliest sources for the association! Similarly, the Cup of Eliyahu might have originally served a practical function, only later to be associated with the coming of Eliyahu and the passage of "שְׁפֹךְ חֲמָתְךָ".‎15

The Verses

While the Washington Haggadah contains only one verse, from Tehillim 79:6, the Mantua Haggadah adds two more verses, one from Tehillim 69:25 and the other from Eikhah 3:66.16 The differences reflect varying customs as to what is said at this point. The earliest custom seems to have been to say just one verse, but others were added in different communities over the years. The custom of most Ashkenazic communities is to read four verses (Tehillim 79:6-7,17 69:25, and Eikhah 3:66), but some Northern French Haggadot contain as many as twelve.