In This Issue:
Rabbi Josh Kahn
Rabbi Chaim Jachter
Seder, a key word when discussing Pesach, means order, a major theme of Pesach night. The Seder is arranged in a very precise, organized way. We begin with Genut, describing our lowly state in Mitzraim, but end with Shevach, praising Hashem for our redemption. Throughout Maggid, we are transformed from slaves into free people; yet, although there is a distinct “order” in our Seder, the eating of Matzah, representing our redemption from Mitzraim, precedes the eating of Marror, which represents our slavery in Mitzraim, which is seemingly out of order. Why does the symbol of freedom come before that of slavery?
Rav Gedalyahu Schorr quoting the Sefat Emet explains how the slavery ultimately served as the preparation for the Geulah. However, during Galut, exile, it is difficult to appreciate how slavery can be connected to redemption. During the darkness of slavery, Bnei Yisrael could not appreciate how this experience was a vital part of the redemption process. Only after the Geulah can we look back at the Galut and see how it ultimately led to Yetziat Mitzraim. For this reason, the Matzah must precede the Marror, illustrating that in hindsight, after the redemption, we understand the slavery.
The idea of a long process that began with our exile and culminated with our redemption is reflected in the obligation at the Seder to begin with Genut and conclude with Shevach. The Seder requires us to unravel the entire chain of events that led up to the redemption because it is all one process. The Brisker Rav, Rav Yitzchak Zev Soloveitchik, explains a similar idea in regards to the paragraph of the Haggadah in which we discuss how Eisav inherited Har Seir. Why is it important for the Haggadah to tell us where Eisav and his family lived? The Brisker Rav explains that Eisav had a chance to inherit Eretz Yisrael; however, he didn’t want to go through the Brit Ben HaBetarim process. Eisav was focused on immediate gratification. (This is beyond the scope of this Devar Torah, but as an example, Eisav traded his birthright for a bowl of soup. There are many other examples.) When Eisav understood that a long process was necessary to inherit Eretz Yisrael, he decided he would rather have Har Seir and move there immediately. The Haggadah describes this decision to illustrate how the slavery was part of the process of redemption, which ultimately brought us to Eretz Yisrael.
Our slavery in Egypt was a necessary part of the formation of Bnei Yisrael. In Egypt, we transformed from a small family to a nation. Rav Mirsky, author of Hegyonei Halacha, uses this idea to explain why part of the Brit Ben HaBeitarim included slavery in Egypt. The covenant with Avraham should have been completely positive. Why should Hashem promise Avraham a punishment? Rav Mirsky explains that the slavery was also a positive experience, which could only be cherished after the event. In hindsight we are able to appreciate how it contributed to our growth as a nation. This idea is seen in practical situations, as we see individuals become a cohesive unit through experiences, which are often challenging. The ability to survive challenges aids people in joining together and emerging unified. There fore, specifically at this point in Jewish history, slavery was necessary.
The length of slavery also created another positive attribute in Bnei Yisrael. The Sochaczever Rebbe, in the Sefer Sheim MiShemuel, explains the necessity of a six month period between the time Moshe first revealed himself to the Jewish people and the ultimate exodus from Egypt. First Moshe whet the Bnei Yisrael’s appetite for the Geulah, but they couldn’t leave yet. They needed to long for the Geulah. The extended period of time created a stronger sense of desire for the Geulah. Bnei Yisrael needed to awaken from their spiritual slumber that slavery in Egypt had created. Therefore, Moshe gave Bnei Yisrael six months to get ready. The Sheim MiShmuel uses this idea to explain the role of Karpas at the Seder. Normally, we do not wait very long between an appetizer and the main course. Why do we have such a long break between Karpas, the appetizer, and the meal? We are given a small window into understanding the Jewish experience of slavery. We have our appetite whet by the Karpas, but nothing follows. We get hungry and begin to understand what it means to develop a real desire, and then we transition into the story of how Bnei Yisrael got a taste of Geulah but had to wait, continually wanting it to come everyday.
These two messages illustrate the important role that slavery played in the ultimate redemption from Egypt. In hindsight, we can appreciate how the slavery experience molded us into a nation, while simultaneously creating within us a passion and yearning for Geulah. These two motifs of the Seder go together; uniting together as one nation yearning for the Geulah. If we are able to come together as Klal Yisrael, we can experience the statement of Chazal, “In Nissan we were redeemed, and in Nissan we will be redeemed!”
Almost every Yom Tov has a special Mitzvah or Mitzvot associated with it. On Rosh HaShanah, we blow the Shofar, and we make a Berachah on this Mitzvah. On Sukkot, we eat in the Sukkah and shake the Arba Minim, and both Mitzvot require a Berachah. On Pesach, one of the main Mitzvot of the Seder night is to talk about Yetziat Mitzraim, to recount how Hashem took us out of Egypt with “an outstretched arm” and many miracles. However, there is no Berachah upon performing this Mitzvah. Why not?
The Avudraham, quoting the Rif, answers that “Zeicher LeYetziat Mitzraim” “A remembrance of the exodus from Egypt” that we say during Kiddush counts as the Berachah on the Mitzvah of Sipur Yetziat Mitzraim. The Avudraham, quoting the Rashba, adds that the Mitzvah of Sipur Yitziat Mitzraim actually can be preformed by saying only one word. Therefore, if we were to say a Berachah, it would itself count as the Mitzvah. If the Berachah counted as the Mitzvah, people might not go into detail and discuss the actual the exodus from Egypt, something Chazal wanted us to discuss. Hence, they did not establish a Berachah on the Mitzvah.
The Orchot Chaim (54) suggests that the Berachot on the Matzah and Maror count as the Berachah for the Mitzvah of telling the story of the exodus. We know that according to some authorities, if a person does not have Matzah or Maror for whatever reason, he is exempt from telling the story (on a biblical level). Ergo, in order to tell the story of the exodus, we need the Matzah and Maror. Thus, the Berachot on Matzah and Maror can count for the resultant Mitzvah of Sipur Yetziat Mitzraim.
Rav Shlomo Klunger adopts a different approach. He asserts that the only Mitzvah of Sipur Yetziat Metzraim is to tell the story. In our Seder, we begin Maggid by saying how our forefathers were idol worshippers and how they went down to Egypt. This is not part of the story, so it does not require a Berachah
Finally, the Sefat Emet offers a beautiful answer. Throughout the Torah, we have many Mitzvot. Some are logical Mitzvot, while others are difficult to understand. The Mitzvot of Shofar, Sukkah, and the Arba Minim are not logical Mitzvot. We do not know “why” these Mitzvot have to be done. However, Mitzvot such as Tzedakah, honoring one’s parents, and the Mitzvah of Sipur Yetziat Mitzraim are all logical Mitzvot. It makes sense to give charity and to honor one’s parents. These kinds of Mitzvot do not require a Berachah. So too the Mitzvah of Sipur Yetziat Mitzraim; it should be obvious that we want to thank Hashem for all of the miracles He performed for us in Egypt and for taking us out. Therefore, we do not make a Berachah on Sipur Yetziat Mitzraim. May we see similar miracles in the near future, thereby heralding the arrival of Mashiach.
We all know that we drink four cups of wine at the Seder. We also know the four famous expressions of Geulah that represent the four cups: “VeHotzeiti,” “VeHitzalti,” “VeGaalti,” and “VeLakachti,” meaning Hashem will bring us out of Egypt, rescue us, redeem us, and take us [to Him as a nation]. But what relevance do these cups have to us?
Besides these four expressions of Geulah, there are many different ways to interpret what the four cups represent. Rashi in Sefer BeMidbar teaches, “The four fringes of the Tzitzit also represent these four expressions of Geulah.” Perhaps we can say that we kiss our Tzitzit during Shema to remember the Yetziat Mitzraim. At the end of Shema, we state that when we wear Tzizit, we should remember Yetziat Mitzraim, evidence that the Torah connects the two.
The Talmud Yerushalmi in Masechet Pesachim presents two other reasons of how the four cups are represented. The first is the four times Paroh’s name is mentioned in the Sar HaMashkim’s dream. The second is the four empires that ruled over the Jewish people and put them into exile. When we were in exile, we kept the Mitzvot, whereupon Hashem took us out of exile.
The Bnei Yissaschar gives another reason, namely, the four things Bnei Yisrael did not change about themselves while in Egypt. They did not change their names, their language, they did not marry anyone forbidden by the Torah, and they didn’t speak Lashon HaRa.
In all of these cases, we were freed from exile using the four Leshonot of Geulah. May we see in our redemption the four Leshonot of Geulah.
On the night of the Seder, the core of Maggid is Chazal’s analysis of the recounting of Yetziat Mitzraim in Sefer Devarim. The Pesukim we read talk about “the declaration over the first fruits.” A farmer would bring his Bikkurim, his first fruits, to the Beit HaMikdash and give it to a Kohen. He would then say these Pesukim which describe the Egyptian exile and subsequent redemption. Out of the many sections in the Torah which describe Yetziat Mitzraim, why do we choose these pesukim as the main point of Maggid?
Rav Mordechai Elon (in his Haggadat Techeilet Mordechai) answers that the Pesukim in Devarim were spoken to the children and grandchildren of the Jews who were enslaved in Egypt. The people who brought Bikkurim and recited these Pesukim did not experience the burden of the Egyptian enslavement. However, the Pesukim are written in first person. The descendants of the Jewish slaves speak as if they themselves experienced the exodus, yet it was actually their ancestors who did so! How can we explain why the Pesukim are in first person? The answer is that when bringing Bikkurim, one is supposed to feel as if he himself lived through the exodus and consider himself a slave in Egypt. When one speaks about the exodus, he should speak as if it happened to him. This is the reason we choose this as our basis for the discussion at the Seder. When recalling the exodus at the Seder, we should not view it as what happened to our ancestors but as what happened to us ourselves.
On Pesach, we have to make the past into the present. Klal Yisrael was born on Pesach as a nation which bounds to the past and can relive previous events, regardless of any changes that have occurred until now, such as the Holocaust. We come to the Seder knowing what happened in the past, to our ancestors, and how it affected us. This is to remind us that whatever we do will have an impact on future generations. May we be Zocheh to perform many Mitzvot and good deeds which will have an impact on the future, and may it be Hashem’s will that soon Mashiach will come BeMeairah BeYameinu, Amen Selah.
The prohibition against eating Chametz is one of the most important Mitzvot listed in the Torah. It is categorized among many other Lo Taasehs, negative commandments, in the Torah which have a punishment of Kareit, being cut off from the nation and Hashem. These include not fulfilling the mitzvah of Brit Milah, circumcising your son, and eating on Yom Kippur.
Chazal ask why the commandment against eating Chametz on Pesach is considered such an important prohibition. Why should one who transgresses this commandment receive the punishment of Kareit? A suggested answer is that there is a double meaning in the prohibition of Chametz. It hints to Am Yisrael the importance of refusing our evil inclination, the Yeitzer HaRa. Chazal (Berachot 17a) say the Yeitzer HaRa is comparable to the “Seor SheBaIsah,” the leavening or yeast in the bread. Bread can be compared to a haughty human being, who gives into the Yeitzer HaRa. This is because he is full of himself just like bread is thick. On the other hand, Matzah can be compared to the modest man, who is flat, and does not boast. This is what we must strive to be like on Pesach.
Another question is raised on this idea. Why is the importance of refraining from our inclination to be haughty stressed on the holiday of Pesach? One possible explanation is that it is because we should not give a glorious lamb for the Korban Pesach; however, there is a deeper explanation. When Bnei Yisrael left Egypt they were leaving into total freedom, without any code of law. Therefore, the prohibition of Chametz and the refusal of the Yeitzer HaRa, more so here than regarding any other holiday, need to be stressed. Why on Shavuot are we commanded to give a Korban with Chametz, the Shetei HaLechem? The reason is because Shavuot celebrates the giving of the Torah. Once we have a set of laws, we are not concerned as much that one will not be able to control the Yeitzer HaRa. Additionally, one cannot fulfill the mitzvah of Matzah without using Matzah made out of grains than can turn into Chametz (Pesachim 35a). Why would this make sense; wouldn’t one want to use grains that could not rise, so one wouldn’t be able to violate the commandment against eating Chametz? This symbolizes that we must stress not to succumb to the Yeitzer HaRa when we are free and alone, highly vulnerable to the Yeitzer HaRa, just as the grains can become Chametz. Hashem is trying to test us on Pesach, as it is said that one who does not eat Chametz on Pesach will be helped in his efforts to not yield to the Yeitzer HaRa the rest of the year.
The Netziv (Shemot 13:3) explains Chametz symbolizes human creativity. We need to avoid this on Pesach because we were alone in the desert without laws, and we must remember Hashem is in charge of everything. That is where Matzah comes into play. Matzah tells us to forget about our human creativity and remember that Hashem is in charge.
We can learn an important lesson from this. During the month of Nissan, Bnei Yisrael were going through a time without rules and could do whatever they wanted, and did not realize Hashem’s power. Now that we are around the corner from summer vacation, we need to make sure we continue going in the right direction, and not let the “Seor SheBaIsah” take control of us. Despite our freedom, we need to always remember Hashem is in charge and not get too caught up with ourselves. If we really internalize this message and stay away from Gaavah, haughtiness, and our drives to sin, we can hopefully bring about the ultimate redemption, BeMeheira BeYameinu.
Ha Lachma Anya – the famous paragraph that opens the Maggid section of the Seder; which reads, “Ha Lachma Anya Di Achlu Avahtana BeAra DeMitzraim Kol DiChephin Yeitei VeYeichul Kol Ditzrich Yeitei VeYifsach…Hashta Avdei LeShanah HaBaah Bnei Chorin,” “This is the bread of affliction which our fathers are in the land of Egypt. Whoever is hungry, let him come and eat… Now we are slaves, next year we shall be free men.” After the first part, which describes the Matzah, or poor man’s bread, that we ate in Egypt, the rest of the paragraph is difficult to understand. “DiChephin” refer to people who are hungry. Rashi explains that the Gemara (Pesachim 99b) prohibited eating after Minchah until the Seder so we should be hungry during the Seder; therefore, everyone, and not just the invited guests, are hungry! Clearly, the paragraph is not dealing with actual hunger for bread. In addition, Ha Lachma Anya was written in Aramaic, the native tongue of Babylonia, where the paragraph was composed. But if we were in Babylonia, how could we offer the Korban Pesach, which was only offered in the Beit HaMikdash in Yerushalayim? Also, we are not slaves, so what does “Hashta Avdei” refer to?
Rav Shlomo Carlebach answers these questions by explaining that the Seder’s purpose is to teach Torah by answering questions. This first sentence is thus an appropriate header for the Seder. Lechem is made up of two things: Mayim and Kemach, both of which represent Torah. The word “Anya” in Hebrew can mean “answer.” Two themes of the Seder, Torah and questions, are communicated in the first sentence. “Dechefchin” are those who are hungry for spirituality because we are “slaves” to Galut’s distractions, and offering the Korban Pesach refers to learning about the Korban Pesach.
This can answer another question: why do we answer both the Rasha and SheEino Yodeiah LiSheol with “BaAvur Zeh Asah Hashem Li BeTzeiti MiMitzraim,” “It is because of this that Hashem did for me when I went out of Egypt?” We want to make both of them ask questions and become more involved in torah and Judaism.
Unfortunately, most Jews are not exposed to the beauty of Torah seen during the Seder. My Rebbe, Rabbi Jachter, taught a Halacha shiur to our class that concluded that it is permitted to invite non-religious Jews to a Seder if you offer them a place to sleep. We must take this lesson to heart and try to spread Torah both to those who are sitting at a Seder table, and to those who are not as fortunate.
The last Pasuk in Parashat Acharei Mot reads, “UShemartem Et Mishmarti LeVilti Asot MeiChukot HaToeivot Asher Naasu Lifneichem VeLo Titameu Bahem Ani Hashem Elokeichem,” “You shall safeguard My charge not to do any of the abominable traditions that were done before you and not contaminate yourselves through them; I am Hashem, your God” (VaYikra 18:30). Chazal derive from this Pasuk the importance of creating a “fence,” certain protective measures, around the Mitzvot so that we do not come to violate them. A question arises: why do we need to create a fence around the Mitzvot? Why can we not just rely on our behavior to steer us away from violating Mitzvot?
There are two ideas that would explain why we need to build a fence around Hashem’s Mitzvot. The first explanation is that the point of the fence is to prevent us from getting into a situation where an Aveirah is an easy option or a way out. As an analogy, if there were a cliff and one wanted to set up a fence to prevent little children from running off the cliff, the fence would not be set up at the edge of the cliff to prevent children from falling off, but rather a few feet away so as to prevent children from even getting close to a situation that would be dangerous. Similarly, with Hashem’s Mitzvot, we must make sure that we are not in a situation that is considered “dangerous.”
Another way to explain why we need a fence for the Mitzvot is that Hashem’s Mitzvot are extremely precious and must therefore be treated with care. Instead of looking at it as a fence, we can look at it is a safeguard to protect the Mitzvot. Just as we would safeguard an extremely expensive and precious piece of jewelry and not leave it out to be broken by a little kid or stolen, we must do the same for the Mitzvot; they are just as precious to us as a rare and expensive piece of jewelry is and since we love them so much we must protect them from our breaking or transgressing of them.
As we embark upon the holiday of Pesach, during which the requirements seem nearly impossible, we must understand that the rabbis, in their great wisdom, have set up a system that ensures the continuation of tradition and the continued success of the Jewish people; we must also realize that fences are a crucial part of our success.
Staff at time of publication:
Editors-in-Chief: Yitzchak Richmond, Doniel Sherman
Executive Editor: Shlomo Klapper
Publication Editors: Yakir Forman, Jeremy Koolyk, Leead Staller
Publishing Manager: David Bodner
Business Manager: Charlie Wollman
Webmasters: Sruli Farkas, Shaul Yaakov Morrison, Michael Rosenthal
Staff: Shimon Berman, Josh Blachorsky, Jonathan Hertzfeld, Elazar Lloyd, Yonah Rossman, Aryeh Stiefel, Daniel Weintraub