Thursday, April 14, 2011

Spark Notes For The Hagaddah

The Kol HaMarbeh Haggadah

By Rabbi Neil Fleischmann

© 2011 - 5771

Introduction: On The Books

(THOUGHT) The Haggadah is a book. The Seder night is a major time in the Jewish calendar and it features a book. This indicates that reading is key to serious thinking. Do people today, particularly members of Western society value reading? It seems to me that contemporary man does not read enough books or value reading books enough.

(QUOTE) Rabbi Nachman Kahane observes that a Jewish home is traditionally full of books, because that's a major Jewish value. Decorating the house with sefarim (books) is appropriate, even if they aren't learned in full. And according to many authorities buying holy books is a fulfillment of the obligation of writing a Torah scroll.

(STORY) A woman was walking her young stroller aged son. They passed by a building which she pointed to.

"That's a library", she said, "We'll go there sometime".

"Library." What's a library? he asked.

"That's a place where you borrow books", she explained.

"Borrow books? You mean buy books," her son replied, confused.

"No, no", she assured him, "you go there and take the books out to read and then bring them back when you're finished". He looked at her, confused, and she was at a loss, wondering how to successfully explain this. After a moment's pause she said, "Like DVDs", she said.

"Oh", he immediately replied, "That sounds nice, let's go one day".

Karen G. R. Roekard writes in her essay THE EVOLUTION OF THE PASSOVER HAGGADAH: “If a measure of Jewish affection for a book were to rest with the number of versions there are of it, then clearly the Passover Haggadah is the most popular Jewish book of all time. In the 16th century there were approximately 25 printed versions. This figure rose to 37 in the 17th century and then jumped to 230 versions in the 18th century. In the 19th century the numbers rose by another 1250 and estimates for the 20th century are that there are now over 3000 versions of haggadah.”

[(Extra Credit Question) Can you name the Jewish book that holds second place for most published versions?]

Main Body: The Haggadah

Kadesh U’Rechatz, Karpas

(THOUGHT) Rabbi Shlomo Kahn in Dawn suggests that when we contemplate kadesh and rechatz (holiness and the preparation it entails) we should seriously consider the karpas (vegetable). A vegetable starts out buried and down trodden. In time it evolves into a beautiful food that finds its place at a beautifully set table as part of a mitzvah. These words can serve to remind us of the development we are all capable of achieving by making the right efforts in advance.

Kadesh – (QUOTE) (From Rabbi Abraham Twerski's From Bondage to Freedom) "There are people who approach the royal Seder table with no advance spiritual preparation. They may think, ‘I don't really belong here. If anyone knew the real me I certainly wouldn't be invited.’ Therefore, we begin the Seder with the Kiddush, in which we state ‘Mikadesh Yisrael,’ that G-d sanctifies each Jew. There is an element of intrinsic sanctity in every individual. Even though we may not feel worthy and deserving at this point, we have to take G-d's word for it. Each person is holy, sanctified, and unique."
(THOUGHT) The Torah Temimah stresses that the four cups of wine that we are obligated to drink at the seder represent not four synonyms for redemption, but four separate redemptions. Each step along the way formed its own redemption, leading to the next level. That redemption is a process is an important life lesson.

(THOUGHT) Wine is used to represent the four stages of freedom that comprised the process of redemption because wine represents change. Wine comes about through a transformation and affects us by changing our state of being.

U’Rechatz - Hand washing for eating a wet vegetable, a halachic hand washing (Pesachim 115a).

(THOUGHT) If we were to stretch ourselves up as high as we could in the upright position which is unique to man, we would lift our hands up toward the sky. Thus, hands are the top, starting point, of man. One reason for hand washing is to accentuate our holiness by according proper respect to our starting point which everything else follows. If one neglects the starting point it's a sign of neglect of the whole. This is why the Rabbis severely chastise one who is neglectful regarding the mitzvah of netilat yadayim (saying that one who neglects this mitzvah will be uprooted from the world). On Pesach night, the night of the formation of the Jewish People, we give particular care to hand washing, which acknowledges the special respect due the beginning of any special thing. [MaHaRaL].

(THOUGHT) Some point out that this washing is phrased as a command (Rechatz; “You must wash”), as opposed to the later washing which is described passively. Washing at this point is unusual and therefore we need to be instructed to observe it. The later washing is well known and therefore referred to simply as rachtzah; the washing.

Karpas - Vegetable dipped in saltwater.

(THOUGHT) The saltwater reminds us of our sweat and tears in Mitzrayim. A vegetable is eaten in order to cause kids to be interested. We try to evoke questions from children because if there are no questions there can be no answers. To increase the curiosity factor it was the custom of Rabbi Pinchas Teitz to use a banana for karpas! (He also did this in order to reinforce the fact that the brachah on a banana is borei pri ha’adamah even though it grows on a tree because the tree does not last from year to year).

(HALACHA) Halachic authorities point out to have in mind the maror when saying the brachah on the karpas. Why is this necessary, given that the maror comes after we said hamotzi, and should be covered as part of the meal? The Aruch HaShulchan explains that since the maror is eaten as the fulfillment of a specific mitzvah it does not count as a real part of the meal.

Yachatz -

(THOUGHT) The Best To Come

It is customary to save for the afikoman the bigger half of the matzah that is broken in two. The Sfat Emet says that the piece of matzah that is put away as the afikoman represents the redemption (geulah) yet to come. The bigger piece is put aside for the end of the Seder because the Geulah to come will be bigger than the one that we celebrate on Pesach.

Brachot 12b quotes from Yirmiyahu (23:7-8): “Days are coming when people will no longer swear ‘as G-d lives who brought the children of Israel up from the land of Egypt,’ but rather, ‘as G-d lives who brought up and brought back the offspring of the House of Israel from the land of the North and from all the lands wherein He had dispersed them.’”

According to the Chachomim even though the pasuk in Yirmiyahu seems to say that Yetziat Mitzrayim will no longer be remembered after kibutz galuyot – the return of the exiles, it actually means that the future geulah will be so great that it will be the one we primarily remember, but Yetziat Mitzrayim will still be remembered as well. This fits with the explanation of the Chachomim that the command to remember Yetziat Mitzrayim “all the days of our life,” includes an obligation to verbally remember Yetziat Mitzrayim even in Yemot HaMashiach; While Mitzrayim will be recalled, the geulah of moshiach will be the one primarily remembered.

The Gemorah uses Yaakov to prove that when a pasuk states that something will no longer be said it really means that it will no longer be the primary point mentioned and not that it won’t be referred to at all. Yaakov is told by Hashem that he will no longer be known as Yaakov and will from now on be called Yisrael. But Hashem himself does still use the name Yaakov after this time. (Perhaps this example of Yaakov/Yisrael is more than just an example, as the names Yaakov and Yisrael respectively represent the people that went down to and were redeemed from Mitzrayim and the Jewish People that will ultimately be redeemed.)

The Gemorah gives the example of a man who is on the road and is saved from a wolf and tells everyone of the miraculous incident. Then he is saved from a lion, and then a snake. With each new salvation the previous incidents pale in comparison. Similarly, Bnei Yisrael's future geulah will make Geulat Mitzrayim secondary in status.

The above cited thoughts fit with the idea that we focus on the bigger half of matzah because the ultimate geulah is what everyone will talk about. There is a beautiful thought suggested by Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach that adds on to this: Why is the hidden Afikoman brought back specifically by children? This represents the idea that children will be the ones who bring the ultimate redemption.

This connects to Shabbat 119b, which says that "Al tig'u bi'Mshichai" refers to the learning of young schoolchildren (hevel tinokot shel Beit Raban). Reish Lakish quotes Rabi Yehudah HaNasi as saying that the world is maintained only because of the learning of young children. Abayei adds that the Torah of children is more powerful than the Torah of adults because their mouths have not yet sinned. Reish Lakish adds that the learning of small schoolchildren should not be interrupted even to rebuild the Beit HaMikdash. This can be understood to mean that there is no more potent way to bring the Geulah than through the merit of children. May that time come speedily in our days.

(STORY) Rav Elchanon Wassermann hid with from the Nazis until he was found and murdered. People who were with him asked, "Why?" "Imagine," Rav Elchanon told them, "the following:" "Someone has never seen bread, and a man volunteers to teach him." The teacher picks up a little seed, and the disciple assumes that this is bread. So he's shocked when the man takes this "bread" and buries it in the ground. Then, a pretty plant grows and the man assumes that must be bread. And he's shocked again when the other man cuts down this "bread". Then the teacher takes the plant and picks off the kernels. The spectator thinks that the pile of kernels is what's called bread. But then the other guy throws these pieces in the air and smashes them. The other fellow is again confused. Then the kernels are ground and mixed with water and then they're shaped into a mound, which looks pretty nice. Now the guy figures this is bread. So he's quite shocked when the other man turns up the oven and throws this final product of so much work in, to be burnt. As the moments pass, the air fills with a scent that causes the stranger's mouth to water. He begins to suspect that something good is on its way. And soon he's eating a fresh slice of delicious hot bread with butter on it. And he understands."

All that happens along our many years on the road to redemption are part of the process. Sometimes it’s hard to understand how everything, including suffering, we’ve experienced is part of the positive process. In the end it will become clear.


"HA LACHMA'ANYA" - This IS the bread of affliction.

(STORY) The Maggid of Dubno addresses this phrase with a moshol: - parable: A poor man returned home nightly with a sack over his shoulder filled with junk he scavenged throughout the day. Dressed in rags he brought home barely enough to provide for his family. One day he found a diamond and he became a rich man. Now he returned home each evening dressed in a fancy suit and bought his wife and children the best of everything. Then one day he came home again dressed in rags. His wife's face fell and his children cried. They were sad until he explained - "It's one year since we became rich and I'm only dressing this way to remember. He reached outside the door where he had special gifts for all. They celebrated on that day for many years to come. Then one day he came home dressed in rags and his kids wanted to know where the presents were and how a year had passed so quickly. They were happy until he explained - "It's not an act, this time I've last the money through a bad investment, we're poor." So too, the Maggid of Dubno explains why we say this is the bread of affliction instead of saying this is like the bread of affliction. Until our ultimate redemption we live incomplete lives. We might not think so and that's part of the problem, but it is so. The matzah is not just a reminder of afflictions and redemptions of the past but it serves as a sobering reminder of our imperfect present and of the redemption still to come.

"KOL DICHVIN YEITEI VEYEICHOL" - Anyone that's hungry should join us and eat.

(THOUGHT) "On a night when we pray for the ultimate Redemption, even though we may not be meritorious enough to deserve it, we say, 'Let all who are hungry come,' without exception. If we do not discriminate, then we can expect that G-d will not be too discriminating with us." - Rabbi Abraham Twerski

(STORY) The Ba'al Shem Tov would have a special Shalosh - Seudos surrounded by his closest students. One time a poor looking fellow wandered into Shul at Shalosh-Seudos time. The Ba'al Shem Tov invited the man in and sat him at the head table. Later his students asked the Baal Shem Tov why he sat the poor man at the head table and didn't stop at inviting him in. He told them, "When I arrive in heaven at judgment time, I'm going to want to sit up front and I'm afraid I won't deserve it. I hope Hashem will remember my putting this man up front and that He will seat me up front as well." [Ethics From Sinai, I. Bunim]

MAH NISHTANA - If a person is alone, he asks himself.

(STORY, THOUGHT) - 1981 marked the first visit of Rav Noach Weinberg, Z”TL, the pioneer of outreach work, to Yeshiva University for a student organized "schmooze". One of the things that he said in that talk was that the Mishnah in Avot which states, "Know what to answer" has a dual meaning. On one level it simply means to know how to answer the other. But on a deeper level it means know how to answer the questioner inside you.


(THOUGHT) How do we know that if G-d hadn't taken us out that we wouldn't have freed ourselves eventually? The reason we never would have become free is because we didn't aspire to be free. Before G-d freed us from Egypt He freed us from our own self inflicted slavery of complacency. We felt so stuck that we didn't want to even bother trying to extricate ourselves because we felt that all we had in Egypt was all we'd ever have. The lesson for us is to look and see if our lives are less than we want them to be. As Rabbi Twerski puts it, the question we need to ask ourselves is, "Is it possible that I may be in a rut, but similar to my enslaved ancestors, fail to recognize it?" We would be well served if we took this Pesach as a time to answer this question and try to free ourselves from the myriad of things that enslave us.

Mitzrayim can be seen as a metaphor for all that enslaves us. (The word can be read as metzarim, meaning straights). We need to c all out to G-d from our own personal Mitzrayim. This is what Dovid HaMelech did, “ Min hameitzar karati Kah – From the dire straits I called to G-d.” Had G-d not given us a hand and pulled us out of Mitzrayim, we would today be doomed by having stayed with animal comfort over choosing Divine pleasure.

(STORY) A man who had recently died appears to his friend in a dream. The friend asks him what he does all day. He says, "I eat whenever I want, and I sleep whenever I want, and I fulfill my every desire whenever I want." His friend says, "That's great! Who’d have guessed that you'd go to heaven!" He replies, "I'm not in heaven. I've been reincarnated; I’m a cow in Nebraska!" Our true joy is not to be found in fulfillment of animal passions, rather in what makes us human. What makes us uniquely human is anything we do that is included in our ability to work for and achieve the greatest pleasure possible, that of closeness to G-d.


(THOUGHT) Why is the narration of Yitziat Mitzrayim so important today If the fact is that we are presently eating "bread of affliction" because the independence we acquired didn't last,? The answer to this question is that the connection with G-d that we established by rejecting the pagan beliefs of Egypt and accepting the Torah remains with us. The praiseworthiness of dwelling on this story is predicated upon the fact that appreciating the greatness of the exodus from Egypt reflects our valuing spirituality over materialism.

(SEQUEL STORY) Even though the man lost his wealth, he continued (as best as he could) to celebrate the day on which he had once become rich. His family asked him why he kept up this practice and he replied that while the money was gone the knowledge that he gained from the experience remained. So too, we are again in exile, but we remember the lessons we learned when we were freed and we feel hope based on our past redemption.


(THOUGHT) You might expect that on this night which marks the establishment of a bond between G-d and the Jewish People we would focus exclusively on the relationship between G-d and us. The Seder includes a surprisingly heavy focus on our relationship with other Jews. The four sons represent all kinds of Jews with all sorts of attitudes. We want them all at the Seder. These are the people that we invited and embrace, without checking IDs. As we commemorate our beginning as a People we immediately adapt a dual focus: exerting energy not only on our relationship with Hashem, but also working hard on reaching out to our fellow Jews. [Lubavitcher Rebbe]

(THOUGHT) It has been suggested that the four sons parallel four generations of American Jewish life. The Chacham represents the old school piety of generation of the forties and fifties. The Rashah is strikingly similar to the rebellious sons of The fifties and sixties who rejected their father’s Judaism with the rhetorical question “what is all this ritual of yours?” The sixties eased into the disinterested, isolated seventies, the “tam” generation. And then there’s the oblivious generation that doesn’t know how to ask. Rabbi Shlomo Riskin adds that today there is the fifth son who sadly does not attend the Seder at all.


(THOUGHT) Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach quotes a Belzer tradition that interprets this line in a homiletic vein: The advice given as to how to respond to the rashah is to knock out his teeth. The Hebrew word used to mean his teeth is shinav, which can be interpreted to mean "his Hebrew letter shin. The letter shin’s three prongs represent the three pillars of the Jewish nation: Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov. Every day in our prayers we beseech G-d while referencing the merit of our forefathers. We do not only mean to remind G-d of their goodness, but we are reminding Him and ourselves that the attributes of our forefathers are our values. Their essence lives inside us. A father is instructed to shake the three pronged values of our ancestors, the traits of Torah, Avodah, and Gemilut Chasadim out from within even the child that’s called "wicked."


(STORY) Two men were having a debate, one being secular, and the other being a traditional, observant Jew. The former berated the latter calling him old fashioned, and questioning why he adhered to ritualistic Judaism. The "frum" Jew responded that in fact his friend was the one who was old fashioned, citing this line from the Haggadah. It says here, the Jews worshipped foreign values – avodah zarah - in the past, and only now in "modern times" did G-d bring us close to His service.

This is something worth thinking about at the Seder: What is Avoda Zara? Are we guilty of it today? Who is modern and who is old fashioned?


(THOUGHT) Why does the Haggadah include the fact that Eisav inherited Har Sei'ir? If it's going to be so detailed, why not include Yishmael rather than going from Terach (the forefather idol worshipper mentioned above) to Avraham, then mentioning only Yitzchak, and then specifying both Eisav and Yaakov as Avraham's sons? The Brisker Rav answered this question by citing the pasuk in which Hashem tells Avraham that his genealogy, his nation, will be through Yitzchak ("Ki beYitzchak yikra lecha zera"). G-d did not, however, specify to Yitzchak which of his sons would be the progenitor of this chosen nation. But, He gave him a sign: The sign was that the son that was the father of the nation would be exiled into a strange land and suffer there for some time. So, the fact that Eisav settled peacefully into his inheritance, while Yaakov and his children went to Mitzrayim and spent years of servitude there is quite significant. This detail provides proof that Yaakov and not Eisav's family are the chosen nation promised to Avraham.


(THOUGHT) Unlike Edom (Eisav) whose name betrays his true nature, Lavan's name paints a deceptively pure, white picture of an evil man. While the Haggadah describes Lavan as wanting to totally destroy the Jewish People, the Torah is lacking in any overt reference to such a desire. And that's the point. We as a nation (as well as we as individuals) have enemies that dress in white, feigning diplomacy and niceties. On the other hand, we have enemies like Eisav, who come openly wanting blood. We must be on the look out for enemies of all types. As the Chovot HaLevavot writes, in regard to some people, our attitude needs to be “respect but suspect" (chabdeihu vechashdeihu).


(THOUGHT) The one line here that seems to receive the most attention, because it doesn't seem to make sense, is –


(THOUGHTS) Why would being brought to the mountain and then not receiving the Torah have been worth anything?

One answer to this question is that the aura of the shechina would have affected us positively, and that itself would have provided sufficient reason for being brought to the mountain of Sinai.

Another answer is that the Jews, for were unified (Ke’ish echad be’lev echad), and that is something amazing that would have made the trip to Sinai worthwhile.

A unique and deep (and also dangerously easily misunderstood) answer to this question is that what we're saying is that if G-d would have brought us to Har Sinai but not given us the Torah it would have been enough. The point is that we're here thanking G-d for placing the Torah under our auspices, rather than giving it to us to obey, but maintaining it Himself.

(STORY) One Amora was disagreeing with several others. He was sure that his view made sense, but couldn't convince the others. Finally, he used signs to prove he was right (first a tree tilted, then a stream flowed backwards, then the walls caved in). The Rabbis were unimpressed. So, he asked for a voice to resound from Heaven announcing he was right. It happened. But the Rabbis insisted that "It is not in heaven" (Lo bashamayim hee) and they did not accept his view. The end of the story is that G-d was very pleased with how all this went.

(The modern, humorous version of this is: Three rabbis were arguing against another rabbi. The one Rabbi gets G-d to announce that He agrees with him. The other Rabbis remain unfazed. "Fine," they say, "Now, it's three against two!")

Another point of note in this song is the fact that it goes way past the leaving of Egypt all the way up until the building of the Beit HaMikdash in Yerushalayim. This indicates the strong connection between leaving Egypt and not only the receiving of the Torah, but the culminating event of the Temple’s construction and use.




Rav Yitzchak Mirsky says that the reason why the Rabbi’s considered having us start telling the story of Yetziat Mitzrayim on the day of the fourteenth is because that’s when the Korban Pesach was slaughtered. That preparation made the statement that we were rejecting the false gods of Egypt. There are many such symbolic acts included in the details surrounding the Korban Pesach: We are told to pull the animal towards us, which Chazal say hints to the idea that we need to pull ourselves away from the god of Egypt. Also we barbequed it, so that the smell filled the land. There were many separate sacrifices prepared and eaten, not one symbolic one for the nation. And we ate the quality parts of the best sheep, and couldn’t tell the Egyptians we were only taking the bad ones.

Rav Noach Weinberg points out that G-d did all the work when it came to getting us out of Egypt. The one thing we had to do was repudiate their values (by publicly displaying lamb blood as a signal to G-d to come and save us).

If we want to speed up the redemption still to come, and want to insure our inclusion in it, we must be brave enough to clearly and openly signal to G-d that we reject alien values of today's culture.

(THOUGHT) The Midrash says that when G-d passed over our homes, two bloods intermingled: the blood of Mila and the blood of Korban Pesach. Mila takes place at the start of life, when a person is basically all future. Korban Pesach is a mitzvah that was facilitated by the head of the household, the family's patriarch, and this means it comes after time, when a person already has a past that has led him to the achievement of the place that he presently calls his own life. A major challenge we constantly face, and a challenge represented by the mixing of the blood of these 2 mitzvot, is to combine the freshness of youth that focuses us on the future together with the experienced years of middle age and beyond. [Lubavitcher Rebbe]

MATZAH - Conventional Torah wisdom has it that chametz represents an over emphasis on our ego, while matzah represents humble subservience to G-d. The only letter which is different in the Hebrew word chameitz and the Hebrew word matzah reflects the difference between what chameitz and matzah each represent. The chet of chametz is self contained, tightly sealed, representing an attitude of "I can do it all myself". The heh of matzah represents an opening. Like a pressure cooker's escape valve that protects it from exploding, the human psyche needs to have an opening, a portal in order to survive and thrive. Through that opening we take in G-d and rise above our physical selves.

(THOUGHT) Matzah reminds us that G-d took us out of Mitzrayim quickly. Tradition has it that we were on the forty-ninth level of impurity and had we fallen to the fiftieth level of impurity we would have become irredeemable. So G-d had to take us out quickly, before it was too late. But the question is that G-d did not truly "have to" take us out quickly. Unlike human beings, G-d does not procrastinate. It would seem that He could have taken us out before we fell so low. The real reason why he took us out when we'd already fallen to level forty-nine is that the falling was a necessary preparation for the redemption.[MaHaRaL as cited in Hegyonei Halacha]

(STORY- MOSHOL) What happens inside a chicken's egg is a process of putrification. Just when it is about to pass the point of no return - the chic emerges from the egg. If you were to break it open early - the chick would not live. If you were to seal the egg so that the chick couldn't break out at the right moment, the chick would die. Similarly, galut is part of the redemption process. The falling low in Mitzrayim was necessary for the redemption to follow. This is important to remember today. The deterioration and suffering that we see and feel is all a necessary part of the process of redemption presently taking place. [Ibid.]

Maror -

(THOUGHT) G-d told Avraham that his descendants' slavery would last for four hundred years. Yet, we were released after two hundred and ten years. The reason most often given for this is that two hundred and ten very difficult years of concentrated slavery served as the equivalent of four hundred years of average intensity slavery. The Vilna Gaon points out that the musical notes under the words in the Torah - "And they made their lives bitter" (vayimoreru chayeihem) are the notes called KADMA VE'A ZLA which means to precede and to go, in other words to go earlier. The “trup” substantiates the theory that the intense bitter slavery was cause for an early redemption. May it be G-d's will to hasten our redemption again due to terrible suffering we endured in the Holocaust. .[The Vilna Gaon as cited and embellished upon by R Shlomo Kahn in From Twilight to Dawn]

(QUOTE) "May we not hopefully assume that the unprecedented holocaust of Nazi Germany led to a hastening of the messianic redemption in the establishment of the State of Israel?" - Rabbi Shlomo Kahn


(THOUGHT) Can we possibly imagine that we left Egypt? Many commentators suggest that this is the most challenging of all the mitzvot of the seder night.

Rabbi Mayer Twersky explains that Jewish holidays do not simply commemorate historical events. The theme of the day precedes the holiday. This idea helps explain the obligation that each of us has to view our self as if we went out of Mitzrayim. It is because of the energy of the day, which was present even before The Exodus that we can be expected to tap into the mood of the day and feel like we left Mitzrayim.

There are two aspects to the Jewish people: Each of us has a potential role to fulfill both as an individual and as part of a nation. This is symbolized by the 2 images that G-d projects to Avraham that his descendants will resemble: sand and stars. Though both are myriad in number, the difference between these two entities is that grains of sand all mesh together, while stars can be individually distinguished.

On this night when we focus on our creation as a nation, we run the risk of forgetting our value as individuals. We must never lose sight of G-d's singular love and concern for each one of us. Yitziat Mitzrayim was not only a communal experience, but something that every Jew at the time went through. We owe it to ourselves and to G-d to recognize today that each of us have our own Mitzrayim to overcome, and that G-d is with each of us - carrying us out of our Mitzrayim. G-d loves each of us.

The Gemorah explains that Purim is celebrated in the second Adar during a leap year: so that the redemption of Purim connects to the redemption of Pesach. I believe that the true meaning of this is that Pesach is about an open, spectacular, communal miracle, while Purim more overtly serves to remind us of G-d's involvement in each of our individual lives. Purim should be kept nearby to help us not miss the point of Pesach - that our lives are collections of personal miracles.

Regarding what other holiday is there a guide book to walk us through the miracle? Regarding what other holiday is there a multiple choice list of how to explain it to different types of Jews? Regarding what other holiday to we have to go through a list of questions and answers about the day, even if we sit alone? Regarding what other holiday are we addressed as individuals and told, if any one Jew neglects to mention the major themes of this miracle, then he or she does not get credit for the celebration. All this substantiates the idea that we all have a personal lesson, our own specific work to accomplish on this night.

Behind this unique obligation of feeling like we ourselves were taken out of Egypt is a mandate to always remember how much G-d loves us. We repeat this often in our prayers and yet we sometimes forget the “abundant love G-d has for us (“Ahava rabbah ahavtanu").

[Rabbi Neil Fleischmann]

(STORY) A man sees all the scenes of his life flash before his eyes. In each scene he sees 2 sets of footsteps, one clearly is G-d's and the other is his own. However, when he sees the most difficult scenes of his life, there is only one set of footsteps. He feels that G-d abandoned him when he needed Him most. He asks G-d for the explanation and G-d tells him, "During the hardest times in your life, I was carrying you"

(STORY) A girl that went through 12 years of Jewish schooling, later left Judaism and adapted Christianity. One day she met a rabbi from her past, and he asked her what had attracted her to Christianity. She told him that at a hard time in her life she was approached by a Christian missionary in a bus station. The missionary told her, "G-d loves you." She told the Rabbi the following tragically sad words: "Despite all my years of Jewish education and Jewish upbringing that was the first time that I was ever told that G-d loves me."

4 CUPS - (THOUGHT) The Vilna Gaon and others list the 4 redemptions of which the four cups of wine serve as a reminder: 1. Work was decreased. 2. We were totally saved from having to work as slaves.3. G-d declared us to be His People. 4. We were actually taken out of Egypt. (This fits with the translation of each of the 4 phrases).

EGGS - After a long wait for real food, Jews around the world eat too many hard boiled eggs.

(THOUGHTS) An egg is the only thing that's born, and then reborn. Similar to the chick, The Jewish People were taken out of Egypt, but then we were re-redeemed when we received the Torah. [Hegyonei Halacha]

Unlike other foods, an egg becomes harder the more it is cooked. So too, the Jewish People survive and thrive even after continuous persecution.

An egg is a reminder of the circle of life and thus of mourning. It is an indication of the deep connection between the redemption from Egypt and the life we were granted in Israel. On this night we look toward the ultimate redemption being granted to us speedily in our time.

Shulchan Orech -


Nirtzah - Leshanah Habaah BeYerushalayim HaBenuyah –

Even as we celebrate our redemption from Egypt we recognize that we are still in exile today. We acknowledged this at the start of the seder when we pointed to the matzah and said, in present tense, "This is the bread of affliction." We did not simply say that this is a reminder of the slavery of Egypt, we rather use to matzah as a symbol of our unredeemed state, which we are presently living in as we await complete redemption.

In Dayeinu we don't end the song until we mention being taken to Eretz Yisrael and having the Beit HaMikdash. The geulah was not merely about leaving Egypt but was the start of a process, which is not complete until we are free in out own land, in its entire splendor. This is a pinnacle we reached, but sadly lost.

Now, at the very end of the seder we say "leshanah haba'ah be'yeryshalayim” - next year in Jerusalem." Once again, while we celebrate Yetziat Mitzrayim, we acknowledge that we don't have the complete redemption we hope for. We yearn to have a rebuilt Beit HaMikdach by this time next year and we pray for all the clarity and holiness that the time of Mashiach will bring. We sing with joy, hope, and even confidence that next year we will be in Yerushalayim.

The Gemorah in Ta'anit says that anyone who mourns for Yerushalayim will merit seeing its joy. The Gemorah speaks in the present tense, as if someone who mourns for Jerusalem is right now witnessing the joy of the rebuilt city. The Vilna Gaon explains that - as Rashi writes about Yoseif and why Ya’akov could not stop missing him - a dead person is forgotten, but a person who is still alive cannot be forgotten. When we mourn for Yerushalayim we testify that the city and all she represents is not dead. As long as people are able to continue mourning for Yerushalayim it stays alive. This is why the Gemorah says one who mourns for Jerusalem is already rejoicing. We celebrate that Jerusalem is still in our hearts. This explains why, even though we always have some sadness over not yet having a fully rebuilt Yerushalayim, we also are moved to joy by the very mention of the holy city. We know that it is not lost forever; we know that Yerushalayim will soon be revived and we will all eat the Korban Pesach together. Leshanah haba’ah beYerushalayim!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Beshalach: Guest Post By My Student Amanda Parker

In this week’s Parsha, Parsha Beshalach, we discuss a few major events that will never be forgotten. One of the stories that we like to speak about often and tell the story of over and over, is the splitting of the Red Sea. However, just before we approach the sea, and are about to witness one of the greatest miracles that happened to our nation, Beni Yisroal see in the distance that Pharaoh and the Egyptians are chasing after the Jews. As the see this, they say to Moshe “Is it that there were no graves in Egypt that Hashem had to take us away to die in the wilderness? Why did Hashem have to take us out of Egypt?”

There are many instances like this that occur throughout Chumash. Beni Yisroel complains often and doubts Hashem’s hand. Why does the Torah feel the need to keep mentioning the faults of the generation? Rav Hirsh answers that the complaint in this weeks Parsha strengthens the story of receiving of the Torah in next weeks Parsha.

This generation was not a spiritually easy generation. They were people who were not easily swayed one way or another and needed concrete reasons to believe in G-D and his powers. We see this in this week’s Parsha. Beni Yisroel had just witnessed the ten plagues and the leaving of Egypt. Yet, when they were faced with a sea in front of them, it did not cross their minds to think that G-D can just perform another miracle. Their minds did not think in another realm, they were practical.

This story strengthens next weeks Parsha of receiving of the Torah. This generation wouldn’t have accepted all these Mitzvot and requirements upon themselves if they had not been fully convinced. What they witnessed must have been enough to convince a generation of spiritual skeptics and practical rationalists that the Torah was the truth. It wasn’t some overly holy, G-d loving generation that accepted the Torah. It was a generation with doubts, convictions and rational thinkers.

Receiving of the Torah to them was a final conformation. What they must have seen was undeniable. They had doubts and they had doubts after but receiving of the Torah was enough to convince them to lead a life committed fully and wholly to Hashem. Our belief in Judaism is strengthened by this. What makes Judaism unique is that we believe in a mass revelation that occurred. Hashem did not speak to a single prophet; he spoke to multitudes of people. People who we see were not so easily convinced. These people became the Jewish nation and through this came many generations of Jews who themselves may have had certain doubts, but never wavered in belief that Hashem spoke to their ancestors at the Mountain of Sinai. May we all lead a life fully committed to remembering the greatness of Hashem!