Friday, November 2, 2012

Vayeirah - Al Ma Avda HaAretz?

By Rabbi Joshua Hoffman
       In memory of my dear uncle, Dr. Heiner Hoffman, who passed away last week in New York at the age of ninety three. Dr. Hoffman, twin brother of my late father Joseph Hoffman of blessed memory, was a professor of microbiology at New York University for thirty years. He authored a standard textbook on the topic, as well as many important scientific research papers. Research that he did early in his career led to the development of bacterial rennet, the key element in the production of today’s kosher cheeses. May his memory be a blessing.
   In this week’s parsha, we learn of the destruction of Sodom due to the immorality of its inhabitants. Not only did the inhabitants die, but the land itself was scorched through the rain of sulfur and fire from heaven. The Ramban points out that even though there were nations dwelling outside of Eretz Yisroel who were extremely evil, God did not punish them in such a harsh way. However, because of the lofty spiritual status of Eretz Yisroel, which is God’s palace, this severe level of destruction was rendered upon it. I would like to suggest that there is a particular feature of Eretz Yisroel that the people of Sodom lacked that generated its fate.
   The Talmud in Nedorim (81a), cites a verse in Yirmiyahu (chapter 9) in which God says that the land was destroyed because the Jews abandoned the Torah. The Talmud explains this to mean that they did not recite the blessing over the Torah before learning it. Many commentators are troubled by this because the Talmud in Yoma (9b), gives different reasons for the destruction of the Temple. However, Rav Yaakov Emden, in the introduction to his Siddur commentary, points out that the Talmud here explains why the land itself was destroyed and desolate, not why the Temple was destroyed. The critical importance of the blessing over the Torah, in this context, explained Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook, zt”l, is the declaration that God chose us from among the nations and gave us his Torah. When one makes this declaration before learning Torah, he is saying that the Torah is the essence of the Jewish nation and that, through studying it he is connecting to the rest of his people and helping to bring out the Torah's essence in life. When one learns without making this declaration first, his learning is done for himself, not for the benefit of the Jewish People. Eretz Yisroel has a special ability to unite the Jewish people. When Torah study becomes something selfish, that unifying factor is lost and the land is destroyed
   The people of Sodom, as well, were famously concerned only with themselves. The Mishna in Avos says that their approach to life was, “What is mine is mine, and what is your's is your's.” As the Ramban notes, the prophet Yechezkel says that the key sin of Sodom was that they did not support the poor people. The rabbis tell us that they went so far as to legislate this approach to life, making it illegal, on penalty of death, to help the poor and needy. This kind of deportment was directly opposed to the unifying factor of Eretz Yisroel. Since it is God’s palace all of his creations need to be honored. Sodom, failing to do so, was destroyed to the point of its land being scorched, and served as a warning for future generations to develop a sense of unity in Eretz Yisroel.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Lech Lecha – Stars and Dust Forever

By Rabbi Neil Fleischmann

The Jewish People are compared to stars and sand (Breishit 22:17.)

Some say that the stars represents us at our height and the sand represent us at our low. We have souls and are created in G-d’s image. On the other hand we are earthy beings with physical desires. The images of the stars and the sand serve to remind us of our duality. Great men have suggested carrying two cards in two pockets: one labeled “KEKOCHVEI HASHAMAYIM” and the other marked "KECHOL AL SFAT HAYAM.” They say that the secret is to know when to look at which piece of paper.

Another approach is that while both stars and sand convey one idea of a great number, there is a basic difference between them. The stars shine and stand alone. And while there may be too many to count, you can point to each star individually. On the other hand, grains of sand blend together. It is impossibly difficult to pick out a grain on its own. These are two aspects of being a Jew; we have a potential as part of a nation, also each of us needs to shine alone, our star.

The Kli Yakar (Shlomo Ephraim z"l of Lenshitz, died 1619) notes that there are not two but three similes used for what G-d will make Avraham’s descendants like: stars, sand (Breishit 22:17), and dust (Breishit 28:14). Each one of these conceptions represents a separate message.

The stars represent us in our prime. In Devarim 1:10 Moshe states that G-d increased us like the stars. Rashi comments that this refers to having made us great.

Although sand is often interpreted to represent us at our lowest, the dust actually better serves to symbolize us at our most dishonorable point. Sand really represents our survival against the nations. We endure like the sand, which breaks the waves when the oceans threaten to destroy the earth. As Dovid HaMelech describes, “all the billows (mishbarechah) and waves have passed over me” (Tehillim 42:8) – persecution threatens to destroy us, but like the tide against the shore, it hits us, breaks, and passes. And this is why when Yaakov meets with Eisav after it all, he chooses to evoke specifically the image of “the sand on the river bank.” That metaphor best fit the moment, representing our ability to break the blow of our oppressors.
(The Malbim, also interprets the sand as representing a protecting boundary against destructive forces. He notes that this image is employed in Yirmiyahu 5:22)

Dust represents us when we hit rock bottom. It is from that state that we rise up, call to G-d and return to super strength. This is what it states in Tehillim 44:26 – that we fall to dust and then cry to G-d. This is also what Yaakov was promised, that his descendants would become like dust but then regain power and spread to all corners of the earth.

We all have highs and lows, when we need to remember the other extreme. And we possess the resilience to break the forces that we sometimes fear will drown us. Wise words from Peter Himmelman put it this way:
These eyes do see
that you're nearly free
And if you hang on a little longer
you're going to see it too
Some days seem to drag on forever
you need all your strength
just to keep your head together
Soon you'll see things are going to get better at last
This too will pass

May we be blessed to remember our blessing, that we are like the stars and the dust and the sand.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Noach: Why G-d Does Miracles In The Least Miraculous Ways

A lot of ideas that are considered basics of Jewish philosophy come from the Ramban on Chumash. One example of this is in this week’s parshathe idea that G-d does miracles in a way that is as close to nature as possible. This explains why even though the only way the ark could only hold all the animals in it was it via a miracle, G-d had Noach build a big ark (though He could have done a bigger miracle by fitting all the animals in an even smaller vessel and not bothered Noach to make a big boat).

A strong question can be raised, why is it such a fundamental fact in Judaism that G-d does miracles within nature? An important lesson here is that we remember that even though large miracles do happen we need to stay close to and live in the natural world.  This relates to the Ramban's fundamental assertion, marshaled at the end of Parshat Bo that the point of big miracles that happen rarely is to remind us that seemingly commonplace natural events are miraculous.

Also relevant is the concept of ein somchin al haneis  - one should not rely on a miracle. By doing a miracle in a way that resembles the natural order of things, G-d is reminding us to live and work in the natural world we inhabit and not sit and wait for supernatural miracles. This also relates to the idea of hishtadlus and bitachon. By doing a miracle as close to nature as possible G-d reminds us that we must make efforts that make sense in the natural world and then we can trust that miracles will come from above.

Additionally, this relates to hakarat hatov - the concept often misunderstood to mean saying thank you, but which really means seeing the good. G-d stays close to nature when he does miracles to remind us to pay attention to the daily miracles we dismiss as merely natural.

G-d acts within nature because that’s where we must live.  This is where we strive to lead holy lives. In this physical world we reach toward connecting with G-d.

The mishnah states that the world stands on 3 things - Torah, Avodah, and Gemilut Chasadim. The mishnah includes not only the fact that this saying came from Rabbi Shimon HaTzadik but also that he outlived Anshei Knesset HaGedolah.  Why are we told this random biographical fact about Rabbi Shimon?

This seemingly extraneous information is directly connected to Rabbi Shimons's statement. He outlasted the great era of The Men of the Great Assembly and lived on to see less glorious times. He was saying that even though that golden era was gone what was important was on a day in and day out basis to adhere to Torah, prayer, and kindness. That's what keeps the world going.

On a similar note after the chagim, as we complete a full week of school and begin a stretch of such weeks, as we go through the six months till Pesach we need to focus on the holy potential of daily life. We need to remember that G-d’s miracles are embedded in every miraculous moment of our day to day routines.  May we be blessed to see G-d’s close to nature, big miracles.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Belated Sukkos Thoughts

The Jewish element of Sukkos is obvious, but I think this is a universal holiday as well.  This is why we bring sacrifices for all the nations of the world at this time.  Also, this is why we do it in this season because of what people around us will or won't say regarding the season we choose to go out and sit in huts.  Then there's the story about the nations of the world being offered one mitzvah to keep in the end of days - and they choose Sukkah.


Rav SR Hirsch writes beautifully how the Sukkah speaks to all economic situations.  If one is poor then they sit in the Sukkah and remember that his or her forefathers were in the desert, and had nothing to their name, G-d cared for them. And if someone is financially rich and things are otherwise going well, one steps out of their ample home and remembers in the end it's just him or her and G-d above.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Breishit - Is Time On Our Side?

By Rabbi Neil Fleischmann


In the beginning
G-d must have created time
Thus, “the beginning”

Introduction : Using Time To Increase Space

Once, a man got to ask G-d any question he wanted. The man opened with – “G-d, what’s a million years to you?” And G-d replied, “A million years to me is one second.” The man then asked, “G-d, what’s a million dollars to you?” And G-d replied, “A million dollars to me is one penny.” So the man asked G-d, “G-d, can you spare a penny?” And G-d replied, “Sure I can, in just one second.”

To us, time and money are everything. We run through time trying to get more money and more things worth money. It is important to remember that time and money are figments created for us. For G-d time and space (represented by money, which buys us things that exist within space) do not exist.

Rabbi A.J. Heschel (The Sabbath, Farrar Straus and Giroux, New York 1951) explains that we try to grab and gather things because we feel intimidated by the passing of time. In the end we are left feeling unfulfilled and embarrassed, knowing that the point of time is not merely to accumulate things. He writes: “It is impossible for man to shirk the problem of time. The more we think the more we realize: we can not conquer time through space. We only master time in time.” Shabbos is a day when we no longer treat time as the enemy but recognize time as special in and of itself. The ultimate goal is for the approach of Shabbos to spill over into the week, so that on a daily basis we see time as a thing itself.


What came first the chicken or the egg? According to the Ramban the answer is neither, rather there was something that preceded both. The Ramban writes that before G-d created anything He created a giant mass from which everything else was created – Something From Nothing – Yesh Mei’Ayin. From that original mass, known as Chomer Hiyuli, everything else was created (Peirush Ramban Al HaTorah, Chavel Hebrew edition pg. 12).

The Rabbis state (Breishit Rabah 68:10, Rashi on Shemot 33:21) that G-d is called HaMakom because “He is the place of the world, and the world is not his place.” After Moshe asks G-d, in 33:13, “show me your honor,” G-d shows him a cleft on a mountainside and says, “Behold there is a place by me. Rashi cites the Tanchuma, which explains that G-d does not say that He is in this place, but refers to it with this seemingly awkward phrasing, because of the following idea: Space is a creation of G-d, secondary to G-d. The Ohr HaChayim in his commentary on Bamidbar 1:1, cites this Medrash and applies it to his explanation of the word BaMidbar – in the desert. 


Pardes Yosef points out that while time is clearly something that was created for the sake of people, its creation is not overtly mentioned. He explains that the word “Breishit”, which means “in the beginning of G-d's creations,” implies the creation of time, because without time things could not be called earlier or later.

Dovid HaMelech – King David states that the average life of a man is seventy years (Tehillim 90:10). Chazal break down the years of a person’s life in Pirkei Avot and say what the purpose is for each stage of life. The Maggid of Dubno cites these and other examples in his development of the parallels between time and space. Just like a physical body is comprised of a myriad of intricate pieces that contribute their part towards completion, so too time is a measured entity made of up of specific details. Just as our bodies need to be developed and do not get fit if we don’t maintain them, time is also potential that needs to be worked on and refined. Segments of time do not automatically fill up with their tasks unless a person struggles to make it so. (Sefer HaMidot - Book of Traits Chapter 12, the Maggid of Dubno)

In the time of the Talmud, Ptolemy gathered 72 Torah scholars and sequestered them in separate rooms with the command to translate the Torah into Greek (Megilla 9a). A miracle occurred that they all made the same judgment calls in making changes from literal text to translation in order to avoid insults, misunderstandings, and repercussions. One of the changes they implemented concerned the order of the first three words of the Torah. As Pardes Yosef sees it, they reordered the words to read Elokim Bara Breishit – G-d created in the beginning to convey that G-d created time.

When we take time for granted, we take life for granted. Rabbi Noach Weinberg notes that we would all be shocked if we saw someone sitting on a speeding bus throwing dollar bills out the window into the wind. But when we see people making inadequate use of time this is a tragedy too. 

Once an American man was vacationing on an exotic island. He sees a local man sitting and fishing. He speaks to the fellow and learns that the man happily lives on the island and gets by via fishing and eating the fish he catches. The American explains to him that he could get better equipment and catch more fish. So he does. And he sells the extra fish and makes more money. Then the American advises him to buy a boat. So he does. And he makes more money. In time he buys several giant boats and then opens a store and eventually a franchise. The company goes public and the old fisherman is on the board of trustees of several major banks. Finally he retires. His friend asks him, “What are you going to do with your time now?” The fisherman says that he’s looking forward to sitting on the shore and catching fish.

We often run through time accumulating things that we think we need. In the end what we need is health and happiness and closeness to G-d. It behooves us to think well about what we expend energy acquiring as we journey through our one, only, brief trip on this planet.

May our reading about the creation of time and space remind us to cherish every second of life on this earth with which we are blessed.

Friday, April 27, 2012


Did you ever have a bad day? Did you ever have a good day? Did you ever stop and think that these days may be a package deal?

The Maharal explains that galut – exile, and geulah - redemption (which we just celebrated on Pesach and continue to dwell upon during the Omer period) are one organic process. Though galut seems exclusively bad and geulah seems to be the purely good aftermath, it’s not that simple. 

The Jewish people descended – according to the Zohar – to the forty-ninth level of tumah -impurity and would have been spiritually lost if they fell any lower. The Zohar explains that we had to be taken out of Mitzrayim quickly (bechipazon) or we could never have gotten out. The question arises: Why didn’t G-d just take the Jews out earlier, before they were on such a low rung? Then there would be no compelling reason to rush the exodus.
The deeper truth beneath why we had to descend to the forty ninth level oftum'ah and then be rushed out is that galut is connected to geulah; the falling down and the rising up are part of the same trajectory. This is similar to the putrification that occurs inside an egg before the chick develops, each is part of the creation process and if the egg was opened either early or late the chic would not be created. This applies to the past exile of Egypt, to the future ultimate redemption, and to our daily struggles with our personal Mitzrayim/meitzarim (straits). The dark and light times connect and the changeover happens at precisely the right moment.
How does this idea relate to this week’s Torah reading?

In Parshat Metzora the laws of how tzara’at affects a house are introduced: “When you come into the land of Canaan, which I will give to you as a possession, and I shall cause a leprous mark to develop on a house of the land of your possession…” (Vayikra 14:33) . Rashi addresses the cryptic connection made in the text between tzora’at in the home and entering the land of Israel. Rashi tells us that when the Jews found tzora'at in their home they had to tear down the walls. Inside the walls were hidden treasures of gold. What's the meaning of this?

Perhaps the idea is that to get to the gold in life you have to break through walls, messy walls. Tzora’at seems like a negative thing and is famously explained as a punishment for lashon harah. Rashi adds another dimension. Tzora’at was a gift on the way to a gift. The first stage of getting to the gold, treating the tzora’atby breaking down the walls of one’s home was clearly an unpleasant experience. Reaching the end, when riches were revealed, was most certainly a time for celebration. The two, however, were part of one whole. The tzora’atwas needed to find the gold.

Bad days precede good ones. Galut precedes Geulah. Tzora'at precedes gold.

May we be blessed to recognize our own exiles and afflictions as part and parcel of our redemptions and our cures. May we reach the end of the process of individual, communal, national, and universal redemption as soon as possible.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Moshe HaKohen? A Shmini Thought

Moshe haKohein? - A Shmini Thought ----------------------- By Rabbi Neil Fleischmann

What was Moshe's title? The Midrash Rabbah on Shemini wonders if Moshe, besides being "Rabeinu" may have also been a Kohein Gadol. Rav Berachia said, "Throughout the forty years spent by Israel in the wilderness Moshe did not refrain from ministering as a Kohein Gadol. This is the meaning of what's written, 'Moshe and Aharon among his priests' (Tehillim 99:6)."

Rav Berachia further deduces this in the name of Rabi Shimon from the pasuk in Divrei HaYamim I, Chapter 13 where it states that Aharon and his sons were separated to be holy to offer and minister before G-d and to bless in His name forever. Regarding Moshe it states, "But as for Moshe the man of G-d, his sons are named among the tribe of Levi." This is understood contextually to mean that while his sons would only be Levi'im, Moshe himself, like his brother Aharon, was a Kohein Gadol,.

Rav Elazar Ben Yossi says unequivocally that Moshe served in a white robe (ie. as Kohein Gadol) for the seven days of miluim (dedication of the Temple). However, Rav Tanchum taught in the name of Rav Yudan that Moshe and Aharon both served during those seven days but only when Aharon served did the Shechina rest with the Temple.

Rav Shmuel Bar Nachman goes back to Shemot to tell an amazing tale. "All the seven days of the burning bush, the Holy one Blessed Be He was trying to persuade Moshe to go on His mission to Egypt. This is as it's written (Shemot 4:10) ‘Also from yesterday, also from the day before, also since You have spoken to Your servant’ , which makes six days(yesterday and the day before yesterday implies 3 days, and the appearance of the word gam/also 3 times brings the total to 6). On the seventh day Moshe said to Hashem: "…send by the hand of whom You will send." "Hashem at this point asserts that one day Moshe must repay for these days.

When did he pay it back? Rav Berachia answered in the name of R. Levi and in the name of R. Chelbo. R. Levi said that for the first seven days of Adar Moshe prayed to enter Eretz Yisrael and on the seventh G-d said, 'You will not cross over this Yarden.' R. Chelbo said: All seven days of consecration Moshe ministered in the office of Kohen Gadol, and he imagined it was his. On the seventh day He said to him: ' It doesn't belong to you, but to your brother Aharon.' This is as it's written: 'And it was on the eighth day that Moshe called Aharon and his sons and the Zekainim of Israel, and He said to Aharon…'"

What’s the meaning of this Midrash? What can be learned from this idea of Moshe being a Kohein Gadol?

We often know people for certain things while overlooking some of their other aspects. Perhaps this Midrash serves to remind us to look beyond a person's most known talent. A friend of mine, years ago, told me that he hated being pigeon holed as "the funny guy." Sure, they may be funny or stand out in some other specific way, but what is there about the people we know, that we may not know, that they deserve recognition for - besides the number one answer? There's a lot to be gained from finding out who the person behind the title is.

Several examples of the phenomenon of people being known for just one thing come to mind: Bill Buckner, and the guy they used to show on Wide World of Sports when they said “the agony of defeat" are two examples of people that will be remembered as one thing (falling short big time) despite their long lists of outstanding accomplishments over many years. On a plane more similar to this midrash, perhaps all of us have had the experience of knowing someone for a long time in one context only to discover another piece of who they are. This is particularly true of our parents, who we tend to see exclusively as our parents.

A father of a friend of mine is a gym teacher. My old friend was shocked one day when he saw what his father was like while he worked - the way he blew a whistle and a gym packed with kids froze in place. Similarly, another friend of mine was always somewhat embarrassed of his father the community rabbi, until one day he learned that his father was "the go to man" who quietly helped everyone with their problems. This idea is well illustrated in the movie “Mother” in which a son has an epiphany when he finally discovers his mother as a writer, a talent he never knew she possessed.

I find the midrash of great interest in a practical way: No-one is just one thing. What would the world be like if we saw each other broadly and didn't suss someone up at hello? Learning about the histories and facets of those around us can be a small step for personal perspective and a giant step toward the redemption of mankind.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

My Haggadah - 5772

The Kol HaMarbeh Haggadah
More by Johanna Bohoy

By Rabbi Neil Fleischmann
© 2012/5772

Passover and the Four Songs

Passover is coming, and with it spring time and rebirth.  The number four is often associated with Passover.  The connection to the number four for many people is prompted by the famous four questions of the Seder night.  Those questions and other examples of the number four employed that night (four cups, four sons) actually go back to the Torah itself. When G-d tells Moses that he will save the Jewish People he uses four different words to represent the four stages of their redemption.  Tradition teaches that we are to see ourselves as if we too are leaving our own Egypt.  This means that we need to go through our own process of being reborn as this season comes around.

This brings to mind an idea of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook about four stages of being a Jew.  Rabbi Kook wrote (in Orot HaKodesh - The Holy Lights) poetically about four songs that emanate from inside of a person. 

The first level is to sing the song of one’s own soul, which means to seek and find satisfaction within oneself.  We all need to heed this voice and work on ourselves.  Passover and springtime provide an auspicious time to deal with our own personal Mitzrayim/Meitzarim, our own dire straits, and to orchestrate our personal exodus from our own individual Egypt.  This is symbolized by the deflated matzah which represents a return to humility and a tempering of our ego on the one hand a return to spiritual basics and adherence to G-d’s Torah and mitzvot on the other hand.

Then there is a person who sings a broader song, the song of the nation of Israel. In general, and in particular at Passover time, this individual thinks of the Jewish community.  At the Seder and beyond this singer’s thoughts turn to the story of the small family that became the Jewish people thousands of years ago and lives on today to joyfully tell of our survival and hope. He or she focuses on the essence of our people and shares in its highs and lows.  Such a person is reminded at Passover time of the birth and rebirth of our nation and commits lovingly to the Jewish past, present, and future through a commitment to G-d and his Torah as it applies to his people.

The third song is for all of humanity. The soul of one who sings this song expands its sensitivities beyond the borders of its Jewish family and yearns for the enlightenment and redemption of all mankind.  A Jewish person who hears this song sees all of his or her Torah observance through a broad lens.  All of his or her visions and ideals are directed to and inspired by the totality of humanity. At Passover time such a person remembers, as G-d has implored us to do, how we suffered in Egypt, and channels that experience toward being kind and empathic to all who are weak and vulnerable.

Then there is someone who connects with all creatures and all of existence, and sings their holy song along with them.  A person who knows and lives this song is tuned in not only to G-d’s word, but also to G-d’s world. At Pesach time, the world blossoms and we recite a special blessing when we witness the miracle of the first appearance a fruit tree’s buds. As winter, like an exile, fades away, and spring comes in and redeems there are those who feel it.  Such a person’s every word of prayer and study, every fulfillment of a mitzvah, is synced in to a broad ecology which includes all of this world and even the world to come.

Just as there is a fifth redemption that goes beyond the other four there is also a fifth song.  There is a person who houses all of these songs combined into one song with the sound of sweet, symbiotic symphony.  The songs of the individual soul, of the nation, of humanity, and of the world merge into one song along with this person at all times. At Passover, when we read The Song of Songs, we have the chance to start fresh and become a holy song of G-d.  May we be so blessed.
Wishing everyone a chag kosher ve’sameach – a happy and kosher Passover,

Rabbi Neil Fleischmann
Introduction: On The Books 
(THOUGHT) Why is a seder called a seder?  The conventional answer to this is that is the ordered schedule of the night that gives this ceremony its name.  (This is similar to the reasoning behind the name of the siddur, the ordered compilation of our prayers.) A different approach is that the name serves to remind us to scrutinize the miracles and see order rather than happenstance behind them. This, in turn, helps us to appreciate the miraculous order of daily life. (Based on Chidushei HaRim’s take on MaHaRal as presented in Ma’aynah Shel Torah Haggadah).

(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 withsefarim (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, Yachatz, Maggid, Rachtzah, Motzi, Matza, Maror, Korech, Shulchan Orech, Tzafun, Barech, Hallel, Nirtzah (THOUGHT)

The fifteen parts of the Seder parallel the fifteen steps of the Bet haMikdash on which the fifteen songs of ascent from Tehillim were sung. This drives home the point that the Seder is a process of spiritual ascention.  May we be blessed to transform as we progress through every phase of the Seder.

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.

(QUESTION/ANSWER) Q - What is unique about the mitzvah of this kiddush? A – By saying kiddush and drinking the wine we simultaneously fulfill the mitzvah of drinking one of the four cups of wine we are obliged to drink on the seder night.

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).

In 2005 the comic strip Rhymes With Orange presented the following scene:

In the one long frame you see two men sitting at a bar. One of them has a martini glass in front of him. He turns to the other guy, who has four glasses of wine in front of him and asks, "rough day?" And he replies, "nope, Passover."

Here's my way to number 27 to ruin a joke: The fact is that you don't fulfill your sacred obligation of drinking the four cups of wine on the first two nights of Passover if you drink all four in a row. The four cups must take place in context, sitting in a leaning position, surrounded by the appropriate words.

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 karatiKah – 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) Why, when speaking of the four sons, does the Haggadah say the Torah speaks of four sons, and then says, echad X, echad Y, (one is X, one is Y), etc? When the mishnah says there are a certain number of things - for example, four types of damages, it doesn't say that one is this and one is that, it simply lists the four categories. So what is the meaning here behind this repeatedly added word - echad/one - that precedes each kind of son. (Rabbi Nachman Cohen, The Historical Haggadah)

The idea here is that every type of person stands as one, all their own.  When addressing someone you need to remember that they are a unique individual, one person is insightful, one has a lively wild side, one is shy, one is verbally challenged.   None of them are invalid or undeserving of an answers to their questions.  They may not be like you, they may not jive with your particular taste, but they are one, like the different other ones around them, like you who are not them. This is the point of prefacing each personality portrayed here with the word "one."

Sibling rivalry is often on full display at the Seder table. A big family gathering like this is a time when tensions often run high.  It's tempting to be pulled more toward certain kids over others when each is vying for attention in a what can be a chaotic setting. It's easier to focus on certain types of kids one on one.  This is a reminder not to let anyone get lost in the crowd. When presented with group dynamic remember that each person is a singular one. (Rabbi Nachman Cohen, The Historical Haggadah)

(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 lettershin’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.]

(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 h 
average intensity slavery. The Vilna Gaon points out that the musical notes under the words in the Tora- "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."

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 Yosef and why Yaakov 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!
 p 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!