The Pesach Seder begins with Kiddush, which is the first of the four cups of
wine that we are required to drink. Rashi writes (Pesachim 99b) that these four
cups correspond to the four expressions of redemption mentioned in the Torah (Shemos
6:6-7). However, this begs the question: even we want to commemorate these four
different expressions of freedom at the Seder, why must we specifically do so by
drinking four cups of wine as opposed to any other food item, such as eating
Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach explains that the four expressions of redemption
aren't four different phrases connoting freedom, but four different levels of
freedom, with each one being higher than the one below it. Therefore, our Sages
specifically instituted a requirement to drink four cups of wine because wine is
unique in that each additional glass isn't simply more of what we've already
had, but rather it qualitatively brings additional joy and happiness.
With apples or any other food, this isn't the case, as each additional fruit is
essentially the same as those which preceded it, and by the third and fourth
serving one is already accustomed to it and it adds little additional value.
Because we are commemorating the four expressions of redemption and the fact
that each represents a higher level of freedom and joy, wine is the appropriate
means for doing so.
Alternatively, wine is unique in that it is made from grapes. In their state as
grapes, there is nothing particularly special about them, and the blessing
recited when eating them is the same as for any other fruit. Only after they
have been crushed with the proper amount of pressure does their juice come out,
at which point it must be left to ferment in the right environment so that it
becomes wine and not vinegar.
In this sense, grapes are a perfect metaphor for the experience of the Jewish
people in Mitzrayim. The Egyptians constantly pressed and squeezed the Jewish
slaves, but their doing so was part of Hashem's master plan to subject the
Jewish people to an iron furnace in order to purify them and bring out their
In fact, the very name Mitzrayim refers to constricting borders, which describes
the experience of the Jewish slaves in Egypt. However, just like the liquid
secreted by the grapes, the Jews had a choice to succumb to the tests and trials
and become vinegar, or to rise and overcome them to maximize their potentials by
becoming wine. Because wine is unique in this regard and contains this symbolic
message, Chazal specifically commanded us to use it to represent the four
expressions of redemption.
After Kiddush, we wash our hands before eating a vegetable, which is referred to
as Karpas. Why do we call it Karpas when it would seem that Yerek - vegetable -
would be a more appropriate and accurate name for what we are doing? What does
Karpas mean, and do we use this term to refer to our eating of a vegetable
dipped in salt water?
In the beginning of Parshas Vayeishev, the Torah records (Bereishis 37:3) that
Yaakov made for Yosef a tunic made of "passim." Rashi explains that the word
"passim" means fine wool, adding that it is similar to the term Karpas which is
used in Megillas Esther (1:6) to describe the opulent decor at Achashverosh's
royal party. Achashverosh certainly wasn't hanging vegetables from his walls; he
was hanging decorations made of fine wool, which is what Karpas means.
What does fine wool have to do with dipping a vegetable into saltwater at the
beginning of the Seder? In his commentary on Mishneh Torah (Hilchos Chometz
U'Matzah 8:2), Rabbeinu Manoach writes that the dipping of the Karpas in
saltwater is supposed to remind us of the dipping of Yosef's tunic in blood by
his brothers (Bereishis 37:31). In light of this, we now understand that Karpas
means fine wool, not vegetables, but we use the term to remind us of the sale of
Yosef into slavery by his brothers. As we are about to begin the section of the
Haggadah known as Maggid, which begins with the declaration that we were slaves
to Pharaoh in Egypt, it is necessary to first understand the historical
background which brought us to that stage, namely the sale of Yosef which caused
our ancestors to descend to Egypt. In order to commemorate this, we dip a
vegetable in salt water and call it Karpas.
K'neged arba'ah banim dibrah Torah
The Haggadah teaches that the Torah addresses four different types of children
and instructs us how to educate each of them about the Exodus from Egypt. In his
work Shemen HaTov, Rav Dov Weinberger points out that when examining the verses
which record the questions posed by the three types of sons who are capable of
asking questions, the Torah (Shemos 13:14 and Devorim 6:20) introduces the
questions of the wise son and the simple son with the words "ki yishalcha bincha
machar" - when your son asks you tomorrow - but in conjunction with the question
attributed to the wicked son, the word "machar" (tomorrow) is omitted.
Rav Weinberger explains that although the wise and simple sons have questions
about the Exodus from Egypt, the Torah tells us that they only ask their
questions the following day. On Pesach itself, they are focused on performing
the mitzvos that they recognize that they are obligated to do, and only after
they have fulfilled their obligations do they ask about what they did so that
they can better understand the mitzvos. The wicked son, on the other, insists on
asking his question today, because if he is unable to understand the mitzvah and
doesn't receive a satisfactory answer to his question, he will refuse to perform
the mitzvah. This is what makes him wicked, as it is the diametric opposite of
the Jewish attitude of "na'aseh v'nishma" - we will do and we will listen (Shemos
Similarly, the Kotzker Rebbe points out that we declare "Ein Keilokeinu" - there
is none like our G-d - and only afterwards do we ask "Mi Keilokeinu" - who is
like our G-d. He explains that this teaches us that asking questions is
permissible and encouraged, but only after one has clearly established and
accepted the fundamental tenets of Jewish belief.
Rav Chaim Soloveitchik had a student who unfortunately left yeshiva and
abandoned the Torah lifestyle. Many years later Rav Chaim was visiting the city
where this student lived, and the student came to visit him. He said to Rav
Chaim, "I have a number of questions and doubts about Hashem and Jewish beliefs.
Can we discuss them?"
Rav Chaim responded, "I'll be happy to sit down and talk to you about your
questions, but first tell me one thing: did your questions come before you
stopped observing Shabbos or afterward?" The student replied that the doubts
developed after he began to desecrated Shabbos. Rav Chaim responded that in that
case, the student didn't have questions but answers. In other words, he had
already decided not to adhere to the Torah, but he began to feel guilty over his
decisions, so he developed questions to rationalize and justify his decisions.
Rav Chaim added, "I'm happy to answer questions, but for answers I have no
This theme is one of the lessons of the four sons. Questions are fine, even from
a wise child, as long as they are symbolically asked tomorrow, meaning after one
has accepted the primary and unshakeable obligation to perform the mitzvos.
However, if the questions are a prerequisite to observing the Torah's
commandments, it is an indication that we are unfortunately dealing with a
Lo sosifun laseis teven l'am lilbon ha'leveinim kismol shilshom (Shemos 5:7)
The Torah records that after Moshe and Aharon approached Pharaoh and demanded
that he allow his Jewish slaves to go to the wilderness to rejoice with Hashem,
Pharaoh got angry and claimed that the Jews were being lazy. He decided to give
them more work in order to keep them busy, so he declared that from that point
onward, the Jewish slaves would no longer receive straw to use to make bricks
and would have to gather their own straw. At the same time, Pharaoh didn't want
to lose out on their productivity, so he demanded that they continue to make the
same number of bricks as before, even though they would now have to spend extra
time and energy gathering straw.
Rav Yochanan Zweig asks an interesting question: if Pharaoh wanted to punish the
Jewish slaves with additional work, why did he keep their quota the same while
making them work harder to get straw instead of continuing to give them straw
but ordering them to produce a larger quantity of bricks, which would serve the
goal of making them work harder but would seemingly be better for Pharaoh, as he
would get more output from them?
Rav Zweig answers that Pharaoh understood that even though the Jewish slaves had
been physically occupied until now, their request to go to the desert to serve
Hashem revealed that internally, they were still free and were able to reflect
in their minds upon their spiritual plight. He realized that if he simply
ordered them to work harder on a physical level, it would be more physically
draining, but the mental freedom they possessed would continue to be off-limits
to him. Instead, in his wickedness, Pharaoh came up with a plan which would
require the Jewish slaves to work harder not just physically, but also mentally.
By not giving them straw and demanding that they find it themselves, Pharaoh was
setting up a system which would force them to devote additional mental energy to
their work that he hoped would result in his total control not only over their
bodies, but also over their minds.
The Mesilas Yesharim writes that the yetzer hara (evil inclination) realizes
that if we would ever pause to reflect for even a brief moment on its
techniques, we would immediately recognize it for what it is and stop listening
to it. Therefore, an integral part of its strategy is to keep us so
overwhelmingly busy that we never get a chance to stop and think. Just as Rav
Zweig explains, the Mesilas Yesharim adds that this is exactly what Pharaoh was
trying to do when he ordered the Jewish slaves to find straw in an attempt to
take away from them the ability to think for themselves.
Even though we're not slaves to Pharaoh today, most of us still aren't free to
choose how we spend much of our time. Each of us has various obligations and
responsibilities to our families and to our jobs. Nevertheless, the lesson of
Pharaoh's diabolical plan is that the definition of freedom isn't how much time
we have for ourselves, but how well we use it. Even though we have many demands
on our time that require our constant focus and concentration, the Mesilas
Yesharim and Rav Zweig teach us that we are only considered free if we are able
to carve out the time and mental space to think for ourselves.
Answers to the weekly Points to Ponder are now available!
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Pesach Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) As private citizens, why weren’t the Egyptians and their animals exempt from
the punishment of the plagues which should have been meted out exclusively to
Pharaoh for his cruel role in enslaving the Jewish people? (Taima D’Kra Parshas
Vayigash, M’rafsin Igri Parshas Vaeira)
2) If Hashem wanted the Jews to be freed from their bondage in Egypt, why did He
harden Pharaoh’s heart (Shemos 7:3) so that he would refuse to free the Jewish
people instead of causing him to agree to allow the Jews to leave so that they
could receive their freedom and the Torah that much sooner? (Peninim Vol. 8)
3) Hashem instructed Moshe (12:13) to command the Jewish people to place the
blood from their Passover sacrifices on their doorposts to serve as a sign so
that He would pass over their houses without harming them. As Hashem clearly
knew who was in each house, why was the blood necessary? (Rabbeinu Bechaye)
4) Although Hashem commanded Moshe (14:16) to lift up his staff and stretch out
his arm over the Red Sea in order to split it for the Jewish people, the Torah
relates (14:21) only that he stretched out his hand over the sea in order to do
so. Did he also raise his staff as he was commanded, and if so, why is no
mention made of it in the Torah, and if not, why did he deviate from Hashem’s
instructions? (Targum Yonason ben Uziel 2:21 and 14:21, Shemos Rabbah 21:9,
Rashi 17:5, Rosh, Tur HeAruch, Rabbeinu Bechaye, Kli Yakar)
5) How were Miriam and the women permitted to sing the Shiras HaYam (15:21) when
the law is (Even HaEzer 21:1) that a man is forbidden to hear a woman outside of
his immediate family singing? (Peninim MiShulchan HaGra, Tiferes Yonason, Nachal
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