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 Pesach - Vol. 8, Issue 25
Compiled by Oizer Alport


Mah nishtanah halaylah hazeh mikol halaylos

            Shortly after beginning the Maggid portion of the Seder, the youngest child asks the Mah Nishtanah, a series of four questions highlighting atypical actions that we perform during the Seder. However, there is an unusual law which states that if for any reason a person finds himself alone at the Seder with nobody to ask the Mah Nishtanah, he is required to ask himself these questions (Orach Chaim 473:7). This obligation seems difficult to understand, as if we observe somebody engaged in conversation with himself, we would normally suspect that he has a psychiatric illness. If so, why did Chazal instruct a person to conduct the Seder by talking to himself in such a manner?

            Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz explains that the mitzvah of recounting the Exodus from Egypt is difficult to fulfill properly. Typically, the purpose of sharing information with another person is to tell him something new that he doesn't already know. In this case, however, everybody at the Seder, including the children, already knows the story of the Exodus. Moreover, the Haggadah explicitly states that even wise Torah scholars, who are certainly familiar with the details of the Exodus, are nevertheless obligated to recount it. Therefore, in order to make our performance of this mitzvah easier, our Sages said that it should be done in a question-and-answer format, as human nature is such that when we ask questions, we become emotionally involved and interested in hearing the answers.

            The commentators point out that in addition to the annual mitzvah of retelling the story of the Exodus on the night of the Seder, there is an additional mitzvah of remembering the Exodus from Egypt, which is performed twice daily during Krias Shema. What is the difference between these two mitzvos? The daily mitzvah of remembering the Exodus is intellectual in nature, as we constantly remind ourselves about the topic. Although the mitzvah of recounting the Exodus at the Seder revolves around the same subject, it is fundamentally different in nature, as its purpose is to emotionally feel and relive the experience, as the Haggadah states that every person is obligated to view himself as if he personally went out from Egypt. In order to facilitate the performance of this mitzvah, Chazal ordained that we must perform unusual actions in order to motivate the children to question our conduct, which will get them emotionally engaged and excited to hear the answers.

            Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz uses this concept to explain a well-known episode involving Shlomo HaMelech. The Haftorah for Parshas Mikeitz discusses a case of two women who gave birth, but one of their sons died. Each woman claimed that the living child belonged to her and the dead child belonged to the other woman. After Shlomo listened to their arguments, the Haftorah records (Melochim 1 3:23) that he repeated their words: This woman said, 'This is my son and the dead son is hers,' and  this woman said, 'This is my son and the dead son is hers.' The reason Shlomo did so is that when somebody repeats something and the words come out of his mouth, they feel more like his own words and he senses more of a connection to them. Doing so helped Shlomo ensure that he would investigate both of their claims and positions with all of his focus in order to arrive at the correct ruling.

            The Gemora (Kiddushin 40a) records that Rav Huna taught that when somebody commits a sin two times, it becomes permissible to him. The Gemora asks incredulously, "Does it really become permissible!?" The Gemora answers that Rav Huna meant to say that if a person commits a sin twice, he views it as if it is allowed, even though it certainly remains forbidden. If this was Rav Huna's intention, why didn't he avoid confusion by initially explaining himself more clearly? Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz explains that Rav Huna was intentionally vague and misleading because he wanted to shock people into asking the question, "Does it really become permissible," as now that the desire to know comes from the listener, he will be drawn into the discussion and will pay close attention to the answer and allow it to penetrate his heart.

            Similarly, the Gemora (Avodah Zara 19b) says that Rav Alexandri once publicly announced, "Who wants life?" A large crowd of people gathered around him to eagerly hear the answer, at which point he told them (Tehillim 34:13-14) Who is the man who desires life ... Guard your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking deceit. Although those assembled had certainly read these verses before, they never fully understood them and didn't allow them to enter their hearts. However, now that Rav Alexandri got their attention by calling out a question to which they wanted the answer, they were motivated to voluntarily approach him to hear his response, thereby enabling him to make a much more powerful impact, which is a model for what we are supposed to accomplish at the Seder through the question-and-answer format, both with our children and with ourselves.


Echad mi yodeah

            At the end of the Seder we sing a number of beautiful songs, including one that begins Echad mi yodeah - who knows one - in which we associate each of the integers from one to thirteen with a Jewish concept. Although there are a number of lively and well-known tunes for this piyut, its deeper significance and placement at the end of the Seder is less clear. What is the purpose of this song, and why do we sing it specifically at this point in the Seder?

            The Gemora in Menachos (43b) teaches that when a person looks at the techeiles (blue dye) in his tzitzis, it will remind him of his spiritual obligations, as techeiles is similar in color to the sea, which is in turn comparable to the appearance of the sky, which is in turn similar to Hashems Throne of Glory. A man once approached his Rabbi and questioned how many people are truly able to make all of these connections, such that when they see techeiles it actually reminds them of Hashem.

            The sagacious Rav replied that the Shulchan Aruch (Even HaEzer 21:1) rules that it is forbidden for a man to stare at colored garments that belong to a woman he knows, even if she is not wearing them at the time, as it could lead him to inappropriate thoughts. The Rav asked the man whether this prohibition made sense to him, and he replied that he understood it, at which point the Rav explained that every person has a different thought process. If his mind is focused on spiritual matters and everything he sees reminds him of mitzvos, then when he looks at techeiles he will see Hashem's Throne of Glory. On the other hand, if he spends his time occupied with mundane physical pursuits, he will be able to look at clothing that's not even being worn and come to improper thoughts.

            Similarly, Rav Avrohom Schorr explains that there are certain numbers that are so innately connected to a person that any time he hears them, he automatically associates them with a certain concept. Examples include a person's phone number, his address, and the date of his birthday, as well as other significant numbers such as 9/11, which is indelibly associated with the destruction of the World Trade Center.

            By the end of the Seder, the holiness of the night has helped us connect ourselves to Hashem and has uplifted us to the highest spiritual levels. The word "Pesach" means to skip over, and the mitzvos we perform at the Seder enable us to leap from the lowest levels of impurity to the highest heights of kedusha (holiness). At this time, our thought process is so pure that we are on the level that we want to associate every number with spirituality. We begin by declaring that the only association we have with the number one is Hashem, and we proceed to enumerate Jewish concepts that are associated with each integer up to thirteen, which is the numerical value of the word (One), in order to preserve the inspiration of the Seder by tangibly connecting each number to a spiritual topic.


Vayeitzei el echav vayar b'sivlosam (Shemos 2:11)

From the birth of Moshe until Hashem spoke to him from the burning bush, there are a mere 27 verses in the Torah. Precious little background information about Moshes childhood and his qualifications to serve as the leader and redeemer of the Jews are given. The Darkei Mussar and Rav Mattisyahu Salomon write that the one attribute which is repeatedly emphasized in these verses is his ability to be compassionate in sharing in the suffering of those around him which is one of the 48 methods by which the Torah is acquired.

Although Moshe had the good fortune to be raised in Pharaohs palace, he refused to exempt himself from sharing in the plight of his people. The Medrash Tanchuma relates that he voluntarily assisted them in their labor to lighten their load and to better identify with their suffering. We are also told of his pain at witnessing the merciless beating of a Jewish slave by his Egyptian taskmaster, which he reacted to by slaying the Egyptian (2:11-12).

The Torah continues to relate that not only was Moshe pained by a non-Jew striking a Jew, but also by one Jew raising his arm to hit another Jew (2:13). His concern for others wasnt limited to Jewish suffering, as he then came to the aid of non-Jews (Yisros daughters) who were being unfairly persecuted by other shepherds (2:17). The Medrash adds (Shemos Rabbah 2:2) that Moshes sensitivity wasnt just humanitarian, as he even had compassion on a tired and thirsty sheep in his flock, carrying it on his shoulder from the stream where it ran for a drink back to the pasture where the other sheep were grazing.

The common thread in all of these episodes is Moshes tremendous empathy and compassion for others. If these are the only snapshots we are given into his early life, it must be that it was for this attribute that he was chosen to redeem the Jews and receive the Torah. In fact, his sensitivity was so great that even after being selected, he attempted to decline for fear that his older brother Aharon would be hurt at being passed over (Rashi 4:13).

The Alter of Slabodka notes that even after being reassured that Aharon would rejoice at the good news, Moshe still didnt immediately depart on his sacred mission. Instead, he first stopped to receive permission from his father-in-law Yisro, to whom he felt gratitude for hosting him all of this time. Moshe was chosen precisely because he understood that a possible slight to even one person outweighed the Redemption of the entire Jewish people and if Yisro objected, a different mechanism for their salvation would need to be found..


Answers to the weekly Points to Ponder are now available!
To receive the full version with answers email the author at oalport@optonline.net.


Pesach Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1)     Rashi writes (2:1) that when Pharaoh decreed that all Jewish male children should be killed, Amram divorced his wife Yocheved. The Gemora in Berachos (10a) relates that Yeshayahu was sent to visit Chizkiyahu and inform him that he would soon die and forfeit his portion in the World to Come for neglecting to fulfill the mitzvah to have children. Chizkiyahu explained that he had seen through Divine Inspiration that any children he would have would be wicked. Yeshayahu responded that our job is to perform the mitzvos without calculations, and to leave the results to Hashem. Why wasnt there a similar accusation against Amram for divorcing his wife and refusing to have children for fear that they would be killed? (Mrafsin Igri)

2)     The first plague was that all of the water in Egypt turned to blood. Did it literally turn into blood, or did it only take on the appearance of blood, and if the latter, why werent the Egyptians able to drink it? (Daas Zkeinim, Seforno, Ayeles HaShachar)

3)     Rashi writes (12:6) that when the time came for Hashem to fulfill the vow that He swore to Avrohom to redeem his descendants, He saw that the Jewish people didnt have any mitzvos to perform to merit their redemption, so He gave them the mitzvos of circumcising the males and of offering and eating the Pesach-sacrifice. If the time came for Hashem to keep His promise, why didnt He have to fulfill it even if the Jews didnt have sufficient merits? (Ayeles HaShachar)

4)     How big was the mixed multitude of Egyptians who left Egypt together with the Jews (12:38)? (Targum Yonason ben Uziel and Mechilta 12:38)

5)     Are the words (15:1) Az yashir Moshe UV'nei Yisroel es hashira hazos l'Hashem vayomru leimor - then Moshe and the Jewish people sang this song to Hashem, and said the following considered part of the actual Shiras HaYam, or are they merely an introduction to the song which begins afterward? (Chavatzeles HaSharon)

   2013 by Oizer Alport. Permission is granted to reproduce and distribute as long as credit is given. To receive weekly via email or to send comments or suggestions, write to parshapotpourri@optonline.net


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