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Pesach - Vol. 10, Issue 25
Compiled by Oizer Alport



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 four apples?

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 a כור הבזרל - iron furnace - in order to purify them and bring out their true greatness.

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.

She'lo echad bilvad amad aleinu l'chaloseinu (Haggadah)

In the Maggid section of the Haggadah, we declare that Pharaoh was not the only one who rose up to annihilate us, as in every generation oppressors attempt to destroy us, but Hashem saves us from their hands. We proceed to prove this statement by noting that while Pharaoh's decree was only directed against the male Jews, Lavan wished to uproot the entire nation. These statements are difficult to understand. After all of the tragic anti-Semitic pogroms and persecutions that we have endured, it is unfortunately self-evident and quite an understatement to say that Pharaoh was not the only tyrant to threaten us. What point is the author of the Haggadah trying to convey to us? Further, in what way does the fact that Lavan also attempted to destroy us constitute a proof to the claim that our enemies seek to annihilate us in every generation?

Rav Yissocher Frand elucidates these proclamations by pointing out that most popular ideologies begin with one person who comes up with a novel idea and uses it launch a movement and attract a following. Even though millions of people may come to adopt the belief system, it ultimately originated with one man and his teachings. However, while this is true of virtually all "isms," there is one exception: anti-Semitism. Throughout the generations, there have been countless people who have hated the Jews, but each of them had his own distinct motivation. Unlike other movements, anti-Semitism was not just the brainchild of one individual; some hated the Jews because of our success, while others hated us because they said we are racist and discriminatory, and yet others hated us because of our appearance. Although they all came to the same common conclusion, the underlying motivations behind their hatred were vastly different.

The Haggadah's declaration that "not only one (Pharaoh) stood up against us" is making this point, that anti-Semitism is not the invention of one individual. In each generation our enemies come up with new complaints and new reasons to hate us, but the bottom line remains steady and unchanging. With this understanding, the flow of the Haggadah makes perfect sense. After this declaration, we continue to note that long before Pharaoh, Lavan also wanted to destroy us. If Pharaoh was merely following in Lavan's footsteps, he would have sought to uproot the entire nation as Lavan wanted to do, but as proof for the statement we just made, we note that Pharaoh had his own approach, his own iteration of anti-Semitism, as evidenced by the fact that he only wanted to kill the male Jews.

Rabbi Frand explains that the Haggadah extrapolates from here to inform us that although other movements come and go, there is one "ism" that has remained constant in every generation: anti-Semitism. Beginning with Eisav and Lavan, continuing through Pharaoh and Nevuchadnezzar, followed by the Greeks, Romans, Muslims, Catholics, Ukrainians, Nazis, and Arabs, the Jews have been hunted and persecuted in unparalleled fashion for thousands of years. This teaches us that all of the purported rationales behind their anti-Semitism are only excuses. In reality, it is not our appearance or our success that irks them to no end, but rather the fact that Hashem chose us as His nation, which is the real reason that they seek to eliminate us. In every generation anti-Semitism appears in a new incarnation, but just as we can count on their hatred to manifest itself, so too can we count on Hashem to miraculously rescue us from their hands.

Uv'nei Yisroel halchu bayabasha b'soch hayam v'hamayim lahem chomah miy'minam u'mismolam (Shemos 14:29)

The Medrash teaches (Yalkut Shimoni 234) that when the Jewish people were crossing the Red Sea, the prosecuting angel argued that it was inappropriate for Hashem to perform miracles on their behalf since they had worshipped idolatry in Egypt. This argument is difficult to understand. If their idolatrous practices represented a reason that Hashem shouldn't perform miracles on their behalf, why did he wait until this point to make this argument instead of pressing his claim during the entire year that Hashem was performing the ten plagues on their behalf?

The Meshech Chochmah answers by pointing out a curious apparent contradiction. With regard to commandments which are violated through actions, such as idolatry and forbidden relationships, the Torah prescribes an appropriate punishment, such as death, lashes, and kares (spiritual excision), for each transgression. On the other hand, no such punishment is given in conjunction with mitzvos that are transgressed through corrupt character traits, such as forbidden gossip or hating another Jew.

However, this dichotomy applies only to sins committed by an individual. Regarding communal sins, the rule is reversed. The Yerushalmi teaches (Peah 1:1) that the generation of Dovid HaMelech was righteous, yet they still fell in battle because they spread rumors about one another. The generation of Achav was full of wicked idolaters, yet they emerged successful and unscathed from their battles because they didn't gossip about one another. He explains that if the nation is corrupt in idolatry or adultery, Hashem still dwells among them in the midst of their spiritual impurity, but if they are stricken with bad character traits, He metaphorically abandons them to return to the Heavens.

Because of the communal severity of interpersonal sins, the first Temple was destroyed for the cardinal sins of murder, idolatry, and forbidden relationships, yet it was rebuilt relatively quickly. The second Temple was destroyed for the sin of gossip and baseless hatred, and has yet to be rebuilt (Yoma 9b). Similarly, Hashem forgave the Jewish people for the sin of idolatrously worshipping the golden calf, but He didn't forgive them for the sin of the spies, which involved negative speech and a lack of gratitude, and decreed that they would die in the wilderness as a result.

With this introduction, the Meshech Chochmah explains that in Egypt, the Jewish people were steeped in the 49th level of spiritual impurity and worshipped idolatry just like the Egyptians. Nevertheless, they had one saving grace, in that they dwelled peacefully and didn't gossip about one another (Vayikra Rabbah 32:5). As a result, Hashem forgave their other communal sins and miraculously performed the plagues to bring about their salvation, and the prosecuting angel had no grounds for his argument. However, when they were trapped at the Red Sea by the pursuing Egyptians, the Medrash (Yalkut Shimoni 233) teaches that they divided into four groups who fought about the appropriate strategy. Only at this time, when the Jewish nation lacked unity, was the prosecuting angel able to argue that they should be judged for their individual sins, such as idolatry, and Hashem should not perform further miracles on their behalf. In these difficult times for our nation, let us strengthen ourselves in our pursuit of unity and love for our fellow Jews, and in that merit, Hashem should perform miracles for us just as He did for our ancestors in Egypt.

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

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

1) Rashi writes (Shemos 3:18) that when Moshe was nervous about whether the Jewish people would accept him as Hashem's agent to redeem them, Hashem reassured him by telling him that when he announced himself using the phrase pakod yifkod - Hashem will remember you - they would trust in him because Yosef gave the Jews a tradition (Bereishis 50:25) that the redeemer would identify himself using this "secret password." What value could a secret password possibly have if the entire population was aware of it and capable of using it? (Ramban, Taima D'Kra)

2) When burning chometz before Pesach to remove it from our possessions (12:15), must one take care not to burn meat and milk products together in order to avoid transgressing the prohibition (23:19) against cooking meat and milk together? (Ma'adanei Asher 5769 Parshas Mishpatim)

3) Does a blind person who possesses chometz during Pesach violate the Torah prohibition (13:7) that chometz shall not be seen in your possession on Pesach? (Rosh Pesachim 1:9, Kesef Mishneh Hilchos Chometz U'Matzah 1:3, Minchas Chinuch 20:1, Mas'as HaMelech)

4) On the way out of Egypt, Hashem chose not to lead the Jewish people by way of the nearby land of the Philistines because He feared that when they would see a war there, they would get scared and return to Egypt (13:17). As Rashi writes (13:18) that the Jews left Egypt armed with weapons, why would they be afraid to witness wars which they clearly knew they may encounter and for which they had already taken steps to prepare? (Ayeles HaShachar)

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

 © 2015 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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