APRIL 22-23, 2005 14 NISAN 5765
"G-d has bestowed many favors upon us." (Passover Haggadah)
Gratitude and appreciation are virtues that are not simply praiseworthy, they are essential traits. On the Seder night we are enjoined to recount the many wonders and miracles that Hashem wrought for us. Ibn Ezra contends that appreciation goes a step further. We are to remember how it used to be, how we suffered, the pain and affliction to which we were subjected, the thirst and hunger which accompanied us and the depression and hopelessness that ruled our lives. Hashem rescued us from all that. He took us out of misery, granting us the opportunity to live as free people.
Harav Mordechai Gifter, shlita, explains that one must appreciate and give gratitude where it is due. Does one, however, analyze the good that he has received? Does one ever think about what life would have been like had he not been saved? Do we ever really evaluate the good? Do we simply say, "Thank you," and continue with "business as usual?" One must remember what it had been like; think back to the days of misery and pain, feel some of the frustration and grief that used to be so much a part of his life. Then and only then will he truly understand the essence of the favor he has received. All too quickly we pay our respects to our benefactor and forget about him. If we pay more attention to our past we might more fully appreciate the present.
This, according to Harav Gifter, is the purpose of the Dayenu format of the Haggadah. We must delve deeper into the "good" that we have received, reviewing it, analyzing every aspect of it, so that we will experience greater appreciation at the present time. Let us appreciate all that we have so that we may merit to be blessed continuously. Happy Pesah. Rabbi Shmuel Choueka
"The wicked son - what does he say? What does this service mean to you?" (Haggadah shel Pesah)
We read on the Seder night about the four sons. The wise son, the wicked son, the simple son and the son who is unable to ask a question. The wicked son comes off with a strong statement criticizing us and all that we do. The Haggadah tells us to answer him bluntly, "This is done on account of what Hashem did for me when I came out of Egypt."
Rabbi Nissan Alpert says that it seems unusual that the same verse that is quoted for the son who is unable to ask a question is said to the wicked son! They are so different; why the same verse for both? He answers that the Haggadah is hinting to us a powerful message, that if not for the great amount of ignorance about Torah and religion that is so rampant among us, the wicked son would not have the audacity to mock our service of Hashem. Since there is so little knowledge of our religion, so many sons don't know enough even to ask a question, and this causes there to be amongst them even a wicked son that mocks our religion. What is the remedy to this problem? Look at the continuation of the Torah verse that follows the one quoted to the son. It discusses that there is a misvah of wearing tefillin, and that will lead to Torah study, for that is the only remedy - study of Torah and performance of the misvot.
The one answer to a person with negative feelings towards our religion: Get to know your religion and then you will see for yourself how truly beautiful it is. Happy Holiday. Rabbi Reuven Semah
"And he shall confess upon [the he-goat for Azazel] all the iniquities of the Children of Israel, and all their rebellious sins among all their sins, and place them upon the head of the he-goat, and send it with a designated man to the desert" (Vayikra 16:21)
The Gemara relates that Rabbi Eliezer was asked, "If the he-goat becomes ill, may he carry him on his shoulder?" Rabbi Eliezer replied, "Yachol hu leharkiv ani ve'atem - He is capable of carrying me and you."
Rabbi Eliezer's response is enigmatic: how does it answer their question? The statute of the "scapegoat for Azazel" serves as a metaphor of the Jewish people. For many years we have been under the reign of alien regimes, oppressed and persecuted. Whenever something has gone wrong anywhere in the world, the Jew has been made the "scapegoat." Like the scapegoat who was sent out of the camp to the wilderness, the Jewish people, too, have been expelled from one country after another, and have gone through a stage of wilderness before establishing themselves in another part of the world.
Fortunately, regardless of their trials and tribulations, the Jewish people have managed to "stand on their feet" - to remain firm in their commitment to Torah and misvot and to miraculously survive all attempts to destroy them physically and spiritually.
Rabbi Eliezer was asked, what if the "scapegoat" - the Jewish people - becomes ill, what if their lot sickens them to no end, and they no longer have the strength to 'stand on their feet'? Should they yield in their Torah observance and accept the ways of the prevailing forces? Should they recognize the dominating powers and compromise on their Judaism in order to appease them?
Rabbi Eliezer's answer was an unequivocal "no." He told the worried Jews, "Yachol hu leharkiv ani ve'atem - He [Hashem] is able to carry me and you. Do not, G-d forbid, falter one iota in your Judaism. Indeed galut may be difficult to endure, but be assured that Hashem is able to take us all out of it, and He will do it very speedily."
Moreover, the one who leads the scapegoat is referred to as "ish iti," which according to commentaries means a person whose time has come to die and will not live out the year. Not only will Hashem take the Jewish people out of galut, but all their oppressors will perish, and we, the Jewish people, will exist eternally. (Vedibarta Bam)
"For on this day He shall provide atonement for you to cleanse" (Vayikra 16:30)
In regards to Hashem forgiving the sins of the Jewish people, the prophet says, "If your sins will be like scarlet, they will turn white as snow" (Yeshayahu 1:18). Why the color scheme of red and white? The opposite of white is usually considered to be black, not red. The prophet should have said, "If your sins will be like black, through teshubah Hashem will convert them to white"?
A public debate was once held between a Reform Rabbi and an Orthodox Rabbi. The subject was Torah Judaism versus Reform. The able and astute Reform Rabbi commenced by asking the president of the Orthodox synagogue, who was in the audience, to rise. He asked the president, "Are you a Shabbat observer?" The head of the Orthodox synagogue became red-faced, hemmed and hawed and with deep embarrassment admitted that he was not. The Reform Rabbi then asked that the other officers of the Orthodox synagogue rise and he asked them the same question. They, too, stammered their response that they were not Shomrei Shabbat.
The strategy of the Reform Rabbi became clear when he said, "Ladies and gentlemen, you see there is no difference between my officers and their officers; neither of them keep Shabbat, so why debate if we are both equally non-observant?"
During all this time the late, venerable Ponavezer Rav, Rabbi Kahanaman, sat in the audience as a curious listener. Finally he asked for permission to ask a question. He mounted the platform and asked the president of the Reform Temple to rise, and he asked him, "Are you a Shabbat observer?" The head of the Temple burst into derisive and ridiculing laughter, saying, "Why, of course not!"
"This," said the Rav with quiet triumph, "is the difference between the two presidents, namely, the sense of shame that was so pronounced by the Orthodox president and that was so utterly lacking in the reply of the Reform president," and that, he said, was of the greatest importance. A person who turns red-faced with shame when confronted with his wrong-doing exhibits remorse.
The prophet is teaching that when shame is gone there is less hope for moral regeneration, but if a person's sins cause reddening with shame, there is hope that the person will do teshubah and Hashem will forgive him and turn everything to "white." (Vedibarta Bam)
This week's Haftarah: Yehezkel 22:1-16.
The custom in many communities is to read a special haftarah for Shabbat HaGadol. However, the custom in the Syrian community is to read the regular haftarah for Parashat Aharei Mot, in which the prophet Yehezkel admonishes the nation for their many sins against Hashem. Likewise, in our perashah, Hashem warns the people that they shouldn't become contaminated through sin lest the land disgorge its inhabitants.
What do the four cups of wine symbolize?
The four cups refer to the four stages in the redemption, or the four "leshonot shel geulah," the four expressions of redemption: Vehoseti - "I will take you out from the burdens of the yoke of Egypt." Even if we had stayed in Egypt, our yoke of servitude would have been removed. Vehisalti - "I will rescue you from their slavery." Hashem delivered us from Egypt. Vega'alti - "I will redeem you with an outstretched arm.: This refers to the wondrous miracles which Hashem wrought against the Egyptians. He confused and crushed our Egyptian oppressors. Velakachti - "I will take you to Me for a nation." This is the greatest aspect of the Redemption. Hashem brought us near Him, thereby granting us spiritual redemption as well.
Another reason, stated by Hazal connects the four cups of wine with the four times Pharaoh's cup is mentioned in Sefer Beresheet. Yosef and Pharaoh's sar hamashkim, chief wine steward, were imprisoned together in Egypt. Pharaoh's cups are an allusion to B'nei Yisrael's slavery. It is as if Hashem were saying to Yosef, "The slavery begins as the 'cup' is put into the hands of Pharaoh. In the end, however, the cup will be taken from him as your children are redeemed, and they will subsequently thank Hashem by drinking four times from the cup which represents salvation."
The four cups of wine are also likened to the four kingdoms that followed Egypt in enslaving Klal Yisrael. Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome were synonymous with treachery against our people. Consequently, Hashem will exact retribution from them with four different measures of punishment.
The Vilna Ga'on says that the four cups symbolize four worlds: the world we live in, the days of Mashiah, the period of Tehiat Hametim, revival of the dead, and Olam Haba, the World to Come. If one carries out the misvot of the Seder in the prescribed manner, with the correct intent and emotion, he is assured of these four worlds.
The Maharal sees the four cups of wine as alluding to the four Matriarchs - Sarah Ribkah, Rachel and Leah. It was their virtues, coupled with those of the Abot, Patriarchs, through which Klal Yisrael was redeemed from Egypt. Indeed, Hazal teach us that the three primary misvot of the Seder night - Pesah matzah and maror - are observed in the merit of the Abot.
Lastly, the B'nei Yissachar opines that the four cups serve as a reward for the four virtuous deeds carried out by the Jews of Egypt: They did not change their Hebrew names; they did not change their language from lashon hakodesh; they did not commit acts of immorality; and they did not speak lashon hara against each other. Although the Jews committed many grave sins, it was these four virtues, which remained as the last barrier to total assimilation, and saved them from spiritual annihilation. (The Sha'are Rahamim Haggadah)
"Why is this night different?" (Haggadah)
In what order should the four questions be asked?
In many communities the first question focuses on the matzah, which is a Biblical requirement. The second is about the maror, which is a Rabbinical requirement, and then the questions about dipping and reclining follow. In the Nusah Ari Haggadah the order starts with the question concerning dipping. This is in accordance with the Rambam's Haggadah, Rabbi Sa'adya Ga'on, Rabenu Yitzhak Alfasi, Rabenu Asher, and also the Jerusalem Talmud (Pesahim 10:4).
Seemingly, the order should be matzah first, then maror, for in the present era eating matzah has the status of a Biblical command, and eating maror is only a Rabbinic injunction. Dipping, by contrast, is merely a custom. Nevertheless, the dipping is given primacy because it is the careful adherence to Jewish custom which makes the most powerful impression on a child. When he sees that his parents observe matters of obvious importance, the impact is not as great - what alternative do they have? However, when he sees them paying close attention to details which are of seemingly minor importance, he realizes how all-encompassing a Jew's commitment to Judaism must be. (Ki Yishalcha Bincha)
"Rabban Gamliel used to say: Whoever has not said these three things on Pesah has not fulfilled his duty, namely, Pesah, matzah and maror." (Haggadah)
Certainly, Rabban Gamliel's intention was not for us to simply "say" these three words His point is that we should explain the implications and lessons to be derived from these three symbols to the best of our ability. The first symbol we introduce for discussion is the Korban Pesah. Why did we eat the Korban Pesah? What special miracle did it commemorate? It recalls the "passing over" by Hashem of the Jewish homes during makat bechorot, the killing of the firstborn. If we think about it, would it ever enter anyone's mind that Hashem would kill the Jewish firstborn? After all, the purpose of the plagues was to effect the release of the Jews from Egypt, not to kill them.
Ostensibly, the goal of the makot was to rescue the Jews from exile. Which Jews are we actually discussing? After two hundred and ten years of exposure to Egyptian culture, with its immorality and degenerate behavior, were the Jews really that distinct from the Egyptians? Was the Jewish neshamah that apparent, or was it hidden under years and years and layers and layers of repulsive spiritual degeneration? Indeed, the Ba'alei Kabbalah write that had the Jews remained a bit longer, they would never have been worthy of redemption. This is the stinging criticism that the Sar shel Misrayim, Egypt's guardian angel, rained upon the Jews as they stood by the shore of the Red Sea. "These are idol worshipers (referring to the Egyptians) and those are idol worshipers (referring to the Jews)." What distinguished the Jew from the Egyptian, so that the Jew should live while the Egyptian should perish?
It is specifically for this reason that we emphasize the miracle of "passing over" the Jewish homes. We were not spared as a result of overt righteousness and virtue. It was not our positive deeds and devotion to Hashem that earned us liberation. It was Hashem's external love for us that gained us salvation. Externally, according to our actions and behavior, we may appear to have a strong similarity with the Egyptians, their culture and lifestyle. Inwardly, however, there is something, a spark, a non-extinguishable ember that makes it impossible for this bond of love to be severed. The most significant miracle is that Hashem demonstrated His love for us. This is the foundation for all of the miracles of Yesiat Misrayim. Is it any wonder that Rabban Gamliel insists that we publicize and explain it? (The Sha'are Rahamim Haggadah)
Safun means "the hidden thing." As we know, it is a reference to the afikoman, the half-matzah that we hide at the very beginning of the Seder. Why do we leave half of the matzah on the table and hide the other half? Besides symbolizing poverty, the half-matzah - over which we say, "This is the bread of affliction that our forefathers ate in Egypt..." - also suggests that we have only heard "half" the story; the other "half" will be revealed later, when we will eat the afikoman.
What is the other half of the story? The redemption. We hide the afikoman in order to convey that the exact date when the redemption will transpire remains hidden from us. Will it come tomorrow or the next day? Next year or in one hundred years from how? We have no way of knowing - the advent of the redemption remains concealed from us.
However, because we know it is there, somewhere, we send the children to search for it, and at the very end of the meal they find it. Hence, by eating the second half of the matzah, we bring the events of the Exodus full circle - "the bread of poverty" with which we began has now become transformed into "the bread of redemption." By finding it and eating it, we can hasten the advent of the Mashiah. (The Ohr Somayach Haggadah)
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