APRIL 7-8, 2001 14 NISAN 5761
- Rabbi Reuven Semah
"The wicked son - what does he say?" (Haggadah)
The Haggadah tells us that there are four different types of sons. One of them is the rasha - the wicked one. As we read about what he says and our response to him, we are left with a big question. I'll tell you what I mean. He says, "What is all this effort all about. Why do we need it?"
The Haggadah responds that we should knock out his teeth (rap 'em in the mouth!) and tell him, "This is our service to Hashem, and if he would have been in Egypt he wouldn't have gotten out." Rabbi David Orlofsky asks:
What happened to all the clever techniques being used today to bring our estranged Jewish brothers back to the fold? Knocking out his teeth doesn't seem to be the right thing to do. To understand all of this we must understand that there is a fifth son. The fifth son is the one who doesn't even come to the Seder. The rasha, for some reason, wants to be at the Seder, he just doesn't want to follow the rules. He is like the fellow who says that he wouldn't have a problem keeping Shabbat, if it weren't for all of the laws. Now why would someone come to a religious event and not participate? If you don't want to be there, just don't come. Even a rasha can understand that it's not nice to come and make fun.
Many commentators are troubled by the fact that the rasha is placed next to the hacham (wise son). Shouldn't he be placed last? The truth is, we shouldn't confuse the true rasha with an ignoramus. A person can't claim to be an atheist when he hasn't even begun to research the subject. He has studied and has rejected. It is very difficult to find a true rasha today.
To be a rasha you first have to be a hacham. The reason he is mentioned next to the hacham is that if we can turn him around he will be a hacham. He has all the knowledge anyway!
The rasha asks: Why are we doing this? Who needs it all? He wants to eat already. Our response is "Hakheh et shinav," which is incorrectly translated as, "Hit him in the teeth." That is a mistake because the word is spelled with a kof instead of a kaf. It really means to "dull his teeth." In other words, take the bite out of him. The rasha says: "Let's just have a nice family meal together. A little matzah, a little wine, and, you know, the cute little traditions that our people have enjoyed so long. But let's move it along. We don't want to sit here all night and listen to speeches." Our response is simple, and it instantly takes the bite out of him. We ask him, "Why are you here? Do you want to go out for dinner?
Well, in two weeks we'll get together and go out. If you agreed to join the Seder you really can't be an authentic rasha at all." There is no better way to take the bite out of a rasha than to point out that we Jews belong to something real. We and millions of Jews throughout history have been prepared to die for our beliefs. Why can't I pick and choose? Why can't I do what I feel like, he asks. The answer is, Judaism is real. It is not just a collection of ancient customs and eating experiences. It's all true.
We need to impress upon our children a sense of mission. We don't pick and choose. If we go to work in a blizzard, but can't make it to minyan, what kind of message are we sending to our children? If we can give them a true system of priorities we can hope to always have them united with us. Happy holiday.
- Rabbi Shmuel Choueka
We say in the Haggadah "Arami obed abi vayered Misrayma" - that Laban the Aramite wanted to destroy my father [Ya'akob] and Ya'akob ultimately went down to Egypt. How did Laban try to kill Ya'akob, and what is the connection with Ya'akob going down to Egypt?
We can understand this by remembering that Laban was a very effective sorcerer, steeped in all forms of tum'ah (impurity). The Rabbis tell us that not only did Laban want to hurt us physically, but even spiritually, using magic and impurity, did he attempt to destroy us. He was able to affect us through his daughters Rahel and Leah, Bilhah and Zilpah, because some of his impurity was passed on to us through his children. Hashem, with His infinite wisdom, saw that the only way we would be cleansed from Laban's influence was to go to Egypt and work for all those years, thereby eradicating any trace of impurity from Laban. The Torah calls Egypt "kur habarzel, the Iron Furnace," and the Rabbis say that the word BaRZeL is an acronym for Bilhah Rahel Zilpah Leah, thereby hinting that the furnace of Egypt was to purify us from any effect passed down to our matriarchs from Laban.
This answers another very fundamental question. We celebrate Pesah as the time of our freedom from Egypt, and thank Hashem for it profusely.
However, didn't He bring us to Egypt in the first place? If so, why such gratitude for taking us out? According to the above, Hashem brought us to Egypt so that we would be purified and cleansed from Laban's influence, thereby allowing us to become His nation, untainted by any negative influence. We therefore celebrate Pesah with gratitude to Hashem both for bringing us down to Egypt and for taking us out. We should likewise have full appreciation for everything Hashem does for us, even if we do not see the good in it.
Happy Holiday and Shabbat Shalom.
"An earthenware vessel in which [the korban] was cooked shall be broken" (Vayikra 6:21)
Rashi explains that the reason the earthenware vessel must be broken is that the absorbed meat becomes "notar" (flesh of holy offerings which remained uneaten longer than the designated time, after which one is forbidden to eat from it).
When a vessel is not used for more than twenty-four hours, whatever is absorbed in it becomes pagum (spoiled, and not considered food anymore).
In that case, even if the vessel were to release some of the absorbed meat during its next use, it would not be considered food, and should not be a problem. So why can't we use the earthenware vessel after twenty-four hours?
Pirkei Abot (5:5) lists the miracles that took place in the Bet Hamikdash, one of which is that the "meat of the sacrifices never spoiled." Thus, the absorbed meat in the vessels was always fresh. Since the earthenware vessels cannot be koshered through purging, the "fresh" absorbed meat becomes "notar" and disqualifies the vessel for further use. (Vedibarta Bam)
"If he offers it for a thanksgiving" (Vayikra 7:12)
The Midrash states that in the era of the Mashiah, all sacrifices will become void, with the exception of the Korban Todah, the Offering of Thanksgiving. Similarly, it is taught that all tefillot (prayers) will be abolished in the future except for those of thanksgiving. We may question the need for thanksgiving in the era of Mashiah. Thanksgiving is expressed in acknowledgement of Hashem's beneficence by one who has been rescued from grave peril. The sacrifice is, therefore, man's method of expressing his belief that Hashem actively guides every aspect of his life. During the era of Mashiah, man will not lack for anything, for the world will be the essence of perfection. Why would he then have to offer thanksgiving?
Rav Chaim Zaichhyk explains that, indeed, the basis for thanksgiving will be different during the era of Mashiah. Gratitude will no longer be expressed for the present, but will be conveyed retroactively for the past.
Man's perception of Hashem's conduct will be greatly enhanced. The events of the past, which may have seemed so painful, will be perceived as a vehicle for our spiritual development. We will consequently realize that everything Hashem has done has been for our benefit. This will ultimately serve as the source of our gratitude to Him. (Peninim on the Torah)
"This is the law of the burnt offering." (Vayikra 6:2)
Each type of korban was brought for a different reason. The burnt offering (olah) was brought to repent for bad thoughts, while the sin offering (hatat) was brought for sinful actions. One may ask: Why is it that improper thoughts necessitate an offering which is burned completely on the altar, while sinful actions require an offering from which the kohanim are allowed to eat? It would seem that the more severe sin should require the offering which was completely burned.
The purpose of the korban is to teach us what the Torah wants from each of us, and how to behave in our daily lives. It is unrealistic to ask that a person's actions will be completely spiritual, with no mundane actions mixed in. Everybody must eat, drink and concern himself with making a living. However, one can keep all of his thoughts on a spiritual plane. Even when involving himself with mundane affairs, one should keep in mind always that his ultimate goal is to serve Hashem in the best possible way. Then, even his worldly actions are elevated to a spiritual level.
In order to repent for improper thoughts, one must bring a korban which goes completely to Hashem. This will teach him that his thoughts must also be directed completely towards Hashem. The sin offering, which is eaten by the kohanim, represents the fact that one's actions cannot possibly be completely spiritual. However, just as the sin offering is eaten in a spirit of holiness, so too a person's actions must be done in a spirit of holiness. (Lekah Tob)
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 Sav, which is from Yirmiyahu, and discusses the korbanot. The message, as in last week's haftarah, is that following Hashem's commandments is more beloved to Hashem than all the sacrifices that we could bring.
"One is wise, one is wicked, one is simple and one does not know how to ask" (Haggadah)
Why is the word "ehad" (one) repeated before each of the four sons? In a certain yeshivah there was once a teacher who had a very difficult child in his class. Exasperated and disillusioned, he went into the principal's office and told him, "You must take this child out of my class immediately. I can no longer deal with him." After asking the teacher to sit down and relax, the principal said to him, "Do you realize that if this child is out of your class, you no longer have a job?" The teacher, somewhat puzzled, asked, "Why? There are still another fifteen children in the class besides him." To this the principal responded, "What I meant is the following: Think of him as the only student in your class. If expelling him would also mean the end of your position in our school due to the lack of students, would you still want him taken out?' The teacher reconsidered and decided to give the child another chance.
The Haggadah is teaching parents and educators to treat every child as if he were "ehad" - their only one. The undivided attention and extra care usually given to an only child is something which every child deserves and which accomplishes wonders. (Ki Yishalcha Bincha)
When informing Moshe of the imminent plague of locusts, Hashem said that He had hardened Pharaoh's heart "in order to place these wonders of Mine in his midst, and in order that you tell your son and grandson about how I made a mockery out of Egypt..." In what way did Hashem make a mockery out of Egypt?
The Alshich explains that the plague of "arob" (wild animals) did not eradicate all of the cattle in Egypt. Hashem ensured that some animals would be spared so that the following plague, "deber" (pestilence), would kill the remnants of the "arob." However, the pestilence did not eliminate all the animals either - some were spared in anticipation of the seventh plague, hail. Prior to this plague, Moshe warned the Egyptians to move their animals into their homes so they would not perish during the storm. These animals were spared so that the Egyptians would have horses to ride and chase after B'nei Yisrael, and then they were drowned in the sea.
In other words, throughout the entire process of the plagues, Hashem always spared something. However, this "mercy" did not work to the benefit of the Egyptians, but to the contrary - in order to facilitate more destruction. This is the "mockery" to which Hashem refers.
Indeed, the pasuk (Tehillim 92) states, "When the wicked blossom like grass...to destroy them forever." It often seems that the wicked prosper and are blessed with great success. Ultimately, however, this prosperity will lead to their destruction. Thus, their blessings prove to be to their detriment, rather than to their benefit. (Shaare Rahamim Haggadah)
"Everyone who discusses the Exodus from Egypt at length is praiseworthy" (Haggadah)
What is the benefit of going into great length in retelling the story of the Exodus?
Hashem said to Moshe, "You will then be able to tell your children and grandchildren My miraculous signs that I have performed among them, vidatem - and you will know - that I am Hashem" (Shemot 10:2). Since the Torah is telling us to relate to our children and grandchildren what happened in Egypt, should it not have said "veyed'u" - and thus they will know?
Parents are obligated to teach their children about Hashem and enhance and strengthen their children's faith in Him. Their efforts carry a two-fold reward: 1) Ultimately, their work will bear fruit and they will merit to have children who will be attached to Hashem. 2) Through teaching and talking to children, vidatem - you (the parents) will know - you, too, will experience an enhancement and strengthening of your faith.
Thus, the one who elaborates about the Exodus becomes a "meshubah" - a person with enhanced spirituality - because of his increased insight into G-dliness. (Ki Yishalcha Bincha)
Answer to Pop Quiz: The kohen removed a shovelful of the previous day's ashes from the Altar and placed it alongside the ramp of the Altar.
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