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Haftarah: Yirmiyahu 7:21-8:3, 9:22-23

MARCH 22-23, 2013 12 NISAN 5773


"In order to give pleasure to the One who formed us and to fulfill the will of our Creator." (excerpt from Leshem Yihud)

The above is an excerpt from the prayer we say before doing Bedikat Hamess. We feel a special uplifting feeling as we begin this annual ritual, but it's much more than a ritual. Our great Sages had tearful eyes when they performed bedikah and later the burning of the hamess. On the High Holidays we return to Hashem with fear, worried about the coming year. Now as we rid our homes of physical hamess and our hearts of the spiritual impurities that hamess represents, we return out of love.

The Sar Shalom of Belz z"l teaches that when we draw water for the baking of the matzot we are actually taking back the sins that we threw into the water at Tashlich some six months ago. Our Sages teach us that when we do teshubah out of love our sins turn into misvot. Now that we are returning out of love our sins are now misvot.

Everything about Pesah is an exhibition of the love that the Jewish people have for Hashem. Pesah is a time when not only is the fervent commitment to halachah on clear display, but also a host of additional stringencies that have been so faithfully passed down through the centuries. Every community has its own demonstration of this love.

Our community has a stringency which some people think is really a joke. We do not eat chick peas. What is the reason? The reason is that chick peas are called "humus" and humus sounds like hamess! We don't want to eat even a sound-alike of hamess. It's not a joke; we love Hashem so much we don't want to eat a sound-alike.

Pesah is a time when we show Hashem the longing in our hearts and the infinite love that we have for Him. In the merit of the love exhibited by the Jewish people, may we all merit to properly and joyfully fulfill all of the misvot of this great holiday. And as we celebrate out redemption from Egypt, may we also merit to celebrate our redemption from our current exile. Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Reuven Semah

We say in the Haggadah 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 Rachel 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. Rabbi Shmuel Choueka


Sometimes you just can't help it. You are in a position where the decision you are about to make - whether it is a choice of school, career, or mate - should have a great effect on your future. The greater the potential effect on your life, the more nervous and uncertain you might become as you ponder the possibilities and avoid the finality of decision.

Bitachon- trust in Hashem - is the remedy. You should always realize that your life and everything in it come from Hashem. Knowing that He only wants what is best for you will make it easier to accept whatever He dishes out. It will also make it easier for you to decide on what course of action to take at any of life's many crossroads. This feeling of trust will make you feel safe, knowing that He is watching out for you.

When a big decision gives you the jitters, consider that worrying will not improve the situation. On the contrary, worrying sometimes makes you see things in a negative light. Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe, zt"l, said, "Smile: a smile causes the sun to shine." The glow will be felt by you and by those around you. (One Minute With Yourself - Rabbi Raymond Beyda)


"This is the bread of affliction which our fathers ate in the land of Egypt"- Wasn't the matzah actually what they ate upon leaving Egypt? When Ibn Ezra was imprisoned in India, he was only fed matzah and no hamess. The reason for this is that matzah takes very long to digest, and one could remain satiated with a smaller amount. Likewise, the Egyptians gave the Jews matzah to eat.


"And I gave to Esav Mount Se'ir"- Why do we mention Esav in the Haggadah? Hashem promised to Abraham "Your descendants will be strangers in a strange land." Hashem also promised, "To your descendants I will give this land [of Israel]." Therefore we mention that Esav was given Mount Se'ir and never became a stranger in a strange land. Thus he has no claim to the land of Israel.


"Rabbi Akiba said, 'We can show that each plague... was made up of five different plagues'" - What is the purpose of trying to maximize the number of plagues that Hashem brought upon Egypt? When we were taken out of Egypt, Hashem promised, "I will not strike you with any of the sicknesses that I brought on Egypt." The more sicknesses we can attribute to the plagues in Egypt, the fewer sicknesses that Hashem may bring upon us if we sin.


"We therefore are obligated to thank, praise, adore...Hashem" - There is a principle learned in the Gemara that one is only obligated to thank Hashem for miracles going back two generations. Why, then, are we obligated to thank Hashem for the miracles involved in the Exodus? It seems that it would just be an optional "nice thing to do." In the preceding paragraph in the Haggadah, we read that each person must view himself as if he personally was taken out of Egypt. Since the miracles were actually done for us and not only for our ancestors, "We therefore are obligated..."


We memorialize the bitterness of Egypt, the harsh labor and persecution with the maror, bitter herbs, which we eat on Pesah night. Hazal teach us that while there are a number of vegetables that are suitable for the misvah of maror, leaf lettuce is preferred. Among the vegetables, leaf lettuce provides the most apt comparison with the type of labor to which the Egyptians subjected the Jewish people. At first the Egyptians convinced the Jews to work with them. Later on, they embittered their lives with harsh labor. At first, the lettuce seems almost sweet to the palate, but subsequently its bitter taste is manifest. The reason for preferring leaf lettuce for maror is enigmatic. We seek to remember the bitterness of the Egyptian exile. Yet, we eat a vegetable that recalls the "sweet" beginning of our bondage. Is the memory bitter or sweet?

Harav Yosef Zundel Salant z"l notes two forms of suffering. One type of suffering is inflicted upon a person by others. This is difficult to bear, but it is more tolerable than the pain that is self-inflicted when one had a part in creating his own misery. had the Egyptians originally conscripted the Jews into slave labor without pretext, the Jews might have been able to accept the concept of bondage, as painful as it would have been. The circumstances preceding the Egyptian slavery were different. The Jews had never thought their "good" friends and neighbors would actually enslave them. The sweetness compounded the bitterness, for the Jews had participated in bringing the misery upon themselves.

Perhaps this is the idea behind the custom of dipping the maror into the sweet haroset. We recall the bitterness with which we lived as a result of accepting the Egyptian friendliness. The Egyptians smiled at us, making us feel good. If we would only learn the lesson from the message of the maror, it might prevent other tragedies from occurring - even in our own time. (Peninim on the Torah)


Why is the text for the Seder's discussion of the Exodus called "Haggadah"?

It is generally assumed that the name derives from the language of the verse in the Torah which obligates us to retell the story of our redemption on this night (Shemot 13:8). That verse reads. "And you shall tell (vehigadta) your child on that day." Thus, "Haggadah" simply means telling (Abudraham and Malbim). However, other commentators offer several other possibilities. Rashi (Shemot 13:5) teaches that one should engage a child in the discussion of the redemption through dibrei aggadah (stories) - words that speak to, and carry the heart - rather than halachic or philosophical approaches. Hence, the title "Haggadah" since a good deal of the text is the story of our Exodus from Egypt. Abudraham points out that Targum Yerushalmi renders the word "higadti (Debarim 26:3) as "I give praise." Thus, it is the message of tribute to Hashem embodied in the tale of our redemption which may account for the name Haggadah. Ma'asei Nissim states that the root of the word Haggadah means pulling, or drawing out. The term is used here with respect to the mouth. It means to imply that there should be a continuous flow of speech regarding the Exodus on this night, and one should make an effort to bring to light as much as possible concerning this subject, as we say later in the Haggadah, "The more one tells about the Exodus, the more he is praiseworthy."


"And [Ya'akob] went down to Egypt, compelled by the spoken word." (Pesah Haggadah)

The most common interpretation of this phrase is that it refers to the Covenant which Hashem made with Abraham. Hashem promised Abraham that he would become a great nation, but first his descendants would be strangers in a strange land and would be enslaved there for four hundred years. Since the descendants of Abraham needed to go into exile before they could become a nation, Ya'akob was "compelled by the word" of Hashem to go down to Egypt.

The Rabbis offer another novel explanation of this phrase. When Ya'akob heard that Yosef was still alive and living in Egypt, he said, "I will go and see him before I die." He began his travels to Egypt. Hashem then appeared to him on the way and told him, "Do not fear to go down to Egypt." This shows us that Ya'akob had second thoughts and did not really want to leave Eress Yisrael and travel outside the land to Egypt. In spite of this, he did not go back on his original words, "I will go and see him before I die." This is the way of the sadikim, to fulfill everything that comes out of their mouths, even voluntary statements. Thus, Ya'akob went down to Egypt, compelled by his own words. (Haggadah Gedolei Yisrael)

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