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Torah Attitude: Parashas Acharei / Pesach: Seder night, an educator's manual
The Torah does not expressly state the first set of instructions to Aaron. The third doctor's instructions were more effective and brought the message home to the patient much stronger. In a very powerful way, G'd taught Aaron not to enter the Sanctuary. It is not sufficient to merely teach the laws of the Torah without elaborating on the background, reasons, consequences, and other necessary explanations to make the education complete. In our day and age, there is much less respect for authority. There are three major differences between the Seder night and all other nights when talking about the Exodus. Each adult and child sitting at the Seder table has to be dealt with and educated according to his particular background and understanding. The greater the stimulation, the more powerful and long-lasting will the lesson be. Even the "wicked child" is included in our Seder discussions with the ultimate purpose of trying to bring this person closer to his heritage. The four cups of wine represent the four expressions of freedom mentioned at the Exodus from Egypt. As long as the Prophet Eliyahu has not come to proclaim the final redemption, the fifth cup of wine at the Seder is not ready to be drunk.
It says in this week's Parasha, (Vayikra 16:1-2) "And G'd spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron … And G'd said to Moses, 'Tell Aaron, your brother, that he shall not come at all times into the Sanctuary' …" The Torah starts telling us that G'd spoke to Moses after the death of Aaron's sons but it does state what G'd said to him. In the second set of instructions, G'd clearly tells Moses to warn Aaron about the prohibitions of entering the sanctuary. The Sifra (quoted in part by Rashi) asks, what was the first set of instructions that G'd gave to Moses?
The Sifra answers with a parable. A sick patient goes to a medical clinic for treatment. The first doctor he sees simply instructs him not to eat cold food and not to sleep in a damp place. The second doctor provides him with the same instructions but adds that the instructions are very important to follow so that he will not die. The third doctor repeats the instructions with the additional warning, but he further adds that another patient died when he did not carefully follow the instructions. Obviously, the third doctor's instructions are more effective and bring the message home to the patient much stronger.
G'd told Moses to instruct Aaron not to enter the Holiest of Holies except on Yom Kippur. But to make sure that these most important instructions were followed exactly, G'd first told Moses to remind Aaron what happened to his sons when they entered the Sanctuary without permission. In this way G'd taught Aaron a powerful lesson not to enter the Sanctuary only in exact compliance with G'd's instructions.
Obligated to explain
G'd's way of instructing Aaron teaches us how to teach the commandments of the Torah. It is not sufficient to educate our children and students by merely stating the commandments of the Torah. We must add an explanation for each commandment to the best of our abilities. Although every commandment has many reasons, and not all of them are known to us, and the reason for some commandments are not known at all, we are still obligated to try to explain and elaborate on the background and reasons for the commandments, as well as their consequences.
In the beginning of Parashas Mishpatim (Shemos 21:1) it says, "And these are the ordinances that you shall place before them." It seems like a strange expression to say that Moses should "place" the commandments before the Jewish people. Why does the Torah not use the words "teach" or "instruct"? What does "place" mean? Rashi quotes from our sages that the teaching of a commandment should be placed like one places a complete setting when putting a meal in front of a person. It is not sufficient to merely put down a meal without the cutlery, dishes, napkins, and all other necessary objects to make the meal complete. Similarly, it is not sufficient to merely teach the laws of the Torah without elaborating on the reasons, consequences, and other necessary explanations to make the education complete. This is what the Torah means when it says to "place" the commandments.
This is especially important nowadays. In previous generations there was a tremendous respect for authority. When a father or teacher would provide instructions, it was possible to communicate the message without too many explanations. In our day and age, we do not find that kind of acceptance and there is much less respect for authority. That makes it all the more important not just to convey the actual commandment. We must be able to explain the reasons behind a commandment and the consequences for fulfilling or transgressing it.
This night is different
Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik of Brisk explains that this is one of the major components of Seder night. It is mentioned in the Haggadah that Rabbi Elazar ben Azaria taught that there is a commandment to remember the exodus from Egypt every night all year round. However, this raises an obvious question. If we are obligated to remember the exodus every night, what is so special about telling the story on Seder night? Rabbi Soloveitchik explains that there are three basic differences between every night of the year and Seder night: (1) On every other night it is sufficient just to mention the Exodus; however, on Seder night there is an obligation to tell others in a form of question and answer; (2) On every other night it is sufficient just to mention the actual exodus, as we do in the third paragraph of the Shema; however, on Seder night, it is necessary to give over the background starting from the ancestors of Abraham who worshipped idols and how the Jewish people were enslaved and eventually taken out from Egypt; (3) On every other night we do not have to discuss the reasons for other commandments that are related to the Exodus. However, on Seder night, we have to discuss and explain the unique commandments of the Pesach Lamb, matzah, and marror. As Rabban Gamliel says in the Haggadah, whoever does not explain the background and reasons of these commandments has not fulfilled his obligation.
According to his ways
The Seder night is like an in-depth course on the subject of the exodus from Egypt with daily follow ups and reminders to refresh our memories for the rest of the year. At the same time, the Seder night is a general presentation how to teach and educate. It also shows us how to deal with different types of people. The Haggadah speaks about the four kinds of children: the wise, the wicked, the simple and the one who does not know what to ask. As the Sefer HaChinuch (Mitzvah 21) explains, when the Torah instructs us to teach our children about the exodus from Egypt, it is not limited to our biological offspring. We fulfill this obligation by discussing it with anyone sitting at our Seder table. Each adult and child sitting at the Seder table has to be dealt with and educated according to his particular background and understanding. As King Solomon says, (Proverbs 22:6) "Educate the youth according to his ways." This applies to any lesson we want to share with others.
Questions and answers
We are instructed to teach at the Seder in a form of question and answer in order to arouse our listener's interest. The Haggadah raises questions to stimulate us to wonder and be intrigued and curious about the Exodus. This is the way to teach. The greater the stimulation, the more powerful and long-lasting the lesson will be. With the right presentation, it may even last for a lifetime. Some people have an inquisitive nature and will ask questions on their own. The Haggadah reminds us also to involve the person who does not know how to ask. We are taught that if we are dealing with someone who lacks an inquisitive nature or the background to ask, it is our obligation to present the material in such a way that brings about questions and arouses his interest in the Seder. We do not leave anyone out. Even the "wicked child" is included in our Seder discussions with the ultimate purpose of trying to bring this person closer to his heritage.
The preferred way of fulfilling the commandments of Seder night is to clearly interact with others and not sit alone studying by oneself. However, even the person who is sitting alone, not being able to have anyone with whom to share the Seder experience, is also obligated to ask all the questions and give all the answers. No one is beyond continued growth. Just as one has to help and educate others, we are instructed to continuously work on ourselves to grow further and further.
We clearly see how we are instructed not just to give over the commandments but to study them and try to understand their background and deeper meanings. For example, we are obligated to drink four cups of wine at the Seder table. Our sages teach that these four cups represent the four expressions of freedom mentioned at the Exodus from Egypt. As it says, (Shemos 6:6-7) "And I shall take you out from under the burdens of Egypt, and I shall save you from their bondage, and I shall free you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments, and I shall take you to be a nation to Me and I will be to you a G'd." At the Seder, we raise our cup of wine four times and "toast" G'd in appreciation for what He did for us at the time of the Exodus.
The first expression, that G'd took us out from "under the burdens", represents the fact that G'd terminated the infliction of hard labour and inhumane treatment. Even if we had remained in Egypt as slaves but had been given a reasonable workload, we would have sufficient reason to raise our cup in appreciation to G'd for this benefit.
The second expression, of saving us from "the bondage", represents that G'd saved us from being slaves altogether and made us a free people. Even if we were a free people but remained in Egypt, it would have obligated us to raise a second cup and thank G'd for this benefit.
The third expression, of freeing us "with an outstretched arm and with great judgments", represents how G'd took us out of Egypt and punished the Egyptians for all their crimes. Even if we had left Egypt and G'd had not chosen us to be His nation, we would have had ample reason to raise our third cup to G'd in appreciation for this additional benefit.
The fourth expression, of G'd taking us to be "a nation to Him", represents that G'd made us His chosen people and gave us the Torah at Mount Sinai. This prepared our destiny as a Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation, and to be a light to guide the world how to live according to G'd's ways and instructions. It is in appreciation of this special relationship to G'd that we raise our fourth cup.
As a matter of fact, there is a fifth expression mentioned in connection with the Exodus. As it says, (ibid 8) "And I shall bring you to the land that I raised My Hand [in an oath] to give it to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And I shall give it to you as an inheritance." We fill the fifth cup, the Cup of Eliyahu, with wine at our Seder table; however, we do not drink it that night. Maybe the significance of this is that as long as the Prophet Eliyahu has not come to proclaim the final redemption, this cup is not ready to be drunk. Even during the First and Second Temples, the world in general and the Jewish people in particular, had not yet reached the ultimate state. Only when the Prophet Eliyahu will come to herald the coming of Mashiach will we have reached the beautiful era, described by our prophets, with peace and prosperity for the whole world and a life of closeness and total service to G'd for the Jewish people. When we fill the Cup of Eliyahu at our Seder table, we express our longing to experience his coming speedily in our days and see the fulfillment of G'd's promise "And I shall bring you to the land …and I shall give it to you as an inheritance."
Wishing you and your families a Pesach Kasher V'Samayach!
These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shalom. Michael Deverett
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