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Weekly Chizuk

The Pesach Seder


Adapted from part of the last shiur given by Rav Shimshon Dovid Pincus, zt"l

There is probably no other Yom Tov in the Jewish calendar which encompasses such a variety of mitzvos as the Pesach seder. We have the matzos, maror, carpas, charoses, the four cups, the hagadah, etc. The Pesach Seder is a major and central occasion in the cycle of the year.

The very name seder signifies a purposeful order. At the very outset we announce the parts of the seder: Kadesh, Urchatz, Karpas, etc. which has 15 components (excluding Nirtza which is a final prayer that our seder should be accepted). I heard once that this list of the seder was instituted by Rashi (others attribute it to the Baalei Tosfos). But the number 15 is an important number related to the 15 Shir Hamaalos, the 15 songs of ascent that the Levi'im sang in the Beis Hamikdash and the 15 steps that led from the Ezras Nashim to the Azarah in the Beis Hamkdash. This number signifies a certain sheleimus, perfection. If you don't follow the entire seder, you fail in your duty of perfection.

We set up the Pesach Plate (the ????) according to the Arizal, made up of 10 elements (3 matzos, the 6 varieties of food, and the plate itself). Ten is a very important number. 10 signifies the 10 sefiros. The holy Mekuballim tell us that the 10 sefiros are built according to the image of a whole person. The entire universe is a reflection of this Complete Man who is made up of 10 elements. The entire creation reflects this image and is made of elements of 10. There were 10 Commandments, the 10 Divine pronouncements which created the world. 10 signifies completion, perfection; it is a whole. A minyan must have 10 men because then it is whole.

So too the Seder of Pesach. It is multifaceted, and all of it must be there to reach the sheleimus that it represents. Why is this? We must understand that this night of Pesach is one of the most important events in the Jewish calendar, because this is the night we became a people. This night was the birth of our people, and each year, on this night, every Jew can be reborn as a full-fledged Jew.

During the Hagadah we cite the possuk (Devorim 4:34) "Or has any god performed miracles to come and take him a nation from the midst of a[nother] nation." ??? ???? ??? Chazal tell us that the specific use of the word ???? implies that Klal Yisroel had assimilated and become part of the Egyptian people. The word ??? comes from the word ?????? "innards". For all practical purposes they were Egyptians. When Hashem took us out of Mitzrayim, He had to perform a miracle and give us a new independent being.

Yetzias Mitzrayim was like a birth. A baby inside its mother's womb has no independent existence. It's not just that you take out a little baby who was lying in a box. Chazal use the expression ???? ??? ??? a fetus is just one of the limbs of the mother. His blood is his mother's blood, he eats his mother's food, he breathes his mother's breath. He is one with his mother. He has no independent identity at all. At birth this all changes. A miracle occurs. He is ripped from his mother and he becomes a new creature, on his own.

When we were in Mitzrayim, we were basically Egyptians. True, Chazal tell us that in Mitzrayim we didn't change our names, our language, or our Jewish clothing. But this is merely like the protrusions in a fetus that eventually will become limbs; but for the moment the fetus is basically a part of the mother.

Giving birth is a unique procedure. When one goes to the doctor he focuses on one area. You go to the doctor for your throat, your ears, your legs, etc. But at birth the doctor must concentrate on the entire body. If not, if one limb is overlooked, the baby is malformed for life. Likewise, on the night of Pesach, we must concentrate on the entirety of Yiddishkeit, on everything that makes up a Yid. This is the reason why there are so many details to the seder - it's a birth.

This entire momentous occasion will not remain with us in full force as it was during the Night of the Seder. However, it leaves its impression and we recreate it piece by piece during the 49 days of Sefirah. Brick by brick we recreate the building of Pesach finally arriving at the climax of Chag HaShavuos which gives us the ability to reach a new stage and build even more.

This is the general format. Now what specifically do we mean by birth? How was Yetzias Mitzrayim a birth?

Mitzrayim was a very unique land. It is the only country which the Torah forbade us to return to live there. What was so unique about Mitzrayim that it merited such treatment that we are not permitted to live there?

Perhaps we can explain it thusly. The entire world exists on food. Food exists on water. Water comes from rain. Every country has to have rainfall in order to exist. The only country that has no rainfall at all is Egypt. Instead the Nile flows through the country, from one end to the other. Once a year, at the end of the winter, water flows down from the mountains into the Nile River which rises and floods the land supplying them with water.

As a natural matter of fact, all over the world, when a man wakes up in the morning, he goes to the window and looks up to the sky - will it rain? Rain comes from Heaven and everyone looks up to Heaven.

This is everywhere except in Mitzrayim. Mitzrayim is country detached from Hashem. They don't need rain. There is no reason ever to look above to Heaven. Pharaoh declared, "I have the River and I created it." He had the River and didn't need anything else. He lived entirely in Nature.

This was Mitzrayim. An entire country that lived completely detached from Hashem. They lived entirely in Nature like animals. Animals walk on four legs and never look up, only down.

When we were in Mitzryaim we ate, drank, and slept like a baby in its mother's womb, a life in the existence of Nature. At Yetzias Mitzrayim when we were born, we were born into Hashem's world. That is the essence of Yetzias Mitzrayim. We had been living in a world of pure Nature, and suddenly we were born into an existence where we were totally dependent upon Hakadosh Baruch Hu. We lived with Hashem, knew Hashem, and were attached to Hashem.

The first moment when we were born into this new world was the night of Pesach. Each year at the Pesach Seder, each one of us has the opportunity to experience this rebirth. We have the ability to rip ourselves from a natural life. What's a life of Nature? When we want to prepare a menu, we open the newspaper and see how the stocks are doing. That's a life tied to nature. Instead, we become tied to Heaven. Whenever we want anything, we go to the window and look upwards. This is a different sort of person.

This new life encompasses a myriad of facets. There are millions of details. But this is the basic principal. On this night of Pesach we were ripped out of Mitzrayim, a life totally devoted to Nature, and we became attached to Hakadosh Baruch Hu. This was our birth as a Jewish Nation.

Every one of us has the opportunity to be reborn and renew his connection to Hashem. All the facets of the night, the matza, the maror, the wine, the karpas, the haggadah, the songs, are all coming to renew our kesher to Hakadosh Baruch Hu. They represent all the different faculties within the person, to tie them to Hashem. This is such a wonderful night. And you get an enormously powerful siyata d'shmaya (Divine Help) to accomplish all this.

How does this translate into our daily lives? We all have within ourselves a deep desire for more. We want to improve and change and transform our lives. In the Yeshivishe world they call it shteigen.

To bring it down to our understanding, I want to tell you a story. I was once in Johannesburg, South Africa, when a young man approached me to ask my advice. He told me that he was observant, kept Shabbos and Kashrus, davened with a minyan, and had a chavrusa to learn gemara once a week for an hour. But it wasn't enough and he wanted to advance. "But it's hard, there's no time. I need your advice. Whatever I do doesn't work."

I answered him, "Do you drive a car?"

"Of course."

"Is it automatic or shift?"

"It's automatic. But what's that got to do with anything?"

"That's your problem, you drive automatic."

"What are you talking about?!"

"That's your problem. You're in automatic. How does someone drive a shift car? First he gets into first, steps on the gas, and gets to 15 mph. But he wants to go faster. So he steps on the gas and maybe gets to 20 mph. At this point the motor is about to plotz if he keeps on pumping. What is he supposed to do to go faster?

"The answer is simple. He's got to change gears. He slips into second, then third. Now when he steps on the gas the car flies. Whoooooooooooommmmm! Like butter.

"Now do you understand? You learn an hour a week. You want more. But it's too much for you. You want to step on the gas. But you're still in first gear. The more you step on the gas you burn the motor out.

"If you want to advance, you have to switch gears. You have to change your whole being and attitude. You have to change your outlook that you are now going to be a talmid chochom. Then, when you switch gears, whooooooommmm, it will be like butter. Make a decision. You're going to become a talmid chochom. Change how you look at yourself and the world and then everything will be a cinch."

That's Pesach. To change our personality, our outlook, to be reborn into a new being. A being with a deep and personal connection with Hakadosh Baruch Hu. The Seder of Pesach gives us this opportunity. When we drink the wine, we create a kesher with Hashem. When we eat the karpas we create a kesher with Hashem. The matzoh, the maror, the haggadah, are all building blocks creating a kesher with Hashem.

This is the opportunity of the Night of Pesach. To rip ourselves out of our life as Egyptians, tied to Nature, and be reborn as the Jewish People who live with Hashem.

Shvi'i Shel Pesach

Out of the Straits I Cried unto God

And Pharaoh drew close... and behold! Egypt was traveling after them, and they were very afraid. And the Children of Israel cried out to Hashem. (Shemos 14:10)

The following is an excerpt from my sefer Trust Me! based on Da'as Torah by R. Yerucham Levovitz vol. 2, parashas Beshalach. Rashi, quoting a Midrash from the Mechilta, comments that the Jews followed the example (lit., "grasped the craft") of their forefathers, Avraham, Yitzchak, and Ya'akov, who all davened. This cryptic Mid rash raises several questions. Why did Chazal inform us here that the Patriarchs davened? Furthermore, what was the point of stating that the Children of Israel took up their forefathers' craft?

Addressing these questions, R. Yerucham Levovitz comments that he often thought about the terrible prospects facing the Jewish People in his time. In those days immediately preceding World War II, most of the world's nations, and particularly Germany and Russia, were openly campaigning to deny Jews the most basic human rights, and absolutely no one raised a voice in protest. It was a time of grave adversity for the Jews. There was no one to turn to, and all avenues of escape seemed blocked. All hope seemed lost. Rav Yerucham writes:

In despair, I thought to myself, "Why are we not crying out? Is there truly no one to turn to in the entire world?" When I found myself saying this, I stopped and thought, "And before this did we have someone else to beseech? Even when fortune was shining on us and times were good, was there anyone to rely on? In reality, there is no difference between good times or bad times, and all we have is Hashem. 'Out of the straits I cried unto God' (Tehillim 118:5). There is no one else to turn to, no one else to cry out to."

Upon pondering all this, I understood the meaning of Rashi's comment: "They grasped the craft of their forefathers." Avraham, Yitzchak, and Ya'akov lived in relatively peaceful times. Yet their prayers were filled with the tears of one experiencing great suffering. They understood that it doesn't matter what the times are like and that the only one they could depend upon was the Almighty. Therefore, their prayers were the paradigm of complete devotion and attachment to Hashem.

This is the secret of the Jewish People. We are constantly in a situation of "Out of distress I cried unto God." We never had anyone to rely on but the Creator. The nations of the world have been placed under the control of natural law, as the verse states: "the sun, the moon, and the stars... Hashem has apportioned to all the peoples under all the heavens" (Devarim 4:19). They have somewhere to turn to and something to rely on. "These with chariots and those with horses; but we, in the name of Hashem, our God, call out" (Tehillim 20:8). The nations have armies and they have fostered channels of diplomacy. This is the portion that was granted to them. We, however, have nothing, and for us there is no such thing as nature. The whole being of Israel transcends the laws of nature. For us, therefore, there is no difference between situations of comfort or of trouble. That is the secret of prayer: to understand that there is nothing else but the Almighty.

Wishing everyone a Chag Kosher v'Sameach.
Gut Yom Tov!

Rabbi Eliezer Parkoff
4 Panim Meirot, Jerusalem 94423 Israel
Tel: 732-858-1257
Rabbi Parkoff is author of "Chizuk!" and "Trust Me!" (Feldheim Publishers), and "Mission Possible!" (Israel Book Shop Lakewood).
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