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The Challenge of the holiday of freedom is figuring out how to celebrate it in servitude (=exile). Ha Lachma Anya, the opening words of the maggid is the only piece in Aramaic because it is a galus add-on. In it, we invite people to the Seder on Seder night, something that can not be done when we have a Beis HaMikdash [all korban Pesach eaters must be pre-registered]. We also pine for the return to Eretz yisrael - but until that time we must learn to find freedom in the darkness.

Thus, Aruch Hashulchan teaches that the Rabbis[1] go to Bnei Brak for the Seder and turn to the hope artist, Rabbi Akiva whose ability to roll away the darkness[2] and see the light is the key component of an exile seder. Only after the students can connect the night [the shema of faith] with the morning[3] shema, [the shema of manifest kindness] can the Seder end. Our obligation to our children remains the same: Find the light even at the darkest time. One way to do that is to develop a love for Torah. If it is sweet[4] for you, then your children will also want some nosh.

Pesach is what we call it while Hashem (in His Torah) calls it Chag Hamatzos - why the different emphasis? The Berditchever Rebbe famously explained: Pesach is what Hashem did for us while Chag Hamatzos, our great leap of faith (we left 210 years in <18 minutes!) was for the love of God. For the other is the essence of any relationship. Our tefillin say Shema Yisrael and His "tefillin" say mi k'amcha Yisrael (cf. Berachos 6 -who is like Thy nation, O' Israel?). Thus on Pesach night, the night of our betrothal to God, we sing Shir Hashirim - the song that encapsulates I am for my Beloved and He is for me.

At the risk of sounding corny ... Ever told God you love Him? Ever look to see His manifest love in your life?   Pesach may be a good time to try. 

Chametz-Matzah: That which does not have the potential to be chametz may not be used for matzah (as a general rule). Yet, once each item achieves its respective status, it can never be transformed. No matter how much water you add to matzah - it shall never become chametz and crushing chametz can never revert it back to  matzah. At some point, our life decisions become irreversible. Thankfully, every year we can make matzah again; A Jew never gives up hope.

***************

Kadesh: As we start the seder, the traditional Eastern European beginning of Kadesh was "Kadesh: When Father comes home from synagogue on Passover night, he must immediately recite the Kiddush, so that the little children will not fall asleep and they will ask the Four Questions beginning with Ma Nishtana."

The Shpoler Zeide so movingly taught:

When our Father - in Heaven sees that Jews have gone to shul and poured out their souls in prayer and song  -even though they are so tired from the heavy pre Pesach work, then ...

He must recite Kiddush right away- the Creator must renew his betrothal, his Kiddushin, [same root as Kiddush]  to Bnei Yisrael right away. He must redeem us from exile right away.

So that the little children will not fall asleep  - God's children are the Jews ['Is not Ephraim my beloved son, a precious child?'] and He must act quickly so that His children will not fall into the slumber of exile and despair, Heaven forbid, of ever being redeemed.

So that they will ask the Four Questions beginning with Ma Nishtana - while we are still  strong enough to ask Ma Nishtana? - Why is this night -- why is this bitter exile -- different from all other nights? Why has this dark exile been so prolonged and never seem to end?"

U'Rechatz - Taz, classic commentator on Shulchan Aruch proves from here that we must wash for wet veggies or fruit all year round - just like we wash for bread[5] Vilna Gaon even made a bracha! For those that don't follow this, there's what to rely on, but they must answer why Seder night is different? Magen Avraham says it's in order to evoke the question. [This would explain why some have the custom of only the Seder-master washing, for it's even stranger!] Netziv offers a 3rd approach. Magen Avraham is correct that normally one need not wash for fruits/veggies, but on this night one must wash - for in the time of the Beis HaMikdash, we will need to wash once again - and on Pesach night, we herald back to Temple times.  That's also why we wear a kittel.

Karpas - Yachatz [we break the matzah] ... the quickest piece of Seder. It takes longer to say it than do it. What's it about? A partial answer based on the gemara[6]: On seder night we highlight lechem oni, [bread of affliction] - the poor man's bread. Poor people do not eat whole food -  they"ll take whatever you give (just ask a student who left his lunch at home). In talmudic lexicon, darko shel ani b'perusah - the way of the poor is with a piece. Poor people (and Jews on Sunday) eat leftovers. This explanation however falls short - because we can simply bring a broken piece to the seder. Why the breaking ceremony?

a. Some say: we want to express our poverty - so we davka break it at the seder. Rambam says break it before eating, while Shulchan Aruch says to break it before maggid [the story]. Rambam seems more logical. Why do we follow the Shulchan Aruch? Kol Bo explains that good stories need props to pull in the listener and we begin the story by exclaiming Ha Lachma Anya ("This is the poor man's bread..") . We break it first as a classic show and tell.  

b. Others raise the ubiquitously Pesach in order that the kids should ask notion.

c. Ba'alei Hatosafos and Orchos Chaim claim that it alludes to the splitting of the sea. Thus the Moroccans till today have the custom at Yachatz to says: thus the Holy One Blessed Be He split the sea for us into twelve pathways.

d. A penetrating insight by Rav Meir Goldvicht adds a whole new world. Karpas, according to Rabbeinu Manoach alludes to the sale of Yosef[7]. Here's the short story: Pasim, the name of Yosef's special coat (that signified status) is connected to the word karpas in the Megillah. Rashi, [Bereishis, 37:3] in defining Yosef's coat, explains that karpas denotes a special type of wool. The original custom of dunking the karpas vegetable into red wine fills in the picture. In sum, we dip the multicolored coat into the blood - beckoning the sale of Yosef. Why bring this up now? Because as we ponder leaving Egypt, we must remember how we got in.

It is a question we barely speak of, because the answer is shameful: We break the matzah to symbolize unity torn asunder, we hide the bigger piece [for afikoman] and look for it at the at the end of the seder. At some point, we find the afikoman. Ultimate redemption, [personal and national] comes with the search towards unity. The geulah will beckon the ten tribes.

After afikoman, we call in Eliyahu - ultimate unifier of the generations - present at bris, seder and redemption. Seder often brings together a lot of different types of people - perhaps it is a pre-redemption test for ultimate geulah requires unity.

Maggid - The Haggadah is so called because of the mitzvah of Maggid - the central mitzvah of the night[8]. Its source: Exodus [13:8]: v'higadeta l'hvincha bayom hahu leimor and you shall express to your child on that night saying. - this verse forms the crux of the night. Now note that we employ this verse for the weak child that does not even know [how, when] to ask a question. He is the Torah's primary target for seder night; elitism is not a Jewish thing! All of our children need be addressed. The goal is to stimulate questions. First, we must address their hearts - where their  unasked observations/question reside. At p'tach lo - softly open them up. I suspect that if we show them the proper respect and love, they will quickly move up the ladder to be the chacham No Jew is without questions. Our goal is to awaken hearts, to make it safe and exciting to be worth their while.

Rachtzah-Motzi-Matzah-Maror - We wash, eat Matzah and then Maror, even though we experienced the maror (servitude) first?! A yiddishism teaches that a worm in chrain (horseradish) doesn't know how bad he has it (until he tastes the honey)! A nation numbed by servitude cannot pine for freedom. A taste of freedom allows one to fathom how bad it was. For those of us afraid to make the leap (whatever it may be) - because it's not so bad - how do you know?   

Korech - The Hillel "Where's the Beef" Sandwich. According to most, Korech is the bread [matzah] and the lettuce waiting for the lamb, because Hillel puts all 3 mitzvos together. According to Rambam, the meat was never eaten with the matzah and maror. Why are these two eaten together? Sefas Emes explains that a Jew, before he is redeemed must realize that the same God who brought redemption [matzah] also brought the servitude [maror] - both experiences are purposeful. The Maror for example opened up the Jewish mouth and taught us how to pray.

Tzafun - The Hidden [Afikoman]. The bigger half of the Yachatz is eaten - either as matzah's main mitzvah [Rashbam] or as a Korban Pesach commemorative [Rosh].  But why do we hide it away and why does its Seder name derive from its hidden-ness?

The Vilna Gaon likens it to hiding the bread on Shabbos, since we drink the wine before it.

Rav Chaim taught that the korban pesach, as any sacrifice needs special shemira (watching). We are not hiding it - we are guarding it!

Rav Schwab [and many others] based on Tehillim 31 [mah rav tuvecha asher tzafanta le'yireiecha- how great is Your goodness that you have hidden away for those that fear you] teach that we hide the bigger piece away to remind ourselves and to teach our children that for the faithful Jew, the best is yet to come.

Shulchan Aruch - Barech - It seems like the standard Grace after Meals, but it really IS different. Consider that even after the bentsching, the seder is not over. Netziv teaches that the meal is not a simple hiatus; it is also part of the Hallel, fittingly sandwiched between the  Hallel part one and Hallel part two. With one proviso: it needs to be channeled properly. This is a model for the whole year and classic Jewish spirituality. After Barech, we fittingly exclaim in that Hallel - let every bone in my body [even the ones that do the eating, drinking and shmoozing] express your greatness Hashem .

Hallel - we can not say Hallel at night! Thus says the mishna. Hallel is said mimizrach shemesh ad mevo'o (from sunrise to sunset). So why is this night different ? R. Hai Gaon famously explains that this is not formalistic kria hallel - this is spontaneous shira hallel. We have just left Mitzrayim and are tasting freedom. Look at those pictures of the camps on liberation day. One can not tell a volcano when to erupt. Shulchan Aruch and Ramo teach that Pesach and Tisha B'av are intertwined. That's why we have the egg on the seder plate - as a reminder of mourning. On Tisha B'av, there is no limit to our mourning. We are like a bride who lost her groom under the chupa [cf. kinah of eli tziyon]. Spontaneity in either direction transcends limits. Halacha understands this. Our paradoxical challenge: to become spontaneous [even if it appears programmed] .  

Nirtzah - Echad Mi Yodeia Who Knows one ... the song saved for almost the end. If the hagaddah is a mountain, then the seder ends with the chad gadya climax and the penultimate song which cherishes Jewish numbers. The reverse numbering reminds us of the ultimate centrality of serving God in our lives. Consider that every number is Jewish - from the 13 attributes of mercy that Hashem revealed to Moshe in the Golden Calf aftermath to the 8 days of milah to the 5 books of Moses.. with one exception. Who knows 9? You mean goyim don't have children after 9 months, so what gives?

The old joke about Judaism's view that the fetus is only viable when it graduates medical school couldn't be farther from the truth. A friend of mine likes to say we start educating our children twenty years before they are born. Minimally in utero is the time that the mother [and occasionally the father] begins to worry about the childs's spirituality. Rivkah, upon hearing that she may be bearing a spiritual deviant is beside herself. The prayer and tears for our children's yiddishe neshama is the unique contribution of Jewish mothering.

***************

It's over - or not? A halachic irony: People stay up the whole Shavuot night even as the minhag is not mentioned in Shulchan Aruch while post Seder slumber is de rigueur when directs us to stay up the whole night - until we have been overtaken by sleep (ad sheyachtifenu sheina). Perhaps, after all the pre-pesach work, the latter qualification may only be a matter of seconds, but at least one has to take out a sefer (book). Why do many not do this? Perhaps we are sleeping already. Rav Gedalya Schorr teaches that the sleep of exile is so deep. (even R. Akiva had to wake up his talmidim).  On Pesach night we read Shir HaShirim. In it we say Ani Yesheina v'libi Er.  I am asleep but my heart is wake. The Jew only appears to be sleeping

May God redeem us quickly; our hearts pulsate with ahavas Hashem.   Let us not remind ourselves that we dare not fall into the dark slumber of despair!

A freilichen, a kasheren, a zeisen Pesach -  

L'shana Haba'ah b'yerushalayim - Good Shabbos

Asher Brander             

To Sponsor or Dedicate Reflections, please email rabbi@kehilla.org


[1] Even R. Eliezer who "praises the lazy ones" that do not leave their home for Yom Tov [cf. Sukkah 27] breaks his own ideal to be with R. Akiva!

[2] See Sefer Ohr Zarua who points out, based on a midrash, that the verse ohr zarua latzadik u'liyishrei lev simcha [Tehillim 97] has R. Akiva embedded at the end of each word. [reish of ohr, ayin of zarua ...] We thus say it to commence on Yom Kippur, - which is R. Akiva's yahrtzeit. The incredible metaphoe of that verse is that a light is sown for the righteous indicates that a Righteous person is able to see the seedling of light even before it breaks ground - which is the raison d'etre of R. AKiva.  

[3] As in l'hagid baboker chasdecha v'emunasecha baleilos - cf. Berachos 12

[4] [ha'arev na Hashem elokeinu .. v'nihiyeh anachnu v'tzetzaeinu kulanu yodeia shemecha]

 

[5] It's a reminder for the Kohein. Cf. Shulchan Aruch O.C. 158. Indeed sardonically asks those who only wash on seder night for the vegetables : Why is this night different than all others?].

[6] Berachos 39

[7] This notion of connecting of Karpas to Mechiras Yosef, while novel is well sourced. See Yerios Shlomo [R. Shlomo Kluger brought down in R. Yaakov Emden siddur], Rabbeinu Manoach [on Rambam chametz u'matzah, 8:2] , Ben Ish Chai [parshas tzav] . Most remarkable is the custom of the Jews of Gerba to stop in the middle of maggid to tell the story of mechiras Yosef

[8] Some even claim that Rabban Gamliel who states that one who has not mentioned Pesach Matzah Marror has not fulfilled his obligation is referring not to the maggid obligation - but rather to the mitzvah of pesach, matzah and marror. Remarkably, even the objects of the korban pesach , matzah and marror require a haggadah - the implication being that they are props in the big story of  yetzias mitzrayim - a story that must be expressed in its full glory tonight.

 

Good Shabbos,

Asher Brander


 
   
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