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Ask the Rabbi - 273

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Ask the Rabbi

8 April 2000; Issue #273

Sea-ing Red


Stephen Tenzer in Germantown, MD wrote:

Dear Rabbi,

I recently read a book which claimed that the Israelites did not cross the Red Sea, as is commonly believed, but rather crossed the Sea of Reeds. "Red Sea," according to the author, is a mistranslation. This was news to me. My English translation of the Bible refers to the Red Sea, while the Hebrew refers to "yam suf." I remember from Hebrew School that "yam" means "sea." What does "suf" mean? Did the Israelites cross the Red Sea, the Sea of Reeds, or some other sea?

Dear Stephen Tenzer,

"Soof" means "reeds." The Jews crossed the "Yam Soof" which means the "Sea of Reeds."

There are several views in our commentaries as to what the Yam Suf is. It may have been the Gulf of Suez, which branches up from what is today called the Red Sea. Others identify it with the large delta at the mouth of the Nile in the North of Egypt; interestingly, in ancient Egyptian, the swampy Delta districts were called "sufi."

  • "The Living Torah" by Rabbi A. Kaplan, Exodus 10:19, 13:18
  • Artscroll Chumash Stone Edition, Exodus 13:18

Four at the Fore


Laurie in Toronto, Ontario wrote:

Dear Rabbi,

I am responsible for answering questions at Pesach, but one that was asked of me I can't answer. Why is there so much significance to the number four in the Haggada: For example: Four questions, four sons, four glasses of wine.

Dear Laurie,

The "four" concept relates to the four promises G-d made to Moses in the verse: "I will take you out of the forced labor in Egypt, and free you from their slavery; I will liberate you � and I will take you to be My own nation." (Exodus 6:6-8). Each of the four phrases in this verse describes a unique stage of redemption.

Four represents exile, being scattered to the "four corners of the earth." Correspondingly there are four levels of redemption from exile.

Four also represents growth, spreading out in all four directions. Pesach is the time of the birth of the Jewish nation, who are to fulfill G-d's blessing to Yaakov to "spread out to the west, east, north and south." (Genesis 28:14) Pesach is also in the spring, a time when G-d's blessings are seen to increase in the world.

Drops of Wine


Myron Chaitovsky In Teaneck, NJ wrote:

Dear Rabbi,

While mentioning the ten plagues, we spill out a drop of wine for each plague. In looking through various haggadot, I see that most say to refill the wine cups after this. I have heard that some do not replenish their cups at this time. What's at work here? Why do some people (including my family) not refill their wine cups at this time? We seem to be in a distinct minority.

Dear Myron Chaitovsky,

When my brother was a little boy, and I was even littler, our dad asked us: "Why do we spill out drops of wine when we mention each of the ten plagues?"

"Because blood was spilled," my brother answered, and my dad approved.

While we rejoice at our salvation, we nonetheless retain our sensitivities to the suffering of the Egyptians by diminishing our joy, if only in the mildest extent. This may be why some people don't refill the cup, in order to drink a bit less wine, and thus reduce the enjoyment by that amount.

On the other hand, there is reason to refill the cup so that it should be full to the brim when we say the blessing over it. The prevailing custom is that the cup is refilled.

Baffle Wacs Hold Fib


Lequida Jennings in Sulphur Springs, TX wrote:

Dear Rabbi,

Is there an easy way to teach kids to memorize the ten plagues?

Dear Lequida Jennings,

An easy way to memorize the ten plagues is to make a song out it. That's how they teach it to kids in my community. Perhaps use the tune "Ten Little Indians."

In the Haggada we read the night of Passover, there is an acrostic, the first letters of the plagues in Hebrew: Datzach Adash B'achav. You could do the same in English: For example, in the nonsense phrase BaFLle WaCS HoLD FiB, the capital letters represent the plagues, in order: Blood, Frogs, Lice, Wild animals, Cattle disease, Skin disease (boils), Hail, Locusts, Darkness, First Born (slaying of).

Flour Power


Debbie in Canada wrote:

Dear Rabbi,

A woman in synagogue told me that I need to give "kimcha d'pischa" (or something like that). Rabbi, would you tell me what she was talking about? Thanks a million!

Dear Debbie,

Kimcha D'pischa means "flour for Pesach." In other words "Kosher for Passover Flour." This refers to the age-old custom of giving charity before Pesach to the city's poor so they will be able to afford all their Passover needs.

This custom is ancient, first mentioned in the Jerusalem Talmud. The idea behind it is that it was hard to find "Kosher for Passover" flour to buy during the holiday. So poor people who live on a day to day basis would not have food to eat on Pesach, because there would be no flour to buy to bake matzot with. Hence began the custom to distribute flour before Pesach.

Today, most people don't bake their own matzot, so kimcha d'pischa has been adjusted to meet the needs of the poor people of today. All over the world Jewish communities give money to the needy before the holiday so they can prepare. In many communities food supplies are distributed for free or at great discount. In my community, charity organizations give money to the supermarket to credit the accounts of needy families, in addition to food distribution and cash donations.

It is said that before Pesach there are two types of people: Those who give kimcha d'pischa and those who get. In other words, anyone who can is obligated to help the needy meet their holiday expenses.

You should make a donation to the kimcha d'pischa organization, in your community if possible. If there are no needy in your city, or no existing organization, you can choose to help out the poor of Jerusalem by sending a donation via Ohr Somayach, POB 18103, Jerusalem 91180 Israel.

There is a wonderful story about how charity money is distributed before Pesach. A woman once approached the Rabbi of the city of Brisk, Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, with a strange question. She wanted to know if one could use milk instead of wine for the four cups of the Seder. She explained that she could not afford wine. He answered her by giving her a large amount of money. Asked the Rabbi's wife, "I understand you gave her money because she can't afford the wine, but why so much?"

Answered the Rabbi, "If she wants to drink milk at the Seder, it is obvious she has no meat for Pesach (as there is a prohibition to eat meat and milk at the same meal). So I gave her enough to by wine and meat for the entire Holiday."

Stocks and Buns


Email@Withheld wrote:

Dear Rabbi,

Is there any problem owning chametz stocks on Pesach, i.e., with regards to (leavened products)? Must one include in the "document of sale of chametz" to include chametz in the stock that is owned? And regarding chametz, may one buy and sell stocks during Pesach?

Dear Email@Withheld,

Stocks and shares should be included in the "document of sale of chametz" and sold with all the chametz before Pesach. I asked Rabbi Moshe Sternbuch, shlita, whether it is permissible to deal in stocks over Pesach and he said that one should not.

(Who Knows One?)


Everyone is familiar with the song traditionally sung at the conclusion of the Pesach Seder in which we describe the significance of every number from one to thirteen as they relate to Jewish life and thought. "Three are the Fore-fathers, Four are the Fore-Mothers...11 are the stars of Josef's dream, 12 are the Tribes of Israel..."

What about the next 13 numbers? And many more numbers after those? What significance do they have in Jewish tradition? This week we challenge you to provide us with an answer to

"Who Knows 14?"

Your answer can be based on dates, numbers (and even gematriot) in the Torah, Talmud or Siddur.

We're waiting to hear your responses for possible publication in future issues! Write to

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