Torah Weekly Pesach 5755
Special Pesach Edition
The Festival of PesachThe Torah calls this festival Chag HaMatzos (The Festival of Matzos), while we call it Pesach (Passover). We call it Pesach because Hashem passed-over our homes in Egypt. Hashem calls it Chag HaMatzos because of the "Mitzvos" (spelled similarly to "Matzos" in Hebrew) we perform with the Matzos. The Ari z"l points out that Pesach is a compound word which means Peh (mouth), and Sach (speaks), hinting that on this night we retell the history of the Exodus.
During the festival we read several sections of the Tanach (acronym for Torah, Nevi'im [Prophets] and K'suvim [Writings]). They mention Pesach and its Halachic details, its history and the description of its celebration at a particular time. There are three exceptions: The Haftorahs on the last two days of Yom Tov, and Shir HaShirim (The Song of Songs). The Haftorah of the seventh day presents David's song of thanksgiving after he was saved from King Saul. This parallels the Torah reading for that day, which is the singing of the Bnei Yisrael after crossing the sea. The Haftorah for the eighth day presents a description of the Messianic redemption which the Sages said will start in Nisan, just as the redemption from Egypt began in Nisan. Shir HaShirim, read on Shabbos Chol HaMoed, alludes to our liberation from Egypt, and stresses the deep bond that was created at Sinai between the Bnei Yisrael and Hashem. This theme is expressed by a metaphor of a beautiful relationship between a man and a woman.
The SederThe Seder has 15 parts, corresponding to the fifteen steps which ascended to the Temple. Our Sages say that our table is like an Altar, and this is particularly true on Seder-night, when our family table is a tool to achieve new spiritual heights. Similarly, just as the Temple helped the Jewish People sense the Divine Order in the world, so too, the Seder, the Hebrew word for order, is a reminder that Hashem guides world history.
- Based on the Maharal
The Four CupsThe cups parallel the four expressions in the Torah which describe our freedom from Egypt. The first cup, which also serves as Kiddush, parallels "I will take you out," when Hashem helped us recognize that we were Egyptian Jews, and not Jewish Egyptians. This is the essence of Kiddush sanctification - the realization that the Jewish People play a unique role in this world. The Haggada, the story of our physical exodus from Egypt, is recited over the second cup, symbolizing our physical salvation, which is parallel to "I will save you." A person is a slave to his physical needs. When the people were fed by Hashem in the wilderness, as we are today in a less miraculous manner, they were liberated from the shackles of the physical world in order to concentrate on loftier matters. Birkas HaMazon, the blessings which remind us that Hashem provides for our sustenance, is recited over the third cup, paralleling "I will redeem you" - the goal of the Exodus was the formation of a unique relationship with Hashem. Hallel is recited over the fourth cup. Hallel is the praise we bestow on Hashem, recognizing that He said "I will take you to be My nation."
Pesach, Matzah and MarorToday, without the Temple we can not fulfill the Mitzvah of Korban Pesach, but we symbolically remind ourselves of it by roasting a bone for the Seder-plate. Also, without the Temple, the Mitzvah of maror is of Rabbinical status in our time. Of these three Mitzvos, only one is a Torah commandment today: Eating 2/3 of a machine shmura matzah, or 1/2 of a hand-made matzah.
The Four SonsThe author of the Haggada hints at the danger of a lack of education by his unique order of the Torah's four sons. He feared a degeneration from monotheism to self worship (a form of idol worship), the opposite path from that traversed by our ancestors. A wise child who asks questions demonstrating a basic knowledge of Judaism and is not answered properly may be so bitter that even if he himself is observant, his child will move away from Torah and Mitzvos. This wayward second generation will refuse to educate the third one. This Jewishly-simple third generation will never understand the parents' rejection of Judaism. He will be curious, but not overly interested in his heritage. He will produce a fourth generation which feels that the Torah could not possibly be intellectually satisfying. He is therefore so far removed from Torah that he has no interest in participating actively, nor does he know how to begin investigating. If he does not unearth the depth of Torah, the fifth generation will not even attend a Pesach Seder.
- Rabbi Milevsky
The Four QuestionsMore so than any other festival, the Seder-night is dedicated to children, because the Torah dictates that we must tell the history of the Exodus to our children on this night. The Haggada directs us to do many unusual things to arouse the children's curiosity so that they will want to know "why this night is different than all other nights." Immediately following Kiddush the curiosities begin. We wash hands as on each Shabbos or Festival, but on Seder-night we wash without a blessing because we first eat karpas (a vegetable) and not bread. Just as karpas whets our appetites for the matzah, so too, this unusual procedure interests us in the secrets of this night. The four questions expressing the childrens' interest are more than just a springboard for our discussion. They are part of the answer - the best story is one you want to hear! That is why the Sages say that even if you sit by yourself on this night you should interest yourself in the material by asking the four questions. People are inquisitive and should not be afraid to ask; if you are embarrassed to ask, you do not learn. The custom of providing treats for the children not only helps keep them awake, but also serves as a stimulus for their questions, and as a reward for their participation.
- Rabbi Milevsky
"And if... Hashem... had not taken our ancestors out of Egypt, we...would still be enslaved by Pharaoh.... In every generation one should see himself as if he personally went out of Egypt.... Therefore we must thank [and] praise...Hashem."The Haggada tells us that Hashem Himself and not any other force freed us from Egypt. When the Divine contacts this finite world, something must be affected. Because Hashem, Himself, took us out of Egypt, the essence of the Jewish soul was changed, so that any physical enslavement in future generations could never lead to a slave mentality. Our aspirations will always be toward the loftiest goals, even when our day to day conduct may be filled with drudgery. Our unique drive toward a meaningful existence that forces Jewish people to the forefront of every major "cause" and "-ism" in world history is the direct result of Hashem, Himself, taking us out of Egypt. When we will realize what Hashem did for us, and not just for our ancestors, we will be able to "thank [and] praise..." the One who performed miracles for our ancestors and for us.
- Based on the Maharal
Afikomen - Tzafon (Hidden)The Afikomen is hidden away during Yachatz (division ceremony) at the beginning of the Seder. Many families have the custom to allow the children to steal the Afikomen. If we are trying to teach our children about Torah, how can we teach them to steal?! The Afikomen represents the future redemption which is hidden from us. Matzah, which must be eaten only after eating an appetizer to make us hungry, represents a passion for truth. Eliyahu HaNavi, whom we symbolically welcome with a fifth cup of wine on Seder-night, "will return the heart of the parents to the children and the children to the parents." The "gap" that prevents one generation from relating to a previous one is our biggest problem. When a generation takes the potential they have been given, and misappropriates it by not applying it to Torah which is the one thing that can help us bridge the gap between all past generations, they are stealing our future hope. We want our children to steal the Afikomen instead; they should crave the "quest" for Torah, represented by the matzah of the Afikomen, so that our final hidden redemption can be revealed.
- Rabbi Milevsky