What Makes this Shabbos so Great
At our Seders we recount the ten plagues that G-d brought upon the Egyptians and while doing so, we traditionally pour off some wine from our cups.
A phenomenal feature of the plagues is that it never affected, disturbed or came upon any of the Jews!
However, the last plague, the slaying of the first born, stands apart from the rest of the plagues because the Jews were instructed to do something to prevent them from the consequences of the wrath of the plague. The Jews were instructed before this plague to collect the blood of the Pascal lamb and apply it to the inner doorposts and lintel of their doors. They were also instructed to remain indoors while they ate the roasted lamb, and throughout the entire night. By abiding by these rules G-d skipped over the homes of the Jews while all the Egyptian firstborn were slain.
Abarbanel wonders what special characteristic did the slaying of the first born have over the other plagues.
Rabbi Nissan Alpert o.b.m. explains that the function of the first nine plagues was to prove to Pharoh and the Egyptians that G-d exists and that He is in control of all happenings.
When they failed to raise themselves spiritually and to recognize G-d after the nine awesome plagues, G-d felt it unnecessary to perform another plague just prove His existence.
G-d specifically chose the first born Egyptians to be killed during this plague to convey that just as first born children possess a special role of leadership, direction and guidance within a family, this same notion of headship should have engendered the Egyptians to recognize G-d during the previous plagues, and since they didn’t capitalize on that capacity, G-d revealed an intense Personal revelation to the first born Egyptians as the verse states, “They will know during this plague that I am G-d.” This concentrated revelation of G-d caused them to expire thus conveying their failure of elevating themselves to a spiritual level of being able to handle this revelation.
If this was the nature of the plague, the Jews had to do something that proved their worthiness of salvation. How was this accomplished? G-d did not tell them to shoot and kill every lamb and goat – the Egyptian’s deity. Rather, He instructed that on the Shabbos before the Exodus the Jews take a lamb or goat, into their homes and to harness the animal to their bed posts and have it remain their for four days. By courageously doing this, the Jews displayed a remarkable defiance of the Egyptian onlookers and a commitment to G-d. The Shabbos preceding Passover has been emblazoned by the title, ‘Shabbos HaGodol’ – the great Shabbos – referring to the great display of defiance that the Jews proved towards the Egyptians.
The Hebrew word Godol also means to rise above. Through the Jews’ commitment to the command of G-d, they rose in levels of spirituality, and were labeled as a Godolim – indicating their enhancement of holiness.
Four days after this event, the Jews further displayed their commitment to G-d’s command and defiance of the idols when they slaughtered the animal, applied the blood to their door frames and then roasted and ate the Pascal lamb that night.
This process of elevated levels of spirituality and belief in the Almighty deemed the Jews worthy of G-d skipping over their homes and sparing the lives of the first born of the Jews, since they all proved themselves as ‘first born’- people who took spiritual responsibility and leadership seriously. In fact, the Almighty refers to the Jews as, ‘Beni Bechori Yisroel – My children, first born – Israel.” We are all categorized as first born because of the leadership qualities we displayed and continually demonstrate in our attachment and commitment to Almighty’s Will! Demanding Gifts!
Our custom is to have three Matzos at our Seder plate. The number three in our tradition is often associated with the three families in Israel, the Kohain, Levi and Yisroel; or, to our three forefathers, Avraham, Yitzchok and Yaacov. In fact there are two schools of thought as to which category the Matzos signify. The top Matzah represents, Kohain, the middle Matzah stands for Levi and the bottom Matzah corresponds to Yisroel; or, the top Matzah represents Avraham, the middle Matzah stands for Yitzchok, and the bottom Matzah corresponds to Yaacov.
At the fourth step of the 15 steps of the Seder we come to Yachatz, where we break the middle Matzah in half and choosing the larger piece we wrap it in a cloth where it is reserved for the Afikomen / desert. We try to guard this Matzah from the eager children who wish to snatch and hide it and then hold it for ransom until their wishes for an Afikomen gift is agreed upon.
A friend of mine shared the following interesting thought with me: The middle Matzah which represents Levi is the one that is broken; the larger piece is wrapped and hidden not coming back to until the latter part of the Seder.
The major players of the Levite family with regards to the Exodus are Moshe and his brother Aaron. Moshe was the greater of the two brothers, and he is thus represented by the larger Matzah. This piece is wrapped and hidden just as Moshe was initially hidden when he was born, and he was again separated from his brethren for sixty years when he was forced to flee for his life from Egypt. Moshe only returned at the end of the servitude with the mission to redeem the Jews. So too, the Matzah returns at the end of the Seder for the step of Tzafun, which incidentally means hidden.
According to the opinion that Yitzchok is represented by the middle Matzah, it also relates to something hidden. Yitzchok had two sons, Yaacov and Aisav. G-d kept Aisav’s wayward ways hidden from Yitzchok and he thus felt that Aisav was deserving of the Patriarchal blessings. At the end, Yaacov, the greater son whose justifiable right to the blessing was hidden from Yitzchok was the one who received the blessing from his father. Incidentally, this event happened on the 15th of Nissan, the eventual date of the Exodus and our Seder observance.
The Yitzchok Matzah is broken in half, representing the tension regarding which son would receive the blessing. At the end, the larger and hidden son, Yaacov, rightfully received it. Additionally, the Medrash relates that Yitzchok was ready to be sacrificed by his father Avraham. Although he wasn’t actually slaughtered, since Avraham and Yitzchok were willing to heed G-d’s command, it was considered as if the deed was done. The virtual spiritual ashes of Yitzchok are contained in a Tzafun – hidden place under G-d’s Heavenly throne, and are there to remind Him of their devoted sacrifice. This forever evokes G-d’s mercy and kindness for their descendants.
As we mentioned, one of the main attractions of the Seder is the excitement of snatching the Afikomen and then waiting around to request a gift before returning it. This is a strategy to keep the children up the entire Seder.
The Skolya Rebbe wonders about this unusual practice of snatching the Afikomen and then brazenly asking for reward before returning it; isn’t it stealing or at least encouraging such practices? He explains that there is a special relationship between a father and his children on Seder night. Since a father transmits our flawless tradition to his children through a dialogue of discussing the event of the Exodus, a bond is forged that is so strong and intense that there is a fusion of oneness between them. Therefore, when the child takes the Afikomen from his father, it in essence as if he is transferring it from one of his hands to the other!
What is the significance of asking for a gift? Since our relationship to the Almighty is like children to their father, we want to demonstrate to G-d that even though we may have ‘stolen’ from our Father in Heaven by not living up to our responsibilities we ask and pray for Him to gift us with blessings, salvation and redemption!
Four Why’s of Passover
~ Why do we drink four cups of wine at the Seder?
When G-d summoned Moshe to lead the Jews out of Egypt, G-d pronounced four statements of redemption: “I will take them out, I will save them, I will redeem them, I will take them for a nation.” The four cups of wine are symbolic of those four statements.
~ Why do we recline?
We recline (to the left) while eating the Matzoh and while drinking the four cups of wine, in order to portray our freedom by reclining as kings did while they feasted, years ago.
~ If the reason why we eat Matzoh is because G-d took the Jews out of Egypt so quickly that their dough didn’t have enough time to rise, why were the Jews commanded the night before they left Egypt to eat Matzoh?
Matzoh is an interesting food. It reflects our servitude in Egypt and also our speedy redemption. Matzoh reflects our slavery, because it is what the Jews ate all along while they were slaves in Egypt. Matzoh has simple ingredients and also digests slowly, perfect food for slaves. Matzoh reflects redemption, since the dough which was on their backs when they left Egypt, was the gauge of how quickly the redemption came for the millions of Jews, when they saw that their dough didn’t have enough time to rise and became Matzoh. The Matzoh that G-d commanded the Jews to eat the night before they left, was the Matzoh of affliction. They had to realize that even though they were on their way out of Egypt, they had to remember their humble beginnings.
~ Why do we seem to always refer to the Exodus from Egypt?
We have several commandments in the Torah in which the remembrance of our miraculous redemption from Egypt is connected, even though they have nothing to do per-se with the Exodus. For example: the observance of Shabbos, Talit, Tefilin etc. are tied into the Exodus, although they have other reasons for their observances.
In addition, our prayers are replete with mention of the Exodus. Why is the Exodus from Egypt so important that in addition to the observance of the Holiday of Pesach, we have to constantly refer to it?
What is unique about the Exodus is that the Jewish nation in its entirety witnessed and experienced the miraculous redemption. They saw for themselves that it was the Hand of G-d that freed them from their oppressors and protected them. The Exodus experience stands as the basis of our belief that G-d Himself freed us from slavery. He took the entire nation out of Egypt in order for them to assume an identity of their own, — a new nation — G-d’s nation!
Since G-d’s personal intervention in our redemption from Egypt was witnessed by the entire Jewish nation, it is essential that these events be transmitted to future generations. Hence, many Mitzvos have the reminder of the Exodus attached to them. In this way, we constantly recall the events and uphold the clarity of our belief in the Exodus from Egypt.
The holiday of Pesach begins with commemorating our Exodus from Egypt and concludes with the commemoration of the splitting of the Red Sea; the culmination of the Egyptian threat. We are commanded to refrain from Chometz and to eat Matzoh during Pesach, in order to actively partake in the food that our forefathers ate during the Exodus. We thus further instill within ourselves the belief in our Exodus from Egypt, and then retain this belief throughout the year by constantly referring to it. It is no wonder why the Jewish people have endured and retained their identity, even after being scattered all over the world for so many generations. It is the unique clarity of our belief in G-d and our devotion to His Torah that has enabled us to persevere. This is the secret to our survival!
Not a time to ask the Rabbi, rather, it is time to ask your Father!
Generally speaking, when one has questions regarding Judaism, whether its observance or beliefs, they seek out a Rabbi or someone who is knowledgeable of our Torah and its teachings. The Pesach Seder is the exception. Questions are directed to the father, and it is the father who has the obligation to respond to his children; as the Haggadah tells us of the four types of sons, each having their unique way of asking, and each receiving a suitable response.
But how does the Torah expect the lay person to be equipped with the answers? The Torah wants a father and his children to become involved in a dialogue, specifically at the Seder at which wherever they turn our rich tradition is ever so present and tangible. There is Matzoh, Marror, the symbolic shankbone, Charoses etc. Did these traditions just merely evolve over the generations? If this is the question posed to the father, his immediate response is well, my father did it, and his father…
So where did it all begin? We are fortunate that our Sages supplied us with a text of the Haggadah which gives the description of our history of our forefathers sojourn down to Egypt and the ensuing 210 years. The Haggadah relates that Yaacov traveled to Egypt to meet his son Yosef, with his entire family, just 70 people. During the first 94 years the Jews flourished in Egypt, while remaining unassimilated with the Egyptians. The Pharoh of Egypt became concerned over the Jewish population surge and introduced the Jews to slavery for the next 116 years.
When the Jews cried out to G-d for help, G-d sent Moshe to instruct Pharoh to let the Jews go. When Pharoh ignored Moshe’s miracles that he performed before him, G-d sent ten plagues, to try to get him to relent. Before each plague, Pharoh was warned of his impending doom for three week’s and the plague then lasted for an entire week. Finally, G-d Personally came down and smote all the Egyptian first-born and skipped over the Jewish homes. G-d commanded the Jews to slaughter the Pascal lamb and put the blood on the inside of their door posts. In this merit G-d passed over the Jewish houses and their first born were saved. The following day, the entire Jewish nation was eagerly plucked out of Egypt and taken by G-d as His nation.
Hence we recall the fact that G-d intervened on our behalf and caused all sorts of phenomena during the ten plagues which proved His power over all worldly and personal events. This is what we recall each Pesach. We eat the same Matzoh and Morror that our forefathers ate the night before they left Egypt. We are not just commemorating the events we are reliving them!
Each child starting from the Exodus from Egypt was infused through the story of Pesach with this strong belief and knowledge that all happenings are controlled by G-d. Hence, each father at the Pesach Seder is equipped with the most adequate responses to his children’s questions!
A special relationship with the Almighty
As we sit by the Seder surrounded by our family and friends we have the opportunity to focus in on what makes us very unique. Let’s think about what the purpose was for our redemption from Pharoh and the Egyptian servitude. Why did G-d choose us to be responsible for fulfilling His Torah?
The Hagadda addresses these issues and takes us back to our forefather Avraham. Avraham was told by G-d that because of his total devotion to G-d, he will be the patriarch of the Jewish nation. G-d forewarned Avraham that his descendants will be enslaved, only to be redeemed by G-d Himself through great miracles. When the Jews were redeemed from Egypt they were taken from a state of being physical slaves to Pharoh, to being acquired by the Ultimate Master – G-d Himself, with a deep bond and love. Aside from the relationship as Master, G-d bestowed the Jews with the status of being called His children. As a general rule, a father expects more from his children.
Having this special relationship with the Almighty, the Jewish nation was given the Torah at Mount Sinai by G-d. The Torah contains the laws and responsibilities that G-d wants from His special nation and is the source of all law, morality and justice.
So look around our Seder and see the same menu that our ancestors had over 3322 years ago, it’s there to make us wonder about our past – our history. “How did we endure throughout our long and difficult history?” We can then think about the present, “While reciting the Hagadda, drinking the wine, eating the Matzoh and Morror, ‘how do I feel as being part of this unique nation?” Then we can close our eyes and dream about our future, “What more can I do to deepen my bond with G-d and His Torah? In what ways can I make G-d real proud of His children?
Elijah the Prophet makes house calls
What is a Seder without the four cups of wine? And what is a Seder without the mysterious Cup of Elijah? The basis for the four cups of wine that are drunk at the Seder is the four statements of redemption that G-d told the Jews while in Egypt. “I will take you out.” “I will save you.” “I will redeem you.” “I will take you as a nation.” There is actually a 5th statement of redemption, “I will take you into the Land of Israel.”
So why don’t we drink a 5th cup? There is a question in the Talmud if this last statement was fulfilled when Yehoshua led the Jews into the land 40 years after the Exodus from Egypt, or is the statement referring to the time when the Jews will incontestably be given the Land of Israel with the arrival of Moshiach. The Talmud does not arrive at a conclusive answer. Therefore we place the 5th cup in the middle of the table and reserve it for Eliyahu Hanavi (Elijah the prophet).
Why Eliyahu? Our tradition is that Eliyahu never died. He ascended the heavens in a fiery chariot. He has the status of an angel, and visits earth in various capacities. Eliyahu is also invested with the knowledge to answer our uncertainties and is the one who the Talmud refers to when its faced with an uncertainty. For this reason we call the 5th cup Eliyahu’s cup since he is the one who will tell us if we indeed need to drink a 5th cup of wine at the Seder.
There is more to Eliyahu and his relationship to the Seder. The verse in the prophets tells us that Eliyahu will come a day before our final redemption (Moshiach) in the capacity of a prophet and coronate the Moshiach. Since Eliyahu is the prophet that heralds our redemption and returning to Israel, the 5th cup of wine which represents the statement of being given the Land bears Eliyahu’s name.
Eliyahu makes house calls at the Seder! Is it a myth or not? There is an incident that is related in the Book of Prophets that Eliyahu was once very critical of the Jewish people for abandoning the Mitzvah of Bris Mila (circumcision) and felt there was no hope for them. G-d Said to Eliyahu, “I’ll prove to you that My children will keep on fulfilling the Mitzvah of Bris Mila, and you will be the angel who visits each Bris and be first hand witness that the Jews did not abandon Me.” Traditionally, before an infant is circumcised, he is placed on a chair of Eliyahu. Some say that Eliyahu visits the Seder to bear witness that the Jews are fulfilling the Pesach Seder and look forward to the redemption.
There are stories that are told about Eliyahu actually appearing at the Seder.
The following incident was told by a surviving participant. In the concentration camp Matahausin, there was a group of 18 friends that wound up in the same camp. When Pesach grew close, they all made up that they were not going to eat any Chometz over Pesach. With the simple rations of bread and water, this was indeed a great and pious undertaking. As night fell on the 15th of Nissan, the group of 18 friends gathered behind the barracks to celebrate the Seder. There was no wine, Matzoh or even Hagadda, but there was Morror – plenty of bitterness. With tears streaming down their cheeks, each one tried to remember a part of the Hagadda from memory. Suddenly, they were alarmed by some movement coming from one of the directions. To their utter amazement, a bearded man appeared, and signaled them to keep calm. He then went to each person and pulled out of his coat a complete Matzoh. After he was done giving out the Matzoh, he turned around and disappeared. The impact of that incident of ‘Eliyahu’ appearing to them, kept this group together and strong in their beliefs.
There is a story told of a wealthy man who would add a precious jewel to his cup of Eliyahu each year. One year he lost all his wealth. Pesach time arrived and he had absolutely no resources to buy anything for the holiday, other than his beloved cup of Eliyahu. He told his wife he was going to sell the cup, so he could at least get food for Yom Tov. His wife refused to sell the cup. Embarrassed to ask for others to assist him, he sadly left his house early to go to Shul. Right after he left the house, a man came knocking on the door and asked his wife if he could join their Seder. The wife replied that she was sorry but they didn’t have anything. The man gave her plenty of money to go out and buy food for Yom Tov. After Shul was over, the husband slowly made his way home. To his surprise the house was all lit up and all had been prepared as his usual Seder. His wife told him about the special visitor. The visitor made a second appearance during the Seder, giving them a blessing of riches. After Pesach was over, the man went to his Rebbe and told the story over to him. The Rebbe told him that he should know that it was Eliyahu Hanavi who came to visit him, and it was because he didn’t sell the cup of Eliyahu, that he came to pay a visit!
The following is a fairly recent incident where Eliyahu appeared to heal a sick person.
When Rabbi Eliyahu Lopian’s wife was gravely ill, the family was called to her bedside expecting the worst. A man entered the room and told Rabbi Lopian to get a fruit from a tree and give it to his wife and she will recover. He went and got the fruit, gave it to his wife and she got better.
Years later, Rabbi Lopian was in the presence of the famed Gerrer Rebbe, and asked him for a blessing. The Rebbe responded, who am I to give a blessing to someone who Eliyahu Hanavi visited! Rabbi Lopian responded, “Someone who knows that it was Eliyahu who came to me is the one who is most worthy to give a blessing!
The Real Definition of Freedom
Pesach is when we celebrate our freedom from Egypt. What is the definition of freedom? Random House dictionary defines freedom as follows: The state of being free. Our sages give a slightly different definition of freedom. Based upon a word used in the description of the engraved words of the Ten Commandments, they teach us something that also seems contradictory, “There is no one who is free, other than one who is involved in Torah.” We know how many laws, rituals, observances, and prohibitions there are in the Torah. How can the Torah call someone who takes it all seriously, “A free man?” The answer offered is that the greatest freedom that one can attain is knowing they are doing the right thing. When a Jew observes the Torah, and bases his decisions on Torah perspective, to the outside world it may look most restrictive, but to the Jew it is his law, his direct connection to the Almighty – thus it is the highest form of freedom, knowing right from wrong. Thus, the true purpose of the Jews’ exodus from Egypt was so that they receive the Torah – the document that teaches what true freedom is.
We can relive the Exodus experience!
The Hagadah states: “In every generation it is a person’s duty to regard himself as though he personally had come out of Egypt.” How is this achieved when one has not lived through the servitude in Egypt or the freedom that his ancestors experienced?
Integral to the belief of a Jew that G-d has complete control over occurrences, is the interactive recounting with our children of our Exodus from Egypt on the anniversary of this special event. It was the Exodus and it’s accompanying miracles that proved to the Jews that G-d was in total control. The display of miracles that occurred to our forefathers was so intense and powerful that when G-d spoke to the Jewish nation at Mount Sinai, He stated in the first commandment, “I am Hashem your G-d who took you out of the land of Egypt.” The Exodus was the onset of G-d’s public display of His presence, power and control of all happenings. It therefore serves as the foundation of our belief in G-d’s presence in the world and in our lives. In fact, we recall the events of the exodus during our daily prayers in the Shema, and while reciting Kiddush on Shabbos and Yom Tov.
Pesach, when we mark the anniversary of the Jewish nation’s exodus, has a different dimension in our recounting the events. We are obligated to eat Matzah and Morror and retell the entire story of what happened, carrying on the unbroken chain of this command that began when our forefathers experienced and witnessed these awesome events. When the Hagadah adjures us to feel as though we have been personally freed from Egypt, the intent is that we relive this major event which happened to our forefathers so that it does not remain a historical event, rather, a belief that we imbue within ourselves at the Seder each and every year of our lives.
Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler o.b.m. offers a tremendous insight as to what we can achieve upon encountering a day on which special events happened to our nation. Generally speaking, a time line is drafted in a straight line. At each point where an event or highlight occurred, a mark is made and a caption tells of what happened. This type of time line goes on and on and on. A Jewish time line is circular, which means that periodically we return to those events which have been eternalized as a result of the spiritual values with which they have been suffused. When we return to these dates, in the circle of time, we have the ability to interface with the experiences which have consecrated these moments in time. We therefore have the ability to tap into the sanctity and even the feeling of what had transpired.
At the Seder, the retelling of the story, – the Matzoh and Moror that we eat, the Charoses, shankbone and egg that are before us on the seder plate, etc. all help us reflect on the servitude and freedom of our ancestors and serve as a vehicle through which we enable ourselves to experience the unique feeling as though we went out of Egypt.
The Red Sea and the Split
On the night of the seventh day after the Jews left Egypt, G-d split the Red Sea for them and drowned the Egyptian army, bringing a close to Egyptian dominance, and with it any threat to the Jews. The next morning the Jews sang the prophetic song of Az Yashir.
The Hagadah relates three opinions as to with how many plagues the Egyptians were smitten at the Red Sea. One opinion says fifty, the other says two hundred, and the last opinion says two hundred and fifty plagues. Aside from the actual splitting of the Red Sea to save the Jews, G-d performed awesome miracles in His punishment of the Egyptians. Their demise came with a bang.
In singing the praises of G-d the next morning, Moshe stated, “Nations heard and trembled.” This implies that the miracle was already broadcast throughout the world. (Without the help of CNN.) Our sages tell us that when the sea split into 12 lanes (One for each of the 12 tribes) every body of water in the world split into 12 lanes. The people came to the non-Jewish prophet Bilam who informed them what had transpired.
The Torah tells us that the Jews left Egypt with tremendous wealth. After the Jews safely crossed the Red Sea, the drowned Egyptians and their jewel coated chariots were spat out on the sea shore. Our Sages tell us that the wealth the Jews gathered from the Egyptian coaches and wagons was even greater than the wealth they took with them when they left Egypt.
I never quite understood why the Egyptians took valuables with them to war, until I read an explanation offered by Rabbi Ahron Leib Steinman. Rabbi Steinman refers to an early commentary, Rashbam, who explains that kings used the following strategy and incentive for their army to remain loyal and fight to the bitter end; they sent them out to war with riches from their treasury. If they were victorious at battle, they were then entitled to keep the riches.
The Medrash tells us that when Pharoh had a change of heart after letting the Jews free, he opened his vast treasury and gave golden and jewel laden chariots for his army to take to pursue the Jews.
After experiencing the Hand of G-d during the ten miraculous plagues, Pharoh had to use his ‘wealth arsenal’ as an incentive for his people to pursue the Jews, this was the wealth that washed up on shore that was now acquired by the Jews after they safely crossed the Red Sea.
The Longest Pesach:
In the early years of Rabbi Yechezkel Landau’s Rabbinical position of the City of Prague, he once noticed a young boy sitting alone and crying. The Rabbi went over to the child and asked what was wrong. The non-Jewish child related to him that his father, one of the bakers in town had instructed him to sell a basket full of rolls. He succeeded in selling the rolls but had lost the money, and was petrified to go back home empty handed. His father routinely beat him brutally for any slight wrongdoing. The child didn’t know what to do. Rabbi Landau had compassion on the boy and took out the sum of money from his wallet and gave it to the boy.
Many years later, Rabbi Landau was sitting at his table late at night poring over the Talmud, when there was a knock on his door. Startled, Rabbi Landau went to the door, and there was a gentile man at the door. “Honorable Rabbi, you may not recognize me, but I am the young lad you helped out many years ago, saving me from the wrath of my father. I have come to pay back a favor.” The man continued, “I have come to inform you that all the bakers in town got together and decided that with the holiday of Passover coming up, after which the Jews come to buy bread from gentile bakeries, it is a great opportunity to poison the bread that the Jews will buy. We were all sworn to secrecy so that the officials won’t find out. I felt compelled to inform the Rabbi before the holiday so that he could think of a way to bypass this danger.” The Rabbi was stunned by this information and he profusely thanked the non-Jew for informing him at a risk to his own life.
The Rabbi, needless to say, started pondering how to thwart such a potential danger, without making anything noticeable. Throughout the holiday of Passover, the Rabbi did not say a word to anyone. On the night following the seventh day of Pesach, the rabbi sent out messengers that all the synagogues in Prague are to be locked the next morning and that everyone should pray in the main Shul in Prague. The Rabbi would be giving a special speech, and he wants, everyone to participate. The next morning, the Rabbi got up to speak and proclaimed, “a mistake was made in calculating when Passover should fall this year, and we were off by one day, having started one day early. Therefore, tomorrow is still Pesach. I want everyone to pray the holiday prayers tonight and recite the holiday Kiddush, and the same tomorrow. We must observe Pesach another day.” Although it was more then a bit peculiar, no one dared question the Rabbi, and they all adhered to his ruling. That night, the bakers could not understand why the Jews were not coming to buy bread as they usually did each year. The Rabbi notified the officials to check out the bread of the bakers. The poisoned bread was confiscated and the plot against the Jews was foiled.
When Rabbi Landau related this incident to his son, he explained that aside from the clever approach he took to save the Jews from danger, it was the result of the deep-rooted compassion that he had upon every poor person, Jew or gentile, that procured such a great outcome.
One of the main features of the Pesach Seder is the recital of the Mah Nishtanah, the four questions, that is asked by the youngest child (in many families, it is asked by all the children.) These questions serve to ignite conversation at the Seder focusing in on the meaning of the Egyptian servitude, the plagues, our exodus, our nationhood and G-d’s dominion and control over the entire universe.
The four questions as well as the directives for the format of the Seder is based upon our Oral Teachings – the Mishna and Talmud tractate Pesachim.
I would like to focus upon the third question: The child asks, “On all other nights of the year, we don’t dip even once, but on the night of Pesach, we dip twice. First we dip a vegetable (celery, radish, potato or parsley) in salt water, and then we dip Moror – bitter herbs in Charoses.”
We do things at the Seder to arouse the attention of children so that they ask their parents about the events of Passover. This prompts the parents to relate our belief of G-d’s intervention and power during the plagues, Exodus and beyond.
One of the commentaries asks, why is it that at the beginning of the Seder we dip a vegetable into saltwater (as remembrance of the tears the Jews shed while they were tortured.), while the latter dipping of Morror is into Charoses which is sweet?
There is a deeper significance to the two dippings. If we take a look at our history we see that Yosef, Yaacov’s son preceded Yaacov and his family to Egypt by twenty-two years. Yosef had come to Egypt earlier after he had been sold as a slave by his brothers. The Torah relates that Yosef’s brothers concealed his sale by dipping his special coat in goat’s blood. They then showed the coat to Yaacov implying that Yosef was killed by an animal. The dipping of Yosef’s coat into blood was in a certain way the beginning of our actual sojourn in Egypt. The dipping into saltwater at the beginning of the Seder symbolizes the bitterness that came with Yosef’s coat being dipped into blood. We begin the Seder talking about the bitterness of our oppression.
The day before the Jews left Egypt they were instructed to slaughter a male goat or lamb (which was the Egyptian deity), and to catch the blood in a bowl. They then dipped a branch into the blood and applied the blood to the inner lintel and two doorposts of their homes. It was the Jews’ adherence to this command that signaled G-d to pass over the homes of the Jews during the final plague of the slaying of the firstborn. Thus the Jew’s dipping the branch into the blood of the Pascal sacrifice marked their deliverance. Our second dipping at the Seder comes when we speak about our awesome redemption. At this time our dip is into something sweet symbolizing the sweetness of redemption that the Jews were feeling during this final phase of their redemption.
Israel is on all of our minds. It is upsetting, frustrating and frightening. There are no solutions when we are up against such inbred ruthless and inhumane hatred and behavior. Yet, we do have one option, the ultimate option! That is to call out to G-d and plead to Him to grant our brethren and us a speedy solution and redemption. For it is only Him upon whom we can lean.
Our Sages teach us that just as in the month of Nisan we experienced our first redemption, so too in Nisan will be our final redemption. May our observance of the Holiday of Pesach mark us worthy of a speedy redemption.
We have many opinions; but one type of Seder!
The saying goes, “when two Jews get together to discuss a matter, you will get three opinions.” This dictum pertains not only to Jews getting together to discuss subjects such as politics, Shul matters and Rabbis, where most people do not agree with each other…..it applies to Jews getting together to discuss a Talmudic passage as well. In fact, discussion of Talmud is necessary in order to clarify the meaning of the Talmud. In the process many opinions are formulated, and a proper conclusion is reached. The discussion and arguments that clarify the Torah, differ from all other arguments and academia. For G-d rewards one quite handsomely, for the mere study of Torah, even if no conclusive outcome is reached.
We can see this process in action during the Passover Seder.
An entire Tractate of the Talmud is dedicated to the laws of Passover. There are many arguments and discussions regarding each and every law. Yet amazingly, after the seeming confusion of opinions of what to do and how to do it, we look at Passover and the Seder in every Jewish household and all are doing the same thing. Yes, there are slight variations from one household to the next as to what items are customarily used for a particular Mitzvah, such as which vegetable to dip in saltwater, but there are no variations in regarding the Mitzvos that we fulfill.
A number of examples: Everyone calls it the Seder (order). Every Matzah has the same ingredients – flour and water and all were baked within 18 minutes before leavening (Chometz) can set in. We all drink four cups of wine or grape juice, and fill the cup of Elijah. We all have the same Hagadah and tell over the same story of our Exodus, we ask the four questions, and discuss how the four types of sons ask their questions and how to respond to them. We all have fifteen steps of the Seder, and pour off wine from our cups when we mention the ten plagues. We all have a Seder plate with Charoses, egg, shank bone, Moror, a vegetable and saltwater. We all eat Matzah and Moror and Afikomen (which means dessert). We all recite Hallel – praise, and we sing the same song for Dayainu.
Did anything I mentioned sound strange to you? No! Because….you were raised with it, and your father was, and his father….
Despite the fact that 3316 years have lapsed since the Exodus, and our people experienced countless pogroms and expulsions, and Jews settled in every corner of the world, nothing has changed, we are all still doing it the same way. We can say with 100% clarity and certainty that our ancestor’s Exodus from Egypt with G-d’s intervention, happened.
The Torah commands parents to tell their children about the miraculous Exodus with all the props such as the Matzah and Moror, and encourages children to ask about it. This process is called Mesorah – a tradition passed down. Therefore the story of the Exodus has remained untainted.
Just think how lucky we are, to belong to a G-dly nation that has the most wonderful traditions and a clear understanding of an Omnipotent G-d, the Torah, our history and Mitzvos; and we have traditions which remind us that we are all on the same page.
What Happened to the Pharoh?
The Holiday of Pesach has holidays at the beginning and end. The first two days of the Holiday commemorate our ancestors’ Exodus from Egypt and the miracles and events leading up to it. We observe the laws of the Holiday, and participate in the Seder at night. Then, on the seventh and eighth days of the Holiday we observe the last days of Pesach commemorating the miracles of splitting the Red Sea for the Jews and drowning the pursuing Egyptians. At this point the Egyptians became a thing of the past and no longer a threat to the Jews.
Although the Jews were freed from Egypt proper on the first day of Pesach, their freedom from the shackles of the Egyptian rule came to a conclusion at the sea.
The four intermediate days – Chol Hamoed, which bridge the beginning of Pesach with the end of Pesach, are semi holidays. They have the restrictions of not eating Chometz but do not carry the restrictions of not doing creative activities. It is not as strict as the beginning and end of the holidays.
The miracles at the sea were totally awesome. Our sages tell us that at the sea, even the simplest Jews saw prophetic visions with more clarity than the greatest of sages living in later generations.
The question arises, what were the Egyptians thinking while seeing these awesome miracles happening to the Jews? Why didn’t they stop at the edge of the sea and marvel over the miracles that G-d was doing for His people, instead of heading straight into the sea to their demise?
An answer offered is that the Egyptians were inculcated and indoctrinated with an aversion towards accepting a Creator, Who controls all happenings, to the point that it affected their ability to make even obvious logical decisions. This failing due to their stubbornness brought them to their end.
Our sages tell us that each Egyptian taskmaster was punished at sea commensurate with the brutality that he treated his Jewish captives. No Egyptian expired until he admitted and proclaimed that G-d brought upon all the miracles.
What happened to Pharoh? In Psalms, King David writes, “Pharoh and his army were stirred in the sea.” “The waters covered them, no one was spared.” Both verses seem to indicate that Pharoh drowned together with the Egyptians at sea. Yet, the Medrash, infers from the verse in the Torah, “No [Egyptian] was saved, until one,” that was saved. Who was that one? Pharoh!
Rabbi Chaim Kanievski wishes to reconcile the apparent contradiction as follows: In truth Pharoh was also included in the punishment at sea. The water covered him and he was stirred in the sea, as King David writes in Psalms, however G-d saved him from the sea in order to promote G-d sovereignty over the world. In fact the Medrash indicates that G-d kept Pharoh in the depths of the sea for fifty days and then raised him out (I guess it took him that long to finally recognize and admit that there is a G-d.) Eventually, the Pharoh became the King of Ninveh and led his people to repentance when he was informed through the Prophet Yonah that G-d would destroy Ninveh in thirty days if the people do not repent.
Ten Plagues – What Happened?
1.Blood: All the rivers, reservoirs, canals, containers of water turned to blood. Being unable to drink any water, the Egyptians had to purchased water from the Jews, which remained pure. Pharoh’s magicians were also able to turn water to blood, and Pharoh refused to let the Jews go.
2. Frogs: Frogs emerged from the Nile spreading everywhere possible. Their croaking was deafening. Even though Pharoh’s magicians were also able to produce frogs, still, Pharoh agreed to let the Jews go. However when the Plague stopped, Pharoh went back on his word. All the frogs died causing a strong stench in the land. Interestingly, that Pharoh was warned that the frogs would invade throughout Egypt’s boundaries. At that time, there was a dispute between Egypt and a neighboring country regarding their boundaries. When the frogs invaded, they went up until Egypt’s boundary – the long dispute was then settled!
3. Lice: Lice was produced by Aaron hitting the sand with his staff. Pharoh’s magicians were unable to produce lice, and told Pharoh that it was indeed the work of G-d. However Pharoh refused to listen.
The first three plagues were brought on by Aaron hitting the water and sand with his staff. Since the water and sand had previously aided in saving Moshe’s life, it was therefore improper for him to hit that which he had benefited from.
4. Wild Animals: Throngs of lions, tigers, bears, etc. invaded Egypt. A terrified Pharoh agrees to let the Jews go, but again changes his mind when the animals leave.
5. Pestilence: An epidemic strikes all the livestock of Egypt, and all the animals die. Pharoh still does not let them go.
6. Boils: Moshe throws up a handful of furnace soot that settles on all of Egypt and causes boils to break out wherever it falls. From this point on, Pharoh lost his ability to give in and let the Jews go. G-d revoked his free will from him because he was too stubborn to recognize G-d. Even if Pharoh had wanted to let them go, G-d wouldn’t have allowed him, in order to punish him for his persistent disbelief. (Unless he repented)
7. Fire and Hail: This plague was fire mixed together with ice, thunder and lightning. Besides destroying the plants, any Egyptian or animal that was left outside was killed, just as they had been warned before the plague. Pharoh calls for Moshe and Aaron to stop the plague, and tells them he will let them leave. Once again, when the plague stopped, Pharoh refused to let the Jews go. Notice, that fire and water made peace with each other in order to carry out the will of G-d.
8. Locust: Moshe raised his hand towards the heavens and a fierce eastern wind brought the plague of locust. The swarm of locust was so thick that it completely covered the land of Egypt and consumed all its vegetation. When Moshe warned Pharoh of this plague, Pharoh’s servants begged him to let the Jews go rather than suffer additional punishment and devastation. Pharoh turned a deaf ear even to his own people’s plea.
9. Darkness: The plague of Darkness had two components. The first three days consisted of absolute darkness. During the following three days, the darkness became so thick that the Egyptians couldn’t even move. At this point, Pharoh was willing to let the Jews go as long as they left their livestock behind. When Moshe insisted that they take everything with them, Pharoh became so furious at Moshe and Aaron that he threatened them with execution if they ever returned to the palace.
G-d instructed Moshe to tell the Jews to take a male sheep or goat (which was the god of the Egyptians) and slaughter it on the afternoon prior to the final plague. They were instructed to take the blood of the sacrifice and wipe it on the top and two sides of the (inner) door frame of their homes. The blood was the sign for G-d to pass over those homes, and not to kill the Jewish First Born that were within. That night, the sacrifice was roasted, and eaten together with Matzo and Marror.
10. Death of the First Born: At midnight of the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Nissan, G-d killed every Egyptian First Born, including the animals. All their idols were also destroyed. There was a terrible outcry of suffering in Egypt, since there was no household that was unscathed from punishment. Pharoh was petrified, since he himself was a First Born. Pharoh personally went out and sought Moshe and Aaron to tell them that the Jews should leave.
The Torah tells us that the next morning, in broad daylight, the Jews (approx. 3 million people) were simultaneously uprooted from Egypt to a location quite a distance from Egypt. Their freedom came so hastily that there wasn’t even enough time for the dough, they were baking, to rise and turn into Chometz (Leavened bread). The Jews left Egypt with a great amount of wealth that was given to them by the Egyptians.
Ten Plagues – Who is in Control
1. Blood: All the Egyptians water turned to blood. This showed that G-d is in control of water. (Note; the Egyptians worshiped the Nile, and that was smitten first.)
2. Frogs: Frogs infested Egypt, going everywhere possible (even in their stomachs and ovens) The croaking was deafening. This showed that G-d is in control of the species of the water.
3. Lice: The sand turned to lice, which infested the Egyptians and their livestock. This showed that G-d is in control of the soil.
4. Wild animals: All types of wild animals left the forests, and invaded Egypt. This showed that G-d is in control of the animal kingdom.
5. Pestilence: An epidemic struck all the livestock of the Egyptians. This showed that G-d is in control of the lives of the animals. (The Egyptians also worshipped sheep).
6. Boils: The Egyptians were inflicted with painful boils all over their bodies. This showed that G-d is in control of the health and welfare of His creations.
7. Fire and Hail: Hail mixed with fire, together with thunder and lightning destroyed all the vegetation and killed any Egyptian or their animals that were outdoors. This showed that G-d is in control of the weather.
8. Locust: A swarm of locusts, so thick that it covered the entire land of Egypt, and consumed all its vegetation. When Moshe gave warning to Pharoh of this plague, the Egyptians begged Pharoh to let the Jews go. They couldn’t tolerate any more suffering and devastation. Pharoh remained stubborn and refused to let them go. This plague showed that G-d is in control of winged creatures and agriculture.
9. Darkness: This plague lasted for six days; the first three days consisting of absolute darkness, while during the following three days, darkness was so palatable and thick that the Egyptians were unable to move from the position that they were in. The nature of the plague allowed the Jews to freely search the Egyptians’ property and locate their hidden jewels and treasures. When Moshe implored them to ask the Egyptians for their riches before they left Egypt, (which they were rightfully entitled to, since they weren’t paid for the 116 years of slavery) the Egyptians claimed to have no riches. When the Jews told them exactly where their riches were, the Egyptians were so impressed that the Jews hadn’t taken anything during the plague of darkness, that they eagerly gave them their riches. This plague demonstrated G-d’s control over the illumination of the world (During the plague, it was totally light for all the Jews).
In preparation for the Exodus from Egypt, the Jews were instructed to male lamb or kid into their homes and keep it there for four days. On the fourth day, the afternoon prior to the final plague, the animal was slaughtered. The blood of the animal was caught in a pail, and a hyssop branch was used to wipe the blood on the top and two sides of the inner door frame of the entrance of the home. The blood was a sign to G-d that He should pass over those homes, and not kill the firstborn that were within. (The Jews were not allowed to leave their homes that entire night) That night, the animal (Pascal lamb) was roasted and was eaten together with Matzoh and Marror.
10. Death of the First Born: At exactly midnight of the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Nissan, G-d killed every Egyptian firstborn, including firstborn animals, causing a great outcry in the land of Egypt. Because of the Egyptians’ promiscuity, mixed into every family were many children that died since they were firstborn from many different fathers. This evidence of their wives infidelity caused additional conflict and chaos. All the idols were also destroyed. Pharoh personally came out of his palace and into the streets looking for Moshe and Aaron to free the Jews immediately from Egypt. Pharoh was petrified since he was a firstborn himself. (He was spared to bear witness to G-d’s total dominion) This plague showed that G-d is in control of the lives of His creations.
The next morning in broad daylight, all the Jews (approx. 3 million) throughout Egypt were miraculously, simultaneously uplifted to freedom to a location quite a distance from Egypt. The Jews were totally dedicated to G-d and had total faith that He would provide them with direction, sustenance, protection and shelter.
Why the name Passover?
Passover, the upcoming holiday, acquired its name because while the Egyptian first born were being killed, G-d passed over the Jewish homes sparing their first born.
This happened exactly at midnight of the night the Jews ate the Pascal Sacrifice with Matzah and Morror readying themselves for their exodus the next day.
Passover thus signifies a distinction between the Jews and the Egyptians seen through the slaying of the first born, the tenth plague.
A question raised is why was this plague specifically chosen for the holiday to be named Passover, didn’t the Jews stand apart from the Egyptians during the other plagues as well? Why then was the plague of the slaying of the first born specifically singled out?
Upon examining the plagues, we find that the other nine plagues were brought through an action performed by either Moshe or Aaron as instructed by G-d.
The slaying of the first born stood out because Hashem Himself performed it all. Since it was brought directly from Hashem and He descended to Egypt to bring the plague, it thus brought the Jews under His direct scrutiny to see if they were indeed worthy of being spared. G-d in His infinite kindness sought merits for the Jews so that they be spared and He therefore commanded them to risk their lives by taking a lamb – the Egyptian deity – into their homes, slaughter it, roast it and eat it.
Heeding G-d’s command in such a devoted fashion, made them merit G-d’s personal salvation. Since the salvation of the tenth plague was through the graces of G-d Himself, the slaying of the Egyptian first born and G-d passing over the homes the Jews, is what is commemorated on Passover.
On the Seder Night, from time immemorial, we are protected by Hashem, just as He watched over our ancestors in Egypt. We actually display this belief by opening our doors during the Seder. May Hashem always protect us and soon usher our redemption through Elijah the Prophet whose cup is displayed at our Seder when we open our doors.
An uplifting idea:
During the Seder in the recitation of the Hagadah it states that we are required to say the words, “Pesach, Matzah and Moror.”
The question raised is why is it stated in the reversed order? After all, the Morror – which represents our bitter enslavement, preceded the requirement of sacrificing the Pascal lamb and eating the Matzah?
Listen to this beautiful insight: This order teaches us that when we reflect on past experiences we are to first dwell on the salvation, kindness and deliverance of G-d rather than starting off dwelling on the bitterness, hardship and suffering. If Morror would be mentioned and discussed first, we may remain stuck on the hardships and bitterness and the awesome redemption would remain only an afterthought.
We mention our redemption first to emphasize that our main focus should be on the good graces of G-d and only then discuss the hardships and challenges.
What a wonderful lesson for life and a superb way of dealing with its experiences and challenges.
The Seder – step by step
Prepared by Rabbi Reuven Epstein
Kadesh- Kiddush (1st of the 4 cups of wine) We sanctify the day over a cup of wine and add the blessing of Shehecheyanu.
• In many homes everyone makes Kiddush together.
• Everyone is treated like royalty tonight so we fill each other’s cup with the wine.
• Red wine is preferable unless white wine is more appealing. White wine can be colored red by pouring some red wine in first.
• It is preferable to use wine than grape juice unless wine is not agreeable with you. • The cup should hold at least 3.3 ounces. Most to all of the cup should be consumed • One leans on his left side when drinking this cup, this is a display of freedom and royalty. • It is preferable to lean upon something i.e. the back of a chair, pillow, etc.
Orchatz – We wash our hands before we eat Karpas – vegetable.
At the Seder we are meticulous to wash before eating a wet (washed) vegetable.
• The washing is performed as we wash for bread, 2 splashes on each entire hand.
• We do not recite a Blessing of Netilas Yadayim.
Karpas- We dip the vegetable into salt water and recite the blessing of ‘Ha’adama’ before it is eaten. Salt water reminds us of the tears shed during the Egyptian servitude.
• While reciting the blessing we bear in mind that it should exempt us from reciting this blessing over the Marror – bitter herb (also a vegetable), later in the Seder.
• Some of the commonly used vegetables are: Radish, celery, parsley or potatoes.
• One does not lean while eating Karpas.
Yachatz – We break the middle of the three Matzos.
To illustrate that when we were slaves in Egypt we didn’t even have a complete Matza to eat
• We hide the larger piece to eat for the Afikoman.
• Many families remove the Ka’ara (Seder plate) from the table until Mah Nishtana to show that we are not going to eat the meal yet. It is also to pique the children interest to ask what is happening and that they engage in the discussion of talking about the exodus of Egypt. • The cups are refilled with wine. • In many homes each person recites the Mah Nishtana.
Maggid – The Pesach story. The essence of Pesach Seder is to recount the events of Yetziyas Mitzrayim (the Egyptian servitude and Exodus) through a dialogue of a question/answer format.
• During Maggid one should try to remain focused on the Haggada text and its discussion, up until the meal.
• When mentioning each of the 10 plagues and the six mnemonics, we pour some wine out of our cups. Some use their index finger to remove the wine from the cup.
• We lift the cup of wine while reciting Hallel – praise and continue holding it until we recite the blessing over wine. • We lean while drinking most, to all, of the cup. (2nd of the 4 cups of wine)
Rachtza – We wash for the eating of the Matza. • 2 splashes of water from a cup two times on each entire hand. At this point we recite the Blessing, ‘Al Netilas Yadayim’
Motzei-Matza – We eat the Matza. To commemorate the ‘poor man’s bread’ that was eaten by the Jewish nation while they were in Egypt and to commemorate the speedy Exodus from Egypt, which happened so quick that the dough didn’t have time to rise and become Chometz – leavened.
• We lean while eating the Matza. • One should try to eat a 1/2 of a hand Matza or most of a machine Matza.
Marror – The bitter herbs. Represents the bitterness inflicted upon us by the Egyptians.
• We recite the Blessing ‘Al Achilas Marror’ • We dip the Marror in Charosses
• The size of one large leaf of romaine lettuce (It should be washed well and then checked that there are no bugs.) Grated pure horseradish is eaten as well.
• We do not lean while eating the Marror.
Korech – The Hillel Sandwich. We do this to commemorate that during the time that we had a Beis Hamikdash – Holy Temple – they would eat Matza, Marror and the Pascal lamb together.
• One should have: 1. Matza- top and bottom 2. Romaine lettuce and horseradish.
- Charosses • We eat the Hillel sandwich while leaning
• The Egg – It is customary to eat a hard boiled egg dipped in salt water before eating the meal. The egg reminds us that we are mourning over the Temple where they would offer special offerings on Pesach.
Shulchan Orech- • Time to enjoy the meal!
Tzafun – We eat the Afikoman. This is eaten in place of the Pascal lamb which was eaten as the dessert after their meal. • The Matza should be eaten while leaning.
Boraich – We recite Grace after meals.
• 3rd of the 4 cups of wine • After reciting the Grace we drink most or all of the cup while leaning
• Kos Shel Eliyahu- Elijah’s cup. We open the door to show that it’s the night when we are watched from Above, as we were when we left Egypt and we recite the passage of Shfoch Chamascha (destroy our enemies)
Hallel – We sing Hallel – praise. We sing Hallel tonight just as the Jews sang it while they roasted the Pascal lamb. • The fourth cup is filled • We drink most to all of the cup while leaning
• We recite the after blessing over wine.
Nirtza – The final Prayer. This is where we ask Hashem that we should merit the heralding of Moshiach. At that time we would perform the complete Seder, with the Beis Hamikdash rebuilt and the Korban Pesach – Pascal Lamb offered, roasted and eaten!!