S.A.L.T – PESACH 2015/5775

  • Rav David Silverberg

 

 

Motzaei Shabbat 

            The Mishna in Masekhet Pesachim (64a) describes how the korban pesach was offered in three groups (“kitot”).  The gates of the Temple courtyard were locked after the area was filled to capacity, and after all that group’s sacrifices were slaughtered, they exited the area and the second group entered with their sacrifices.  The Mishna tells that the hallel was recited for each group during the process, and if the recitation was completed before all the sacrifices were slaughtered, then it was repeated.  In principle, the Mishna states, the hallel would be repeated as many times as needed until that group’s sacrifices were all slaughtered.  In practice, however, due to the large number of kohanim, who worked with great vigilance to slaughter all the sacrifices, it was never necessary for the hallel to be recited three times.  The Mishna then cites Rabbi Yehuda as stating that the third group was always the smallest of the three, and as a result, they never even reached as far as the section of “Ahavti ki yishma Hashem” in the hallel service, not to mention that they never needed to repeat the hallel. 

            The Kotzker Rebbe made a clever quip regarding this halakha: “If they would have reached ‘Ahavti,’ they would have been not among the third group, but the first group.”  This remark undoubtedly refers to the Gemara’s comment (65a) that the third group was derisively known as “kat ha-atzlanim” – the “lazy” group.  Despite the fact that Halakha requires offering the korban pesach in three groups, the Gemara proceeds to explain, nevertheless, the people with the proper zeal and love for the mitzva would ensure to arrive early and be among the earlier groups.  Those who participated in the final group fulfilled their obligation, but were nevertheless described as “lazy.”  And thus the Kotzker Rebbe quipped that these people never reached “Ahavti” – they did not possess true, genuine love for the Almighty and His commands.  If they had achieved the lofty level of “Ahavti,” then they would not have delayed the mitzva until the final opportunity. 

            It is unlikely that the Kotzker Rebbe understood this Mishna as actually intending to convey this message, but regardless, he sought to remind us of the direct link between genuine love for mitzvot and promptness.  By nature, we tend to delay those activities which we least enjoy and about which we are least enthusiastic.  If we truly love mitzvot, and feel passionately about fulfilling God’s commands, then we will not delay their performance.  It would appear at the top of our “to do” list, and not at the bottom or even in the middle.  And if we do find ourselves delaying, then we need to remind ourselves of the importance and centrality of mitzvot in the life of a Jew, and of the great privilege we are given to be able to serve our Creator. 

 

Sunday 

Before we begin the Maggid section of the seder, telling and discussing the story of the Exodus from Egypt, we first break a matza into two pieces - yachatz.  Various approaches have been taken to explain the possible symbolic significance of this act, and its role in introducing the Maggid section. 

One possibility, suggested by Rav Ron Yitzchok Eisenman, is that yachatz symbolizes the need to acknowledge our own state of “brokenness.”  We generally tend to present an image of security, confidence and self-assurance, to appear fully in control and sure of ourselves.  As we prepare to tell the story of the Exodus and reaffirm our belief and conviction that we are entirely dependent on God’s grace – just as our ancestors were on the night of the plague of the firstborn – we must recognize that we are broken.  Rav Eisenman writes: 

The breaking of the matza, which is done ‘publicly’ and in front of all the guests is an act of shedding our fake and fallacious facade. 

Finally as we sit down at the Pesach Seder we are ready to admit and confess, “I too, am a broken Matza. I too am just a ‘shever Keli’- a broken utensil.  I may show to the world a face of confidence and self-assurance; however, the truth is that I too am just a broken Matza.” 

Before we can begin the frank and open discussion of Maggid; of retelling and relating the Exodus from Egypt, we must admit to all and most of all to ourselves how broken we really are. 

Before we can begin the dialogue of the story of how we became free we must humble ourselves and realize just how ‘broken’ we really are. 

Only when we admit that we are broken and dependent individuals can we be a receptacle ready to accept our dependency on Hashem and people. 

Once we have ‘broken the Matza, we can begin Maggid. 

What is the major component of Maggid? 

The realization of how much gratitude we must have toward Hashem for all that He does for us. 

Only a person who realizes just how broken he is can really feel indebted to Hashem and to those whose good will and friendship he depends on. 

We must realize that without Hashem and without the goodness of His emissaries we would be totally broken. 

Rav Eisenman extends this symbolism to explain the message of the afikoman – of searching for one of the broken pieces at the end of the seder.  After acknowledging our dependence on God’s grace and compassion, we must then follow His example of looking after and caring for the “broken” pieces, for the lowly and downtrodden.  We therefore rise from our seats and go searching for the broken piece – representing the need to seek out the broken spirits around us, the people in our lives in desperate need of our attention and care. While the first broken piece of matza represents us, whom we recognize as incomplete and dependent, the second broken piece represents the other, our friends, family members, and other people who are likewise “broken” and need our encouragement and assistance.  On the night of the seder, we reaffirm our belief both in our absolute dependence on God, as well as in our lifelong obligation to emulate His example of kindness, sensitivity and compassion and work to repair as many broken spirits as we can.

 

Monday 

            Rashi, in his commentary to the Mishna at the beginning of the tenth chapter of Masekhet Pesachim (99b), cites the famous tradition associating the obligation to drink four cups of wine at the seder with the arba leshonot ge’ula “four expressions of redemption.”  When God informed Moshe of the miraculous redemption that would soon begin to unfold, in the beginning of Parashat Vaera (6:6-7), He used four different verbs to describe this process.  In commemoration, we drink four cups of wine at the seder. 

            Surprisingly, however, later in Masekhet Pesachim (108a), Rashi gives a different reason.  The context there is the Gemara’s famous ruling that women are included in the obligation of the four cups because “af hein hayu be-oto ha-neis” – “they, too were included in that same miracle.”  In this context, Rashi comments that the four cups at the seder commemorate the story of Yosef’s experiences in Egypt.  When the cup-bearer told Yosef about his dream of serving Pharaoh wine, he mentioned the word “kos” (“cup”) three times (Bereishit 40:11).  Rashi writes that the first, second and fourth cups of wine at the seder allude to these three references to “kos,” and the third cup is the cup over which we recite birkat ha-mazon.  This explanation of the four cups appears (with some variation) in the Talmud Yerushalmi (Pesachim 10:1).  The obvious question arises as to why Rashi gave two different reasons for this mitzva in these different contexts. 

            One possibility relates to the fact that the ruling requiring women to drink the four cups of wine at the seder is cited in the name of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi.  He is also the author of the statement in the Yerushalmi associating the requirement of the four cups with the cup-bearer’s dream.  Therefore, in explaining Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi’s comments extending the obligation to include women, Rashi felt compelled to cite Rabbi Yehoshua’s understanding of the reason behind the mitzva of the four cups. 

            There is also, however, a second possible answer.  Several sources indicate that women did not perform slave labor in Egypt, and, as such, the Exodus affected them differently than it affected the men. (See Sefat Emet, Masekhet Megilla (4a).)  Although the women clearly suffered as a result of their belonging to a slave nation, nevertheless, they did not endure backbreaking labor as the men did.  For this reason, perhaps, Rashi felt compelled to cite the Yerushalmi’s reason for the mitzva of the four cups in the context of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi’s ruling.  The first two of the four expressions of redemption – “ve-hotzeiti” and “ve-hitzalti” – refer to God’s rescuing the nation from their “burdens” and “labor,” presumably referring to the slave labor they had to perform.  (This point is made by several Torah commentators.)  Therefore, if the obligation of the four cups was instituted solely in commemoration of the four expressions of redemption, it should seemingly not apply to women, who did not experience the suffering of slave labor.  As such, if Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi extended the obligation to include women, he must have followed the other view, that the four cups are required for reasons unrelated to the four expressions of redemption. 

(Based on Rav Mordechai Carlebach’s Chavatzelet Ha-sharon – Be-inyanei Leil Ha-Heseder, citing his father-in-law, Rav Akiva Kister)

 

Tuesday 

            Rashi, in his commentary to the Mishna at the beginning of the tenth chapter of Masekhet Pesachim (99b), cites the famous tradition associating the obligation to drink four cups of wine at the seder with the arba leshonot ge’ula “four expressions of redemption.”  When God informed Moshe of the miraculous redemption that would soon begin to unfold, in the beginning of Parashat Vaera (6:6-7), He used four different verbs to describe this process.  In commemoration, we drink four cups of wine at the seder. 

            Surprisingly, however, later in Masekhet Pesachim (108a), Rashi gives a different reason.  The context there is the Gemara’s famous ruling that women are included in the obligation of the four cups because “af hein hayu be-oto ha-neis” – “they, too were included in that same miracle.”  In this context, Rashi comments that the four cups at the seder commemorate the story of Yosef’s experiences in Egypt.  When the cup-bearer told Yosef about his dream of serving Pharaoh wine, he mentioned the word “kos” (“cup”) three times (Bereishit 40:11).  Rashi writes that the first, second and fourth cups of wine at the seder allude to these three references to “kos,” and the third cup is the cup over which we recite birkat ha-mazon.  This explanation of the four cups appears (with some variation) in the Talmud Yerushalmi (Pesachim 10:1).  The obvious question arises as to why Rashi gave two different reasons for this mitzva in these different contexts. 

            One possibility relates to the fact that the ruling requiring women to drink the four cups of wine at the seder is cited in the name of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi.  He is also the author of the statement in the Yerushalmi associating the requirement of the four cups with the cup-bearer’s dream.  Therefore, in explaining Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi’s comments extending the obligation to include women, Rashi felt compelled to cite Rabbi Yehoshua’s understanding of the reason behind the mitzva of the four cups. 

            There is also, however, a second possible answer.  Several sources indicate that women did not perform slave labor in Egypt, and, as such, the Exodus affected them differently than it affected the men. (See Sefat Emet, Masekhet Megilla (4a).)  Although the women clearly suffered as a result of their belonging to a slave nation, nevertheless, they did not endure backbreaking labor as the men did.  For this reason, perhaps, Rashi felt compelled to cite the Yerushalmi’s reason for the mitzva of the four cups in the context of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi’s ruling.  The first two of the four expressions of redemption – “ve-hotzeiti” and “ve-hitzalti” – refer to God’s rescuing the nation from their “burdens” and “labor,” presumably referring to the slave labor they had to perform.  (This point is made by several Torah commentators.)  Therefore, if the obligation of the four cups was instituted solely in commemoration of the four expressions of redemption, it should seemingly not apply to women, who did not experience the suffering of slave labor.  As such, if Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi extended the obligation to include women, he must have followed the other view, that the four cups are required for reasons unrelated to the four expressions of redemption. 

(Based on Rav Mordechai Carlebach’s Chavatzelet Ha-sharon – Be-inyanei Leil Ha-Heseder, citing his father-in-law, Rav Akiva Kister)

 

Wednesday 

            The Rama (472:4) cites the famous ruling of the Re’avya that the obligation of heseiba – reclining at the seder – does not apply nowadays, when it is not customary to eat in this fashion.  As the entire purpose of heseiba is give the appearance of luxury and comfort, the Re’avya maintained that there is no sense in reclining at the seder table nowadays, when reclining seems peculiar and awkward, and does not express luxury.  Although we do not generally follow this view, the Rama writes that women in his time did not recline at the seder, relying on this position of the Re’avya.

            It could be argued that the Re’avya’s position should, logically, yield not only the leniency of absolving us of the heseiba requirement, but also a measure of stringency.  The Rambam (Hilkhot Chametz U-matza 7) writes that the heseiba requirement is a function of the general obligation to act as though we have ourselves left Egypt: 

…one is obligated to show himself as though he himself has now left from the Egyptian bondage; therefore, when a person eats on this night, he must eat and drink while reclining, in a manner of freedom. 

It stands to reason that according to the Re’avya’s view, that reclining no longer achieves this goal of projecting freedom, then some other method must be employed to achieve this purpose.

            To understand what this might mean as a practical matter, we might refer to the other context in Halakha where the concept of heseiba is relevant.  The Mishna in Masekhet Berakhot (42a) establishes that if a group eats a meal together, one member of the group can recite “ha-motzi” and birkat ha-mazon on behalf of the entire group, but only if they eat in the manner of heseiba.  If they eat in this manner, then they effectively establish that they eat together as a formal group, such that one can recite the required berakhot on behalf of all the participants.  Otherwise, the people are seen as only casually joined together, and not as joining in a formal group.  The Gemara (Berakhot 42b), however, clarifies that there is also another way for the meal’s participants to be considered as joining together as a formal group, namely, if they make a formal announcement to this effect prior to the  meal (“let us eat bread at this place”).  This declaration, too, like heseiba,creates the formality that is needed for the group to be considered a single unit.

            Rav Eliyahu Baruch Shulman suggested that this might underlie the common custom to begin the seder by “announcing” all the stages of the seder (“kadesh,” “u-rchatz,” etc.).  In order express our freedom, as the Rambam writes, we need to conduct a formal meal, which in ancient times was done through heseiba.  According to the Re’avya, however, heseiba no longer achieves this goal.  As such, we must resort to the second method of establishing formality, which is through a proclamation at the outset announcing our intent to sit together for a meal.  And thus before we begin the seder, we announce our plans for the evening, thereby establishing the formality that is needed to fulfill the obligation of eating “derekh cheirut” – in a manner that expresses our freedom.

 

Thursday 

            We read in Sefer Shemot (12:34) that when the Egyptians chased Benei Yisrael from Egypt, Benei Yisrael took with them “their dough, before it fermented…”  Later, when they arrived in Sukkot, they baked this dough into matza and ate it (12:39).  The Haggadah famously teaches that the matza we eat on the night of Pesach commemorates this matza which Benei Yisrael ate as they left Egypt. 

            It is commonly understood that Benei Yisrael prepared their dough in anticipation of their imminent departure from Egypt.  Their intention was to bake the dough after it rose, and then take the bread with them as they left Egypt the next day.  But in the end, the Egyptians unexpectedly chased them out of the country, leaving them no choice but to bring the dough before it had risen and then bake it as matza when they arrived in Sukkot. 

            This reading, however, gives rise to several difficulties.  For one thing, the Torah explicitly relates – in that very same verse (12:39) – “ve-gam tzeida lo asu lahem” – “and they had also not prepared food provisions.”  As the Torah tells us about the dough which Benei Yisrael had prepared before they left Egypt, it makes a point of informing us that they had not made preparations for travel.  Clearly, then, this dough was not prepared in anticipation of the nation’s journey from Egypt.  Moreover, God had commanded Moshe to tell Benei Yisrael to eat the paschal sacrifice on the night of the Exodus quickly and to be prepared for travel: “Thus shall you eat it – your loins girded, your shoes on your feet, and your staff in hand; and you shall eat it quickly” (12:11).  They were told to be ready to leave at a moment’s notice.  Why, then, did they prepare dough that needed to rise before being baked?  Did they not already know that they could be leaving at anytime during the night?  Why were they surprised when the Egyptians rushed them out of Egypt and forced them to bring their dough before it rose?  For that matter, why did they not prepare ordinary food provisions for travel if they were told to be prepared to leave? 

            The likely answer, as suggested by Rav Avi Blidstein, is unsettling, though may shed new light on the matza obligation.  Apparently, Benei Yisrael were not convinced that they would be leaving Egypt that night.  We must recall that they had already witnessed nine plagues descend upon Egypt, virtually all of which resulted in Pharaoh’s promise to release them followed by a reversal of his decision.  Hence, although Benei Yisrael faithfully complied with Moshe’s instructions to perform the korban pesach ritual to protect themselves from the plague of the firstborn, they did not believe that they would be leaving.  They believed God would be bringing a tenth plague, but it seems they did not believe that this would result in their freedom.  Before turning in for the night, they prepared dough just as they did every night, leaving it to rise overnight so they could bake it the next morning as their food for the day.  The dough was prepared not for the Exodus, but for what was expected to be just another day of oppression and bondage in Egypt.  And so when the Egyptian officials came around in the late-night hours chasing Benei Yisrael from the country, all Benei Yisrael had to take with them as food was the dough which had not yet risen. 

            Rav Blidstein notes that this approach may explain the dramatic, poetic style employed by the Haggadah in explaining the significance of the matza: “Our forefathers’ dough did not have time to rise until the King of the kings’ kings, the Almighty, revealed Himself to them and redeemed them.”  The Haggadah perhaps seeks to emphasize how the people were surprised and awed by the events.  They had expected merely to be saved from the plague, but not to leave Egypt, but the Almighty revealed Himself in such a way that the Egyptians forced them out of the land. 

            According to this reading, the matza commemorates not merely the haste with which the Exodus unfolded, but also how Benei Yisrael were not expecting it.  The fact that they had not prepared food for travel demonstrates that they had not mentally prepared themselves for this moment.  They had sunken into a cynical despair that prevented them truly believing that they would be leaving into freedom.  The Exodus was not just abrupt; it was startling.  The matza teaches how God redeemed our ancestors despite their being unworthy and even skeptical about such a possibility, demonstrating God’s boundless love for His nation and how He is prepared to help and rescue us even after we have fallen into despair.

 

Friday 

            The Gemara in Masekhet Pesachim (4b) famously asserts that to avoid the Torah prohibition of possessing chametz on Pesach, it suffices to perform bittul – formally disavowing one’s interest in owning the chametz.  The Sages, however, enacted the additional requirement to search for and eliminate all chametz in one’s possession before Pesach.  

The Ran famously suggests two reasons for why Chazal required eliminating all the chametz, rather than relying on bittul.  First, they were concerned that one may not wholeheartedly renounce his ownership, and a halfhearted renunciation does not qualify as bittul.  If a person does not truly and sincerely intend to disavow all interest in the chametz in his possession, then he will violate the Torah prohibition of owning chametz on Pesach, and the Sages therefore required eliminating the chametz.  Additionally, the Ran explains, since we eat chametz all year round and are not accustomed to refraining from it, as we are, for example, to refraining from non-kosher food, Chazal feared that one who has chametz in his home might eat it during Pesach.  The requirement to eliminate the chametz was thus enacted as a safeguard against the prohibition of eating chametz on Pesach. 

            Chametz has traditionally been viewed as a symbol of the yetzer ha-ra (evil inclination), our human weaknesses and flaws which we should be working to eliminate form our souls as we commemorate the Exodus, when we were taken to be God’s special nation.  This association between chametz and our negative tendencies invites us to explore the possible symbolic significance of these two processes of bittul and biur, the relationship between renouncing our chametz and eliminating it. 

            There is a clear difference between “bittul,” renouncing improper behavior and negative tendencies, and “biur” – going through the difficult process of searching, identifying and then working to eliminate our faults.  Too often, our introspection is vague and generic.  We resolve in a general sense to be more disciplined and committed, “renouncing” religious and moral laxity, but the resolution is not necessarily wholehearted.  And, when we chance upon the “chametz,” when we encounter situations that test our commitment, we are prone to fail.  The symbolic message of biur chametz is the need to vigorously search through our characters and conduct to identify the particular “pieces” of “chametz,” the precise faults and shortcomings that we need to eliminate.  “Bittul” alone, generic proclamations of commitment and resolve, can sometimes turn out to be mere lip service.  If we are truly sincere in our desire to eliminate the chametz within us, then we need to set specific goals and identify the precise changes that we need to try to make.  

            Later (Pesachim 6b), the Gemara establishes that the reverse is also true: even though one thoroughly searches his property and eliminates all chametz which he finds, he must nevertheless perform bittul.  The reason, the Gemara explains, is that one might find an appealing piece of bread which he cannot bring himself to destroy.  Unless he formally renounces ownership over all chametz in his possession, he will be in violation of the Torah prohibition of chametz.  As we work to eliminate the “chametz” from our souls, we will, almost invariably, find faults and weaknesses which we feel incapable of eliminating.  There are certain negative habits and tendencies which we might decide – rightly or wrongly – that we cannot as yet break.  For this reason, it is vital that we proclaim “bittul,” that we openly acknowledge our rejection of these tendencies, and affirm that we have no interest in them.  Even if we feel as yet unprepared to change, we must, at very least, proclaim our aversion to these negative behaviors, and this proclamation will, hopefully, lay a strong foundation for significant and meaningful growth in the future.

 

We will return to a daily presentation of SALT shortly after Pesach. Kol tuv.  

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