SALT - Thursday, 11 Shevat 5779 - January 17, 2019

  • Rav David Silverberg
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In loving memory of
Yitzchak ben Chaim Zvi Schwartz z"l, who passed away on 13 Shvat 5771
and Sheva Shayndel bat David Schwartz z"l, who passed away 13 Shvat 5778
Dedicated by Avi and Sarah Schwartz
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            Parashat Beshalach begins by telling that when Benei Yisrael left Egypt, God chose not to lead them along the shorter, more direct route to the Land of Israel, and instead had them follow a circuitous route, through the Sea of Reeds: “Va-yaseiv Elokim at ha-am derekh ha-midbar, Yam Suf” – “God brought the nation around by way of the desert, [towards] the Sea of Reeds.”
 
            The Midrash (Shemot Rabba 20:18) famously associates this verse with the obligation of heseiba, which requires reclining at various points during the seder on Pesach.  Commenting on the word “va-yaseiv” in this verse, the Midrash writes that this is the source for the Mishna’s ruling in Masekhet Pesachim (99b), “Afilu ani she-be’Yisrael lo yokhal ad she-yaseiv” – “even a poon person among Israel may not eat [on Pesach night] unless he reclines.”  Many commentators addressed the question as to the connection between this verse and the heseiba obligation, and the special emphasis on the fact that even the poor are required to recline at the seder as a display of luxury.  Beyond the word “va-yaseiv,” which is linked to the word “heseiba,” what else about Benei Yisrael’s route upon leaving Egypt relates to the heseiba obligation, and its application even to the poor?
 
            Ketav Sofer suggests that the connection lies in the miracle of keri’at Yam Suf – the splitting of the sea – which became necessary as a result of the route chosen by God.  Since God led Benei Yisrael by way of the sea, they ended up trapped against the water when the Egyptians pursued them, and they were saved by a miracle.  Benei Yisrael found themselves in a hopeless situation, trapped between the ocean and the powerful Egyptian army, and they saw no possible solution to their dire predicament.  This event thus serves as a source of encouragement for the downtrodden, for those struggling with hardship which they fear cannot ever be overcome.  Just as God was able to rescue Benei Yisrael at the shores of the sea, Ketav Sofer writes, He is capable of rescuing individuals from even the most intractable predicaments.  Ketav Sofer suggests that this is part of the reason why God led Benei Yisrael along the route that took them to the sea – in order to perform this great miracle which would forever provide reassurance for those who struggle with difficult problems for which they see no solution.  Therefore, Ketav Sofer writes, when the Mishna establishes the heseiba requirement, it emphasizes that it applies even to the poor – because even they have reason to feel confident and to celebrate.  Benei Yisrael’s experiences after leaving Egypt show that even the direst circumstances can be resolved, that help is always possible, in ways which we could never imagine, and so even those enduring financial hardship must recline and feel confident on Pesach night.
 
            We might add that the Midrash perhaps points to the specific aspect of “va-yaseiv” – circuitousness – as the reason why even the poor must recline on Pesach.  Even if one currently struggles and faces hardship, he can nevertheless feel assured and confident, because, as Benei Yisrael’s route after the Exodus demonstrates, life so often takes us along roundabout roads to our destination.  Just as Benei Yisrael did not proceed directly into the Land of Israel, but were rather forced to endure years of travel through a barren wilderness before arriving in the Promised Land, similarly, life generally does not bring us immediately or directly to our personal “Promised Land,” to the conditions we desire and hope for.  Struggle and hardship are part of the “circuitous” route along which life leads us, and so even in life’s darker periods, we must find the strength to “recline,” to remain upbeat and joyous, confident in God’s ability to bring us through the “desert” to the destiny that we long for.