Jewish Holidays & Events

Seven Haggadah Insights of the Ben Ish Chai

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1)     The Name Pesach Is About the Future Redemption[1]

The standard name for the holiday of Pesach in the Chumash[2] is Chag HaMatzot (the festival of Matzot), whereas in the Mishnah,[3] Talmud and afterwards, the standard name is Pesach. Why did the name change, and why specifically at that time?
To understand the reason for this, we must preface that the name Chag HaMatzot doesn’t only mean the holiday of matzot. It also means that this is a holiday of many mitzvot as the spelling of matzot and mitzvot in Hebrew is identical – מצות. In fact, the Midrash[4] interprets a verse about matzot to be referring to all of the mitzvot. Similarly, the name Pesach not only refers to G-d’s “jumped over” the Jewish houses in Egypt but also to the mitzvah of recounting the story of the Exodus. This is because the Hebrew word Pesach is made of the words  פֶּה שָ/ Peh Sach – the  mouth speaks. (The letters samekh and sin are considered interchangeable when expounding the Torah.) The reason we refer to the holiday by the mitzvah of recounting the Exodus is that it is the only mitzvah of this holiday that has no limit. When one has eaten the proper amount of matzah or maror, there is no mitzvah to continue eating more of them. Whereas even after one finishes the Haggadah, there is a mitzvah to continue recounting the story of the Exodus throughout the night as the sages of the Mishnah indeed did.
The name “Pesach” also refers to the Pesach sacrifice. By calling the holiday “Pesach,” we are expressing our belief and yearning for the rebuilding of the Bait HaMikdash when we will once again be able to offer this sacrifice. This explains why this name was not generally used until the time of the Mishnah after the destruction of the Bait HaMikdash since after the destruction is when we started to feel this yearning.

2)     Breaking the Exile in Two

Yachatz (We break the middle Matzah.)
Originally, the Divine decree was that the Jewish people be in exile in Egypt 400 years. In actuality, G-d redeemed us after only 210. There are many explanations as to how the decree was fulfilled. Some say that G-d suspended the decree as He saw that we needed to be redeemed from Egypt before we would lose our Jewish identities. The remaining years of the exile were delayed and are still being played out today. (Although we have been in various exiles since the exodus for over 2000 years, this only equals 190 of the years of the Egyptian exile as the intensity of the slavery was far worse in Egypt.) [5]
This concept is symbolized by the breaking of the middle matzah. It reminds us that G-d in His kindness “broke” the Egyptian exile in half for the sake of the Jewish people – to save us from spiritual contamination – and saved the rest of that exile for the subsequent exiles.[6]
 The breaking of the matzah reminds us of this kindness while the hiding of the Afikoman represents G-d hiding (saving) the years of exile for a later time.

3)     A Segulah to End the Exile

Kol Dichfin (Let all who are hungry come and eat.)
As explained above, the present exile is a continuation of the Egyptian exile.
The Midrash says[7]  that the Jews were only redeemed from Egypt when they firmly decided to do kindness to one another. Similarly, we will only be redeemed from the present exile when we show kindness to one another. This is the connection between the line, “Let all who are hungry come and eat…” and the next line “This year we are here, the next year we will be in the Land of Israel.”  This alludes to the fact that it is in the merit of hosting guests (and similar acts of kindness) that we will soon be redeemed from this exile and return to the Land of Israel.

4)     Absolute Kindness Is the Key to Redemption

Kol Dichfin… Kol Ditzrich… Hashata Hacha… Benei Chorin (Let all who are hungry come and eat. Let all those in need come and make Pesach. This year we are here, next year we will be in the Land of Israel. This year we are slaves, next year we will be free.)
As explained, the connection between these two lines is that it is in the merit of kindness that we will be redeemed from this exile. More specifically, in the merit of “let all who are hungry come and eat,” we merit to be “next year in the land of Israel,” while in the merit of inviting “all those in need to make Pesach” we merit that “next year we will be free men.” This is because in order to merit the redemption it is not sufficient to do simple acts of kindness. Rather we must perform complete acts of kindness. The difference between kindness and complete kindness can be illustrated by the following two examples:
When a rich person gives a person a meal, he has given him food but not dignity as the poor man feels like a beggar and that he is indebted to the rich man. On the other hand, one who invites a poor man to dine with him is doing a much kinder act because there is no embarrassment involved since it is common to invite friends and family to one’s table and not only poor people. In addition, when dining with someone else, one feels like his equal rather than someone of lesser importance.
Another example: If a man is in debtor’s prison and the creditor tells the judge to allow him out of jail, this is an incomplete kindness as the debtor still owes him the money. Whereas if someone were to give him money to pay off his debt, he would be able to walk in the streets feeling like a normal human being without having to worry about his debt. This is a complete favor.
When we were redeemed from Babylonia and returned to build the Second Bait HaMikdash, it was an incomplete redemption since as a result of our sins (which we had not yet completely corrected), we remained under the rule of foreign powers for most of that time period. At first, we were under Persian rule, then the Greeks occupied the land. For a brief period after the Chanukah miracle, we had an independent state and were ruled by the Hasmonean dynasty, but we soon found ourselves once again under foreign rule with the Roman occupation of the land.
However, when Moshiach comes we will have perfected our sins and will merit a complete redemption from all foreign rule. In order to merit this complete redemption, we must perform acts of complete kindness as described above.
This is symbolized by our inviting the poor to dine with us (“let him come and eat”) rather than offering them food to take home and eat it. In addition, we invite them to join us for the Afikomen (“Let him come and make Pesach” – i.e., partake in the Afikoman which corresponds to the Pesach sacrifice). The law states that one must eat the Afikoman when he is already full (as was the law with the Pesach sacrifice).[8] Thus, we are caring for their spiritual needs and not just their basic necessities.
In the merit of these acts of complete kindness we will merit not only “the Land of Israel” but also to be “free men.”

5)     The Child’s Questions

Ma Nishtana (The Four Questions). The child asks these questions about the various aspects of the Seder that perplex him.
·        Two Dips. When we eat karpas we’re told not to eat more than a kezayitas the blessing must also cover the maror.[9] This alerts the child to the fact that there is another dip coming up which is why he mentions there are two dips. As a result of this, the child is unhappy as he barely gets to eat any of the vegetable, whereas during the year when a vegetable is served, he is usually allowed to eat plenty.
·        Only Matzah. The child is unhappy that the matzah is not only unleavened but has no added ingredients to make it tasty. This is the meaning of his words “we eat only matzah.”
·        Bitter herbs. He also wonders why he must eat bitter herbs as opposed to better-tasting vegetables.
·        All leaning. During the year the child is not accustomed to eating in one place. Rather he eats some food while he’s sitting, some while he’s standing, and some while he’s running around. Tonight, however, he must lean while he eats which makes it impossible for him to run around or even stand up while doing so.

6)     How Is this Exile Different?

Ma Nishtana
The commentaries explain that the word “night” is referring to exile.[10]Thus, a deeper meaning of the Ma Nishtana question is, why is this exile different than all other exiles?
·        Two Dips. The Midrash says[11] that when Eisav heard that Yitzchak gave the blessings to Yaakov he shed two tears and a third tear remained on his eyelashes. The merit of those tears is so great that all of the blessings received by Eisav are attributed to that merit. This last exile is the Edomite exile as the Romans are associated with Edom.[12] It is therefore our task in this exile to nullify the two tears of Eisav that actually fell, by crying for the destruction of the Bait HaMikdash. In addition, in this exile (as opposed to the ones which preceded the destruction of the second Bait HaMikdash) we must cry for the destruction of the two Batei Mikdash. This is the meaning of “we dip twice.” I.e., we “dip” our two eyes in tears for two reasons. (The third tear, which never actually left Eisav’s eyes, didn’t bring him much merit and, therefore, doesn’t need to be nullified.)
·        Only Matzah. The word matzah denotes strife.[13] This exile is unfortunately full of strife and baseless hatred.
·        Bitter Herbs. In this exile, more so than in previous ones, we are focused on money which (can) embitter the life of a person.
·        All Leaning. Leaning denotes physical comfort as opposed to sitting which is something more temporary and less comfortable (than in the olden days). This alludes to the fact that in this exile we are very physically comfortable and, as a result, less focused on spirituality.

7)     Behold I am Like 70 Years Old

Rabbi Elazar, son of Azariah, said, “Behold I am like 70 years old, and I have not merited to have the exodus said at night (i.e., to prove my opinion that the exodus must be mentioned at night). Until Ben Zoma came and proved it from a verse…”
What is the meaning of the words “like 70 years?” The Talmud[14] tells the story how Rabbi Elazar, at the tender age of 18, was offered the position of the head of the Sanhedrin (the Nassi), but his wife discouraged him from taking the position since he looked very young. Miraculously, his beard got 18 strands of white in it in overnight. He then accepted the position. This explains his saying “I am like 70 years old.” i.e., I only appear to be 70 years old. But the question becomes, why is this detail relevant to his opinion that one must mention the exodus at night?
In order to understand this, we must preface two other issues about which the sages disagree and how the two issues tie in together.
Rabban Gamliel, who was the head of the Sanhedrin before Rabbi Elazar (and who later shared the position with him), was of the opinion that any student whose outward appearance was not mirrored by his internal (high) spiritual level should not be allowed into the study hall. This is called tochokebaro (his inside is like his outside). Rabbi Elazar disagreed and believed that even one who was not yet perfected himself internally yet his external appearance was righteous should be allowed into the study hall. Therefore, while Rabban Gamliel was the head of the Sanhedrin, many people were excluded from the study sessions, but when Rabbi Elazar, replaced him they were all allowed in. Thus, on that day, many benches (400 or 700) were added to the study hall. (Obviously, these were not wicked students, but neither were they completely sincere yet in their serving of G-d.)
This disagreement depends on how to interpret the verse in Daniel[15] that says, “The hair of His (G-d’s) head was [so to speak] like white fleece.” Some say[16] that this means just like fleece has the same color inside and out, so too a Torah scholar must be the same inside and out. Others say[17]that the verse alludes to the fact that it is becoming for an old man (whose hair is white like fleece) to study Torah and give wise counsel in a yeshivah. The first opinion certainly holds that one must be tocho kebaro. Whereas the second opinion, which uses the verse for an entirely different teaching, disagrees and says that being tocho kebaro is not absolutely essential. According to this view, even if someone is not completely sincere in his heart, he should not be discounted as little by little his good behavior will influence his “core,” and he will eventually reach a level of true sincerity.
Originally, when the rabbis offered the position of the head of the Sanhedrin to Rabbi Elazar, the widespread opinion was that one’s appearance and inner level must be in consonance (like the opinion of Rabban Gamliel). But after they saw how G-d miraculously changed the outward appearance of Rabbi Elazar to that of an old man despite his being only 18, they changed their opinion and concluded that it is not essential to be the same inside and outside. Rabbi Elazar, too, formulated his position about this matter at that time (that tocho kebaro is not essential).
This is connected to the following discussion: The commentaries discuss how is it that the Jewish people were able to leave Egypt after only 210 years when the decree was for 400 years (as mentioned above). Some say that they fulfilled the decree by laboring at night. (Since this was above and beyond normal slavery, it counted as extra time.) Others say that in the merit of their upcoming acceptance of the Torah, G-d overlooked the decree and redeemed them early.
Why does the first opinion not consider the merit of the Torah to be a reason for the early redemption? The reason is, that according to the Talmud,[18]the Jewish people did not accept the Torah willingly but were forced to accept it when G-d suspended Mount Sinai above their heads and said that if they would not accept the Torah they would be buried alive. Since the people accepted the Torah for extraneous reasons, this was not a sincere act and would therefore be insufficient reason to merit early release from bondage. This follows the view that one who is not fully sincere does not have great merit (i.e., tocho kebaro is essential). The second opinion (that the merit of the acceptance of the Torah is what brought about the early redemption) holds that tocho kebaro is not essential as even an insincere service will ultimately lead to a higher level of Divine service. As such, the merit of even an insincere acceptance of the Torah was significant enough for G-d to forgive the extra years of bondage.
With this in mind we can understand the words of Rabbi Elazar. Originally, he had followed the view that tocho kebaro was a deficient level. As such, the only reason why G-d would have redeemed the Jewish people early was because of their laboring at night (since the Torah was accepted insincerely).
For this reason Rabbi Elazar didn’t feel that a proof text was necessary for the obligation to mention the exodus at night since nighttime was an integral part of the exile and thus the redemption. This should obviously be commemorated by recalling the exodus at night. But, after his outer appearance changed and was no longer a reflection of his actual age, Rabbi Elazar adopted the view that tocho kebaro is not absolutely necessary.
According to this view the acceptance of the Torah was sufficient to merit an early exodus, and we need not say that the labor at night contributed to the redemption. Thus Rabbi Elazar said, “I am like 70 years and have not merited to prove that the exodus must be mentioned at night.” I.e., now that I only look like I’m 70 years old, I need a proof text to prove my opinion that the exodus must be mentioned at night. And I didn’t find it until Ben Zoma helped me with it.

May we Experience Pesach this year in Yerushalayim!

[1] These insihts are from the Haggadah of the Ben Ish Chai called Haggadah Orach Chayim. The first insight is from the section of Avadim Hayinu.
[2] See Exodus 23:15, 34:18, Levit 23:6 and Deut 16:15. On one occasion it is called Chag HaPesach. That is in Exodus 34:25
[3] See Mishnah Pesachim, 2:2, 10:1 and throughout the tractate that is named Pesachim.
[4] Mechilta
[5] This concept is discussed at length in the Haggadah of Rabbi Shlomo Kluger (Haggadah Ma’ase Yedei Yotzer) and that of the Chattan Sofer (Rabbi Shmuel Ehrenfeld, a grandson of the Chattam Sofer), pg. 94. It is based on the Yalkut Shimoni, vol. 2, remez 635.
[6] This concept is discussed at length in the Haggadah of Rabbi Shlomo Kluger (Haggadah Ma’asei Yedei Yotzer).
[7] Tanna Devei Eliyahu, beginning of chapter 24
[8] See the beginning of O.C. 277
[9] See Shulchan Aruch HaRav 273:17
[10] See HaYom Yom, Nissan 19
[11] See Midrash Tanchuma Buber (Bereishit) Siman 24
[12] See VaYikra Rabbah 13:5 and in many places
[13] See Exodus 17:7 where “merivah” (fight) is translated by Targum Onkelus as “matzuta.”
[14] Brachot 28a
[15] 7:9
[16] The source of this opinion isn’t clear. Rabbi Yonatan Eibeshitz quotes it in Derush 18 of his Ya’arot Devash. See Yoma 72b where the same concept is derived from a different source.
[17] See Yoma 14a
[18] Shabbat 88a
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Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom UMeveorach,

a Chag Same’ach and a Kosher and Happy Pesach!

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