Jewish Holidays & Events

Seven Haggadah Insights

Sponsored by Ahron and Shifra Gellman in memory of Yaakov Ben Dov Ber,
Elisheva Batya bas Meyer Zalman, Yoel Dovid Ben Aryeh Lev and Rifka bas Zev.

Based on teachings of the Ishbitzer Rebbes, Rabbi Mordechai Leiner (the Mei HaShilo’ach) and his son Rabbi Yaakov Leiner (the Bais Yaakov).

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No Foreigner May Eat[1]
The Torah says that a foreigner may not eat from the Pesach lamb.[2] This alludes to the following.
The land of Egypt was blessed with all of the pleasures of the world. It says in the Torah[3] “Like the garden of G-d, like the land of Egypt.” It is for this reason, our sages say,[4] that even a slave could not escape from there. This means that even the slaves enjoyed the pleasures of Egypt to the extent that they did not want to leave. They preferred to be slaves in Egypt rather than free men (or even leaders) in other countries. G-d took us out of Egypt to accept the yoke of the Torah and Mitzvot. At that point we realized that all of these pleasures were vain and unimportant.
A person who is foreign to Torah and doesn’t comprehend the benefit of the Exodus (and the rejection of physical pleasures), though he may mechanically fulfill the mitzvot of Pesach, he will not feel the “taste” (i.e., meaning) of the mitzvah.
This can be compared to one who is praising the good qualities of a child. For the father, it is a pleasure to hear. But if a stranger hears this, he will not care at all.
This is the reason for the law precluding a foreigner from partaking in the Pesach lamb. One must feel the message of the Exodus, the freedom from earthly pleasures and importance of serving G-d, when fulfilling the mitzvot of the day and not simply go through motions.
The Stringencies of Pesach[5]
Reb Simcha Bunim of Peshischa said that all of the chumrot (stringencies) that the Jewish people keep on Pesach are like jewelry that beautify our holy service of G-d. The verse says, “and your neck (is beautiful) with necklaces.”[6] The neck is a body part that needs not be clothed, so any jewelry worn on it is purely for adornment. The holiday of Pesach, which focuses on speech and eating, is related to the neck and it is therefore appropriate to “adorn” this holiday with stringencies.
In addition, Pesach is a holiday where the mitzvah focuses on a specific manner of eating. The Torah instructs us to specifically eat poor mans bread, that it should be a broken piece and many additional restrictions. The appropriate “decoration” of this mitzvah, which by Torah law is already very strict, is to be extremely strict with all of its details – even up to a hairsbreadth.
G-d considers every small effort we make in this respect to be a great achievement. In addition, by being stringent beyond the letter of the law, we sanctify even our mundane activities. Thus, these stringencies are for our own benefit as through them all of our activities become elevated and included in the realm of holiness.
Fixing the Mouth[7]
The mitzvot we fulfill on the holiday of Pesach are performed with the mouth. Firstly, we tell the story of the exodus. Second, the obligation to eat matzah (and the other Seder victuals) and refrain from eating chametz. The lesson that we must take from these mitzvot is to sanctify our speech by only using appropriate language and to consume our food in a holy manner.
These two lessons are expressed in the beginning of the first and last chapter of Tractate Pesachim – the section of the Talmud that discusses the laws of Pesach.
The tractate begins with the words “Ohr Le’arba’a Assar.” The Talmud explains[8] that, although the standard translation of these words would be “The light of the 14th,” the Mishnah is actually referring to the night of the 14th. The term “ohr” is a euphemism for “night” the purpose of which is to use a positive word. Thus, the Talmud’s use of a positive word to begin the tractate alludes to the importance of positive speech.
The last chapter of the tractate begins[9] with the law that one may not eat on the afternoon of Erev Pesach to ensure that they will have a good appetite for the Seder. This teaches us the importance of curbing and minimizing our indulgence in pleasures of the palate.
When we curb these desires and use our speech wisely, these faculties become included in the realm of holiness.
Holiness in Eating, Drinking and Speaking[10]
When we fulfill the mitzvot of eating matzah and maror at the Seder, G-d rewards us and protects us from inadvertently consuming forbidden foods throughout the year. By doing the mitzvah of drinking the four cups G-d rewards us and protects us from drinking forbidden drinks throughout the year. Finally, when we fulfill the mitzvah of speaking about the exodus at the Seder, G-d rewards us and guards us from inadvertent forbidden speech throughout the year.
It is for this reason that the verse, “so that the Torah of G-d will be in your mouths”[11] is written right after the mitzvah of recounting the Exodus. It indicates that through fulfilling these mitzvot our mouths will be absolutely cleansed and filled with the Torah of the Almighty.
Karpas – The Kindness of Gradual Development[12]
The Arizal said[13] that the Karpas represents a limited understanding (the first katnut of Binah). This in turn, represents the limited spiritual level of the Jewish people when they departed from Egypt. In truth, G-d could have helped us achieve a higher level in a shorter time but, it was His will that we progress slowly on our spiritual journey. The same is true of every one of us. With intense toil and G-dly assistance it is possible to reach deep levels of Torah comprehension in a short time span though this would normally take many years to achieve. This, however, is not what G-d usually desires. He wants us to have something to accomplish throughout our lives. He therefore arranges for us to develop more slowly so that time and experience accomplish what can also be accomplished by intellect.[14]
Maror – Hitting Rock Bottom[15]
The Haggadah says that we eat Maror to commemorate the fact that the Egyptians “embittered their lives with hard labor… all their work that they worked with them with pherach (back breaking labor.)” The Talmud says[16] that the word pherach (backbreaking labor) can also be understood as “פה רך/peh rach – soft mouth” i.e. they tricked the Jews into slavery. Another meaning of this is that the Egyptian lifestyle was so hedonistic that even the slaves enjoyed it. As mentioned above, the Midrash teaches[17] that it was impossible for any slave to escape from Egypt which means that they preferred to live as slaves in Egypt, enjoying the pleasures of that land, rather than as freeman elsewhere. The Jews too had fallen to this confused and sad state. It was only when G-d revealed His name Ekye (I will be)[18] to them and they had some appreciation for G-dliness, that they began to feel the bitterness of their exile.
This explains why the Arizal said[19] that one must sweeten the Maror with one’s teeth, by chewing on it. The idea is that the only way to really taste the bitterness of Maror is by chewing on it. It is only when one tastes this bitterness, meaning he realizes that his situation is bleak, that he can begin to rectify it. Thus, the chewing, the realization, brings about the sweetening – the beginning of the solution. When a person realizes the gravity of his situation he can begin to pray, from which the salvation emerges, whereas prior to the realization he had no urge to pray at all. This is why the Talmud says[20] that if one swallows maror without chewing it, he has not fulfilled his obligation. For if one doesn’t taste (realize) that they are enslaved, they are still absolutely in exile. Conversely, one is who is aware will immediately pray and be saved by G-d.
Counting the Treasures[21]
According to the Zohar, the G-dly revelation that took place on the night of the Exodus included the Divine energy for all future redemptions. The blessing after the morning Shema which elaborates on the theme of the Exodus, expresses this idea. It contains the word “emet – true” four times. This alludes to the four redemptions[22] that were all included in the Exodus from Egypt.
At that time, however, the Jews were unable to appreciate this great revelation. G-d therefore commanded them to count for 50 days. During this period, from Pesach until the holiday of Shavuot they tried to comprehend and appreciate the G-dly revelations that they had experienced.
This can be compared to a child who is traveling with his father. They passed a diamond field. The father tells the son to take as many diamonds as possible, but the son doesn’t understand their value and asks why he must carry them. The father answers, “Right now I don’t have time to explain to you how valuable these stones are. Just gather your strength and take as many of them as you can carry. When we arrive at our destination, count how many you have and then I will tell you their true value.”
So too, every year, G-d shines His incomprehensible light, on the first night of Pesach. During the days of Sefirah we must contemplate and try to grasp this revelation. Then, on Shavuot with G-d’s help, one merits to appreciate this revelation.
May we merit to partake of the Pesach sacrifice, this year in Jerusalem!

[1] Mei HaShilo’ach, vol. 2, third comment on Parshat Bo
[2] Exodus
[3] Geneises, 13
[4] Mechilta, Yitro, on verse 18:11
[5] Mei HaShilo’ach, vol. 1 in the Likutei HaShas
[6] Song of Songs, 1:10
[7] Mei HaShilo’ach, vol. 2, first comment on Tractate Pesachim
[8] Pesachim 3a
[9] Ibid, 99b
[10] Mei HaHilo’ach, ibid, D.H Lema’an Tihiya
[11] Exodus, 13:9
[12] Bait Yaakov, Chag Haesach, paragraph beginning Hevi’u lefanav
[13] Pri Etz Chaim, Sha’ar Chag HaMatzot, Perek 7
[14] In this context, The Ishbitzer Rebbe paraphrases a popular saying to emphasize his point. “זהו בחסד השי”ת שלא יעשה השכל מה שצריך להעשות על ידי הזמן – It is a kindness of G-d that the intellect does not accomplish that which can be accomplished by time.”
[15] Bait Yaakov, ibid, paragraph beginning
[16] Sotah 11b
[17] Mechilta, ibid
[18] See Exodus, 3:14
[19] Bait Mo’ed by Rabbi Chaim Vital (published in Israel, 2011), Rimzei HaHagddah, page 115
[20] Pesachim 115bMaror Zeh
[21] Mei HaShilo’ach, vol. 2, Parshat Emor, D.H. Usfartem
[22] This refers to the redemption from Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks, and the redemption from our final exile, with Moshiach, may it be speedily in our time.
(In truth, the blessing has the word emet five times. The first (presumably) refers to the Exodus from Egypt. AC)
Wishing you all a Shabbat Shalom, Chag Same’ach and a Kosher and Happy Pesach!

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