Wednesday, March 28, 2007

difference between wise and wicked son

Pesah - Haggada

Maggid - 4 sons

What is the difference between our reponse to the wise son relative to the response to the wicked son? The wise son asked what are these rules for you and the wicked son asked what is the service for you. Why do we react so harshly to the wicked son when his question was not so different form that of the wise son?

The wise son, while maybe not being perfect, is still interested. He is searchign for answers. he is looking for the truth, in his own way.

The wicked son is a scoffer. He is a rejectionist. he is looking for ways to reject Judaism and show us that he is rejecting it. he is not lookign for answers. he is motivated and fueled by personal interests.

That is someone who you cannot give an answer to. It is wasting your breath to try. Nothing you say will be heard. So the wicked son requires a harsh response.

What happened to the tzaddik?

Pesah - Haggada

Maggid - 4 sons

We list 4 sons, each with his style of discussion about Pesah. The wise son, the wicked son, the simple son and the son who can't even ask a question.

Out of all these kids, one style seems to be missing. The righteous son. The tzaddik.

The wise son and the wicked son are not opposites. The wise son is an intellectual. Nothing to do with his level of piety.

We even see further that the wise son is not necessarily a tzaddik, as he asks, "What are these rules that Hashem commanded you" - similar to the wicked son, he asks about you rather than including himself. There is some sense of dissociation. It is more of an intellectual pursuit for him.

I have heard from rebbeim a number of times that a person can learn Torah all day long and not think once about Hashem. We do things by rote. We learn because we are supposed to, or even because we love to, but we do not necessrily relate to Hashem on a daily basis.

The opposite of the wicked son would be the tzaddik son, the righteous son. Why is such a child not listed among the other sons? Where is the "אחד צדיק"?

A Tzaddik is not bothered by the questions, even if he has any. He lives by his faith. We know the passuk tells us צדיק באמונתו יחיה - a tzaddik lives by his faith. He has emuna, faith, in Hashem and that he is doing the right thing. the rest does not matter.

That is why we answer the wise son with a very technical answer. he asked about the rules and we explain the rules to him. An answer based on emuna would not move him. He is technical and intellectual in nature and he is looking for that type of answer.

חנוך לנער על פי דרכו - educate each child in the way that is fitting for him.

The wise son asks detailed questions, give him detailed answers. The tzaddik son has no questions, or is not looking for answers. So he does not need to be mentioned.

Torah or Egypt?

Pesah - Haggada

Maggid - Baruch Ha'Makom

The father begins his answer to the children by talking about how we were slaves in Egypt. Then, after some discussion on slavery in Egypt, we suddenly announce "ברוך המקום ברוך הוא. ברוך שנתן תורה לעמו ישראל" - Blessed is the Ever-Present, blessed is He.Blessed is He who gave the Torah to His nation Israel...

This night is not about celebrating the giving of the Torah. That is what we do on Shavuot. Why do we suddenly break out in song praising the giving of the Torah? We are in the middle of relating about the exodus from Egypt! We should maybe at this point be blessing Hashem for taking us out of Egypt??

The prupose of the exodus from Egypt was to become a nation under Hashem with the Torah. Without the Torah, none of the exodus would have happened. So now we are discussing the exodus, it is appropriate to bless Hashem for the Torah, because the Torah was the whole point of the events.

why so many questions?

Pesah - Haggada

Maggid - Mah Nishtana

We have the children ask the series of 4 questions pondering why this night is different than all other nights.

Why do we have to ask this question? It is different because it is Pesah! Every holiday has its special laws.

How come we do not make the kids ask on Sukkos why we are sitting in a sukka and waving a palm branch? Why on Shavuot do we not make the kids ask why we stay up all night?

What is different about Pesah that we require such questions, when every holiday has its "different" customs?

The difference is in the point of the night. On Pesah, the whole mitzva is "והגדת לבנך" - and you should tell to your children. The mitzva of the night is education. The transmission of tradition and history.

That mitzva of education is best accomplished by having the participation of the child. Having him ask questions.

It is true that during the other holidays we also wish to transmit tradition and teach our children, but on those holidays that is not the ultimate goal.

On pesah the ultimate goal is education. Education requires questions and answers.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

merciful matza

Pesah - Haggada

seder - maggid

Ha Lachma Anya... Kol Dichfin Yaisai V'yaichol.. hashata hacha l'shana habaa b'ar'aa d'yisrael.

We announce at the beginning of maggid that the matza is the poor man's bread and we invite anyone who wants to join us and partake in the meal and we wish for next year to be in rebuilt Jerusalem in Eretz Yisrael.

We are imaging ourselves as poor people by eating poor people's bread, but we are, at the same moment, inviting anybody who wants to come partake in our food! That is not the behavior of poor person. Poor people are carefull with their food and generally do not share it. They do not know when they will have food again so they are careful with the food they do have.

Maybe that is why we are inviting people at a time when they cannot hear and accept the invitation! We are poor so we are not really offering the invitation!

In all seriousness, how does this jibe with our attitude represented by the matza?

We are meant to remember the days of slavery by eating "poor man's bread". But we also want to show that we are not selfish but are generous and רחמנים - merciful and gracious. Even though we are "poor" we still offer to share our little food with other people.

We are all famiiar with the stories from the time of the Holocaust. You know - those stories where someone just had a crust of bread and he shared it with someone else who was weaker than himself. Why are thos stories retold in awe? Because that is not the natural action of someone who himself is needy. It is exceptional and is a sign of great rachmanus and care that one person has for another, despite the hardships he himself is enduring.

We try to show Hashem that we are now in the situation of slavery and destitution and only have "poor man's bread" to eat, but we would be so willing to share it with anybody else who might need a morsel of food. We wish to arouse the mercy of hashem by doing so and hope that He would show us the same compassion.

That is why we conclude the paragraph by a wish for next year in rebuilt eretz Yisrael. That has nothing to do with the beginning of the paragraph, so why is it said here? Because after we show the extreme mercy we would show others by offering them part of our little food, we wish Hashem would also show such mercy to us and allow our return to rebuilt Jerusalem.

why is our matza different from the original matza?

Pesach - Haggada


The matza presents an interesting question. We eat the matza because when the Jews left Egypt they quickly threw dough into the oven and took it out without leaving it enough time to rise properly and ended up with matza. It was the resut of haste and no planning. It was done at the last possible moment.

We eat our matza to commemorate that. But how do we prepare our matza? Do we just take some dough and under-prepare it?

No we do not. We worry for months to grow and guard the wheat. We require special water for the kneading. We clean all the machinery between every run of matza. We are very specific in how it is baked.

You would think "poor man's bread" would be much simpler and cheaper to make that it actually is. There is a funny joke that matza is called "poor man's bread" because it is so expensive to buy that it makes you poor.. How could that be and why is it so?

I would like to suggest that the matza is extremely symbolic in nature. We eat the matza to commemorate what they ate when leaving Egypt. In essence the whole seder night is really commemorative in nature. We are told that we must see ourselves as having left Egypt.

When we left Egypt we were poor slaves. Now we are [relatively] wealthy free people. It is not easy for someone who grew up in [relative] wealth to really honestly imagine himself as being poor. He cannot even picture it in his head. And don't fool yourself, our society is a wealthy one. Even our poor are better off than the poor of previous times.

Via the matza we are able to come to some sort of understanding. We have to work very hard to jolt our imagination. It is not enough to just throw the dough in and pull it out like a poor person. We have to work hard to achieve the same results.

If we just sit at our table and say that we are leaving Egypt and are poor and eating poor man's bread, we are fooling nobody but ourselves. We do not really understand what they went through. What they felt. What they experienced.

By toiling hard to make the matza properly (and other aspects of the seder) we can then achieve some sort of understanding. That is why making our matza is much more difficult than the original matza.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

broken matza

Pesah - Haggada

Seder - Yahatz

We finally get to the matza we have spent so much energy baking properly or so much money buying.

It is striking that at the time of the exodus they ate matza because they did not have time to wait for the dough to rise. it was haphazard and a result of haste and possibly even lack of planning (after all they knew they would be leaving soon and they could have baked their bread earlier in advance of the actual departure). Yet we put so much energyinto it that it is really more time and energy consuming than if we would make regular bread.

We plant the wheat and have someone watch it (for matza shmurah at least) to make sure it grows under careful guidance and protection from unwanted water. We draw special water to knead it with. We guard the storehouses of wheat to ensure no unauthorized contact with water. We grind and bake and do the whole process under special precautions so as to ensure that no hametz is involved. And the original matza was really the result of haste, with no real planning.

And after all that energy, and after avoiding matza for two weeks prior to pesah (as is the common custom), at the first encounter we have with the matza you would think we would make a powerful bracha and eat it with great gusto, commemorating l'mehadrin the memory of the exodus.

But no. That is not what we do. At the first encounter we have with the matza, we break it in half. That matza we worked so hard to get whole. We worked so hard to find the perfect uncracked circle in the box among all the cracked ones, and the first thing we do is crack it in half and save some for later.

Matza, in general, is a conundrum of sorts. the matza is called "לחם עוני" - poor man's bread - yet it is also called the bread of freedom - לחם חירות. They ate it at the exodus from Egypt and we recline when eating it to symbolize our freedom, yet it is considered poor man's bread.

I think the matza is the symbol of Pesah. Matza is the reminder of the exodus, in a (non-kitniyot) nutshell.

We were poor and had to eat poor man's bread. We were slaves after all with nothing of our own. The matza was the transition point of change from slavery to freedom, from being a poor man to a free, rich man. The matza is representative of both sides of the exodus, pre and post. Eating the matza, as the central part of Pesah, reminds us of what we were and where we went. Who we were and who we became. And it should make us think of where we are going and who we will become.

That is why we break the matza the first time we see it. yes, we are free now and we should attack the matza like a good steak. But we have to remember our roots. We have to remember where we came from first, so we can better appreciate where we went and where we are going.

So we break it in half like a poor person, saving some for later, as he does not know where his next meal will come from. We put it away for later and then begin reading and retelling the story of the exodus, and via the reminder of the matza, we imagine ourselves as being in and leaving Egypt. The matza helps us make that transition ourselves, and directs us to the future.

The Pesah chain gang

Pesah - Haggada


On Pesah night at the Pesah Seder we read the Haggada. The word, "Haggada" comes from the word "Maggid" which is the section of the Haggad in which we relate the story of the exodus. Maggid is the bulk of the Haggada. "Maggid" comes from the mitzva of "V'Higgad'ta L'bincha" - you must tell over [the story of the exodus] to your children.

The purpose of the whole seder night is והגדת לבנך. We have to transmit our history and tradition to our children. The next generation.
Most of the time we are busy. We are caught up with work, hobbies, even with our regular schedule of learning Torah. We are often so busy with our daily lives that we lose sight of our role as teachers of the next generation (a side note ala Rav Hirsch: the Hebrew word for parents is "horim" which also means "teachers").

We forget that we are links in the chain of Jewish tradition and history, and that it is our job to build the next link in the chain and ensure that it is strong enough to continue the chain unbroken.

The seder is that opportunity for us to take the needed time out from our regular schedule and focus on that chain. We have a special mitzva just to relate the focal point of our history - that which made us into a nation.

Sometimes, even then at the seder itself, we get so caught up with our own pre-conceptions, that we still forget the goals and objectives of the night. We get caught up with trying to make sure the seder goes just so, and we measure the matzas to make sure everything is exact and the maror and whatnot, and whatever other narishkeit we might get caught up in we still get caught up and lose sight of the objective.

So the authors of the Haggada have built into it safeguards to ensure that we stay focused on the real mitzva of the night. We do things that are unusual and sometimes even unnecessary. Things like "u'rhatz, karpas, etc". The reason for many of the customs performed at the seder is "so the kids will ask". Even if we get distracted and lose focus, the kids will stop us and bring us back down to earth and ask why we are doing what we are doing. They will give us the opportunity again to refocus our seder to achieve the desired objectives.

a compass for the journey

Pesah - Haggada


The night we read the haggada and have the mitzva of והגדת לבנך - relating the story of the exodus to your children - is called the Seder. The Seder Night. We ask, "Where are you going to be for the Seder?" or "what did you make for the Seder meal?"

Seder means "order". The night and process should be called the haggada - the telling over. Why "seder - order"?

In addition to the night and meal being called the "seder", we also break the haggada into sections and at the beginning of the haggada we announce and chant the names of all the sections, as well as during the seder itself we announce whenever we have arrived at the next section.

One does not just embark on a journey. One has to first plan the details. You select the proper route, the equipment you need to pack, the various items you might need to bring with. If you just got up one day and left on a journey with no planning, you would be unlikely to finish it successfully.

The same is true with Judaism and the Torah. If you just hit the road one day with no plan of where you are going and how you will get there, you would be unlikely to navigate the paths successfully. You have to have a detailed plan to follow.

The "Seder" is the itinerary for the journey through the retelling of the exodus, and subsequently for the transmission of our history and tradition to the next generation. Before we embark on the journey we have to read through the itinerary so we know where we are going, and then along the way we stop at the various rest stops and recheck the itinerary at each step. We have to constantly recheck so as to be sure we are still going along the right path. Any deviance would make the whole journey unsuccessful, so we constantly have to make sure we are headed the right way.

going the extra mile

Pesah - Haggada

Kol Hamira

It is interesting to note that on erev Pesah, after we have spent much time and energy cleaning and removing the hametz from our homes, then we again searched for more "just in case", and we then annulled anything we might have missed, and we then burned whatever we found, we still make yet another announcement annulling any unfound hametz.

Hametz, we are told by the meforshim, represents our actions of sin. Pesah is a time where we remove the hametz from the house but also from within us. We improve our ways and repent from the sins we have done.

So, we clean our house and get rid of any hametz. We also clean our actions and get rid of any bad traits and habits.
Then we search for for still anything we might have missed.
Then we still say the oral annulment in case anything was missed.

We go through a lot of hoops to in the goal of self-improvement.

This announcement of Kol Hamira is said commonly at the time the korban pesah was being offered in the mikdash. As we get closer to Pesah, as we get closer to the time of closeness with Hashem, and as we bring the korban pesah, we should be trying harder and harder to remove the hametz - any trace of impurity in our actions and thoughts. That is why even after we have done everything we can to get rid of the slightest traces of hametz, we still have to make this announcement of annulment. At this time when we are trying to get so close to Hashem we have to go the extra mile.

sifting out more from holiness

Pesah - Shir Ha'Shirim

On Shabbos Hol Ha'Moed of Pesah we have a custom to read Shir Ha'Shirim.

In 1:1 of Shir Ha'Shirim, the passuk starts off saying, "שיר השירים אשר לשלמה". Rashi tells us that Shir Ha'Shirim is an especially holy song and book, much more so than any of the other כתובים - later biblical writings. Rashi compares it to a king who gives a kilo of wheat to a baker and tells him to sift out the various levels of impurities and use the flour to make a special delicate loaf of bread.
So too, Rashi says, is Shir Ha'Shirim. All the כתובים are holy, but Shir Ha'Shirim is קדש קדשים - especially holy.

Kodesh Kodoshim is not a separate entity, in the sense that you have two levels; holy and holy of holies, with them being independant of each other. You achieve the level of "especially holy" by taking the holy and continuing to refine it.

You can have "holiness" and still not be completely pure. If you take that "holy" and continue to sift out the impurities you can then achieve the ultimate level of holiness, holy of holies.

This is similar to Hametz itself and its disposal and metaphorically to our actions. If we continue to sift out the hametz from within us we can continue to improve our ways and strive and even achieve higher levels of kedusha, eventually reaching the status of holy of holies.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

lunar eclipse

While I generally do not like to attribute much meaning to natural events, as they occur regardless of timing and regardless of any meaning, I would like to point this out.

Last night/this morning there was a full lunar eclipse. I find it timely and appropriate to consider this message. Purim is a time where we commemorate the miracle of salvation from an evil decree. The miracle took place in a completely "natural" style, with Hashem's hand in the matter hidden from general view. One needs to look deeper into the megilla and into the events to discern Hashem's part in the events.

The lunar eclipse was timely. On Purim itself we saw the moon disappear. One had to look harded in order to see it. And then the moon came re-appeared.

Just like the moon became hidden by a course of natural events, so too did Hashem's presence in Shushan, and so too often in our daily lives. We have to look beyond the surface of events. We have to look beyond the "natural" events. And the time will come when, just like the moon re-appeared, so too will the clarity of seeing Hashem's presence in our lives.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

subjective history lesson

Purim - Megillat Esther

The midrash on Megillat Esther tells over a very interesting conversation that took place.

Haman was pestering Ahashverosh to let him destroy the Jews. Finally Ahashverosh considers it and calls a meeting of all his wise men and advisers and asks for their professional opinion whether it is feasible or not.

The wise men go into a lengthy response of why it is not possible. They say, the world was created for the Torah which is studied by the Jews. The Jews are the closest nation to God, even called His children. If you destroy the Jews, you are getting personal with God and He will not allow it to happen and will bring his wrath down upon you. Look at history at anyone who has tried to destroy the jews and what has happened to them. Pharoah was destroyed, Sanherev and his army were wiped out...

Haman jumps in and says it can be done. God is old and can no longer respond the way he used to. he points out Nebuchadnezzar who only 60 or so years prior had burned down the beis hamikdash and exiled the jews.

Haman is persuasive and they all agree. They wrk out some details and Haman is selected to lead the campaign against the Jews.

The midrash continues with Haman's rationale. Haman goes through history describing how bad the Jews were and how they must be destroyed. I will review it briefly. He says how Pharoah took the Jews in so kindly and the jews repaid him with nothing but trouble. they kept insisting on leaving and when he let them they took all the valuables of Egypt. Then Pharaoh decided to chase them to get his money back and ended up getting pushed into the sea. After all the good Pharoah did for them, this is how they treated him!

Haman continues describing the different nations that Israel battled with in the desert and how the Jews were cruel for no reason and started wars and destroyed nations for no reason. Then they go into Israel and wipe out all the inhabitants and steal the land. He continues through Jewish history and the various kings and talks about how they all were vicious and cruel and fought with nations for no reason and destroyed them. He gets to Nebuchadnezzar who destroyed the beis hamikdash because the Jews stopped listening to their God and he says and now they live among us and they have kept their old, ugly traditions. They continue to taunt us and our gods. Now we have to destroy them... etc..

Look how a person can deceive himself to see what he wants to see. Haman points out all these events and at the same time where he can see clearly, and even says so at times, that the God of the Jews helped them be so successful, he still refuses to look at it objectively and realize that Hashem caused all their successes.

He still, despite having walked through all of Israel's history and their successes, thinks that it is not God protecting the Jews and that he will be able to overcome them.

This is the story of the megilla and of Purim. One has to look deeper than face value, Only then can you realize that Hashem is behind the scenes pulling the strings. If you only look at face value, you can fail to see the truth behind all the events and continue to delude yourself..

the source of victory


In the Torah reading of Purim morning, we read about the initial battle between Amalek and the Israelites. We read about how when Moshe's hands were uplifted, the Jews would be victorious in battle and when his hands were down resting the Israelites would falter in battle.

The mishna and gemara ask about this how can it be that Moshe's hands were decisive in the success of the battle - what did his hands have to do with it? The gemara answers that it was not really Moshe's hands, rather they were the catalysts. When his hands were raised, the jews looked up. When they looked up, aside from seeing his hands, they saw the heavens beyond and remember Hashem and to daven to Hashem that they should be successful. When Moshe's hands were down, they continued to fight but had nothing to make them think about Hashem, so they would falter.

The emuna in Hashem that was increased at the moment is what effected victory, while the lack of emuna when they were not thinking of Hashem, rather possibly of their own strengths, is what effected failure in battle.

This is, in essence, the whole story of Purim as well. In the whole megilla we do not find Hashem's name. This is because the Purim story happened as a hidden miracle. That is also the symbolism of the name "Esther" which means hidden. her name was really Haddasa as the megilla tells us, but it refers to her as Esther because that was the essence of the miracles she was involved in while saving the Jewish people.

Because everything happened in a hidden way, it required pure emuna in Hashem. Without the emuna, Hashem might not have obliged and performed all these miracles. Without emuna, a person would have given up right away. Haman was very powerful - how can we fight against his decrees?

Only with emuna did they have the strength and conviction to go on and ensure salvation for the Jewish people.