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9 Nissan 5764 - March 31, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
What's Happening Here? -- A Look at the Pesach Haggodoh

by Rabbi Yitzchok Boruch Fishel

Rav Yitzchok Maltzen zt'l, best known as the author of Siddur HaGra: Ishei Yisroel, also wrote a very wonderful commentary on the Haggodoh called Maggid Tzedek.

In his opening remarks to "Mah nishtanoh" this student of HaRav Yisroel Salanter notes that whoever is asking the questions here is disturbed to find that he is faced with both the presence of new circumstances as well as the absence of the old: "Usually we eat all kinds of vegetables; tonight we eat only bitter herbs," and similarly, "Every other night we eat both leavened and unleavened bread, yet tonight we eat only matzoh."

So too, there are aspects in the Seder which are meant to indicate that we are now emancipated and well-to-do: we eat reclining and dip our salad in "dressing," unlike common folk who eat it just as it is.

Yet on the other hand it seems that the correct text of the Haggodoh is "Ho lachmo" -- this is the very bread which our forefathers ate in oppression in the land of Egypt. Not that this matzoh is similar in form and taste to that historically eaten, but rather that this is the selfsame bread which the Egyptians fed their slaves, either because it was cheaper or took longer to digest.

As such one is meant to reach the conclusion that something is afoot here. This is the crux of the situation and for sure something is going on. We are meant to be caught off balance as the past and present are jumbled together.

Our Sages said, "Bechol dor vodor chayov odom lir'os es atsmo ke'ilu hu yotso miMitzraim" -- "In each and every generation, one must see himself as though he came out of Egypt." The Rambam added one single word: "'atoh." In order to fulfill the mitzvah of considering oneself as though he personally were saved in the Exodus, the Rambam required an extra degree of intensity. Each of us must feel that it is happening now.

Not so many years ago, I was privileged to visit HaRav Moshe Aaron Stern ztvk'l, the late mashgiach of Yeshivas Kaminetz Yerushalayim for the first time. It was on chol hamoed Pesach, and a close friend, who wanted me to become R. Moshe Aaron's talmid as well, took me along with him to visit his rebbi.

While pouring me a glass of wine, which he insisted I have for simchah, HaRav Stern turned to my friend and asked him what he had gotten out of the Seder. The implication was that this was an experience for which one had to prepare.

As a devoted talmid of HaRav Elya Lopian ztvk'l, this was R. Moshe Aaron's approach to every holiday, whether Pesach or Rosh Hashonoh or Simchas Torah. You only get out of it what you put in, just like every other part of Torah. In the midst of the bustle and the cleaning -- and the money counting and shopping and budgeting and finally chasing the chometz out of the house -- one must create an open space, a time to reflect. Otherwise the holy Seder nacht, "halayloh haZeh," is going to rip past us all too quickly, leaving us wondering what we have missed.

Last Year and Next

Hashto hochoh. Leshonnoh habo'oh beYerushalayim -- "Now we are here; next year in Jerusalem," proclaims the maggid at every Seder table every year, just as he has for generations.

One must ask: what does it mean to be "here"? And similarly, what will it mean next year, to be in Jerusalem?

Clearly the Haggodoh as we have it must have been written in one of the many exiles that our people have known since the destruction of the First Temple. As such, the poignancy of the above statement must be duly felt.

Imagine hearing this in the Warsaw Ghetto, or even in Yavneh after R. Yochonon ben Zakai had saved the chachomim from the Roman destruction of Jerusalem. It was also said at clandestine Sedorim held in Marrano cellars in the shadow of the Inquisition, as well as during the reign of Stalin in the Soviet Union.

The wish to be in Jerusalem is not just to be in another city, the capital of yet another sovereign state. Even though Jews have been living in Jerusalem continuously for centuries, we still yearn Leshonnoh habo'oh beYerushalayim, for at the end of a long evening of eating, drinking, storytelling, mitzvos and concluding with an especially long Hallel and Nishmas, we cry out something quite different. We proclaim the specifically Jewish dream of Leshonnoh habo'oh beYerushalayim habenuyoh -- "Next year in the rebuilt Jerusalem." The restoration of the proper connection between Am Yisroel and HaKodosh Boruch Hu is what the author of the Haggodoh seems to have in mind even from the beginning.

Taking Advantage of a Situation

Rav Yaakov of Lisa, the author of the Nesivos Hamishpot, in his exceedingly beautiful commentary on the Haggodoh entitled Maaseh Nissim, has a very startling approach here. To perhaps even overstate the way the author put it, we are meant to be making a kind of demand on HaKodosh Boruch Hu. It is as though we are saying, "Look Hashem, at all that Klal Yisroel has suffered for You: those long years of bondage under the Egyptian taskmasters so that Your great Name could be magnified throughout the world by delivering us through supernatural means from our slavery to the most powerful and technologically-advanced nation then known. And look Hashem, at our situation now. It isn't much better is it? But having taken us out of Egypt proves that saving us in the present situation is entirely possible. We are right to ask this of You!"

The above may at first appear somewhat shocking, but having risen to this new level of understanding enables us to perceive a new order in all of the Seder night. We can see it not as a commemorative experience, but rather a way of influencing the future.

Rav Yaakov has an entire Torah, based on the idea of symbolic action. This idea reappears many times in his commentaries, and his favorite example is from Melochim II 13:17-19. Yoash King of Israel comes to visit Elisha in his last illness and the prophet tells him to open the window and shoot arrows from it. Yoash shoots merely three arrows and Elisha gets very angry with him. The prophet tell him that were he to have shot six arrows, Yoash would have eliminated his enemy Aram completely. Now that he has shot only three, there will be only three opportunities to defeat them in battle.

In his Haggodoh, R. Yaakov uses this story to explain the significance of the zero'a that is on the Seder plate.

Unlike matzoh and morror which are mitzvos de'Oraissah, the zero'a is entirely symbolic. It is meant to represent korbon Pesach, even though the entire Seder is a celebration of golus leading to redemption. Thus there must be more here. Zero'a is also to remind us of chasof zero'a Kodshecho. We are saying to HaKodosh Boruch Hu, "Bare Your holy Arm and deliver us out of our present bondage."

Here in Eretz Yisroel and elsewhere there is little difference between mental and physical suffering. The Midrash tells us that in Egypt one of the means that they employed to make the Jews feel as slaves was to switch male and female household tasks. Certainly men can do women's work, but they find it oppressive.

So, too, the fact that today members of the Torah community are forever considered outsiders even in our own homeland is a kind of subjugation which finds no relief in material comfort, however important this may be.

The zero'a on the Seder plate thus serves as a double reminder: on the one hand it encourages us by teaching how we have been saved in the past, and on the other hand it urges us to create a new reality which will engender yet another Exodus from our own golus.

This may be the reason for the especially long Hallel and recitation of Nishmas that are part of the Seder. The Rashbo seems to hold that there are two reasons for singing in general: either one is rejoicing, or one wants to bring himself to a state of joy. Both would apply here as we try to join the past to a new, better future.

You Don't Have to Know What You're Doing

In the back of the Pardes Haggodoh there are a number of interesting stories. One of these is about a helige Yid who was known as the Shpaller Zeide.

The rebbes in cheder used to prepare the children for Seder night by prompting them as to what must be done even before Mah nishtanoh. There was a traditional formula that every child was taught for generations: "Kadeish -- when the Tatte comes home from shul, he must make Kiddush right away so the children won't fall asleep." In addition to Mah nishtanoh, the youngest child was expected to add this as well.

On Seder night when the time came, the Shpaller Zeide turned to his young son and the little boy said, "Kadeish -- when the Tatte comes home from shul he must make Kiddush right away," and fell silent. When asked why he didn't continue, the boy answered that this was all that his rebbe had taught him.

The next day the melamed was among the many guests at the Shpaller Zeide's Yom Tov table. The Zeide asked him why his son had not been taught to say, ". . . so the children won't fall asleep." The cheder rebbe replied that he thought it best not to overload his young charges with too much learning.

At that, the Shpaller Zeide objected. "Do you realize, young man," he said, raising his hands on high, "what you have done? The deep meaning of what the children say is this: `When the Tatte' -- HaKodosh Boruch Hu -- `comes home from shul' -- gets back to Heaven after hearing his tired and battered Yidden proclaiming His glory in every shul in the world -- `He must make Kiddush right away' -- He must renew the ties between Himself and His Chosen People -- `so the children won't fall asleep' -- so that we will not lose heart and cease to believe that a final Redemption is yet to come.

"You left out the final Redemption!"


The entire world hangs on the lips of innocent children. Yet even though we as adults lack that purity, our active recognition of the opportunity at hand enables us to achieve great things.

Seder night occurs only once a year, and it is our special time to approach Hashem in a unique way. Because we are at a moment in eternity turning both on our Jewish past and the ever-present hope for a dazzling new future, we suddenly have the right to ask for deliverance the likes of which we have indeed never known before.

This is a valid approach even if we do not fully understand the magnitude of our actions. But we have to have an inkling of what we are about, and must intend to make a meaningful statement by eating our matzoh and morror. We have to prepare. We have to take a good, long look at what is going on here.

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