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7 Nissan 5760 - April 12, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
Selections from Haggadah Shel Pesach Arzei Halevonon

Compiled by HaRav Osher Bergman

The following selections are from the popular haggadah Arzei Halevonon that brings together divrei Torah from Torah giants of modern times, as selected by the compiler.

The Wicked Son -- What Does He Say?

HaRav Moshe Feinstein noted that when the Torah records three of the four sons' questions they are described in the singular: "When your son will ask you," "You shall tell your son." But when it comes to the wicked son's question, the Torah uses the plural: "When your children will say to you." This, Rav Moshe explained, alludes to the fact that when a wicked person airs his antagonistic views towards his culture, he usually assembles a group of other misfits around him to make a greater impression on his audience and to increase his sphere of influence. The fact that the wicked son is a rabble-rouser makes him particularly dangerous, and this is why the Haggadah cautions us to put a halt to his demagoguery by "blunting his teeth."

It Is Because Of This That Hashem Did So For Me When I Went Out Of Egypt

As the Haggadah soon explains, the meaning of "because of this" is that G-d took us out of Egypt in order to eat these foods -- matzah, morror and the pesach offering -- and to perform all the other mitzvos of the Torah (see Rashi to Shemos 13:8). Rav Moshe Feinstein noted that it seems rather odd that this is the answer given to the child who is unable to ask questions. That child presumably knows absolutely nothing about the Exodus, being totally ignorant of his heritage. Why, then, does the Torah stress for this son the mitzvos of eating the three Seder foods and their relevance to the importance of the Exodus -- instead of, perhaps, something along the lines of the answer given by the Torah for the simple son in Shemos 13:14- 15?

Rav Moshe concluded from this that the son "who does not know how to ask" is not an ignorant man, or an assimilated, uneducated Jew. Rather, he is a man who is quite familiar with the rituals of Judaism and performs them faithfully. However, he does so out of habit and conditioning; he does not know why the mitzvos are important, nor does he care. He does not lack the intellect to ask, but the interest to ask. For this son the Torah's response is indeed quite fitting: "You open up the conversation with him," explaining the profound significance of the mitzvos which he regards with such indifference. Let him know that it is because of the mitzvos that G-d took us out of Egypt altogether.

Holidays for Rejoicing

The Torah does not specifically call for rejoicing on Pesach as it does for Succos (Devorim 16:14) and Shavuos (ibid., 16:11); this requirement has to be derived indirectly, exegetically. Rav Moshe Feinstein explained that the reason for this is that it goes without saying that Pesach, the holiday on which our liberation from bondage and our foundation as a nation are celebrated, calls for great rejoicing; the Torah therefore did not have to mention this explicitly.

Similarly, Pesach is the only one of the three Festivals in which the concept of sharing our bounty with "the Levi, the stranger, the orphan, and the widow" is not mentioned. Here too, Rav Moshe explained, the Torah felt it obvious that during Pesach, when we recall that "we were once slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt" and that all that we now have has come to us only through the grace of G- d, should be a time when the less fortunate members of society should be called upon to share in our rejoicing.

Therefore It Is Our Duty To Thank...

According to the Rambam, there is no obligation (from the Torah) to pray on a regular basis. Rav Aharon Kotler pointed out, however, that indeed there is no need for the Torah to impose an obligation upon us in this regard. The psalmist compares man's relationship to G-d to that of a small child to its mother (Tehillim 131:2). Just as the child does not need to be instructed to call out to his mother when he wants something, because he naturally senses his dependency on her, so too, we do not need to be given a formal obligation to call out to G-d to fulfill our needs, if we would only recognize that He is the only One Who can grant those needs. Man is completely dependent upon G-d's grace for every moment of his life; the continual functioning of the intricacies of his physical body as well as the survival of his soul from day to day are nothing short of miraculous, as we say in the daily prayers, "We thank You . . . for our souls which are in Your charge, and for your miracles that are with us every day." Our reliance on G-d for our daily existence is in fact much more extensive than that of a child on its mother; as the Midrash puts it, "For every breath one takes he owes thanks to Hashem." Thus, it should be only natural for us to turn to G-d to seek fulfillment of our needs; there is no need for this search to be mandated by the Torah. On the contrary, it is considered reprehensible to pray out of the mere sense of obligation, as we are taught in Pirkei Ovos (2:18): "Do not make your prayers into a routine, mechanical habit, but rather a genuine appeal for mercy and a supplication before G- d."

G-d Chastened Me Exceedingly But He Did Not Let Me Die

No matter how severely a human being may suffer, the Psalmist tells us that he still has something to be thankful for; his situation, desperate as it may be, is better than death.

HaRav Chaim Shmulevitz illustrated this principle by citing a Midrash about a council called by Pharaoh, which he convened to advise him how to combat "the Jewish problem." There were three people who were called upon to discuss the issue, the Midrash tells us: Bilam, who conceived and suggested the scheme to murder all the male Jewish newborns; Yisro, who fled rather than be involved in the evil conspiracy; and Iyov, who remained silent throughout the proceedings, neither protesting nor endorsing the proposal. All three received their appropriate "rewards" for their behavior, the Midrash continues: Bilam was slain by the sword, Yisro merited to have illustrious Torah scholars among his descendants, and Iyov was punished with the harshest sufferings known to mankind.

Surely Bilam, who originated the murderous proposal deserved a greater punishment than Iyov, who was silent. Yet Bilam met his death through the blow of a sword, quickly and relatively painlessly, while Iyov's suffering was so intense that it has become proverbial. It is evident, therefore, that even the most formidable pain and suffering imaginable should be considered as better than losing one's life. This is so, explained Rav Chaim, because as long as a person is alive -- no matter what the circumstances -- he is capable of making decisions and thus doing mitzvos, further elevating himself spiritually, an accomplishment that is impossible once life has ended. "Better one hour of repentance and good deeds in this world than the entire life of the World to Come" (Pirkei Ovos 4:22).

The thought is further borne out in a verse in Eichah (3:39): "What can a living man complain about?" Rashi explains: "How can a person complain abut whatever events may occur to him, in view of the kindness I have shown him in granting him life?" All the calamities of life pale in comparison to the gift of life.

HaRav Chaim also noted that the patriarch Yaakov was punished for not taking this lesson to heart. When Pharaoh asked him how old he was, he took the opportunity to voice his complaints about life to the monarch: "Few and evil were the days of my life . . . " (Bereishis 47:8-9). The Midrash says that Yaakov was punished for this statement by having thirty-seven years shorn away from his life span. It is true that he had to bear many hardships in life -- fleeing from his spiteful brother into exile for over three decades, living with his hostile, conniving father- in- law for over twenty years, having his most beloved son taken away from him for twenty-two years etc. But he should have appreciated the fact that he had been granted life altogether rather than insinuating that his life had not been worth living. For this lack of sensitivity, the Midrash teaches us, he was punished, measure for measure, with a diminishment of the years of his life.

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