Pesach more than any other Yom Tov merges our communal, familial and personal histories into the greater context of a mission that began with our Patriarchs and Matriarchs and continues through the generations within each and every one of us, as we proudly exclaim at the Seder table, “Because of this the Lord acted for me when I came out of Egypt.”
There are moments where the past, present and future meld into our consciousness, thrilling us with the awareness of our singular point on that graph of eternity.
Forty-seven years ago I had the privilege of celebrating Pesach in the holy city of Yerushalayim.
During that Yom Tov I grabbed at the opportunity to visit my Rebbe, Rav Nachum Partzovitz, the renowned son-in-law of the Mirrer Rosh yeshiva, Rav Chaim Shmuevitz, whose brilliant shiurim and enthused hasmada was legendary.
During that special opportunity Reb Nachum posed to me a question he had heard yet in Europe from the prized talmid of the Mirrer Yeshiva, Reb Yonah Minsker.
The Gemara quotes an opinion who states that a blind person is exempt from the mitzvah of reciting the Haggadah. This is based on the verse that instructs us that when teaching our children about the Matzah and Marror we eat this night we are to point to these items and assert: “Because of this the Lord acted for me when I came out of Egypt.” One who is blind cannot clearly identify and state ‘this’, i.e the Matzah and Marror, if it is not visible to him.
The Gemara goes on to question this theory as Rav Yosef and Rav Sheshess ,who were both blind, recited the Hagaddah in the fulfillment of the special mitzvah of Sippur Yetzias Mitzrayim, retelling the story of our exodus from Egypt, on behalf of those present at their Seder. If they were exempt how could they recite it on behalf of others who were indeed obligated?
The Gemara answers that these sages accorded with the opinion who holds that in the absence of a Korban Pesach, even the mitzvah of Matzah is only rabbinic in nature. Everyone, the blind and the sighted, are then equally only obligated on a rabbinic level and can recite for each other.
It is clear from this passage that there is a link between the mitzvah of Sippur and the mitzvos of Matzah and Marror, and Sippur is contingent on those mitzvos and only exists on the same level of obligation as where it is derived from.
Reb Yonah Minsker questioned, that even if we were to consider that Matzah was of a Torah obligation even today, nevertheless the verse that speaks about the mitzva of Sippur - retelling, refers to both the Marror and Matzah, and everyone agrees that Marror is only rabbinic in nature in the absence of the Korban Pesach? So either way one who was blind would be exempt as he is missing the Marror obligation.
In a flash of inspiration, I recalled something I heard from a former Rebbe of mine, the illustrious and passionate Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Mottel Weinberg, who I had the fortune of spending my formative years of High School under his influence.
In the piyut entitled אלקי הרוחות, recited on Shabbos Hagadol, authored by the great sage, Rav Yosef Tov Elem, who lived in the times of the Geonim, he writes:
סחו שהנשים צריכות לאמצה בכל מילי דפסחא בלי שמצה, The Sages said that women must exert themselves in all matters of Pesach without blemish,
אף על גב דמצות עשה שהזמן גרמא בם לא נמצא, even though the time-related positive commandments generally do not apply to them,
שכל שישנו בבל תאכל חמץ ישנו בקום ישנו מצה, because anyone obligated not to eat chometz is included in the positive categories of eating Matzah.
Rav Mottel claimed that when the paytan makes reference to ‘all matters of Pesach’ he is referring to the mitzva of Sippur, and this is why women too are obligated in all the aspects of Seder night.
Based on this I suggested that the mitzva of Sippur is not merely contingent on the Matzah but generates from within that mitzva, as evidenced in the obligation of women even though Sippur is a time-related mitzva. But being that we know they are definitely obligated in Matzah; it creates an obligation of Sippur. If that assumption is correct than we can say that each of these mitzvos operate independently, and the matzah engenders an obligation to speak about it and similarly the marror compels one to retell of it. So even if the obligation of Marror is rabbinic today, and its accompanying obligation to ‘retell’ equal to it, the Matzah and its requirement to express its tale may still be compelled on a Torah level.
The smile, warmth and encouragement in Reb Nuchem’s eyes when hearing my ‘pshat’ was the moment I touched eternity.
The sense of bond with my Rabbeim, that linked me to a previous world I only dreamt about, and the possibility of a young aspiring student to contribute to that reality with his own unique perspective, is what we each aspire to on Pesach night.
But is it only in regard to developing a novel idea that connects us to that higher reality?
Might there be something even beyond that, which we can access?
Is this idea of a mitzva prodding us to speak of its ‘tale’ restricted just to the details and history of the mitzva?
Join me this Shabbos afternoon as we continue this remarkable journey!
צבי יהודה טייכמאן