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Pesach 5778 - Igniting the Year

By Rabbi Yosef Tropper

Posted on 03/25/18

Opening Thought


I am so excited to have the opportunity to share with you words about the haggadah shel Pesach. We’ve been focusing this year on the Ramban, and some of the divrei Torah are going to based on the words of the Ramban as so many of the yesodos of the Chumash are and so many of the yesodos of Yiddishkeit are, and many of the words will come from other sources, and I hope that you will enjoy.


Every year I try to find a different haggadah that is interesting to me so that I can be inspired. This year I really enjoyed Rav Yissachar Frand on the haggadah which is a new sefer that came out (Artscroll, 2018). I will quote from him and use some of his questions as a starting point,


1) Why is Shabbos Zeicher L’maaseh Bereishis and Zeicher l’Yitziyas Mitzrayim?


A famous Ramban that we have discussed is that Shabbos is zeicheir l’maaseh Bereishis.  It commemorates that fact that Hashem created the world, and it’s also zeicher l’Yitziyas Mitzrayim, commemorates that Hashem took us out of Egypt.  So, why do you need both testaments that G-d is in charge? I already knew that from Bereishis. I already knew that from Yitziyas Mitzrayim.


Hashem Created and Watches


Ramban says in Parshas Bo, and many other places as well, that the principle here is a fundamental of our belief. Hashem created the world, okay we have to believe that Hashem created the world.  That’s what Bereishis teaches us.  But, who says that Hashem still maintains and watches over the world and decides everything that’s going on and has a judgment and a reward system for us.  Yitziyas Mitzrayim teaches us that Hashem says: I am watching what is going on on Earth and I am orchestrating the events of what’s going on in the world.  The knowledge of Hashem of what’s going on and the power that Hashem has to change the events.


Pharaoh Was “Looking” in Wrong Place


Hashem says: Send the Jews out of Egypt.  Paroh’s initial response is: Mi Hashem?  He looks in his book of all the gods.  He says: I have a Hormiz, Ahormiz, Rei, Zues, Atlas, whatever the names were back then, I don’t see Hashem in here. The Midrash says it’s like the slave that was looking for his master, the Kohen, and he runs in the cemetery and he looks and he says: Is my master in this cemetery?  No.  Is he in that cemetery?  You’re looking in the wrong place.  You’re looking in a book of dead gods.  You’re looking in a book of powerless gods and you’re saying: Mi Hashem? 


Hashem’s Presence


Hashem says: B’mi atah lokeh.  I’ll hit you with ‘me mem-yud’.  I’ll give you fifty punishments like the haggadah talks about there’s fifty smitings on the Yam and throughout the makos, and maybe then you’ll know “Mi Hashem”, who’s Hashem. So Yitziyas Mitzrayim adds something to the Maaseh Bereishis.  Not only did Hashem create the world, but He also watches over. Hashem declares: I said let the Jews out, and if not I’m going to punish Egypt with the makos, and Hashem brings Egypt down to its knees.  And, so that is what “zeicher l’maaseh Bereishis” and “zeicher l’Yitziyas Mitzrayim”.


Passing On This Lesson


That’s what Shabbos represents. This is the foundation of what the Pesach seder is trying to inculcate into our children and to pass on the mesorah that the Rebono Shel Olam not only He created the world, but he watches over it, and He orchestrates all the events.  It is my fervent hope that in these thoughts that I share with you, you will have beautiful ideas that you could enhance your life, and, of course, your Pesach seder and pass on the beautiful mesorah to the next generation.  But, more importantly, to ourselves.  “Harei zo me’shubach.”  The more that you’re marbeh to be mesapeir about Yitzyas Mitzrayim, you become uplifted.


Jewish Perspective


Rabbi Frand starts out with Kadeish, he opens up the haggadah shel Pesach with such a powerful and amazing thought. He says that we find from Ramban that there are two aspects: One that we have to know that Hashem created the world, but we also have to know that Hashem is watching over every aspect of the world.  


Malbim teaches us that the goyim, they don’t really understand that Hashem watches over the world. In Tehillim, in Hallel we say: Ram al kol goyim Hashem, al Hashamayim kivodo.”  Hashem is above all the nations of the world.  But, what are those words, “al Hashamayim kivodo”?  They acknowledge that in Heaven G-d’s honor is there.  Yeah, there’s a G-d, he created the world.  Many of them are only modeh, they only acknowledge that Hashem created the world. But they do not credit Hashem as being involved on earth!


Jews Know Hashem Cares For Us Down on Earth


What about Hashem’s constant orchestration and watching of the world. This, says the Malbim, only the Jews appreciate. “Mi kaHashem Elokeinu,” as the pasuk in Tehillim continues.  This is all Tehillim 113: 4-6. “Hashem Elokeinu.”  Who is like Hashem our G-d?  The G-d of the Jews.  He’s the G-d of the whole world, but the one that we recognize.  “Hamagbihi lashaves.”  Who is enthroned on high.  “Hamashpili liros baShamayim u’va’aretz.”  Who looks down and sees what’s going on in the Heaven and the Earth.  That’s what we believe.  We have to know that there’s a Rebono Shel Olam that not only created the world, but He watches over the world everywhere, and that’s the lesson of Yitziyas Mitzrayim that’s “mashpili lir’os baShamayim u’va’aretz.” He looks down on us.  “Hamashpili” means shafel, to look down at the lowly Earth, but Hashem still cares about us.  “Al tihiyeh rasha b’einei atzmicha”, don’t think you are unworthy. Therefore, it is beautiful that the Rebono Shel Olam comes to our seder and uplifts us, and “kol makom asheir azkir es Shimi avo eilecha u’beirachticha.”  If you mention my name, that’s where I come, and I will bless you.  What a beautiful idea.


2) Two Aspects of Matza


One of the interesting things is that there’s really two aspects of matza.  One of them is that when the Jews were slaves in Egypt the slaves ate this wafer type of bread.  It was very cheap and very quick to make, and that’s what the Jews ate, so it reminds us of the lechem oni that they ate for the two hundred and ten years, and even if you say that they weren’t in the shibud until Levi died, he was a hundred and thirty seven when he died, however they make a calculation that let’s say the shibud, according to many people was around ninety three years or so, but still, for many years they ate this poor man’s bread.  But yet, there’s another aspect and that is that the Jews had to rush out of Egypt and they didn’t have time to rise their dough, and they simple left Egypt with the matza, and we eat it to commemorate that.  So, if you think about it that there’s this one split second where the Jews leave, and they happen not to be able to make bread and they have matza, and then there’s this ninty-three years or two-hundred and ten years, whatever it is of shibud.


Yeshuas Hahsem K’heref Ayin


Rabbi Frand says the pasuk says straight out that the matza, we say it in the haggadah that the matza is commemorating the fact that the Jews rushed out of Egypt. Why is that? To teach us a lesson that yeshuas Hashem k’heref ayin.  That the Rebono Shel Olam’s salvation can come in a split second.  That we could be in the most challenging and difficult situation’s in life and Yitziyas Mitzrayim reminds us that when the Rebono Shel Olam decides that is it, it’s time, you are free.


Yosef’s Freedom


The Chofetz Chaim says the same vort on “Vayaritzuhu min habor.”  They rushed Yosef out of the jail. He was there for twelve years.  There was an exact moment that he was supposed to be there. Hashem says: You’re not going out a minute or a millisecond early because there’s a gezeira against you; you need to be there.  But, you’re not staying in a moment longer than you need to be there. “Vayaritzuhu min habor”.  They dragged him out.  So too, the Rebono Shel Olam should be “vayaritzu” min hatzara. Hashem should pull us out of the tzaros, any tzaros that our family members or anyone is in, Klal Yisrael was in.  Hashem could save us k’heref ayin.  In one split second.  That’s why we commemorate the fact that the Jews were not able to delay and had to get out of Egypt immediately because that is how Hashem’s salvation works.  What a beautiful idea.


3) Blood Libels, What Do They StanOn?


The next idea is a very sensitive one. You could look at Rabbi Frand on page sixty-two where he develops it more. Rav Elchonan Wasserman points out a very fascinating thing which is that we know that “sheker ein lo raglayim”. Sheker has no feet, and so something that’s  a total lie cannot last.  It cannot stand (Yalkut Shimoni Bereishis 3). Rav Elchonan Wasserman says: Wait a minute. Why is it that throughout the generations the gentiles have chastised and killed many Jews over blood libels claiming that the Jewish people used Christian blood specifically in order to make their matza? This is something that is not just in the past.  In the 1930s there was the famous incident in upstate New York, in Mesena, that took place, and in Europe it was certainly going on. Even in 2005 there were twenty members of the Russian Duma that claimed that Jews murdered for the purpose of matza, and in 2014 there was a Jordanian leader who proclaimed to the media that Jews killed Muslims to make their matzas.  Rabbi Frand elaborates on that as well.


Yosef’s Coat, Sinas Chinam Destruction


So, says Rav Elchonan Wasserman there’s something very deep going on here, and that is that when the brothers of Yosef grabbed off his kesones passim it says that they dipped it in blood in order to cover up Yosef’s whereabouts, and they told Yaakov that Yosef is dead. Chazal tell us that “vayitbilu es hakesones b’dam,” the pasuk in Bereishis says that they dipped Yosef’s tunic in blood, and it needs to have a kapara.  Says Rav Eliezer Ashkenazi, the Rokeiach, it needs to have a kappara. “V’lakachtem agudas eizov v’tavaltem badam asheir asaf.” (Shemos 12:21) the Jews had to put it on the doorposts, and so the p’shat is that the Jewish people had divisiveness among themselves. They weren’t accepting each other; they were chasticing their brother; they were excommunicating him; they were lying to Yaakov about his whereabouts to get rid of him.  That hatred, that sinas chinam is what causes destruction, and until the Jewish people eradicate that sinas chinam, that sin still lurks with us to this day, and that accusation has a drop of a regel to stand on.  Sheker ein lo raglayim, but there’s a drop of a truth there about how blood caused the destruction of the Jewish people. Unfortunately, throughout thousands of years since that event it has caused more and more bloodshed. A very scary thought.


4) Why Extra Ink?


Rabbi Frand brings down a very fascinating concept which is that Chazal tell us in Shemos Rabbah that when Moshe finished writing the very first Sefer Torah there was a drop of ink left in his quill, and Moshe asked Hashem what to do with it, and Hashem said: “Smear it onto your head” and that’s where Moshe got his keren ohr, that’s where he got his special light.  That’s what Chazal in Shemos Rabbah (47:6) teach us.


Never Ending Desire


Now, this is allegorical, and, of course, it’s very deep.  But, wait a minute, the question to be asked is: Doesn’t Hashem know exactly how much ink is going to be needed to write a full Sefer Torah?  So, why did He make the situation where there was drop left.  What’s going on here? Says Rabbi Frand: The answer is that that ink was not extra.  It represented the fact that when you finish the Torah there’s still more and more to learn, and since Moshe’s cheishek was expressed, that Moshe expressed to Hashem: What should I do with this ink? I want more.  I want it.  Hashem said: that’s where you get the light from.  That is the most beautiful way that you get the light. Those karnei hod, the beauty that Hashem appreciates so much about Moshe is his desire for more and more.  That extra ink was there to give Moshe the opportunity because he desired it, and that’s where his beauty and his light came from.


5) A Parent’s Impact


I want to share with you just an introductory remark that Rabbi Frand makes from a beautiful story that was told over about a man who survived the holocaust and became a wonderful father to children who he’s mechaneich to Torah and built a family of Torah and chesed.  


Rabbi Frand told over that this man’s son one time sat down with his father, and said: Abba, I know that you’re a survivor.  That you escaped the inferno.  Tell me, what is it that drove you to become such a supportor of Torah and to have so much love of Torah and chesed and to instill it so deeply in our children.  And, I’ll read you his answer:


When I left Austria, the man said.  My father had initially planned to travel with me to Germany.  We all had to get out.  There was a problem with his passport though.  So, he had no choice, at that exact moment he decided to put me onto the train by myself.  At least I should survive.  That was the last time I ever saw my father.  He was murdered by the Nazis.  As the train pulled out of the station and my father started running alongside the train to say goodbye, and he called out to me, “Zei a gutte Yid.”  Be a good Jew.  He kept running and repeating those four words.  “Zei a gutte Yid.  Zei a gutte Yid.”  As the train picked up speed he tripped and landed sprawled out on the platform shouting for all it was worth, with all of his last might, “Zei a gutte Yid.”  That parting message my father gave me stood with me throughout my entire life.  I knew I had to be a good Yid.  And, that’s it.  I didn’t know how to learn, but one thing I knew: I had to be a good Jew.


And, that cry that a father invested in his son carried him for an entire lifetime.  And, so too we should be zocheh that this night of the seder where we sit down and we instill in our children emunah and bitachon and we teach them: Be a good Yid.  That’s the most important thing in life.  Be an eirlich Yid.  Be a ben aliyah.  Be a good, true, honest person.  That we should be able to impart that in our children and it should carry them for a lifetime.


Warm Blessing


I heard another very similar story that a survivor said over that made such a big impact on me.  That he told over that one of the things that kept him frum and strong throughout his greatest challenges in life and his greatest challenges of giving up Yiddishkeit almost and kept him strong and on the path was feeling the warmth of his father’s bracha that he gave him every Friday night when he benched him after coming home from shul, and he felt his father’s warm touch and warm affection and that warmth kept his heart warm for Yiddishkeit throughout his entire life.


When we bless our children and we talk to our children we should know that we’re having an impact on them, that we change their lives, that we invest in them and we give them the power to be the strongest, to be the healthiest, to be the greatest people that they could be, and may our seder be one that carries us through the year.


6) Year’s Seder


That’s why it’s called the seder. It arranges our entire year for us, and may it carry our children to the greatest heights, the greatest recognition of Hashem Hu Elokim, and the greatest understanding that Hashem took us out of Egypt because He watches over us and He cares about us and He’s a din and a dayan.  There’s laws that Hashem puts.  There’s rules and Hashem runs everything and Hashem is all powerful and nothing can stand in his way.


7) Why is Hashem called “Hamakom”?


Another thought is we say, “Baruch Hamakom baruch Hu.”  So, why do we talk about Hashem that way.  It’s very interesting expression because the word “Hamakom” is usually only used in hilchos aveilus.  We have Hamakom yenacheim eschem bisoch shaar avlei tzion v’Yerushalayim.  So, why is “Hamakom” used here?


Closeness


Rav Yosef Dov Solevitchik says a very interesting p’shat.  He says that why is Hashem called Hamakom in that context.  Why is Hashem called that Hamakom when we talk to an aveil?  He explains that when someone loses a relative, he feels that Hashem is very distant from him, and he feels that Hashem is far.  Just like we find by the akeidah.  “Vayar es hamakom meirachok,” which the pashut p’shat means that Avraham saw the appropriate place on Har Hamoriah where he would bring up Yitzchak on the akeidah, but the Zohar and the allegorical explanation is “Vayar es Hamakom meirachok.”  He saw Hashem is far away.  So too when we talk to an aveil, we recognize that he feels very distant from Hashem, and he feels disconnected from Hashem very often, and that’s why we say “Hamakom yenacheim eschem.”  


So, says Rabbi Frand, this may very well be why, he’s quoting this b’sheim Rav Yosef Dov Soleveitchik once again, in the haggadah we say “Baruch Hamakom, baruch Hu.”  We start off reading from the haggadah and we might feel very distant from Hashem.  Who is this?  We might feel like the rasha, “Mah haeidus v’hachukim”, but the difference is that he leaves and is not interested because of it, but we sit down and we engage ourselves like the chacham and we say, “Asher tzivanu Hashem Elokeinu,” that Hashem commanded us and we want to do it; I’m going to do it.  And, since we do it we commit ourselves to it, and we get closer and closer to Hashem and we start to feel His presence more and more.  So, a person should know that even if he feels distant he’s still close and he could draw himself closer.


8) Maschil B’genus Lesson


Rabbi Frand points out why do we say “maschil b’genus”, we start with the negative.  We talk about how, “meitechila ovedei avodah zarah hayu avoseinu”.  It’s very obvious.  Anyone that has a story from rags to riches, they always tell the negative.  I was so poor I couldn’t afford this.  I was living in these rags and then I got the riches. 


Says Rabbi Frand a beautiful idea.  When they tell the story, it’s only for the story of contrast.  It’s to say that I was so poor, but then I became this and thank G-d and now I have the money and now I have beautiful things.  But, that’s not what the point here is.  The point here is that we shouldn’t deny our past.  We should recognize: This is who we are.  This is what we went through, and we’re all ba’alei teshuva.  Avraham Aveinu was makir Boro at age forty-eight, according to the Rambam. The Raavad doesn’t like it and says from age three. But, nevertheless, he was still a ba’al teshuva.  Until age three he didn’t see Hashem, and then they’re both right.  Rav Shimshon Pinchus and many people explain that it was a gradual process of recognizing G-d.


Jews Rejected Moshe Rabbeinu At First


There’s one p’shat that says a very interesting thing that “lo shamu el Moshe mikotzer ruach va’avodah kasheh”.  It says that the Jews didn’t believe Moshe.  It’s not p’shat that they didn’t believe him because they were distracted and that the work was too hard and they couldn’t believe him.  It’s that they didn’t believe him because he was a Levi and he didn’t have to work, and therefore: You can’t even relate to me.  You don’t even know what I’m going through. “v’lo shamu el Moshe” they could listen to him because “mikotzer ruach va’avodah kasheh”, you’re not going through what I’m going through.  You can’t relate to me. It’s interesting, because in the end, they realized that he was carrying thier burden and actually did understand them.


Appreciate the Process


And, so, when we talk about “meitechilah ovdei avodah zarah”, we’re bringing in the ba’alei teshuva and we’re saying: It’s not just a rags to riches.  We were so poor we had nothing and now we’re great; it’s that we appreciate what we’ve been through.  We appreciate the process that made us into who we are, and we celebrate who we are.


9) Perspective on Money


Rabbi Frand has a beautiful he’arah “v’acharei chein yeitzu b’rechush gadol”  So, we know that the Jews left with great possessions and they were told to borrow everything.  Why do you have to borrow everything?  Why can’t they just take it?  Why do they have to borrow it?  Borrow it implies that they’re giving it back; it’s not there’s. Says Rabbi Frand: The Jews became millionaires overnight.  Everyone of them.  They had seventy camels laden with gold, silver and precious stones, and Hashem didn’t want them to get spoiled by the money, didn’t want them to lose themselves. So he wanted them to have a perspective of ‘borrowed money’ every material thing that you have is just a loan.  It’s not yours .  And, so therefore, a person should not think that it’s all mine and I earned it through kochi v’otzem yadi, and it’s all mine.  No, Hashem gave it as a gift.  Appreciate it.


10) Vayareiu Osanu haMitzrim – The Crux of Slavery


The haggadah says, “vayareiu osanu haMitzrim.”  The Mitzriim did evil to us.  But, if you look at those words, this is Rabbi Frand’s kasha:  He says “vayareiu osanu haMitzrim”, the Mitzrim did bad to us?!  It should say “vayareiu lanu haMitzrim”. The Mitzrim hurt us.  What’s “vayareiu” they made bad “osanu”, us. Rabbi Frand gives a suggestion which is similar to what I’m going to say, but mine is a little bit more of a psychological point.  


The Egyptians tried to convince us: You’re filthy. You’re dirty.  You’re bad people.  You deserve to be punished.  You deserve to be slaves.  “vayariu osanu haMitzrim”.  The entire shibud of Mitzrayim. The entire meitzar yam that the sefarim hakedoshim bring down.  The limitation of our great potential.  Yam is nun shaarei binah.  The same words of “Mi Hashem”, by the way.  Nun shaarei binah that the Egyptians wanted us to look at ourselves as bad.  “vayariu osanu haMitzrim”.  They convinced us that we’re bad, and that’s part of being a slave, but Hashem said: No.  You’re great.  You’re Yisrael asher bicha espa’eir.  You’re my nation, and lift yourselves from the dirt.  And, many, four out of five of the Jews “vachamushim alu Bnei Yisrael”.  They didn’t believe this.  They didn’t believe that they were worth anything.  They said, “We’re garbage.  We’re nothing.  “vayariu osanu”.  They taught us that we’re filthy, low, tamei, bad people.


The Yeitzer Harah continues to do this just like the Mesilas Yesharim brings down from the Sefarim HaKedoshim that Paroh is “tichbad ha’avodah”.  He’s the nachash hakadmoni. The Yeitzer Harah always wants us to look down at ourselves and to think that we’re worthless and we’re bad and we’re dirty. Hashem says: No.  I’m here.  “Bichol makom asher azkir es Shimi” I’m here.  “Hashochein itchem betoch tumaschem”.  I’m here with you.  And, that is the shibud.  “Vayariu osanu haMitzrim.”  They convinced us that we are worthless, and if you go through the seder we have to convice ourselves that no, we are Yisrael asheir bicha espaeir. We are hallelu avdei Hashem.  Avdei Hashem have to praise Hashem.  That’s what the seder is all about.  We’re avdei Hashem.  Look how privledged we are.


11) Empathy For Others


Last thought, and I hope that the seder will be inspiring.  There’s a very fascinating story that is brought down and Rav Shmuel Aurbach zt”l used to say over this story b’sheim his father, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, and he even said it over at a hespid for his father.


The son of the Baruch Tam (Rav Baruch Frankel Tumim, 1760 - 1828) was engaged to get married to the daughter of a very wealthy family that was going to support Torah. The families met, they finalized the engagement, the kallah’s mother noticed that Rav Baruch Tam was upset and distressed about something, so she asked him a little nervously: Is there something wrong with the shidduch?  He said: No, no, no.  Everything is fine with the shidduch.  I’m just worried because I’m the rav of the city and the water carrier is very sick and I’m concerned for him for his parnassah.  Now, the water carrier was the lowest of the low.  So, she said to him: You know, maybe you shouldn’t let that bother you.  You’re son’s engaged, just focus on that.  And, he called off the shidduch.  He said a family that doesn’t have empathy for the water carrier, for another Yid, this is not a family that we’re going to marry into. 


[Now, this story, you know, we need to take it with a grain of salt, and obviously a person should ask a shayla.  It could be that he had questions to begin with.]  There’s a famous story with Rabbi Akiva Eiger also that when one of his children was engaged someone, when he said: I’m very happy with the shidduch, the person said to Rabbi Akiva Eiger: I’m very happy with everything except the mechutanim, which was a joke obviously, he was happy with Rabbi Akiva Eiger, who’s the gadol hador.  And, Rabbi Akiva Eiger said: It’s a moshav leitzim and he also called off the shidduch.  It’s brought down in the Rav Shach Speaks book.  So, a person has to know. We’re talking about gedolim, but the point is that when you don’t have empathy for someone, you don’t have empathy, that’s not  a Jew.  So, that is what he identified, and he saw that this came outward.


Eye on Our Fellow


In life we need to recognize, we go through the entire seder, it’s about other people.  It’s about having our eye on our fellow Jews.  Why was Moshe chosen to be the leader of the Jewish people?  Because he cared.  “vayar b’sivlosam – nasan eino v’libo l’hiyos meitzar aleihem.”  He joined the Jewish people.  He said: Ha’levay I could be doing the work instead of you, and halevay I should get beaten, and the nisiim, they were the ones that took the beatings.  And, in this zechus of Klal Yisrael that people were moseir nefesh for each other and to love each other, they came together, that’s how they got out of Egypt and that’s how they got the Torah.  “Vayichan sham Yisrael neged hahar.”


So, the entire theme, and like Rabbeinu Bachye says this as well, that the entire theme of the yamim tovim is to come together as a family and to strengthen our love and connection to one another, and we should be zocheh that the seder should inspire us for emunah and bitachon and aliyah and it should set a seder and an order for our entire year of growth in ruchniyus and closeness to Hashem and the greatest simcha in life


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Rabbi Yosef Tropper is a rav and psychotherapist. Learn more and subscribe at ParshaThemes.com