The Chernobyler’s Seder

February 25, 2014

The Chernobyler Rebbe used to perform his Pesach Seders in an interesting way. During the year he would record in a notebook personal miracles, as they occurred to him. Then, on the Seder night, he would go through the Haggadah at a fast pace, and spend the rest of the evening reading from this notebook and recalling these miracles to his guests.

Why did he do this?

To understand the Chernobyler’s actions, we should try to come to a better understanding of the significance of miracles.

The Midrash Rabba has an interesting commentary on Parshat Beshalach, dealing with the Exodus from Egypt. After the Israelites had fled from Egypt and camped by the Red Sea, Pharaoh pursued them. “And Pharaoh drew near, and the Israelites lifted their eyes, and there were the Egyptians marching after them, and they were very frightened, and the Israelites cried out to the L-rd” (Exod. 14:10)

Now there is a grammatical problem with the beginning of this verse: “U-Far`oh hikriv”, which is usually rendered as “And Pharaoh drew near (or approached)”. However it literally means: “And Pharaoh MADE (someone) approach”. The Midrash explains: Pharaoh was engaged in kiruv work — bringing people closer to G-d!

How is this possible?

The Torah says earlier that the Israelites cried out in their bondage, and G-d heard their cry and freed them (Exod. …). Now they were trapped, with the Red Sea in front of them, the Egyptian army behind them, and wild animals of the desert on each side. So, again, they “lifted their eyes” and “cried out to the L-rd”. This is how Pharaoh brought them close again to G-d. The Midrash gives a parable. A king was once traveling with his retinue, and heard a maiden cry out in distress: “Help! Save me from the bandits!” He stopped his retinue and rescued her. Then he asked her to marry him, but she refused. So he paid the bandits to capture her again, and when she again cried out: “Help! Save me from the bandits!” he answered: “That is what I wanted to hear from you!” (This time she agreed to marry him.)

So it was with the Israelites. They had cried out in Egypt for help, but after they had been saved, they forgot about G-d. It needed Pharaoh’s pursuit to make them remember G-d again, and cry to Him for help. This indicates the important aspect of the miracle of the Exodus (and miracles in general). If it were simply a matter of Divine intervention, it could have been accomplished much more simply and efficiently — G-d could have arranged for a fleet of helicopters to airlift the Jews out of Egypt, with much less fuss.

We can hardly credit G-d with bad planning — it is not as if He had forgotten all about the Sea, and then, suddenly noticing it, had to think up a new miracle here quickly! The significant thing here was not so much the miracle itself, but what led up to it — the people realizing that they were in need of G-d’s assistance, and crying out to Him for help.

When someone tells of a miracle, what he usually dwells on is what led up to it — the trouble he was in, an his realization of a need for a miracle. The Divine help, the miracle itself, comes, when it comes at all, “in the blink of an eyelid” (…) And I am sure that that is what the Chernobyler wanted to emphasize in recounting his personal miracles, as well as the miracle of the Exodus from Egypt.

Pesach Kasher V’Sameach!!