Silver Settings

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20 Mar 2017

Naaleh_logo Shiur provided courtesy of

Summary by Channie Koplowitz Stein

It is customary to set a beautiful table for the Pesach Seder, to adorn the table with silver vessels and any beautiful utensils and dishes one may have, gold, silver, crystal. What is unusual is that the Jews are not an ostentatious people. At no other holiday do we make a point of displaying our riches on our tables. But for the Seder we make a point of dressing the table and ourselves in our finest Shabbos attire. What is unique about the Pesach Seder that almost requires us to acknowledge it with this richness?

The silver gleams on the table, especially the silver kiddush cup(s), the kos. Kos numerically equally Elokhim, 86, God’s aspect of judgment. However, with one small change, by making the kos silver kesef, we change the meaning from its numerical value to one of the definition of kesef, meaning love and desire (Nich[k]sof nichs[k]afta lebeis avicha/You longed for your father’s house Bereishit 31:30). So by displaying our silver and other riches before we actually begin the Seder, we are setting the stage for unfolding the story we are about to embark on through the Haggadah.

There are multiple ideas to explain the reason for these luxurious props. We will explore some of them.

While it is certainly true that setting our table opulently reminds us of the great wealth with which we left Egypt in fulfillment of Hashem’s promise to Avraham Avinu at the Covenant between the Halves, Rabbi Roberts in Timeless Seasons offers a unique understanding of this custom. Our Sages tell us that our ancestors were ultimately redeemed because of their deep faith in Hakadosh Boruch Hu. How do the riches remind us of this faith? Our ancestors understood that borrowing expensive utensils from their Egyptian taskmasters would be extremely dangerous for them. Their former taskmasters would undoubtedly regret having offered these riches, and they would pursue their former slaves, probably killing many of them. Nevertheless, at Moshe’s urging, they put their lives in danger, went to their neighbors, and asked for these utensils, maintaining their faith in the redemption, and Hashem’s promise of protection.

The Midrash states (as repeated in Hallel) that when the Sea saw Bnei Yisroel entering, it split, and Bnei Yisroel crossed over on dry land. While one Midrash notes that the Sea split in deference to the remains of Yosef Hatzadik, Rabbi Roberts cites the Midrash that the Sea split upon seeing the great riches the Jews carried with them. Did the Sea really split for such a mundane reason? Rabbi Roberts posits that the Sea split in deference to the tremendous act of faith symbolized by those riches, a faith we should remember and try to emulate as we observe the Seder ritual.

Taking this point to the logical next level, Rabbi Elimelech Biderman urges us to feel Hashem’s presence with clarity in every aspect of the night, make it part of our daily lives, and instill that aura of emunah/faith in our children. It is toward this end that the Torah says, “Lema’an tesaper b’oznei bincha /You should tell it into the ears of your children.” It is the task of the parent to tailor the message in a way that the child will accept, whichever model of the four sons or combination thereof he may be.  The Seder night is a most propitious night to embed faith in our children.

The three matzos of the Seder represent the intellectual approach of our Patriarchs, but at the Seder we also have the four cups of wine symbolizing the emotional approach to faith representative of our Matriarchs. As the wise King Solomon says, “Hear, my son, your father’s instruction/mussar and do not forsake the Torat/teaching of your mother.” It is the wine that has the ability to bring joy to the heart of mankind. Therefore, the wine is spread through the entire meal, to feel the emotional connection that should carry us throughout even difficult aspects of our lives. And the shiny, silver kos reflects that knowledge and emotion back to us so that we want to communicate with Hashem every day in every situation.

On a more esoteric level, Rav Tzadok Hakohen asks why Hashem wanted us to take the gold and silver out of Egypt to begin with. He notes that everything in creation has some spark of sanctity within it. This sanctity was imprisoned in these objects as long as they were in the hands of the depraved Egyptians. Hashem wanted Bnei Yisroel to take these vessels out of Egypt so that they could release these heavenly sparks and transform the mundane and immoral kesef of physical silver into the holy and pure desire and love (kesef) for Hashem.

In spirituality, the night of the Seder and the night of Yom Kippur share many similarities. For example, they both have the word kol/all at the beginning- “Kol Nidrei/May all my vows be annulled,” and “Kol dichfin/May all who are needy come and eat,” and they both end in, “Next year in Jerusalem.” But, notes the Netivot Shalom, while we approach Hashem in awe on Yom Kippur, we approach Hashem in love on Pesach. As Rav Meislish adds, we were once idol worshipers, but on Pesach Hashem has brought us close to Him, He has taken the broken matzah and joined it with with the whole matzah, and now we must do the same with our lives and our relationship.

In order to unite these two, we must go back to the Mitzrayim experience, continues Rabbi Pincu z”l. Would I have merited being one of only the twenty percent who were redeemed, or would I have been one of the eighty percent who perished in Egypt? Only those who had an emotional connection and were drawn to follow Him were saved. Those who had felt oppressed but after the plagues and the lifting of the oppression felt comfortable in Egypt, those who didn’t desire a connection with Hashem strongly enough to follow Him into the unknown desert, died in Egypt and were not redeemed. The Seder should arouse in us the same desire, not remain an empty ritual. The purpose of our redemption, writes Halekach Vehalebuv, was for us to desire to become servants of Hashem. To this end, the round matzoh symbolizes the wedding ring that unites me with Hashem not only intellectually, but also with love, that wants to connect with Him and communicate with Him regularly, that wants to burst out in songs of praise and joy. In truth Hashem wants to hear our voice, for our voice is pleasant to Him. Sing the Hallel; let your voice burst forth with all those songs at the end of the Seder.

The wealth that Bnei Yisroel left Egypt with was more than just the material kind. After all, writes Rabbi Sender citing Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik z”l, the wealth from the spoils at the Sea was far greater than the wealth Bnei Yisroel left Egypt with. Why was it necessary to leave Egypt with this wealth? Rav Soloveitchik z”l offers a beautiful insight here. Generally, when a slave leaves his master for whatever reason, the slave is still viewed derisively. But Hashem wanted Bnei Yisroel to leave with dignity, and so when they asked their Egyptian neighbors for gold and silver vessels, Bnei Yisroel found favor in the eyes of the Egyptians. This was the greater “wealth”, the dignity and self – respect that Hashem had promised they would have at their departure. When we set the table with our finest dinnerware and serve ware, we are exhibiting the royalty Hashem invested in us when He redeemed us.

We should recognize that our roles as servants of Hashem is a great honor, for we are privileged to be in the inner circle of the King. We are a priestly kingdom and a holy nation. We enjoy the privileges of that position. Our mitzvah performance should reflect the joy at our status, should enhance that relationship, not be done with an onerous sense of involuntary servitude, writes Rabbi Mattisyahu Salomon in Matnas Chaim.

In our Shabbat morning liturgy, we say, “Moshe rejoiced… that you called him a faithful servant. (Bamidbar 12:7)” Moshe found joy in being Hashem’s servant. Mankind finds it hard to serve another, to submit to another’s will. One’s ego always seems to get in the way. For this reason, we are to be thankful for the enslavement experience, for it taught us how to serve another which we could them transform into serving Hashem through love, writes Rabbi Roth z”l in Sichat Eliyahu. That’s why there is such stringency against having any chametz on Pesach, for the leavening that causes dough to rise is a metaphor for the ego which causes a person to also become all “puffed up” with his own importance and blinds him to reality, preventing him from submitting to the will of Hashem.

Along these lines, eating the matzah should signal my search within myself to find that pure part within me that wants to follow Hashem’s agenda, writes Rabbi Gedalyah Schorr z”l in Ohr Gedalyahu . This is the core of the father’s answer to the wicked son. If you’re not ready to see the beauty in following Hashem, if you are unwilling to submit to the system, says the father, then you would not have been redeemed. You would have broken down, just as a machine breaks when used improperly. The Seder helps us focus on accepting the “yoke of Heaven”and submitting to the will of Another. That should be the simcha in our lives as it was in the life of Moshe Rabbenu.

That we had the possessions of Egypt in our hands on this night of Pesach sheds light on a much earlier Pesach, the night Yaakov Avinu received the blessings from Yitzchak. How was it that Rivka was permitted to dress Yaakov is Esau’s clothing so that Yaakov could go in to his father that way? The Mahril notes, that one who is in possession of a surety owned by a non – Jew, on Pesach night would be permitted to make use of this vessel.  Likewise, notes the Chatam Sofer, Rivka and Yaakov be permitted to use the accouterments of the  idol worshiper in their household, Esau, who had given the garments to Rivka for safekeeping. Because of these blessings, adds Be’er Hchaim, the night of Pesach is a fortuitous time to pray for parnassah/sustenance with dignity for all generations.

The power of that night, the night Yaakov received the blessings from Yitzchak, extends far beyond just parnassah, continues Rabbi Schorr. Because Yaakov wore the clothes of that rasha externally while internally, in his essence, he remained the pure tzadik, this night has the power to facilitate anyone’s teshuvah, no matter how evil he seems externally. It is a night we give up hope on no one, no matter how cynical or anti – religious he may be. The scent of Gan Eden still adheres to them as they adhered to Yaakov, albeit the clothing was still the garment of Esau. We retain that intimacy with Hakodosh Boruch Hu. Perhaps it will not manifest itself in the current generation, but it is not lost. The connection will reemerge, sometimes generations later.

This is the night we connect the dry, intellectual matzoh with the sweet, emotional wine as we reaffirm our faith and trust in Hakodosh Boruch Hu. We see our reflections in the shining silver on our table, and we burst out in song not only for all Hashem has done for us, but especially for the privilege of being His servants.

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