Pesach is what we call it, while Hashem calls it Chag Hamatzos. The Berditchever Rebbe famously explained: Pesach is what Hashem did for us. Chag Hamatzos is our great leap of faith for the love of God. For the other is the essence of any relationship. Our tefillin say Shema Yisrael and His “tefillin” say mi k’amcha Yisrael (who is like Thy nation, O’ Israel?). On Pesach night, we sing Shir Hashirim. I am for my Beloved and He is for me. At the risk of sounding corny…Ever told God you love Him lately? Ever looked to see His manifest love in your life? Pesach may be a good time to try.
Kadesh: As we start the seder, the traditional Eastern European beginning of Kadesh was “Kadesh: When Father comes home from synagogue on Passover night, he must immediately recite the Kiddush, so that the little children will not fall asleep and they will ask the Four Questions beginning with Ma Nishtana.”
The Shpoler Zeide so movingly taught:
When our Father – in Heaven sees from Above that all the Jews have gone to synagogue and poured out their souls in prayer and songs of thanksgiving — even though they are all exhausted from the heavy work of preparing for Passover — then …
He must recite Kiddush right away – the Creator must renew his betrothal, his Kiddushin, of which the word Kidush shares the same root, to Jewry right away. He must redeem us from exile right away.
So that the little children will not fall asleep – the Jews are God’s children “For is it not written in Jeremiah: ‘Is not Ephraim my beloved son, a precious child?’ Hashem must act quickly so that His children will not fall too deeply into the slumber of exile. He must act right away so that we will not despair, Heaven forbid, of never being redeemed.
So that they will ask the Four Questions beginning with Ma Nishtana – God must act while we still have the strength to ask Ma Nishtana? – Why is this night — why is this bitter exile — different from all other nights? Why has this dark exile been so prolonged? Why does it not end?”
U’Rechatz: Taz, classic commentator on Shulchan Aruch proves from here that we must wash for wet veggies or fruit all year round – just like we wash for bread1. [Why is this night different than all others?]. Vilna Gaon even made a bracha! For those that don’t follow this, there’s what to rely on. So why is this night different? Magen Avraham says it’s in order to evoke the question. [This would explain why some have the custom of only the Seder-master washing – it’s even stranger!] Netziv offers a 3rd approach. Magen Avraham is correct – but on this night there is an obligation to wash. For in the time of the Beis HaMikdash, we will certainly need to wash once again. On Pesach night, we herald back [and forth] to Temple times [thus the shankbone]. That’s also why we wear a kittel.
Karpas – Yachatz [we break the matzah] … the quickest piece of Seder. It takes longer to say it than do it. Why the ceremony? A partial answer based on the gemara: 2 On seder night we highlight lechem oni, the bread of the affliction, the poor man’s bread. Poor people do not eat whole loaves. They”ll take whatever you give them (just ask a student who left his lunch at home). In talmudic lexicon, darko shel ani b’perusah – the way of the poor is with a piece. Poor people (and Jews on Sunday) eat leftovers. This explanation however, is not enough – because then we would simply bring the broken piece to the seder. Why the breaking ceremony?
a. Some say: we want to express our poverty – so we davka break it at the seder. Rambam says break it before eating, while Shulchan Aruch records the practice before maggid. Rambam seems more logical. Why do we follow the Shulchan Aruch? Kol Bo explains that the Ha Lachma Anya (“This is the poor man’s bread..”) which immediately follows yachatz is a classic show and tell, because all good stories need props to pull in the listener.
b. Others pull out the ubiquitously Pesach in order that the kids should ask notion.
c. Ba’alei Hatosafos and Orchos Chaim teach that it alludes to the splitting of the sea. Thus the Moroccans till today have the custom at Yachatz to says: thus the Holy One Blessed Be He split the sea for us into twelve pathways.
d. An unbelievably penetrating insight by Rav Meir Goldvicht adds a whole new world. Karpas, according to Rabbeinu Manoach alludes to the sale of Yosef 3. It’s a long story, but here’s the short version. Pasim, the name of Yosef’s special coat (that signified his status) is connected to the word karpas in the Megillah. Rashi [Bereishis, 37:3] in defining Yosef’s coat explains that the word karpas denotes a special type of wool. The original custom of dunking the vegetable into red wine fills in the picture. In sum, we have the multicolored coat dipped into the blood – beckoning the sale of Yosef. Why bring this up now? Because as we ponder leaving Egypt, we must remember how we got in. It is the question we barely speak of, because the shameful answer is through the terrible disunity within klal Yisrael. Thus we break the matzah, a rupture symbolizing unity torn asunder. We then hide the bigger piece for afikoman and look for it at the at the end of the seder. At some point, we find the afikoma. The ultimate way to redemption, both personal and national is through the search for a way towards unity. The geulah will beckon the ten tribes. After the afikoman we call in Eliyahu, the ultimate unifier of the generations – present at bris, seder and redemption. It is interesting that the seder often brings together a lot of different types of people. Perhaps it is a test for redemption, for ultimate geulah requires unity.
That which can’t become chametz can not be used for matzah (as a general rule). Yet, once each item achieves its respective status it is impossible for either to ever be the other. No matter how much water you add to matzah – it will never become chametz and no matter how hard you try to crush the chametz – it can never become matzah. At some point, the effect of our life decisions become irreversible. Thankfully, every year we can make matzah again; A Jew never gives up hope.
Maggid: The Haggadah is so called because of the mitzvah of Maggid – the central mitzvah of the night4. Its source: Exodus [13:8]: v’higadeta l’hvincha bayom hahu leimor and you shall express to your child on that night saying. One ponders why the Torah uses the verb haggadah and not dibbur, but either way it is this verse that forms the crux of the night. Now note that we employ this verse for the shv’ach son, the weak child that does not even know [how, when] to ask a question. He is the Torah’s primary target for seder night – for elitism qua elitism is not a Jewish thing! All of our children need be addressed. The goal is to stimulate questions. One stage prior we must address their hearts – wherein reside their unasked observations/question. At p’tach lo – softly open them up. I suspect that if we show them the proper respect and love, they will quickly move up the ladder to be the chacham No Jew is without questions. Our goal is to awaken the heart, to make it safe and exciting enough to make it worth their while.
Rachtzah-Matzah-Maror: We wash then eat the Matzah and then the Maror – even though we experienced the maror (servitude) first?! Sometimes a worm in chrain (horseradish) doesn’t know how bad he has it (until he tastes the honey)! A nation anesthetized to servitude can not pine for freedom. A people that finally taste freedom can only then begin to fathom how bad it was. For those of us afraid to make the leap (whatever it may be) – because its not so bad – how do you know?
Hallel: We can not say Hallel at night! Thus says the mishna. Hallel is said mimizrach shemesh ad mevo’o from sunrise to sunset. So what gives? R. Hai Gaon famously explains that this is not formalistic kria hallel – this is spontaneous shira hallel. We have just left Mitzrayim and are tasting freedom. Look at those pictures of the camps on liberation day. One can not tell a volcano when to erupt. Shulchan Aruch and Ramo teach that Pesach and Tisha B’av are intertwined. That’s why we have the egg on the seder plate – as a reminder of mourning. On Tisha B’av, there is no limit to our mourning. We are like a bride who lost her groom under the chupa [cf. kinah of eli tziyon]. Spontaneity in either direction transcends limits. Halacha understands this. Our paradoxical challenge: to become spontaneous [even if it appears programmed] .
Nirtzah – Echad Mi Yodeia Who Knows one … the song saved for almost the end. If the Haggadah is a mountain, then the seder ends with the chad gadya climax and the penultimate song which cherishes Jewish numbers. The reverse numbering reminds us of the ultimate centrality of serving God in our lives. Consider that every number is Jewish – from the 13 attributes of mercy that Hashem revealed to Moshe in the Golden Calf aftermath to the 8 days of milah to the 5 books of Moses.. with one exception. Who knows 9? You mean goyim don’t have children after 9 months, so what gives?
The old joke about Judaism’s view that the fetus is only viable when it graduates medical school couldn’t be farther from the truth. A friend of mine likes to say we start educating our children twenty years before they are born. Minimally in utero is the time that the mother [and occasionally the father] begins to worry about the childs’s spirituality. Rivkah, upon hearing that she may be bearing a spiritual deviant is beside herself. The prayer and tears that for our children’s yiddishe neshama is the unique contribution of Jewish mothering.
It’s over – or not! A halachic irony: People stay up the whole Shavuot night even as the minhag is not mentioned in Shulchan Aruch while post Seder slumber is de rigueur when directs us to stay up the whole night – until we have been overtaken by sleep (ad sheyachtifenu sheina). Perhaps, after all the pre-pesach work, the latter qualification may only be a matter of seconds, but at least one has to take out a sefer (book). Why do many not do this? Perhaps we are sleeping already. Rav Gedalya Schorr teaches that the sleep of exile is so deep. (even R. Akiva had to wake up his talmidim). On Pesach night we read Shir HaShirim. In it we say Ani Yesheina v’libi Er. I am asleep but my heart is wake. The Jew only appears to be sleeping.
May God redeem us quickly; our hearts pulsate with ahavas Hashem. Let us not remind ourselves that we dare not fall into the dark slumber of despair!
1. It’s a reminder for the Kohein. Cf. Shulchan Aruch O.C. 158
2. Berachos 39
3. This notion of connecting of Karpas to Mechiras Yosef, while novel is well sourced. See Yerios Shlomo [R. Shlomo Kluger brought down in R. Yaakov Emden siddur], Rabbeinu Manoach [on Rambam chametz u’matzah, 8:2] , Ben Ish Chai [parshas tzav] . Most remarkable is the custom of the Jews of Gerba to stop in the middle of maggid to tell the story of mechiras Yosef.
4. Some even claim that Rabban Gamliel who states that one who has not mentioned Pesach Matzah Marror has not fulfilled his obligation is
referring not to the magid obligation – but rather to the mitzvah of pesach, matzah and marror. Remarkably, even the objects of the korban pesach , matzah and marror require a Haggadah – the implication being that they are props in the big story of yetzias mitzrayim – a story that must be expressed in its full glory tonight.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.