Shabbat HaGadol and Pesach: A Different Set of Questions

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29 Mar 2007

Shabbat HaGadol and Pessach 5767: A different set up questions

Arba Kushi’yot Sheli – My Four Questions and Their Explanations.

1- What is the significance of the strange ceremony of bedikat chametz (searching for chametz.)? The Mishna is very specific that it be performed with a single candle; there is still chametz in the house; and we place ten pieces of bread around the house and then search for them. Strange indeed!

2- In the Haggada, the traditional order of the four sons is: chacham (clever, righteous son), rasha (evil son), tam (timid son) and the ayno yoday’ah lish’ol (the son who is so disassociated that he cannot even raise a question about Judaism.) Would it not be more logical to place them in descending spiritual order of: chacham, tam, disassociated and last the rasha?

3- the wise son asks his father:

מה העדות והחקים והמשפטים אשר צוה ה’ א-לקינו אתכם?’
‘reveal to me all the testimonies, commands and laws. 
A question worthy of a wise son. But father’s reply is enigmatic: אין מפטירין אחר הפסח אפיקומן! It is prohibited to eat after partaking of the afikomen (the last piece of matza at the end of the seder).

4- The biggest question of all: What does the exodus from Egypt 3500 years ago mean for us; were we not in the interim subjugated by Philistines, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Romans etc.? And what is the significance of the “order” laid down in the beginning of the Haggada:

And many other items in the Haggadah which are problematic.

I suggest:

1-The search for chametz:

In my view this is one of the most uplifting moments in our halachic calendar.
The Gemara in Pesachim 7b asks, “What is the halachic basis for bedikat chametz upon which the rabbis established this act; and why did the rabbis demand the use of a single candle?

Rav Chisda answers by quoting a chain of verses in the Tanach linked to each other through common words, which at the end results in the act of bedikat chametz, as follows:

The Torah says, (Shemot 12:19) “Seven days sour bread shall not be found in your possession“.

The word “found” leads us to another verse in the Torah which contains the word “found”. When the Egyptians found the goblet of Yosef in the sack belonging to Binyamin. (Bereishit 44:12): “They searched beginning with the eldest and ending with the youngest (Binyamin) and they found the goblet“.

This verse also contains the word “searched” which leads us to another verse which contains the word “searched”.

(Tzefania 1:12): “And in that time I shall search out Jerusalem with candles.”
This verse contains also the plural word “candles” which leads us to the final verse (Mishlay 20:27) which states a single candle: “The candle of God is the human soul, with it I shall search out all the hidden realms“.

Rav Chisda is opening here a small breach in the armor of rabbinic secrecy.

The rabbis instituted the ceremony of bedikat chametz with the single candle in search of a substance which must be excluded from our presence on the night before Pesach.

Because on this night the Almighty takes HIS candle – which is the soul of each and every one of us, as stated in Mishlei 20:27): “The candle of God is the human soul,” and He searches out the hidden realms of the heavenly Yerushalayim, in order to exorcise the accumulated sins of each one of us in preparation for the final exodus from galut.

Have this in mind when performing this fascinating mitzva.

2- The traditional order of the four sons.

I have recently read an article by Carolyn Glick, associate editor of the Jerusalem Post, describing the activities of a Jew whose name (and shame) is George Soros.

It appears that Mr. Soros has, in the past and unfortunately is planning for the future, to create a great deal of tsoros for the Jewish State of Israel, which will eventually ricochet on Jews the world over.

Every generation of Jews, it seems, has produced people like this; beginning with Yishmael, continuing with Aysav and on to Datan and Aviram who made Moshe Rabbaynu’s life miserable, and now GS and his friends.

In the last four years, Soros has donated more than $100 million to radical left-wing anti-Israel groups. In October 2006, Soros announced his intention to work with leftist American Jewish groups such as Brit Tzedek v’Shalom, American Friends of Peace Now and the Israel Policy Forum to form an anti-Israel lobbying group to counter the Pro Israel Committee (AIPAC).

This person and his allies fulfill the qualifications to be designated “rasha” – evil son, as he uses his great wealth to further his aims to destroy the people he was born into. Soros, who is a bright star in the Democratic party, has embraced the Saudi Peace? plan which calls for Israel’s destruction through withdrawal from Judea, Samaria, Yerushalayim and the Golan Heights and the immigration of millions of Arabs into Israel.

Now, since the accepted premise today is that people are not born evil, it leaves us to understand why these people turned evil. I cannot enter the minds of the evil doers of the past, because to do so would require a thorough knowledge of their times, but I can try to explain the evil in the heart of contemporary resha’im.

The answer is alluded to by the rabbis who composed the Haggada of Pessach.
As suggested above, it would be more logical to have the four sons of the Haggada put into descending order: clever, timid, disassociated and last – the evil. However, by placing the rasha together with the chacham, our rabbis have revealed that often the chacham is the inspiration and mentor of the rasha!

It is not easy for me to say the following, but one must acknowledge the fact that truth is often not pretty.

The creators and role models of a George Soros and his types are many religious leaders in the galut who, wittingly or unwittingly, transmit -by their conduct- that the State of Israel, at its best, is a mere political entity devoid of roots in Godly sanctity.

When the heads of great yeshivot and rabbis of important communities and chassidic grand rabbis choose to remain in the galut rather then go up to the land promised to us in the Torah, the message is that the Israel of Today has no relevance to the Torah. Therefore, one is free to relate to it as just one more little country which is causing instability in an already dangerous world, thus its non-existence would serve the welfare of mankind.

As long as one rabbi remains in the galut do not be surprised that a George Soros exists.

Unfortunately, we in Eretz YIsrael are not free from our home grown George Soroses. For here, as in the galut, the home grown enemies of Eretz Yisrael take their lessons from many of our chachamim.

In the accord between the government of Israel and Egypt, we gave the Sinai Peninsula to the Egyptians, except for a tiny sliver of land, less than one half of a percent of the whole, known as Taba, near Eilat. The Egyptian government threatened to abrogate the entire agreement if Taba was not included in the deal. Taba has no strategic importance for Egypt and its economic importance is minimal, so why were they so adamant on this tiny area?

The Egyptians explained that every grain of sand in the Sinai is holy to them, and they will never willingly relinquish it.

The spiritual leaders in Egypt preached and educated for generations that every grain of sand of Egypt is sanctified and the message permeated down to the politicians and army.

In our country, tens of thousands of bnei Torah refuse to serve in Tzahal in defense of our land, even in basic training of 6 weeks. The message is clear to the George Soroses of Israel: If you are not willing to defend the land with your life but only with the recital of a chapter of tehilim or a page of gemara, then the land is not holy for you.

The result is our politicians’ view that the holy land is just “territory” to barter away. And they give it away by driving Jews from their homes and by prohibiting mass settlement in the Holy Land of the Torah.

The people who are sanctifying the land by fighting and dying for it are the students of the chachamim who see HaShem’s hand in the re-birth of the Jewish nation in Eretz Yisrael.

Did you ever try to imagine what King David looked like? I see the stereotype almost every day, including today. Two handsome young men were walking in the square in front of my home in the Old City. They were both tall and sunburned with curled payot and a well kempt beards. One wore the uniform of the Charaydi Battalion and the other a paratrooper from a hesder yeshiva.

They are the saving grace of our generation.

3- The Chacham asks: “Reveal to me all the torah – testimony, commands and laws”

But what does father answer? One is prohibited from eating after partaking of the afikomen – the last piece of matza at the end of the seder.

I suggest:

The text of the Haggadah was finalized towards the end of the Tannaitic period when the Romans ruled Eretz Yisrael. The situation of the Jewish people was chaotic. The majority of our people were dispersed over the Roman empire, and those who remained here suffered greatly. It was at this time that the early Christians began questioning our status as God’s chosen people, for if we are God’s chosen people why is our fate so horrendous!

The rabbis knew that there would be a long period of galut in store for the Jewish nation, so in the dialogue between the wise son and his father, the rabbis set down in the Haggada the answer to the claim that we are no longer the chosen of HaShem. The son is not asking the father to teach him the entire Torah, as would seem at first glance. He is asking what is the necessity of keeping the laws now that God no longer wants us as his chosen people?

And the father replies surreptitiously in view of the dangers in stating this concept publicly, that just as the taste of the afikoman must linger without ceasing, so too God’s choosing of the Jewish nation will linger forever and ever, regardless of historical destiny or status, until the time when God will forgive our misdeeds and restore us to our previous greatness.

The most rudimentary concept of Judaism is that we are God’s chosen people, and towards this end God gave us the Torah, the Holy Land, the Temple, and the prophets.

Behind the so-called political conflict in the Middle East lies the gentile’s claim that we are no longer God’s chosen people. This is the Koran and the Christian testament. The establishment of Medinat Yisrael has dealt an ideological death blow to these false beliefs, and they will not rest so long as we control Eretz Yisrael and Yerushalyim.

We must repeat it a hundred times a day to ourselves and our children, that at any time the greatest human experience is to be a Jew. But so much more so today, when with a little sensitivity one can seen the hand of God in historical events. HaShem has brought us back to Eretz Yisrael, and we, for reasons known to Him, were granted the ‘zechut’ to return to the Old City and the Temple Mount, for it is here that we will vindicate 2000 years of faithfulness to HaShem, and take part in realizing the prophecies voiced by Yishayahu and Yirmiyahu 2500 years ago.

At this troubled time we should all be proud and courageous, for HaShem grants wisdom to the wise and courage to the courageous. Weakness and doubts are the tools of the yetzer harah, whereas emunah and strength are the tools of the yetzer tov.

4- What does the exodus from Egypt 3500 years ago mean for us; and what is the significance of the stages in the Haggada?

I suggest that the Haggada is based on a Gemara in Berachot 12b. The illustrious Tanna, Ben Zoma, based on a verse in Yirmiyahu 23:7 believes that we will not longer commemorate the Egyptian exodus in Messiach times, in the light of the huge miracles which will transpire. The rabbis reject Ben Zoma’s thought and explain that Yermiyahu’s intention was that the future redemption will indeed overshadow the exodus from Egypt; nevertheless, we shall still commemorate, albeit in a minor way, the miracles of Egypt.

Herein lies the ideological foundation of the Haggada – two redemptions, the exodus from Egypt in a minor role since it was limited in time and location, versus the immense future redemption which will be timeless and global.

Here are the details on a higher level of understanding:

Kadesh Urchatz – Kadesh is the limited sanctity which we achieved when leaving Egypt,

Urchatz (washing) is the purification process of our nation as played out over the ensuing 3500 years of Jewish history.

Karpas (a piece of vegetable less than a kezayit – 28 grams). For karpas we take a small piece of vegetable such as carrots, potatoes, celery which all grow under the ground, with only their little greens breaking the surface. The minor revealed greens are the revealed redemption from Egypt, while the fleshy food is underground and unseen, for it depicts the future redemption.

Yachatz. We break the middle matza into two with the smaller piece is left on the table denoting the minor redemption from Egypt, whereas the greater piece – the future redemption – is hidden while we encourage the younger generation, who are the future, to find it.

Matza is bread whose rising process has been halted. Just as in ancient times, the redemption process was begun, but HaShem halted it in order to begin it anew in future times.

Maror is eaten after the matza because the maror symbolizes the Jewish suffering after the exodus from Egypt, as preparation for the universal redemption of the future.

We then eat two pieces of matza with maror in the middle, because that is the reality of our lives – two redemptions, from Egypt and in the future, with great maror suffering in between.

This also explains why the Hallel is divided into two parts.

In conclusion. May we all merit that our holy souls cleanse our wrong doings. May we merit to distance the rasha from the chacham. May we all merit to feel that we are God’s chosen people. And may we all merit that the future redemption will transpire in our times, when we will all be together in Eretz Yisrael.

Shabbat Shalom V’chag Samayach, Nachman Kahana

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.