Pesach and the Seder Nights
This Friday night begins the holiday of Pesach, when we are commanded from the Torah to celebrate our freedom from slavery in Egypt over 3300 years ago and our dedication to Hashem for saving us and giving us the Torah, the greatest gift a nation could ever receive!
Rabbi David Sutton of Yad Yosef, explains in his booklet that the main focus of the Seder night is to strengthen our Emunah in Hashem. The source of all our Emunah is Yetziat Mitzrayim as it’s stated in the Ten Commandments: ”I am Hashem, who took you out of Mitzrayim”. The Ro’sh says that if a person doesn’t believe in Yetziat Mitzrayim, then that person cannot believe in Hashem!
Some of the lessons of Yetziat Mitzrayim that we can internalize today are that Hashem can create something from nothing as he did when he sent the Ten Plagues to destroy Egypt. The involvement of Hashem in each of our lives is on an individual basis and it’s our job to recognize the Hashgacha Pratit (hidden miracles) that we all experience in our daily lives. Hashem doesn't perform open miracles like the splitting of the sea any more because as we learn from Ramban, Hashem proved himself once to the world. Just as a Doctor hangs his diplomas and credentials on the wall of his office, so too the open miracles that Hashem displayed for all the world to see during Yetziat Mitzrayim was lehavdil, Hashem’s “Diploma” to show the world once that He is the ruler of the world!
Emunah is not something intellectual; rather, it must become instinctive, and when a challenging situation arises in our lives, our reaction must be to have complete Emunah and trust in Hashem! The goal of the Seder night is to believe that each and every one of us was just saved from the bondage of Egypt by Hashem and now we are on our way to receive the Torah at Har Sinai! One way to visualize this as Rabbi Diamond has taught us many times before is by thinking back to a time in our lives when we were young and immature as we look back to where we came from.
Maybe we started our career as a young man working as a stock boy for someone and now we’ve become the CEO of a multi-million dollar company! Or maybe we began as a young and innocent bride that built a magnificent family with hundreds of descendants surrounding us. A question we must ask ourselves is: ”Do we really feel the redemption that our ancestors experienced so many years ago, living as we do today in the lap of luxury with every imaginable convenience?” How did any of these things happen? There’s only one answer: it was all from Hashem! We must think back to when we were young and try to remember how Hashem carried us along every step of the way. We have to be thankful for everything we went through and feel confident that Hashem will continue to guide us for the rest of our lives!
From this we must learn to have Hakarat Hatov (gratitude) to Hashem in everything that we have or ever had in our lives because if not for Hashem, we would have nothing! Ultimately, we must look forward to the Geulah to bring us and all of Klal Yisrael to the days of the Mashiach!
The Torah brings up the four progressive stages of our redemption from Pharoah that correspond to the four cups of wine which brings us to a higher level of happiness with each cup that we drink. These four expressions are explained by Rav Bahya as follows;
1) "Vehotzeti"- "I shall take you out." Hashem will remove the Jewish people from the burdens of slavery even before they were allowed to leave.
2) "Vehitzalti" - “I shall rescue you.” Hashem will take the Jewish people out of Egypt.
3) "Vegaalti"- "I shall redeem you," This is the splitting of the Red Sea, when Hashem's outstretched arm literally saved B'nei Yisrael.
4) "Velakahti"- "I shall take you". Hashem took B’nai Yisrael as His people when He gave them the Torah at Har Sinai. That was the ultimate climax to our redemption and the purpose of the Exodus!
By the time Hashem brought the eighth plague of locusts, Pharoah finally gave permission for only the parents to leave, thereby creating a division between father and son. Pharaoh tried to disconnect the generations so that the sons would not carry on their fathers’ beliefs and traditions. Once that connection was severed, it would be quite simple to assimilate the sons. We read in the Hagadah: Ve’hee she’amdah l’avotenu ve’lanu! "He (Hashem) stood firm for our fathers and for us.” The song then continues: “In every generation from that time on there were those who would try and annihilate us, but the Holy one, Blessed be He, saved us from their hand!"
So for all that Hashem has done for us and continues to do for us, we have these two special nights from the whole year to show our gratitude (Hakarat Hatov) to Hashem. How can we not take advantage of this opportunity to thank Hashem for all that He has given us? At every level of religiosity, every Jewish family today celebrates the Passover Seder. It is the responsibility of all of us to grow and to find ways to make the night most interesting for everyone especially for the children, so that they will remember it when they’re older and carry it on to their children.
The Hagadah presents Four Sons who represent four different types of Jews. The four sons are Chacham (wise), Rasha (wicked), Tam (simple) and “Ve’she’eino Yodea Lishol” (and he who does not know how to ask). The first letter of each one, put together, spells Herut, or freedom, which is the central theme of the holiday and another name for Pesach: Chag Herut. The four sons remind us that we have an obligation to teach our children each in their own way and at their appropriate level.
On Pesach, we can only eat Matzah that's made of flour and water, like leavened bread, but must be watched carefully and is “hands on”, which exemplifies how Hashem is also "hands on" with us, guiding us every moment of our lives!
Rabbi Twersky tells a story of a recovered drug addict attending his father’s Seder meal who interrupted at the song “Avadiim Hayinu” and asked his father...”Can you truthfully say that you, personally were ever a slave? So, you may not really appreciate what it is to be free”. The son said, “I can say that I was a slave when I was in my addiction to drugs. I had no freedom at all while I was under the tyranny of drugs. I did many things that I never thought myself capable of doing because I felt I had no choice. Drugs were my master! Today, I can say that I’m truly free of that enslavement!” It doesn’t only have to be drugs that we free ourselves of. We have to look back at the obstacles that we have overcome in our lives and the accomplishments that we have made to where we are today. It’s only when we can do that, then will we be able to look back and truly say that we were once slaves of our past, but today we can celebrate our freedom!
The pirke D’Rabi Eliezer says that the night of Pesach is the same night that Yizchak told Eisav that tonight is a very special night because all the gates of Beracha are open, therefore when Yaakov received all the Berachot from Yitzchak, he became a different person. Chacham Ovadyah says that because of this, it’s very important to bless our children on this night. The Bet Ahron continues and says that we can ask for anything from Hashem on this night and even a person who’s mazal is not so good, on this night his Mazal can change!
Once again, the main focus of Pesach is to pass along our history from one generation to another, in the tradition of the last 3300yrs. One idea is to think of this holiday of Pesach as a family business that was started by your great grandfather in his garage close to 100yrs ago. Today, the great grandson is benefiting from that family business that has grown tremendously, but the grandson is not interested and doesn't really care how the business started even though he's benefiting from it greatly! How arrogant is it for that young grandson even though that business is giving him all the luxuries of life that his great grandfather toiled and sweated for!
There’s an interesting story of a very famous Arab Bakery called the Abulafia Bakery located in Haifa, Israel. Its a world renown bakery that has the best zata bread and all the best Arab delicacies. Every year on Pesach they have lines out the door for that week because unfortunately all the non-religious Jews buy their bread from there since all the kosher bakery's are closed during Pesach.
Finally, the Rabbi in Haifa couldn't take it anymore and asked the grandfather and owner of the bakery to close that week of Pesach to protect the Jews from transgressing the sin of buying bread on Pesach. The grandfather Saiid Abulafia answered to the Rabbi..."Do you know how much money I make on that one week alone? I make enough on that week of Pesach to buy a beautiful apartment in Haifa. I’m sorry, but I would never close on that week". So the Rabbi said "What if I were to raise that amount of money and give it to you...would you close then?" The grandfather said "yes, I would close if you did that". So that's what happened, the Abulafia Bakery closed on Pesach and so the following year the Rabbi went to him again and asked, do we have the same deal again and he said yes. This went on for 3yrs and on the 4th year, Saiid Abulafia said "No to the Rabbi, that he doesn't have to pay him the money and he will close the week of Pesach anyway". The reason he said, was because the amount of Blessings that he was getting in his business and the amount of money he was now making over the entire course of the year for not opening during Pesach that was causing Jews to sin, was overshadowing what he would get on the one week of Pesach. This story just shows how much Hashem loves and blesses us, even a non-jewish baker, when we follow on the path of Hashem and the Torah!
May we all appreciate the freedoms that we have today to live in this country with the freedom to practice our Judaism without fear as so many generations before us in so many countries around the world were not allowed to do. May we also use this opportunity to continue the chain of our ancestors by conveying the lessons of our Holy Torah to our children and grandchildren.