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The Essence of the Haggadah: Some Introspection
The Essence of the Haggadah: Some Introspection
Please daven for the complete recovery of Chaim Shmuel Dovid ben Tikvah Leah, a dear friend who is, unfortunately, on life support after coming down with Coronavirus. Every year I try to spend some time thinking about the Seder night in preparation for this ever so a special night of the Year. There is so much time that is spent on getting ready for this holy day, it would be so sad if, in our fervor and flurry of preparation for the day that we missed out on the point of it all. In addition to the issue of the questions that we hope are asked on the seder night, or that we have prepared for us in the Haggadah in case no one is paying enough attention to ask; in addition to eating the matzah, the maror, and – meheirah yiboneh beis haMikdash (may the Almighty speedily rebuild the holy Temple in Jerusalem)! – the korban Pesach; the main focus of the night is to tell over the story of our enslavement and redemption in Egypt. Yet we all know that the actual retelling of the story isn’t always what it’s cut out to be. It’s difficult to keep ourselves, our children, and our relatives focused on this aspect of the Seder so that we come out of the experience feeling a sense of awe and wonder. After thinking about this for a while, I wondered if the reason for this is because we are not aware of what the actual essence of this section of the Seder is actually about. Having said that, let’s talk about that for a while: what is the real essence of the Maggid section of the Haggadah really about? Many people are fond of saying that Leil ha’Seder (Seder night) is all about the kids. After all, “corresponding to four sons the Torah speaks,” says the Haggadah. The wise one, the evil one, the simple one, and the one who doesn’t know to ask. Yet the Haggadah doesn’t discuss the fifth verse of the Torah, the one that doesn’t mention the children at all! While it is true that there is a special aspect of the Seder night to tell our children and our children’s children (we should all be blessed with this zechus), the reality is that there are people who haven’t and sometimes are never blessed with children. Do they, therefore, have no portion in the mitzvah of the evening? What happens if I do have children, but they don’t ask a question at all? Is there (according to most opinions) a mitzvah to tell over the story of Egypt, or do I have to stand on my head and hold my breath until my face turns blue until they finally ask any question and then I can gasp for air and continue? The answer is: of course not. Even if your children don’t ask a question, there is still a mitzvah to tell over the story. This is learned from the verse of the child “who doesn’t know to ask” (Shemos (Exodus) 13:8) which states “And you shall tell your child (lit. Your son) on that day, saying”. Even if you have no children, there is a mitzvah for you to tell over the story of our slavery and redemption from Egypt. This is learned from the verse (Shemos 13:13) which says “Remember this day, on which you came out of Egypt, from the house of slavery”. It’s not just your children’s journey, leil ha’seder… it’s your journey as well. Guided Imagery There are two verses, that give us some guidance, as far as what we need to focus on, the mindset that we need to be in, during our fulfillment of the mitzvah of Maggid. Shemos 13:8 “And you shall tell your son on that day, saying “It is for this, that HaShem did this for me when I came out of Egypt”. Our sages, ob”m, make all sorts of seemingly off-hand comments about the fulfillment of this mitzvah. One of the most famous ones is found in the Mishna (Pesachim 116b) which states “In each and every generation a person must see himself as if he came out of Egypt” (Yes, I know the Rambam has a slightly different version). In my humble opinion this is connected to the above idea, that really – regardless of whether or not you succeed in getting your children to internalize the message or not – the real journey that you are responsible for is your own. Do you see yourself as having come out of Egypt? Can you visualize the 10 plagues that HaShem brought down on the Egyptians, driving the super-power of the day into the ground and grinding it into dust? Do you see your own journey, during this time, from slavery to redemption, with wonders and miracles? While this sounds like great advice, the truth is that this is just our sages, ob”m, squeezed from the above verse as much information as humanly possible as to how to fulfill the mitzvah of Maggid. The verse is a conversation between Moses and HaShem. HaShem tells Moses what to relate to the people of Israel about the performance of the first seder in history, during which HaShem addresses a problem that is going to arise in the future. There will come a time, in the distant future, when your children won’t know about Egypt. It’s going to be your job then, says HaShem, to inform them about it. However, the verse says don’t make up something to say on the spot. Tell them the following “It is for this that HaShem did (all of the miracles) for me when I came out of Egypt”. It’s not just a suggestion, it’s a script that the Torah demands we say. “I”, whoever of the Jewish people, and regardless of the time at which this happens, the verse tells us that we are to say to our child “I” came out of Egypt. Why is that? Because each and every one of us has to see himself as having just come out of Egypt. If you don’t feel that you, too, were redeemed from Egypt, it’s probably because you don’t realize what our sages, ob”m, tell us in the Haggadah, that it’s not just our forefathers who were redeemed from Egypt. It was us. It was ME, as well… I would have, should have, could have been there too. But I’m not, because I was redeemed from Egypt along with all of my brothers of Israel. Again, this isn’t just a “Rabbinical” comment on the Haggadah, rather it’s derived directly from the verse too. As the Torah says (Devarim (Deuteronomy) 6:23) In the father’s answer to the wise son, again, at whatever point in history this conversation is to occur, “And we were taken from there (from Egypt).” Which the Haggadah explains to mean “If HaShem had not redeemed us then, we and our children and our children’s children would still be slaves in Egypt to this day.” We take for granted that we are free men. In reality, we should have been slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt. This mindset, using guided imagery, will help us be in the right mood for giving over the story of our exile/slavery in Egypt and our amazing redemption. Pesach, Matzah, Maror Another thing that the Haggadah points out to us is the statement of Rabban Gamliel (R”G) (Mishna in Tractate Pesachim 116a-b), that anyone who didn’t mention three things on Pesach didn’t fulfill his mitzvah. What are these three things? Pesach, matzah, and maror. But why? What is it about these three things that make R”G say that if you didn’t mention them you missed out? The answer is, again, because the Torah implies it. As it is written in Shemos 13:8 that to the son who doesn’t know how to ask, we tell him as follows “It is for this that HaShem did this for me when I left Egypt.” The only problem with this verse is, what is “this”? See, the only way to truly understand what it is that being talked about is if you point at it with your finger (which is what we all do unconsciously when using the word “this”). Says R”G, it must, therefore, be referring to something which is laying in front of me when I tell my child “this” so that I can point to it with my finger. What is that? What is in front of me during my story of my exodus and redemption in Egypt? The Pesach sacrifice (may the Beis HaMikdash be rebuilt speedily in our times, so that we may eat it again!), matzah, and maror. The other three mitzvos of the night. As a side point, the Haggadah at the beginning of the Maggid section learns from this verse that the mitzvah of Zachor/ve’higaddetah is on the 15th of Nissan at night from the very fact that the mitzvos of korban Pesach, matzah, and maror, all of which are certainly mitzvos on the 15th, are on the table in front of you during your story. The reason for this, spiritually, is that these objects too absorb the story that is related to them, and then are ingested, becoming an integral part of our physical makeup. After all, you are what you eat! But a question, and maybe you would want to share this on the Pesach seder table. Today we don’t have a Pesach sacrifice, but we still say over the story of exile, exodus, and redemption. But what would be if we couldn’t find either matzah or maror? The Haggadah teaches us that the mitzvah is to say it over when there is “zeh/this” on the table in front of me to point at, but what happens if there is no “this” too? In my humble opinion, according to Rambam’s opinion, at the very least, there would still be a mitzvah min ha’Torah to say over the story. After all, just like the question, the sons and even the Pesach sacrifice are only aspects of fulfilling the mitzvah of Haggadah, so, too are the matzah and maror. The mitzvah of zachor, which contains none of the external trappings in it, implies that this mitzvah is forever, even if for whatever reason you can’t have any of the other trappings. To sum up: the story is the focal point of Pesach night. You are telling it over most importantly to yourself, and if you have children and they ask questions, you take them along with you for the ride. However, according to your abilities and according to your child, you should try and tailor the story according to his type and his needs. If we do that, be”H, this upcoming seder night will be a ride to remember… at least until next year! Chag kasher v’sameach!
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