Some of My Favorite (Seder) Things
The Exodus is mentioned numerous times in the Torah, and our calendar is based on the first month (Nissan) as the month of the Exodus. The Torah tells us not to oppress the stranger because we were strangers in Egypt, do not hurt the downtrodden, do not cheat in business etc. because we were slaves in Egypt. The Ramban (Shmot 12:12) says that the reason there are no names for the months in the Torah is so that we will always remember the Exodus. However when we came back from the Babylonian Exile we adopted the Babylonian (Chaldean) names for the months. A possible explanation is that when we were living independently in Israel with our own king, in prosperity and freedom we needed a continuous reminder that we once were slaves and strangers and oppressed, so we should not oppress others. However once we began the period of exile, beginning with Babylon and continuing to our present day, the need to remind us that we were once oppressed strangers was not, unfortunately necessary, because for most of our exile we indeed have been the oppressed strangers.
Meshech Chochmah Parshat VaErah
The rabbis instituted 4 cups of wine at the seder and the Talmud Yerushalmi says that each one of the cups of wine symbolizes a different expression of redemption.
In Shmos 6:6 there are four expressions of redemption. They are:
- Vehhotzeisi—I will take them out
- Vehitzalty—I will save them
- Vego’alty—I will redeem them
- Velakachty—I will take them to me as a people.
Each expression is a different aspect of the redemption from Egypt.
The first expression, I will take them out, refers to God taking the Jews out of Egyptian culture. Because the Jews were culturally and ideologically assimilated and believed in the Egyptian idols and followed Egyptian philosophy. Taking them out meant removing the Jews from ideological subjugation to Egyptian philosophy. For God to take the Jews out of the midst of Egypt would only be possible if the Jews maintained their separateness as a Nation. This expression of redemption parallels the first cup of wine which is kidush. Kidush is sanctification of the festival however the only one who can create sanctity and holiness is someone who is, themselves, holy. Holiness, kedusha, in Hebrew means separation. Indeed, the Jews although they were culturally assimilated did not intermarry with the Egyptians. Therefore, they remained a separate nation. Thus, they fulfilled a requirement of being kadosh and are able therefore to sanctify the festival.
The second expression, I will save them, the vehitzalty, refers to God saving the Jews from the threat of being killed by the Egyptians. Saving the Jews from death at the hands of the Egyptians. However, to save the Jews from death at the hands of the Egyptians is possible but to save them from self-destruction would not be possible. So it was only possible to save the Jews from the Egyptians if the Jews were not pursuing, hurting and killing each other. So the fact that the Jews were saved from death at the hands of the Egyptians indicates that amongst themselves there was a unity within the Jewish people and they did not inform on each other to the Egyptian authorities, they did not pursue each other. Hence when God saved them from the hands of the Egyptians they were indeed saved because they were not going to self-destruct. This second expression of redemption shows the unity of the Jewish people.
The first expression indicates, identity—they did not assimilate even though culturally they were Egyptians, they maintained their status as a separate nation. The second expression indicates that the Jewish people had a sense of unity amongst themselves and hence God could save them from the hands of the Egyptians. He did not have to save them from themselves. This expression parallels the cup of Benching, which is an expression of our faith and trust in God. Because it is only when there is trust and faith in God that a person will not be jealous and hateful of others. Benching expresses the belief that our fortunes come from God, and that we should not be jealous and hateful. Therefore in this merit the Jews were saved from death at the hands of the Egyptians.
The third expression of redemption, the vego’alty, this refers to redemption from slavery. However, we know from the Talmud that slaves generally want to remain as slaves because they have no desire to have responsibility, no sense of self-esteem, or self-worth and they do not look at themselves as important. If God was able to redeem the Jews from slavery this indicates that the Jewish people still retain an understanding of who they really were, children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and they still had self-esteem and there value was not based on what Egyptian culture said of them but was based on what they understood about themselves. This is indicated by the fact that the Jewish people still use the ancestral names of the Patriarchs, Matriarchs and Tribes, naming their children after their ancestors. An indication that they did not look upon themselves as Egyptians, they looked upon themselves as the children of Israel. This parallels the second cup of wine which is drunk at the first part of hallel which expresses our connection to our ancestors and forefathers.
The fourth expression of redemption, I will take you to me as a people, velakachty, states that God will bring us to Him and make us into an independent sovereign nation with laws, with rules and with a national identity. This would only be possible if the Jews would retain a hope of becoming such a nation, but if the Jews did not hope for the future to make them into a nation would not have been possible. The
Hope of the Jewish people that they would one day be a nation is indicated by the fact that they still used the Hebrew language. They retained the Hebrew language because they realized that once again they would be a nation, independent in their own land and would of course be using their own language.
This parallels the last cup of wine which is drunk after the last section of hallel which discusses the future redemption and future return of the Jewish people to Israel. So all of the expressions of redemption are each needed for one according to this explanation of the meshech chochmah maintains that each cup of wine also celebrates the virtue of the Jewish people at the time of the exodus:
- They did not intermarry and they maintained their kedushah, so they can be mekadesh the Yom Tov
- They had unity amongst themselves, they did not pursue and inform on each other so God could save them from death. This shows their bitachon and emunah expressed in benching.
- They still looked to themselves as children of Israel and did not identify as slaves and they showed this by keeping the names of their ancestors. This is found in the first half of Hallel.
- They held the hope for the future that they would be an independent nation and use the Hebrew language amongst themselves. This is the second part of Hallel
So that the Meshech Chochmah shows that there is not only a sign of praise to God but there is also a sign of praise to the Jewish people in these four cups of wine
Heard from Rabbi Isaac Bernstein A”H
What is the significance of dipping the karpas into salt water at the beginning of the seder? Why should this be done first and what does the word karpas really mean? Rabbi Shlomo Kluger explains that the Torah states so that when the Jews brought the Passover offering to the Temple they carried it over their shoulders and the Torah says like Ishmaelite Traders. What is the significance of the carrying of the Passover offering like the Ishmaelite Traders specifically? The answer he says is that in order to remind us the cause of why we went into slavery in Egypt. The ultimate cause of this was that the brothers of Joseph sold him into slavery and he was taken to Egypt by Ishmaelite Traders.
At the very beginning of the Passover offering we must remind ourselves of the cause of the exile which was the baseless hatred and jealousy of the brothers.
Rabeinu Mano’ach in his Commentary on Maimonides maintains that this is also the significance of dipping the karpas. It is a reminder of the fact that the brothers took Joseph’s coat, dipped it in blood, took it to their father, Jacob, and said that Joseph must have been killed by a wild animal. Dipping the karpas at the very beginning of the seder is a reminder to us that the cause of the exile was the hatred and jealousy in the sale of Joseph, so dipping the karpa in salt is a symbol of dipping his coat in the blood of an animal. Linguistically there is support for this explanation. Rashi in his Commentary on the Torah explains that the ktonet passim of Joseph was a fine wool garment and he states that in Megilat Esther in the Palace in Shushan there was chur karpas and techeless, which is the Hebrew word for a fine wool garment.
There is a question as to why the Rabbis came to celebrate Seder with R. Akivah in Bnei Brak. Rabbi Eliezer maintains that one should stay home for Yomtov, (Sukkah 27b) and yet he came to R. Akiva, the other Rabbis were older and yet they came to R. Akiva. Three explanations for this follow:
- These Rabbis all went together to Rome to lobby the senate to help protect Jewish lives from persecution. They returned together on a ship and landed on Erev Pesach. They therefore all went together to the closest city, R. Akiva in Bnei Brak. (Kidushin 26b, Bava Batra 74b, R. Reuven Margaliyot )
- Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaKoshen Kook explains based on a Gemara in Ketuvot 112b, in which Rami bar Yechezkel says that he saw in Bnei Brak a goat licking honey under a date palm, and its udder dripping milk. So that he saw with his own eyes that Israel was a “land flowing with milk and honey”. Therefore what better place to gather and celebrate the Exodus than a place where one could see what a beautiful land, Hashem gave us in contrast to Egypt.
- The Aruch Hashulchan explains that these Rabbis were all living in the time of the Hadrianic persecution of the Jews and they found it difficult to be in the appropriate frame of mind to celebrate the Seder properly. Therefore they went to Rabbi Akiva who as the Gemara states in Makot 24a, was able to see redemption even in the depths of exile. When he saw foxes in the Holy of Holies, he laughed when everyone else cried. He said, that seeing the depths of exile was evidence to him that there would be a redemption, because the prophecies of both are linked. The others said, “Akivah you have comforted us.” Therefore on Pesach, in the midst of persecution, the person to go to learn how to see and feel redemption even then, is Rabbi Akivah.