Pesach 5761: The Four Sons Confront Tragedy

The Haggadah tells us that the Torah addresses the question of telling the Passover story to our children by referring to four different kinds of children. One is wise, one is evil, one is uncomplicated, and the last doesn’t know to ask questions. Each son asks a question, even if the last does so in his silence. We can see from the question what they are looking to take from the seder experience.

I believe these four approaches follow through in how we react to tragedy as well. Given the dismal state of current events, perhaps this is worth some exploration.

R’ Joseph Ber Soloveitchikzt”l (“the Rav”) addresses the question posed by the Holocaust in his seminal work on religious Zionism, “Kol Dodi Dofeik”. His position is that the question of why is there human suffering can’t be answered. Any attempt to address theodicy is going to insult the intellect or the emotions, and quite likely both. But “Why?” isn’t the Jewish question. Judaism, with its focus on halachah, on deed, asks, “What shall I do about it?”

The Rav continues by quoting the Talmudic principle, “Just as we bless [G-d] for the good, so we bless [Him] for the evil.” Just as we dedicate all the good that comes are way to be tools in our avodas Hashem, we also dedicate ourselves through our responses to suffering.

This is the wise son’s reaction. “Who is wise? He who learns from every person.” The wise son is one who turns everything into a learning experience. His response to the seder is “What are the testimonial acts, the dictates, the laws, which Hashem our G-d commanded you?” How does G-d teach us to react to the events of Egypt and freedom? How am I supposed to react to tragedy?

When G-d presents tragedy to the wise son, they are called nisyonos — challenges or tests. Like the Akeidah, a learning experience for Abraham, to get him to fully realize his potential.

The second son, the wicked son, needs a wake up call. What the gemarah refers to as “yisurim”. In the weekday prayer “Tachanun” we ask G-d to forgive our sins “but not through yisurim or bad illness”.

The evil son of the Hagadah doesn’t respond to this wakeup call. He asks, — no, he says rhetorically, “What [good] is this job to you?” Our response is to blunt his teeth and point out that had he been there, he wouldn’t have been amongst those to merit the Exodus. We tell him that it’s not the tragedy that is leading him to rejecting G-d — it’s his rejection of G-d that lead him to the tragedy. I like to imagine he accepts this answer in the silence after the paragraph.

There is a second kind of yissurim, yissurim shel ahavah — tribulations of love. This is not where the person is being evil, but he’s not living up to his full potential. He too is in a rut, and G-d calls to him to break out of it and improve. G-d calls him to ahavah, to greater love and closeness to G-d.

This is the uncomplicated son, the one who believes with simple and pure faith. He asks “What is this?” and we answer with the Pesach story, with all that G-d did for us. Unlike the wise son, who wants to know all the laws of the day, all the nuances of how to react, the uncomplicated son is given motivation to cling to the A-lmighty.

Then there are times where the thing we want is a greater nisayon, a greater challenge, than the ones we don’t. And if we are not up to the challenge, if it’s a test that we couldn’t pass, G-d doesn’t make us face it.

There is a story told (Taanis 24b) of R’ Chanina ben Dosa, a man so holy that the Talmud tells numerous stories of miracles that occured to him. And yet one so poor that a heavenly Voice commented that the whole world was supported by R’ Chanina’s merit, but he himself lived off a small measure of carob from one Friday to the next.

Eventually his wife just couldn’t handle the abject poverty any longer. He agreed to her request that he pray for wealth. A heavenly hand came down and handed them a huge golden table leg. Certainly worth a fortune.

That night, R’ Chanina’s wife had a dream. They were in heaven, and all the other couples were sitting at three legged tables. Except for them. Their table only had two legs, it couldn’t stand.

Realizing that the third leg of their table was the gift they had received, she asked her husband to pray for it to be taken back. And it was.

R’ Chaim Vilozhiner associates the three legs of the table in this story with the mishnah (Avos 1:2) about the three pillars of the world: Torah, Divine service, and acts of charity. The Voice said, after all, that R’ Chanina supported the world.

The golden leg they received was the one of kindness. Until now, they had reason not to give more charity — they had nothing more to give. The story as R’ Chaim understands it (I wouldn’t say this about R’ Chanina ben Dosa on my own), suggests that R’ Chanina would have been unable to practice charity as he was worthy to had he had the opportunity.

So, R’ Chanina ben Dosa was poor.

Similarly, the person who is medically needy because that keeps him close to G-d. The person who, had he been healthy, would have been more distracted by the physical opportunities afforded him.

This is the son who doesn’t know how to ask. Unlike the wise son, who asks “How shall I respond?” or the son of uncomplicated, pure and simple faith, who asks “G-d, G-d, why have you forsaken me?” (Tehillim 22:1) this son isn’t asking anything. He isn’t capable of grappling with this issue — be it a tragedy, or be it the Exodus.

“You shall start for him.” Our response must be to help them grow.

Of course, these four sons are archetypes. Real people are wise on some issues, determined to be wrong about others. We have a simple straight to the point perspectives on yet other things, and there are those issues we aren’t prepared or ready to face. But it is only through growth that we can reach our goals as individuals and as a people.

© 2001,2002 The AishDas Society

Pesach, Matzah, Maror

AishDas’s motto is lifted from the motto of HaOlim, founded by Dr. Nathan Birnbaum which existed from the 1910s through the 1930s, ending with the decimation of European Jewry.

“Da’as, Rachamim, Tif’eres”

Knowledge of G-d coming from an intimate relationship with Him, mercy toward others, and harmony of mind and emotion. The idea is an understanding of the three pillars upon which the world stands, described by Shim’on haTzadiq (Avos 1:2).Torah is the study of Torah. It is the shaping of the mind and personality. In the ideal, the Torah one learned is inseparable from the rest of his thinking; so that even his choice of an end table for his living room is affected by his Torah self. The Alter of Slabodka once heard a student boast about having completed all of gemara. His retort, “It’s not how many times you go through sha”s, it’s how many times sha”s goes through you!” Tif’eres.

Avodah is service of G-d. It’s having a relationship with Him. Seeking His Will, and to express that Will in the world. The same biblical term for knowledge is used for marital intimacy. Da’as.

Gemillus Chasadim, supporting others through kindness and generosity, can not only be an activity. It must flow from empathy, from maternal-like care for another. Rachamim.

Shim’on haTzadiq is teaching us that the world stands on three things because all human activity centers around how he acts in three relationships: with G-d, with other people, and internally with himself. The Maharal (Derech haChaim ad loc) writes that this is in turn because man lives in three worlds: this one, in which he interacts with other people, the world of his mind, and heaven, which gives him a connection to G-d.

Therefore, the g-dly Tanna writes that one pillar that the universe stands upon is the Torah, for the pillar completes man so that he can be a finished creation with respect to himself.
After that he says “on avodah”…. For from this man can be thought complete and good toward He Who created him — by serving Him….
With regard to the third, it is necessary for man to be complete and good with others, and that is through gemillus chassadim.
You also must understand that these three pillars parallel three things in each man: the mind, the living soul, and the body. None of them have existence without G-d. The existence of the soul is when it comes close to Hashem by serving Him…. From the perspective of the mind, the man gets his existence through Torah, for it is through the Torah that man attaches himself to G-d. To the body, man gets his existence through gemillus
chassadim for the body has no closeness or attachment to Hashem, just that Hashem is kind to all. When man performs kindness G-d is kind to him, and so gives him existence.

Rabban Gamliel requires we mention and explain three things in order to fulfill the mitzvah of the seder: Pesach, Matzah, uMaror.

Pesach is described as ” zevach pesach hu — it is a praise-offering of pesach.” There is no avodah clearer than that of the beis hamiqdash, and the pesach is in praise of our Creator, an expression of our awareness of His Grandeur. Da’as.

Rabban Gamliel says that matzah as something we eat because “lo hispiq betziqam — there wasn’t sufficient time for their dough to rise”. A lesson in zerizus: haste, alacrity and zeal. Matzah is also a lesson in anavah, modesty, not being “puffed up” like normal bread. It is “lecham oni — the bread of affliction”. And last, in its guide as “lechem oni, she’onim alav devarim harbei — ‘oni’ because we answer ‘onim’ over it many things”, it teaches us to find these ideals in learning Torah. The perfection of one’s internal self. Tif’eres.

Last, we each maror because “vayimararu es chayeihem — they embittered their lives”. Maror is sharing the pain of another. Rachamim.

And so, Rabban Gamliel is not only requiring that we relate the mitzvos of the evening to the telling of the story of the exodus, but he is making that retelling an all-encompassing experience. The exodus gave us a mission to support the world on all three pillars, torah, avodah and gemillus chassadim.

Pesach: Freedom from Preconceived Limitations

I appreciated this video from YU‘s Center for the Jewish Future.

Something to think about:

What does this notion of cheirus (freedom) say about the appropriate thoughts to have while cleaning the kitchen this Sunday?

What does it say about matzah, about something which is a symbol of both poverty and oppression yet also of the possibility of a sudden end to one’s troubles?

This Year in Jerusalem

The first Satmerer Rebbe, R’ Yoel Teitelbaum, writes the following thought in Vayo’el Moshe.

When Yaakov first meets Rachel, he is at a well with some shepherds, waiting for enough to come by to move the stone that protects the well. As she approaches, he asks the shepherds if all is well with his cousin Lavan, and they answer, “All peaceful, vehinei Racheil bito ba’ah im hatzon — and here is Racheil his daughter, coming with the flock.” (Bereishis 29:6)

A few lines later, “When he is still speaking to them, veRacheil ba’ah im hatzon — and Racheil came with the flock that belongs to her father.” (Ibid v 9)

Notice that one time “ba’ah” is used to mean that Racheil was on her way, the other that she had arrived already. Rashi clarifies with a grammatical point; it makes a difference which syllable gets the trop mark and stress. The first usage was “ba’AH“, with the stress (tipechah) on the second syllable, meaning “she is coming”. The second, “BA’ah” (revi’i on the beis)– “she came”.

Everyone assumes that the line said at the end of Yom Kippur and the Pesach Seder is “Leshanah haba’AH biYrushalayim — The coming year in Jerusalem”. But the Satmar Rav said this is a mistake.

We voice this desire at the close of Yom Kippur, shortly after the year began on Rosh haShanah, and on Pesach, shortly after the beginning of the year of months, the beginning of Nissan. We say it when a year just arrived. The line should not be said with the stress as “ha’AH” but rather say “BA’ah” — We are speaking of the year that just came!

Leshanah haBA’ah biYrushalayim habenuyah!
May the year that just began be spent in a rebuilt Jerusalem!

A Seder Thought

From this month’s Yashar (The Mussar Institute‘s newsletter), “How Mussar Affected My Life — Student Profile” by By Dorit Golan Cullen. (I wrote the majority of this entry in an email to The Mussar Institute’s list. It therefore was designed for people with less Jewish education but more commitment to a Mussar personal orientation than this blog’s usual target audience.)

I suggest reading the column now, if you haven’t yet, because the following is just the conclusion. Without the context and background, the point will be somewhat denuded:

Two and one-half years later, I’ve attracted wonderful people both in my personal and professional world because of the transformation of my character and my freedom to be open and honest in a different way with people.

Mussar has given me the voice to my inner feelings about my self and the people I dearly love. Mussar has also given me permission to select the people I want in my inner circle. As I write, I am feeling at peace, balance and purer than I was in the summer of 2004. Thank you for taking me on this wonderful ride called life.

Mussar can be a very freeing experience.

I think it’s no coincidence that the traditional seder is a precise 15 step program. It reminds me of one of the “ladders” found in many of the mussar texts — most famously, in the structure of Mesilas Yesharim. (Available for free in English and the original Hebrew.) We start with Zehirus – Caution, move on to Zerizus – Zeal, to Neqi’us – moral Spotlessness, to Perishus – Separation from challenges we can’t yet master, and so on. Step by step, a path from wherever we were when reading page 1 to the heights of Qedushah-Holiness.

And so too the seder. Qadeish – committing ourselves to the journey. And immediately, even with an “u-” prefix as a conjunctive, we have “uRchatz – AND Wash”. Chapter 1 — commitment. But before that commitment can cool, immediately, start washing away the unholiness of the past. And so on, step by step, from study to living through the Exodus to the point where we can partake of a meal and it be a sacred meal, to Nirtzah (from the root /רצה/, desire), where we are as G-d desires us to be.

The seder is a mussar ladder. We not only recall the Exodus from Egyptian bondage 3319 or so years ago, but also the Exodus from the spiritual degradation. The Exodus is not merely a one time event, but an interruption of history designed to show us what is constantly occurring in our own lives.

In Hebrew, the word for Egypt is Mitzrayim. Translated: a pair of troubles. Everyone recalls a time when they got their lives back after being stuck between a pair of troubles, between a rock and a hard place. The assistance that G-d sent our way is our own “Exodus from Mitzrayim“. Each one not only freedom from physical or emotional bondage, but an opening for spirituality. If we only choose to climb that Mussar Ladder…

In less poetic, nitty-gritty life, to me, the big mussar challenge I will be facing this evening is giving my chlidren the seder that want and need, rather than the one I want to give. Being able to balance my duty to teach them with what it is they are ready to receive. Taking into account the differences between their world view and mine, their priorities and mine. To be empathetic enough to see how that changed with their growth over the past year. For me, that is my “uRchatz“, my taking that commitment to holiness of Qaddeish, of making qiddush on that first cup of wine, and running with it to wash away my habitual errors.

Like the Laws of Pesach

חָכָם מָה הוּא אוֹמֵר? מַה הָעֵדוֹת וְהַחֻקִּים וְהַמִשְׁפָּטִים אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה ה’ אֱ-לֹקֵינוּ אֶתְכֶם? וְאַף אַתָּה אֱמָר לוֹ כְּהִלְכוֹת הַפֶּסַח: אֵין מַפְטִירִין אַחַר הַפֶּסַח אֲפִיקוֹמָן.

The wise son of the Hagaddah asks, “What are the laws of testimony, the metarational laws, and the more intuitive laws which Hashem our G-d has commanded you?” The wise son already knows much about the structure of halakhah, he is implicitly asking for a breakdown by asking for the laws by category: The eidos are comprehensible to people, but only after being taught the background of what it is they commemorate. Chuqim are laws that are beyond human comprehension, that we keep out of loyalty to and trust in the One Who commanded them. And mishpatim are laws that make intuitive sense based on human notions of law and ethics.

The answer we are told to give him is to “tell him like the laws of Pesach. Do not eat dessert after the Pesach [offering].” Usually this is understood to mean that you are to teach him all the laws of Pesach up to the very last one — do not eat after eating from the qorban.”

The Sefas Emes points out that this explanation is quite a stretch. It doesn’t say “teach him the laws of Pesach until” the one about not eating afterward. Rather, it says, “teach him kehilkhos haPesach, like the laws of Pesach, one may not eat…”

Why isn’t one supposed to eat after eating from the Pesach offering? Because you should be left with the taste of the mitzvah in your mouth.

The Sefas Emes explains that this is the point we must teach the Chacham. He is very focused on the intellectual pursuit of understanding the mitzvos of the night. With that fixation, he might miss experiencing the Seder, the lessons that can only be learned by living through it, rather than trying to comprehend it. Torah study is important, but it can not supplant the changes one undergoes by actually performing the individual mitzvah.
Therefore we teach him that all of Torah is “like that law of Pesach: do not eat dessert after eating the Pesach offering.” Savor the experience, the taste of the mitzvah.

Sweet Charoses

(Version II of an earlier thought.)

Charoses poses a paradox. On the one hand, the Rambam writes, “The charoses is a mitzvah from the Sofrim, as a commemoration of the mortar that they worked in in Egypt.” (Laws of Chaomeitz and Matzah 7:11). Charoses represents mortar, slavery.

On the other hand, contemporary recipes for charoses are to make it sweet. Sephardic, Ashkenazic and Yemenite recipes have few ingredients in common, yet they all use a sweet mixture (see also Pesachim 115b, which warns against losing the bitterness of the maror under the sweetness of the charoses).

So which is it — a symbol of slavery, or of the sweetness of freedom?

Thinking about it, though, matzah presents a similar ambiguity. We open Magid by describing matzah as “the bread of suffering which we ate in Egypt”. Yet, later on, when we repeat Rabban Gamliel’s three things that must be said to fulfill the obligation of the seder, we say we eat matzah “because there was not enough [time] for our ancestors dough to rise”.

Again, which is it — a symbol of slavery, or of a hasty redemption?

What is interesting is that we see the same duality in the very concept of mitzvah. On the one hand, the root of the word is \צוה\, to command. This is the idea we convey before taking out the Torah, in “Berikh Shemei” (from the Zohar). “I am a servant of the Holy One, blessed be He”. We keep mitzvos for a simple reason. G-d told us to.

However, the word for “commandment” is “tzivui“. Mitzvah is built from the passive form, a less probable conjugation, “that which was commanded”. The late Lubavitcher Rebbezt”l opined that this is an allusion to a second root, \מצצ\ or \מצו\, to connect for nourishment or aim. Mitzvah can be read as the feminization of this root. Which gives us a second definition of “mitzvah” — not only are they “what G-d commanded” but also they provide a focus to our lives, a way to connect to Him. And so the selfsame Zohar we cited in the previous paragraph occasionally refers to the mitzvos as the “Taryag itin — the 613 eitzos, ideas / pieces of advice”.

In a shi’ur on the berakhah before netilas Yadayim, I suggested that this is the reason for the phrasing of berakhos on mitzvos, “asher qidishanu bemitzvosav vetzivanu — Who sanctified us with His mitzvos and commanded us…” Mitzvos are to be viewed both as an opportunity to draw qedushah and as a straightforward act of submitting to His command.

“‘The tablets were engraved (charus) by G-d, and the writing was the writing of G-d.’ (Shemos 32) Don’t read ‘charus‘, but ‘cheirus‘ (freedom). For no one is more free than one is busy with Torah study.”
— Pirkei Avos 6:2

Mitzvah operates on two levels. Servitude, simple obedience to G-d. Freedom, doing what is in our best interest. And here is where the two ideas we’ve been looking at converge.

“You will guard the matzos” that they shall not come to leaven…. R. Avohu says, “It should not be read ‘matzos‘ but rather ‘mitzvos‘. Just as we don’t let matzos leaven, we similarly don’t let mitzvos ‘leaven’. Rather, if one comes to your hands, do it immediately.”
— Rashi, Sh’mos 12:17

Matzos, in the guise of “there was not enough time”, teaches us about the proper way to do mitzvos. They parallel because they both share the same dual nature. On the first level, one would assume they are unpleasant, something one would want to avoid. But by the time we’ve explored the subject, toward the end of “Magid“, you can feel how they represent the path to freedom.

The mitzvah is a yoke we accept upon ourselves because we know that Hashem commanded (\צוה\) it to nourish us (\מצצ\). On the surface layer, it is “the bread of affliction” but we eat it by choice, because we trust the G-d gave them to us to help us.

This is a major theme in the Exodus story in general. As we say in Sh’ma “I am Hashem your G-d who took you out of the land of Egypt to be for you a G-d/Legislator.”

We also have a key to understanding the apparently oxymoronic symbolism of charoses. It doesn’t represent the bitter servitude of Par’oh, but the sweet, voluntary yoke of heaven. We eat is with maror, which does represent the bitter slavery, and give it the appearance of that servitude to bring to mind the contrast.

Charoses, like being a “servant of the Holy One” has a surface layer, an appearance of the mortar of slavery. But experientially, it’s very different. Or, as King David wrote, “טַֽעֲמ֣וּ וּ֭רְאוּ כִּי־ט֣וֹב יְהוָ֑ה, אַֽשְׁרֵ֥י הַ֝גֶּ֗בֶר יֶֽחֱסֶה־בּֽוֹ׃ — Taste and see that the Hashem is good; happy is the man who takes refuge in Him. ” (Tehillim 35:9, said in Shabbos and holiday Shacharis)

(It is interesting to note that due to the inclusion of the next 2 verses in bentching (“Yir’u es Hashem qedoshav…“)and R’ Yisrael Meir haKohen Kagan’s choice of title to his seifer “Chafeitz Chaim”, added to the efforts of a number of 20th century songwriters, many people are aware of the mussar content of this chapter of Tehillim. However, this preceding verse doesn’t get the same attention.

Na’aseh viNishmah — we will do, and we will hear.” Doing come first because only through the first-hand experience can we hear the beauty, the depth, of the Torah.

Tam, what does he say?

The text of our Haggadah for identifying the third son is somewhat ambiguous. The word “tam” means “simple”. It could refer to someone who is simple minded. And this is the interpretation assumed in most translations of the Haggadah — “The simple son”. And then there is the frequently repeated thought on the words “At pisach lo — you shall open [the discussion] for him”, or perhaps even “you shall Passover for him”. The verb “pisach” is in the masculine, but the noun “at” is feminine. Because teaching the simple son requires a woman’s touch, or in this case, that the father be in touch with his feminine side.

However, I have seem commentaries that note that “tam” is used in the Torah as a compliment. Simple in the sense of having a pure faith, a first-hand relationship with the A-lmighty. And so while the Chakham (who may very well be a different aspect of the same person as the Tam) is taught the laws of Pesach, the Tam is given the heart of Pesach. We could say that the Chakham is the ideal pursued by the stereotypical Litvak, whereas the Chassid is trying to be this understanding of the word Tam.

♦ ♦ ♦

When R’ JB Soloveitchik was “Berel, the Rabbi’s son”, a boy living in the predominantly Chabad town of Chaslovitch, the cheder he attended was in a room rented from the carpenter. The carpenter was a “pashuter Yid — a simple Jew” as they would have said in Yiddish. Whenever he worked, the carpenter would say Tehillim. The future Rabbi Soloveitchik noticed that he had things timed; whenever the carpenter drove in the last nail it was just as he finished the last verse of Tehillim. Regardless of the size or complexity of the piece, the man would say Tehillim at just the right speed to match.

It is like the Zohar’s comment on the words “Chanokh walked himself with G-d, and he was gone for G-d had taken him” (Bereishis 5:24). The Zohar states that Chanokh was a shoemaker, and with every stitch he not only attached the uppers to the soles, he also pronounced names of G-d and unified the worlds. And at some point his soul simply sored upward and left this world without dying. (Similar in kind to Eliyahu’s mode of passing.)

♦ ♦ ♦

Rav Soloveitchik would repeat the Vilna Shoemaker Dilemma. While the Gaon studied Torah in Vilna, there was another man, not recorded by history, who was Vilna’s shoemaker. He wasn’t a gifted genius, nor capable of sleeping in half-hour installments and accomplishing work 22+ hours a day. Of course, in terms of Torah the Vilna Gaon knew more and taught more. But the shoemaker spent his days banging at his shoes and saying Tehillim with pure thought. He too accomplished everything he could with what Hashem gave him. Who was holier?

And in a statement one would have expected from a chassidic story, not this heartland of Lithuanian learning, the answer is simply “We can’t know.”

I think it’s no coincidence that Rav Chaim Volozhiner, a student of the Vilna Gaon, tells a story which concludes: “And there I hear a voice from the street. I put my head out the window and I see Eli the shoemaker running excited. ‘What happened Eli? What happened to the light of the sun? Why are the birds singing so loudly? Why are all the trees suddenly blooming?’ The shoemaker responded ‘Don’t you know rebbe?’ The shoemaker gave me a look at said, ‘Moshiach came’”

♦ ♦ ♦

The version of the four sons in our Hagaddah follows the Talmud Bavli. In the Yerushalmi, there is no such ambiguity — this son is call the Tipesh, the child who isn’t as bright as most of us.

As a procedural question, textual variants can be taken two ways. The first approach would be to assume there is no dispute, that these are simply two different expressions of the same basic idea. Which would imply in our case that “tam” would have to mean “simple minded”. The other is to assume that the Bavli intentionally used a different word than the Yerushalmi in order to express a difference of opinion. And therefore “tam” here would be someone who is “spiritually unconflicted”, wholeheartedly a servant of G-d.

I happen to have a son who would be called a “tipeish” if the term hadn’t been turned into an insult. Shuby has Downs. But he truly is tam in both senses of the word: because his understanding of the universe is so uncomplicated, if I tell him “Hashem is here, Hashem is there, Hashem is truly everywhere” — He is. To Shuby, when reminded of the fact, Hashem’s Presence is just as real and immediate as mine.

The Vilna Shoemaker or Chaslavitch Carpenter were not among history’s Chakhamim (although there is no reason to believe they were any less bright than most). But they were Temimim; they lived their lives with only one goal — to serve Hashem with the upmost of what He gave them.

Their worldview is captured by Shalom Aleikhem in the mouth of Tevye the Milkman. He may mangle every verse or statement of Chazal that he tries to repeat, but his life is a continuous dialog with the A-lmighty. We meet him coming home moments before candle-lighting on Friday afternoon. He is pulling his milk cart, and muttering something. As we get closer, we hear him ask the A-lmighty, “But did You have to break my poor horse’sWas that necessary? Did you have to make him lame just before the Sabbath? That wasn’t nice. It’s enough you pick on me. Bless me with five daughters, a life of poverty, that’s all right. But what have you got against my horse’s leg?” And so he continues, his constant discussion. In his own little way, Tevye fulfills “Shevisi Hashem lenegdi tamid – I place Hashem before me constantly” in a manner matched by few who have greater erudition.

Of course, the true goal would be to have both.

Eizehu chakham? Halomeid mikol adam.” Ben Zoma teaches us, “Who is wise? Someone who can learn from anyone.” Finding what to learn from the Vilna Gaon is trivial. But what are we to learn from the third son? “Tam, mah hu omeir?

This temimus, this purity of belief and personality is accessible even — no, let me write “more so” — to the Yerushalmi’s tipeish, the simple boy who may not be able to understand everything going on around him, but who uses the all the beauty Hashem gave him to touch heaven with his fingertips.

Hagaddah

A couple of years ago I collected some of my own thoughts and others from around the web into a commentary on the Haggadah shel Pesach. I took special care to give the seider a definite structure, as in this blog entry, in accordance with the meaning of the word seider, order.

Blogged Divrei Torah about Pesach are all available by  visiting this category.

Earlier divrei Torah for Pesach:

Toras Aish 5762 Lekhem Oni and Packing Peanuts

Aspaqlaria 5764 Who Knows Four?

Sipur

There are three words for counting that factor prominently in the Torah.

Parashas Pequdei gets its name from Moshe Rabbeinu’s accounting of all the material collected for the mishkan. The root \פקד\ has three meanings altogether:

  1. To count out inventory
  2. To remember, “veHashem padas es Sarah ka’asher amar — and Hashem remembered Sarah [so that she could conceive Yitzchaq, as He said..” (It is worth comparing this usage of “paqad” with “zachar“.)
  3. To appoint, as in Yoseif’s method for running Egypt’s storehouses – “vayafqeid peqidim“.

I point this out in relationship to another root used to mean counting, \ספר\, which also has three meanings. This is mentioned in Seifer haYetzirah, discussed by the Kuzari (4:25), and is the reason why the 10 sefiros are called sefiros. It can mean:

  1. Counting, as in mispar (number)
  2. To cut — from which we get sapar (barber) and misparayim (scissors)
  3. To tell, lesapeir, or a book seifer

There is also a third word used for counting, but we only find it with respect to counting people. In parshios  Beamidbar and Naso, Hashem commands Moshe “nasa es rosh — count the heads”.

What is the difference between counting in the sense of /pqd/ or nasa, and counting as denoted by lispor?

Parashas Naso’s counting comes immediately before a discussion of the nesi’im a term from the same root meaning the head of a sheivet (tribe). The word reuse would seem to indicate that this, like pqd, is about appointments. In both cases, we’re looking at individuals as individuals, and pointing out their distinct role.  A paqid is given a special duty, just as a nasi is, and just as you can emphasize the worth of each individual, “raise their heads” when ou count them, you can show the destination of each item donated when you make an accounting. Which would also explain the meaning of “to remember” one particular person rather than letting her remain part of the whole.

Lesapeir, however, is to cut. The items being counted are counted as pieces of the whole. The story isn’t simply being said over (lehagid) one must spell out each element. The verbal step of the seider may be called “maggid“, but the mitzvah of the night, which goes beyond the verbal into the foods of matzah and maror, of re experiencing the tears of karpas and the joys of Hallel, is “sippur yetzi’as Mitzrayim.”

Lesapeir sipur isn’t to give a one sentence summary: “There was a car accident.” It’s to divide that one thesis into its parts, telling detail. “So and so got a call on his cell phone. He was distracted, and didn’t notice the car making a right turn ….” Thus the connection to cutting.

It is not coincidental that this is in pedagogic question-and-answer form, a teaching format. Because that’s lesapeir. When the last of the prophets needed to organize the Torah into a format usable even as prophecy ebbed away, our rabbinic leadership (the usage of the word “rabbi” in this way didn’t begin yet) we called the soferim. In part because they counted out the letters of the Torah, to insure accurate reproduction of the Torah even after the Babylonian exile. And thus they were also sofrim in the sense of writers of the seifer which contains the sipur.

But perhaps foremost, they were the ones who made halachic analysis as we know it today possible. During their era was the story of Purim, and the Jewish people’s response to it. “Qiymu veqiblu haYehudim — the Jews established and accepted.” Chazal, perhaps wondering about the redundancy of “qiymu veqiblu“, comment “qiymu mah sheqiblu qevar — they established that which they had already accepted” in Sinai (Megillah 7a). They gave it a spelled out analyzable basis that didn’t require prophetic grounding. The concept of having short memorizable paragraphs describing established law, the notion which became the Mishnah, began.

But also because they represented a shift from being able to speak from a prophetic identification of the big picture principles to a need to reason from individual facts. Lisapeir, to tell the idea detail by detail.

Rav Chaim Brisker asked what the difference was between the obligation of zekher yetzi’as Mitzrayim (remembering the departure from Egypt) which is a daily experience, morning and evening, as part of Shema, and the night’s obligation of sippur Yetzi’as Mitzrayim (see Haggadah miBeis Levi p 110). He answers that zekher requires only saying one sentence. As R’ Elazar ben Azaryah puts it, “Behold I am like 70 years old, and I didn’t merit understanding why yetzi’as Mitzrayim must be said — shetei’amer – at nights. Until Ben Zoma expounded it..”

Sippur, however, has 4 elements:

  1. Ideally, it should be told to another in question and answer form.
  2. One must start the telling with genus (discussing our disgrace), and end with shevach (praise).
  3. It must include a discussion and performance of the three mitzvos of the night: pesach, matzah, and maror.
  4. It must tie the events to the date, the night of the 15th of Nissan, on which they are being recalled.

(These can be mapped to different sections of Maggid. See “The Structure of the Seder“.)

In our language, the difference is between simple amirah and sipur.