Lechem Oni

Packing peanuts. That filler material stuck in the box to prevent breakage. You would think it has nothing to do with Pesach, right?

A few years ago, a friend showed me a halachic guide that discussed a kind of packing peanut that was wheat- or corn-starch based. The guide recommended getting rid of them for Pesach. Our first observation is that there are grounds to be lenient and the issue is complex and interesting. (Obviously, if this problem is relevant to you, you should ask your own rabbi.)

However, we have this tendency when it comes to chameitz to be more stringent than usual. This is based on the Ar”i za”l, who says that while halakhah only requires we eliminate pieces of chameitz that can possibly combine to be bigger than a kezayis, we should eliminate from our homes every taint of chameitz.

Chameitz, the Ar”i explains, is representative of the yeitzer hara, and therefore “Anyone who removes all chameitz from their house is assured of having a year without sin.”

So while it’s laudable to go after every speck of chameitz, my friend had to ask: Why are we spending day after day cleaning up dust, and absolutely none preparing for Pesach by removing our spiritual chameitz?

Good question, I thought. But what is “spiritual chameitz“? How do I get rid of something until I know what it is?

Let’s start with the converse. We know that chameitz isn’t matzah. There is plenty of Torah about the meaning of matzah. Perhaps if we look at that and take the opposite, we can get an idea of what chameitz means.

In historical order, the first time we find matzos in the Pesach story is during their servitude. Magid begins with the Aramaic words “Ha lachma anya — this is the poor bread which our forefathers ate in Mitzrayim.” In Hebrew, “lechem oni“, bread of poverty. Matzah as an experience of poverty and humility.

We are also given a second translation of “lechem oni“. Not only is “oni” a reference to poverty, but it can also be taken to mean “answer”. Matzah is also “she’onim alav devarim harbei — about which we answer many things” (Pesachim 36a). This is the matzah of which the Torah says “… וְלֹא יֵרָאֶה לְךָ חָמֵץ וְלֹא יֵרָאֶה לְךָ שְׂאֹר בְּכָל גְּבֻלֶךָ. וְהִגַּדְתָּ לְבִנְךָ בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא לֵאמֹר… — and you shall not have chameitz, and you shall not find any leaven in all your borders. And you shall tell your children on that day, saying…” (Shemos 13:7-8)

Third, the Pesach offering must be eaten “on matzos and maror”. Matzah was eaten the night of the exodus, immediately before Par’oh expellled us from his country. Simply because Hashem said it is a “choq olam – a decree, forever” (Shemos 12:17). Matzah as obedience to Hashem.

Last, there is the matzah of the exodus itself. When “וַיִּשָּׂא הָעָם אֶת בְּצֵקוֹ טֶרֶם יֶחְמָץ — the nation carried the dough because it could not leaven” (ibid v. 34). We left with zerizus, haste to do what right.

So we find that matzah speaks to four things: humility, acting thoughtfully, commitment, and zerizus.

The four find parallel in the four cups of wine, giving these messages to the structure of our seder.

The first cup is filled before Qadeish. After qiddush, allowing us to drink that wine, it addresses Urchatz, Karpas and Yachatz — washing in preparation for dipping a vegetable in salt water, the dipping itself, and breaking the middle matzah in two. When we break that matzah, we say “Ha lachma anya – this is the bread of poverty that we ate in Mitzrayim”. (Most Haggados place this within Maggid, but I think making it the explanation of why we’re breaking the matzah in Yachatz fits better. None of which impacts the point of this post.) All of which refer to humility, to life as a slave in Egypt.

After “Ha lachma anya” we fill the second cup for Maggid, and leave that cup out until it is drunk at the end of Maggid — telling the story of the Exodus. This is “answering over it many things”. Learning and teaching.

The third cup is poured before Motzi, and is out while we eat the matzah, the maror, and the meal. We reenact the eating of the Pesach offering (in two different ways, the majority opinion and Hillel’s), fulfilling all the physical mitzvos of the evening still available to us. This is the step of commitment and obedience.

The last cup is before us as we sing Hashem’s praises. It’s a cup purely of redemption, of leaving Egypt — both the historical and our current Egypts — with alacrity. “ישועת ה´ כהרף עין — the salvation of G-d is like the blink of an eye.” (Idiom from Pesiqta Zutrasa, Esther 4:17, popularized by the Abarbanel’s repeated use)

Getting back to our original question, if matzah reminds us of humility, acting thoughtfully, commitment, and zerizus, what is it we need to rid ourselves of before Pesach? Egotism. mindless routine, lack of commitment, procrastination.

In this light, the Ar”i’s statement is more easily comprehensible. If we eliminate these character flaws, we’d have far less motivation to sin. Following the common customs the Ar”i’s words inspired gives us time in various parts of every room, time we could spend replaying scenes from the past year and how we interacted with our family. If we are to go beyond the letter of halakhah and remove every possible speck of chameitz, it would be appropriate to do so with thoughts of eliminating our motivators for sin.

This is a — if not the — key feature of preparing for Pesach. And if we can do so, we can merit to not only celebrate the great Shabbos of Shabbos haGadol, but also the Great Shabbos of “life of the world to come” (traditional Shabbos Zemirah).

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: 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.

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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.)

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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.

Defining Ge’ulah

R. Shimon said: When the Holy One, blessed be He [– HQBH], came to create Adam, the ministering angels formed themselves into groups and parties. Some said, “Let him be created,” while others urged, “Let him not be created.” Thus it is written, ” חֶֽסֶד־וֶאֱמֶ֥ת נִפְגָּ֑שׁוּ, צֶ֖דֶק וְשָׁל֣וֹם נָשָֽׁקוּ׃ — Love and Truth fought together, Righteousness and Peace kissed each other.” [Tehillim 85:11] Love said, “Let him be created, because he will dispense acts of love”; Truth said, “Let him not be created, because he is compounded of falsehood”; Righteousness said, “Let him be created, because he will perform righteous deeds”; Peace said, “Let him not be created because he is full of strife.” What did Hashem do? He took Truth and cast it to the ground. Said the ministering angels before HQBH, “Sovereign of the Universe! Why do You despise Your seal? Let Truth arise from the earth!” As it is written [in the continuing words], “אֱ֭מֶת מֵאֶ֣רֶץ תִּצְמָ֑ח — Let truth bloom up from the earth.” [v. 12]

-Bereishis Rabba 8:5

Man was created with Hashem’s knowledge that with the existence of free-willed beings, Truth would be submerged and have to emerge over time through the process we call history.

The Qetzos haChoshen has a beautiful comment on this medrash. He noted that here truth is described as tatzmiach, blooming. When we make the berakhah after an aliyah, we say “vechayei olam nata besocheinu — eternal life [or perhaps: life of the world{-to-come}] was planted within us.” The Qetzos explains: Torah is the seed from which our medrash tell us Truth blooms.

Rav Shim’on Shlop writes about the difference between the first luchos and the second ones.

AS A BEGINNING OF this preparation, so that one is ready to acquire Torah, the Torah requires specific conditions. The first condition is toil and contemplation, as our sages explain “‘If in my statues you go’ (Vayiqra 26:3) … that you should be toiling in the Torah.” (Rashi ad loc, quoting Toras Kohanim 26:2)

One can use this to explain the whole notion of breaking the [first] Tablets, for which I have not found an explanation. At first glance, understanding seems closed off. Is it possible that Moses our teacher would think that because the Jews made the [Golden] Calf they should be left without the Torah? He should have just waited to teach them until they corrected their ways, not break them altogether and then have to fall before Hashem to beg for a second set of Tablets. Our sages received [a tradition that] there was a unique ability inherent in the first Tablets. As it says in Eiruvin (folio 54), “What does it mean when it is says, [of the first Tablets] ‘[The Tablets were made by God and written with God’s script] engraved on the Tablets’ (Shemos 32:16) ? Had the first Tablets not been destroyed, the Torah would never have been forgotten from Israel.” (Eiruvin 54a) Which is, they had the power that if someone learned them once, it would be guarded in his memory forever. This quality Moses felt would cause a very terrible profaning of the holy to arise. Could it happen that someone destroyed and estranged in evil deeds would be expert in all the “rooms” of the Torah? Moses reasoned a fortiori from the Passover offering about which the Torah says “no foreign child shall eat of it.” (Shemos 12:43 [To explain: If one offering can not be possessed by a non-Jew, how much more so should the entire Torah not be possessed by someone who is not merely a non-Jew, but an evil person.]) Therefore Moses found it fitting that these Tablets be shattered, and he should try to get other Tablets. The first Tablets were made by G-d, like the body of writing as explained in the Torah. The latter Tablets were made by man [Moshe Rabbeinu], as it says “Carve for yourself two stone tablets.” (Shemos 34:1) Tablets are things which cause standing and existence, that it’s not “letters fluttering in the air.” Since they were made by Hashem, they would stand eternally. But the second ones, which were man-made, only exist subject to conditions and constraints.

The beginning of the receiving of the Torah through Moses was a symbol and sign for all of the Jewish people who receive the Torah [since]. Just as Hashem told Moses, “Carve for yourself two stone Tablets”, so too it is advice for all who receive the Torah. Each must prepare Tablets for himself, to write upon them the word of Hashem. According to his readiness in preparing the Tablets, so will be his ability to receive. If in the beginning or even any time after that his Tablets are ruined, then his Torah will not remain. This removes much of Moses’ fear, because according to the value and greatness of the person in Yir’as Hashem [Awe/Fear of Hashem] and in middos, which are the Tablet of his heart, this will be the measure by which heaven will give him acquisition of Torah. And if he falls from his level, by that amount he will forget his Torah, just as our sages said of a number of things that cause Torah to be forgotten. About this great concept our sages told us to explain the text at the conclusion of the Torah, “and all the great Awe Inspiring acts which Moses wrought before the eyes of all of Israel.” (Devarim 34:12 [the Torah’s closing words])

- Introduction, Shaarei Yosher

Thus, with the giving of the Second Luchos, the Torah was made a dynamic process. Rather than a Torah entirely contained in writing, external to the people for easy reference, it is now make part of the people, and part pf our process of growth in both wisdom and in middos. (And even, as Rav Shimon continues, of our material progress.)

R’ Chaim Brisker (Derashah 17) writes something similar to Rav Shimon Shkop’s words on the second luchos. He says that the first luchos contained the entire Torah, even down to “a question a student will ask his rebbe in the last generation.” With the second luchos came the concept of Oral Torah and the need for Torah study. They entail Hashem’s choice to make Torah less well known but more internalized into the people. Making the nation Hashem’s “parchment”.

Rav Chaim refers to the thught of Chazal which says that had we not made the Golden Calf, the redemption from Egpt would have been the complete redemption. That sin necessitated further exiles, a longer process to reach the ultimate ge’ulah, And this is why the first luchos could not exist in a post-calf world — for two reasons. First, because without the Torah being intimately tied to the Jewish People, our host nations would have co-opted it. And second, the unity of the people and the Torah would give us a self-definition that would enable us to survive as a distinct people.

The picture I am drawing using the concepts of Rav Shimon and Rav Chaim is of history as a process by which Truth, which had to be compromised by the creation of Man, is planted again in the Heart of the Jewish People as Torah, and through that Man is refined, the Torah is refined, and Truth sprouts forth from the ground, reconciled with the refined human being at the culmination of history.

It certainly sounds like a definition of ge’ulah, redemption, in the sense of describing the redemption of the universe and of the human condition.

Following his theory that phonetically related roots are similar in meaning, Rav Hirsch places the “ge’ulah” in the same family as \יעל\ (to progress), as ג and י are articulated in the same part of the mouth, as are א and ע. The meaning would also be shaded by other \גל\ roots that lack the middle א semivowel — \גלל\ (to revolve) and \גלה\ (to reveal). Our definition can thus be phrased as “a process for the the ultimate revelation of truth.”

And thus it is no surprise that the dips in the process, where it takes what looks like a step away from the embodiment of Truth in order to cause a greater revelation, is called “galus” (exile).

There is an interesting implication here. (The startling element is not in my embellishments, but in the original Qetzos.) Torah is not being described as Truth. Rather, it is the seed and process from which Truth blossoms.

One wonders if this is related to the Maharal’s explanation of machloqes (disputes in halakhah). In an earlier entry, I described his position as follows:

The Maharal’s position is that “divrei E-lokim Chaim — the word of the ‘Living’ G-d” is simply too rich and too complex to exist in this world. Therefore they are mapped to oversimplified models, related to Hashem’s words the way a shadow is a flattened representation of the original. And thus, different people looking at the problem from different directions will get different shadows — even though they are all accurate representations of the same thing.

To finish out the metaphor: The angle at which we look at Devar Hashem is our “derekh“, our path in how we . This derekh, just like the lamp, is determined by two things: mei’ayin basa, ule’an ata holeikh — from where do you come, and to where are you going? Where the lamp is, and the angle it points. Different people were put together differently, and can have different emphases in how they interpret the ultimate goal.

The complexity of Devar Hashem causes the illusion (to us) of paradox. It’s no more real of a paradox than the 5 blind men who argue about the nature of the elephant. The one who felt the elephant’s ear would argue an elephant is like a fan. The one who felt its leg would think it is like a tree. But it’s only because we can’t capture the full picture.

It is possible to say that history is the process of closing the gap between Truth in its full richness, and Torah as our ability to make it manifest. Or, as the mequbalim would say, “Lesheim yichud Qudshah berikh Hu uShechintei – For the sake of the unity of the Holy” — i.e. Remote — “one and His Presence” — i.e. as we Perceive her amongst us.

Who knows four?

The number four appears in the seder so frequently that its presence is often commented upon:

  • The four cups of wine — and the four terms of redemption and the four mentions of the word “cup” when the butler discusses his dream with Yoseif, the sources of this law;
  • The four questions;
  • The four “barukh“s in “Barukh haMaqom“;
  • The four sons;
  • The four names of the holiday: Pesach, Chag haMatzos, Chag haAviv and Zeman Cheiruseinu;
  • The four matzos…

“The four matzos“? Don’t we in fact have three (or, as R’ Moshe Feinstein and R’ JB Soloveitchik did, following the Vilna Gaon, have two) matzos on our seder table? What I mean by that are the four meanings we associate with the mitzvah of matzah:

  1. We start with “Ha lachma anya — this is the poor man’s bread which our forefathers ate in the land of Egypt…” The bread of servitude. “Lechem oni — bread of poverty.”
  2. Then we ask questions, and teach Maggid embodying the other idea of “‘lechem oni’, she’onim alav devarim harbei — that we answer upon it many things.”
  3. We have the matzah upon which one must eat the qorban pesach. Historically, this concept of matzah was given third, before the actual redemption.
  4. The matzah also represents the haste of the exodus itself. Rabban Gamliel’s is the matzah that we eat “because the dough lacked [the time] to leaven before the King of Emperors. the Holy One blessed be He, revealed Himself to them and redeemed them.”

In the song “Echad mi yodei’ah?” each verse combines the answers of the previous verses. So that when you get to “Who knows four?” the answer is “Four are the mothers, three are the fathers, two are the luchos haberis, one is Hashem…”

I would like to suggest that the answer doesn’t end after the word “imahos” (mothers), but includes the whole sequence. The meaning of four is due to the meaning of three, which flows from the meaning of two, which in turn comes from the One.

G-d is One.

Man is created in His Image, which means we exist to similarly be free-willed creative beings, but also we exist as recipients of His good. Therefore man lives in two worlds: G-d’s and the one we share with our fellow man. And these are expressed in the two tablets: one containing mitzvos between us and Hashem, the other between people.

This balancing act requires that we have three loci in our soul: our existence in this world, our existence in heaven, and the world within our minds, where we choose between them. The chesed of Avraham, the avodah of Yitzchaq, and the torah study of Yaaqov. Three are the fathers.

As actors, we act in three planes. However, in receiving from G-d, we realize we receive on planes beyond three — reception is perceived in fours. Rosh haShanah, when we act to repent and earn our redemption, we have a three-part Mussaf (Malkhos, Zichronos, Shoferos). Pesach, the gifted redemption, is in four.

The meaning of four is therefore built on that of three, which in turn comes from two and The One.

The work of the seder is therefore to make the transition from being a oni (impoverished), a creature batted around by the winds of fate, living in “Mitzrayim” between two narrows, between “the pan and the fire”. And both through thought and through deed we accept our redemption, becoming a servant of G-d.

To take things in a slightly different direction for a moment…

The Rambam famously breaks down teshuvah into four steps:

  1. charatah (regret),
  2. vidui (confession),
  3. azivas hacheit (abandoning the sin), and
  4. qabbalah al ha’asid (resolving to do better in the future).

Now, as R’ Ephraim Becker puts it, Mussar is about three things: the real, the ideal, and the path to get there. If we applying this to the four steps in Hilkhos Teshuvah:

  1. Charatah — One begins with an awareness of the problem.
  2. Transformation from the flawed reality to the ideal occurs via two channels — cognitive and behavioral.

  3. Vidui — verbally reinforcing the concept of change
  4. Azivas hacheit – implementing the new behavior
  5. and finally, with Hashem’s help, one can succeed at

  6. Qabbalah al haasid — and actually better live up to the ideal in the future.

The same pattern is seen in the “four matzos”:

  1. Poverty and suffering of the “poor man’s bread”, transformed through
  2. Torah study (“the bread over which we answer many things”) and
  3. mitzvah observance — including the obligation to eat the qorban with matzah, becomes
  4. redemption — “Hashem’s salvation comes as in the blink of an eye”, the matzah baked on their backs as they fled Egypt.

The four Mothers, the four elements of reception.

The story of Mitrayim and Yetzi’as Mitzrayim is that exile and troubles exist for the sole purpose of turning them into opportunities for growth and redemption. 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.

That too is how the four cups divide the seder:

1- First cup :

Qadeish: necessary before drinking wine
Urchatz: necessary before…
Karpas: Vegetables, as in “the cucumbers we had in Egypt” that the exodus generation complained of missing in the desert, dipped in salt water resembling tears
Yachatz: breaking the middle matzah, because poor people need to save for later, and saying “Ha lachmah anya“. By using the cups to separate the steps of the seder, “Ha lachmah anya — this bread of poverty”, becomes part of Yachatz an explantion for why we are breaking the middle matzah, and Maggid begins with the filling of the next cup.

The first cup is dominated by symbols of life in Mitzrayim. Reenacting servitude. But also, the reason given for karpas and yachatz i s also to motivate our children to ask the questions upon which we base Maggid. We create an awareness or our need for redemption.

Then we fill the second cup…

2- Second cup:

Maggid: telling over the story. The matzah of teaching. A cognitive analysis of redemption. (I intend to revisit the structure of Maggid in a future post.)

3- Third cup:

Motzi, Matzah, Maror, Koreich, Shulchan Areich, Tzafun, Bareich: these steps will (G-d willing, soon) be the actual eating of the qorban pesach “on matzos and maror“. The matzah of the mitzvah, and of reenacting the night Hashem took us out of Egypt, eating the offering as they did on the night of redemption. An experiential repeat of redemption.

4- Fourth cup:

Hallel, Nirtzah: Praising G-d. The post-redemption Jew.

There were 15 semicircular steps up to the last courtyard before the Temple. The levi’im would stand on them and sing. When ascending them for certain ceremonies, they would pause at each step and sing the 15 chapters of Tehillim that begin with the words Shir haMaalos (a song of ascents) or Shir laMa’alos. Ffifteen then is a number by which we ascend to sing G-d’s praises, and speak of his loftiness. For this reason there are 15 things that Hashem did for us in the Exodus which we count out in Dayeinu — any one alone would justify the seder night. And there are therefore 15 steps in the seder.

Something to think about tonight, during bedikas chameitz: Chameitz then is the ignoring of this gift of redemption. Standing back when the opportunity is there. The passivity of letting the dough rise. Falling short on one’s Torah study and mitzvah observance; perhaps one even takes these tools in hand, but doesn’t use them redemptively. This is the chameitz of which the Ari haQadosh writes, “Anyone who removes all chameitz from their house is guaranteed to have a year without sin.”

Chag kasher vesamei’ach! (belashon “lo zu af zu“)

The Structure of Maggid

I recently reworked and expanded an older piece on the structure of the Seder as a whole, and why it comes in fifteen steps grouped by the cups of wine into four. This section is also a rewrite, reflecting parallel changes to Maggid in particular.

Within our framework, Maggid is the substance of the second cup of the seder. It is the cognitive aspect of progressing from the limitations of our current reality to our ideal redeemed state.

5- Maggid

Let’s begin with the relevant mishnayos, from Pesachim ch. 10:

ד מזגו לו כוס שני, וכאן הבן שואל.  אם אין דעת בבן–אביו מלמדו, מה נשתנה הלילה הזה מכל הלילות:  שבכל הלילות, אין אנו מטבלין אפילו פעם אחת; והלילה הזה, שתי פעמים.  שבכל הלילות, אנו אוכלין חמץ ומצה; והלילה הזה, כולו מצה.  שבכל הלילות, אנו אוכלין בשר צלי שלוק ומבושל; והלילה הזה, כולו צלי.  לפי דעתו של בן, אביו מלמדו.  מתחיל בגנות, ומסיים בשבח; ודורש מ”ארמי אובד אבי” (דברים כו,ה), עד שהוא גומר את כל הפרשה.

4: They pour him a second cup, and here the son asks question. If the son doesn’t know how, his father teaches him “Mah Nishtanah…” [the entire older version, as said when the pascal offering was part of the seder, is given]. According to the intellect of the son, that’s how the father teaches him.
We begin with the tragic, and end in praise.
And we expound [on the portion of the Torah] from “An Arami destroyed my father / My father was a lost Arami…” until he completes the section.

ה רבן גמליאל אומר, כל שלא אמר שלושה דברים אלו בפסח, לא יצא ידי חובתו; ואלו הן–פסח, מצה, ומרורים.  פסח, על שם שפסח המקום על בתי אבותינו במצריים; מרורים, על שם שמיררו המצריים את חיי אבותינו במצריים; מצה, על שם שנגאלו.  בכל דור ודור, חייב אדם ל[ה]ראות את עצמו כאילו הוא יצא ממצריים; לפיכך אנחנו חייבין להודות להלל לשבח לפאר להדר לרומם לגדל לנצח למי שעשה לנו את כל הניסים האלו, והוציאנו מעבדות לחירות.  ונאמר לפניו, הללו י-ה.

5: Rabban Gamliel says: anyone who doesn’t say these three things on Pesach didn’t fulfill his obligation. And they are: Pesach [offering], Matzah and Marror. Pesach in commemoration of… Merorim… Matzah
In every generation a person must see himself [Rambam: show himself] as though he [personally] left Egypt. Therefore, we are obligated to give thank, laud, praise, give glory, show beauty, exalt, make great, eternalization to He Who did for us all these miracles, and took us from slavery to freedom.
And we say before him “Hallelukah…” [and so on with much of Hallel and a closing berakhah, the details of which is the topic of the next mishnah].

The mishnah spells out three requirements for Maggid.

1- Question and Answer

Ideally, the previous section of the seder was enough to cause spontaneous questions from the child. If not, the father teaches him Mah Nishatanah – or more or less, as per the child. (R’ Rich Wolpoe wondered aloud on Avodah about when Mah Nishtanah became something the child said rather than something the father said when the child had no real questions.)

The question’s answer must be phrased in a particular way — starting from the lowly, and ending in praise. In other words, highlighting that gap between the limitations of the real, and the ideal we strive for.

Rav and Shemu’el disagree as to how we view that gap.

Rav says that this is on a spiritual level, starting with Bitechilah ovdei avodah zarah — in the beginning, our ancestors were idolators.

Shemu’el says it on a physical level. Avadaim hayinu – we were slaves, but now we are free.

We can view the dispute this way: Do we attribute our spiritual redemption to Hashem? Or is redemption our own task, and Hashem’s role is to give us the tools to achieve it. Shemu’el focuses on the latter, and therefore to him yetzi’as Mitzrayim is about Hashem granting us the autonomy to pursue His goals.

We find the same dispute between them with respect to the final redemption. In Rav’s view, the messianic era will be heralded with a change in the natural order. The synagogues and batei medrash from around the world will fly up to Israel. (Although, anyone who visited the yeshivos of Ponovezh, Ramalys, Mir, etc… operating today in Israel could give a more natural explanation. In Shemu’el’s view, it is not a supernatural event. Rather, “ein bein olam hazah liymos hamashiach elah shib’ud malkhios bilvad – there is no difference between this world and the messianic era except subjugation to [foreign] kings alone”. (A position followed by the Rambam.)

And so, this requirement of Maggid involves the following elements:

1a-The Questions: Mah Nishtanah.

1b- Shemu’el’s Haggadah: Avadim Hayinu.

The completion of this first retelling ends by noting that this mitzvah is retelling the story of the Exodus, beyond the usual requirement to remember it “kol yimei chayecha – all the days of your life”.

This then invokes a discussion of the four sons, the seder in Benei Beraq, and “Yachol meiRosh Chodesh” about the uniqueness of the night, when the other commemorations exist. Notice that the arguments include various mishnayos and beraisos explaining the requirement for each of the elements we include in Maggid, explaining why Maggid does not end here and instead does include every understanding.

1c- Rav’s Haggadah: The spiritual redemption from Terach, Avraham’s father, the maker of idols. It ends with thanking Hashem that He hastened the redemption, using the earliest possible definition of the end of the exile promised in Avraham’s vision. Before we were spiritually reduced to Egypt’s level, back where the spiritual story began.

Notice the nature of these two addenda: After Shemu’el’s Haggadah, we have a long extension about how to respond. Hashem gives us physical freedom, and so we are called upon to use that to study, to teach our children. Rav’s Haggadah speaks to our spiritual redemption, but is followed by “Vehi She’omda“, how that spiritual journey has stood for us as an anchor of physical survival.

2- Expounding

In contrast to the more natural question-and-answer retelling (sipur) that is at the center of the previous sections, the next thing the mishnah requires is expounding (derash) the words of Devarim, finding details about the Exodus lurking in each word of the section.We look for G-d’s “Hand” in all its nuances in the miracles of the plagues and the crossing of the sea.

3- Rabban Gamliel’s Haggadah: Identifying

Then we find Rabbi Gamliel’s requirement that Maggid can not be divorced from the food mitzvos of the evening, the substance of the third cup, when the night of the Exodus is relived. “A person must see or show himself as though he personally went out of Egypt.” Even the retelling must be subjective, in the first person. The exercise, while cognitive, can not remain abstract.

To the extent that the portion of Hallel found in Maggid derives from Rabban Gamliel’s portion of the hagadah. “Lefikhakh — therefore.” It is because the miracle is a personal one, that I too was redeemed when my ancestors were, that necessitates saying Hallel even at night.

The author of the Hagadah took all three elements of the mishnah, across multiple understandings of the essence of the night, and wove them together to make a single text that satisfies all the opinions. “And whomever says more, he is praiseworthy.”

Hagadah: Random Thought

וַיְהִי בַיָּמִים הָרַבִּים הָהֵם וַיָּמָת מֶלֶךְ מִצְרַיִם, וַיֵּאָנְחוּ בְנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל מִן הָעֲבֹדָה, וַיִּזְעָקוּ; וַתַּעַל שַׁוְעָתָם אֶל הָאֱ-לֹהִים, מִן הָעֲבֹדָה.

It was in those many days and the king of Egypt died, and the Benei Yisrael sighed from the work and they wailed, and their crying reached to G-d from the work.

- Shemos 2:23

The cry of the Jewish People when cornered at Yam Suf was called a “tze’aqah” (14:10), with a tzadi, and Rashi their writes that the term refers to prayer. Here, the word is “ze’aqah”, a related root but with a zayin. The Jews at the Red Sea were articulate, they were able to turn their wailing into prayer. Here, still in Egypt, they were so oppressed that their cry was a ze’aqah, wordless wail. More like the cry of the shofar than the poetry of prayer. As the Rambam writes:

מִצְוַת עֲשֵׂה מִן הַתּוֹרָה, לִזְעֹק וּלְהָרִיעַ בַּחֲצוֹצְרוֹת עַל כָּל צָרָה שֶׁתָּבוֹא עַל הַצִּבּוּר, שֶׁנֶּאֱמָר “עַל הַצַּר הַצֹּרֵר אֶתְכֶם וַהֲרֵעֹתֶם בַּחֲצֹצְרֹת” (במדבר י,ט). כְּלוֹמַר כָּל דָּבָר שֶׁיֵּצַר לָכֶם כְּגוֹן בַּצֹּרֶת וְדֶבֶר וְאַרְבֶּה וְכַיּוֹצֶא בָּהֶן, זַעֲקוּ עֲלֵיהֶן וְהָרִיעוּ.

There is a commandment of obligation in the Torah to ze’oq (wail) and to blare on the trumpets over every difficulty which comes upon the community. As it says (Bamidbar 10:9) “On the trouble which troubles you, and you shall blare on the trumpets”. As if to say, every thing that troubles you, such as drought, wild animals, locust and the like za’aqu (you shall wail) about them and trumpet.

- Taaniyos 1:1

Ze’oq, za’aqu, za’aqah – terms for wordless crying.

Perhaps then there was a particular point in associating this particular even with the mitzvah of sippur yetzi’as Mitzrayim, telling over the details of the story of being taken out from Mitzrayim. Where our ancestors before the Exodus were reduced to the wordless wailing of vayiz’aqu, we open up our Hagados, our books of “Retelling”, and articulate a complexly structured Symposium on the concept of redemption.

Not for the Seder Table

We say in the Hagadah

אמר רבי אלעזר בן עזריה: הרי אני כבן שבעים שנה ולא זכיתי שתאמר יציאת מצרים בלילות, עד שדרשה בן זומא “למען תזכור את יום צאתך מארץ מצרים כל ימי חייך”: ימי חייך – הימים, כל ימי חייך – הלילות. וחכמים אומרים: ימי חייך – העולם הזה, כל ימי חייך – להביא לימות המשיח.

Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah said: Here I am like 70 years old, and I didn’t merit [having a proof] that the Exodus from Egypt must be spoken about at night. Until Ben Zomah expounded “So that you shall remember the day you went out of the Land of Egypt all the days of your life’. ‘The days of your life’ — would mean daytime, ‘All the days of your life’ — [adds] the nights.”
But the sages say: “The days of your life” — this world, “All the days of your life” — includes the messianic era.”

The topic under dispute is the nature of saying the last paragraph of Shema. According to Ben Zoma and R’ Elazar ben Azariah (REbA), the pasuq “… asher hotzeisi eskhem meiEretz Mitzrayim — Who took you out of the Land of Eqypt…” as a fulfillment of the biblical obligation to discuss the Exodus at night. According to the Chakhamim, the obligation is rabbinic.

I recently encountered a Yerushalmi that has a different dispute between REbA and the majority of the  Chakhamim that I think dovetails with this one. But, as the subject line says, it’s not on a topic appropriate for the seder table.

If after relations semen emits from the woman’s body (as is true for a man), the woman is temei’ah. In the days of the beis hamiqdash, when there are mitzvos that depend on her being tehorah, she would have to go to the miqvah. However, in order for this law to apply, the semen still has to be fresh (viable?), and therefore must be within three days of intimacy. This is deduced from the instructions given to the Jews at Mount Sinai: “וַיֹּאמֶר אֶל-הָעָם, הֱיוּ נְכֹנִים, לִשְׁלֹשֶׁת יָמִים;  אַל-תִּגְּשׁוּ אֶל-אִשָּׁה — [Moshe] said to the people, ‘Be prepared for the third day, do not [sexually] approach a woman.'” (Shemos 19:15) Thus implying that three days is sufficient to guarantee that no woman would be temei’ah (at least, not more so than tevul yom).

There is a four-way machloqes in the Yerushalmi (Shabbos 9:3, Vilna 59b) about how to define those three days; the result of two open questions:

  1. When Moshe Rabbeinu said “third day”, is this because one needs three entire days, or is overlapping with part of the day sufficient?
  2. What do we mean by “days”? Three daylight units of time, with the two nights between them, or 3 24-hour cycles? In other words, is the time specified 5 onos, i.e. 12-hour units, or 6?

There are tannaim with each combination of answers:

  • Rabbi Yishmael says that the time must cover at least parts of 5 12-hour units. So, if they had relations just before sundown, that counts as the first onah, then the next two days are another 4 onos, and if she emits semen a few moments later it is during the 6th onah, and she is tehorah. Altogether the minimum amount of time is just over 2 days. However, if they had relations just after sunset, then the first onah is pretty much the entire night, and the emission might be toward the end of the 6th onah, meaning a total of just under 3 days.
  • Rabbi Aqivah also holds that the relevant unit is the onah, not the day, but holds one needs 5 complete onos. Therefore, time limit is always 5 x 12 = 60 hours after they had relations. Regardless of the time of day of the relations or the emission.
  • Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah holds that we need parts (not whole durations) of three 24-hour days (not 5 onos). Therefore, if they had relations shortly before nightfall that’s day one, then if a day passes beyond the next nightfall, that’s already part of the third day, and she would be tehorah. This is the most lenient opinion — the minimum is only just over 24 hours. The longest possible time would be just under 2 days.
  • Last, the sages are quoted as holding that one needs three complete days, meaning 3 x 24 = or 72 hours.

Note that both R’ Elazar ben Azariah and the Chakhamim consider the day and the night to be a single unit. When we speak of yom, by default we mean 24 hours.

How do they differ? REbA holds that something happening even on the edge of that day is enough to characterize the day. The Chakhamim hold that it must last the entire duration of the day.

Perhaps we can say the following:

According to Rabbi Yishmael and Rabbi Aqiva, the question of whether or not there is a Torahitic obligation to discuss the Exodus at night wouldn’t even arise. The verse telling us to speak of the Exodus says “yom“, which by default is the daylight onah.

However, between R’ Elazar ben Azariah and the Sages,  the point of dispute is whether something happening for a moment during the day is sufficient to characterize the day, or if the thing must last the entire day. According to REbA, then, there are two ways of understanding this obligation. Either as an utterance, an obligation that happens to occur daily, or as an obligation to make each day about remembering the Exodus.  If the latter, he would say that one utterance a day is sufficient, since an event during the day is part of the entire day’s character. Therefore, he is excited to learn from Ben Zoma that the obligation is twice daily. A mitzvah that is twice daily is simply a mitzvah whose schedule is twice daily, and not about characterizing the day as a whole.

The Chakhamim, however, say the mitzvah is to characterize the entire day. The mitzvah is thus once daily.

 

 

Rav and Shemuel on Redemption

The mishnah in Pesachim requires that in telling of the Pesach story at the seder, “we begin with degradation, and end with glory.” There is a debate between Rav and Shemuel over what this applies to. In practice, our Haggadah contains both. (Probably because, as the Haggadah itself says, “whomever [says] more, behold he is praiseworthy.”)

According to Shemuel, the focus of the haggadah is the physical slavery and physical redemption. To fulfill his notion of beginning with degradation, meaning lowliness on a material plane, we have the part of the Haggadah immediately after Mah Nishtanah – “Avadim hayinu — We were slaves to Par’o in Egypt, and G-d took us out.”

Rav instead stresses the spiritual side of the holiday. This is where we say “Bitechilah, ovedei avodah zarah — At the start, our ancestors were idol worshipers. And from the days of Terach’s idolatry, we make our way to Sinai and our spiritually redeemed.

It would appear, though, that this debate isn’t only over the proper way to conduct a seder, but part of a larger debate about redemption in general. In describing the messianic era, Shemuel holds, “There is no difference between now and the messianic era except the subjection to [foreign] rule alone.” (Berakhos 34b) To Shemuel, the messianic redemption as well is about Jewish autonomy, a physical freedom. Perhaps, Semuel insists that only man can save himself spiritually. Rav apparently sides with Rabbi Chiya bar Abba’s quote from Rav Yochanan, that redemption involves a literal implementation of all the promises of all the prophets — lions would stop eating lambs, the end of war, the moon will shine as bright as the sun, etc… Redemption is a change in the world on a supernatural level. And that is how he frames his haggadah.

There is a third dispute that I think is related (Gittin 38a). A slave-owner declares his slave hefqer, ownerless. Shemuel says that once the slave is no longer owned, he is fully a freeman. No shetar shichrur, writ of freedom, is required.  Rav says that the servant still needs a writ. After all, a freeman is not only someone who lacks an owner, but is now a Jew fully obligated in all the mitzvos. And this requires a special rite, involving a shetar shichrur.

It would seem that Shemuel says that a person can only be freed physically. Therefore, to him, the freedom of Egypt is the physical redemption. Once a person is freed from physical constraint, spiritual redemption falls to the person himself. Rav, however, focuses on the need for Hashem’s help even in spiritual redemption. Being freed physically isn’t the final roadblock before spiritual liberation. And this shows in his understandings of the laws of slavery, the haggadah, and the final redemption.

Thus the two approaches to the haggadah might well tie into how we view our job in life and our covenant with the Almighty on a day-to-day level. How much do I focus on my work on self-refinement, and how much to I turn to G-d for His Enlightenment and providing me contexts that make such work trivial (or at least easier)?

40 or 50 Makkos

There is a dispute in the Haggadah about how to count the plagues. Rabbi Yosi simply says there were 10 plagues in Egypt, and the equivalent of 50 at the sea. Just focusing on the makkos themselves, Rabbi Yoshi looks at each plague as a unit; he doesn’t subdivide them. I wish to look at the dispute between Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Aqiva, both of whom subdivide each makkah, but do so in different ways. They both obtain their positions from Tehillim 78:9.

According to Rabbi Eliezer, the verse is read:

יְשַׁלַּח בָּם חֲרוֹן אַפּוֹ

  1. עֶבְרָה
  2. וָזַעַם
  3. וְצָרָה,
  4. מִשְׁלַחַת מַלְאֲכֵי רָעִים.
He shall send upon them the fierceness of His anger,

  1. wrath,
  2. indignation,
  3. and trouble,
  4. a sending of messengers of evil.

Each makkah thus has 4 aspects, yielding a total of 10 x 4 = 40 makkos. (And the five times as many at the Red Sea, 200.)

According to Rabbi Aqiva:

יְשַׁלַּח בָּם

  1. חֲרוֹן אַפּוֹ
  2. עֶבְרָה
  3. וָזַעַם
  4. וְצָרָה,
  5. מִשְׁלַחַת מַלְאֲכֵי רָעִים.
He shall send upon them

  1. the fierceness of His anger,
  2. wrath,
  3. indignation,
  4. and trouble,
  5. a sending of messengers of evil.

Or, 10 x 5 = 50 makkos. (And 250 at the sea.)

Perhaps this dispute between 40 and 50 makkos might really be about
whether there is a difference between teva and neis.

Rabbi Eliezer’s position of 10 x 4 makkos echos creation. “The world was created through 10 utterances” (Avos 5:1) each which Qabbalah expands to aspects in each of four worlds based on Yeshaiah 43:7:

כֹּל הַנִּקְרָא בִשְׁמִי

  1. וְלִכְבוֹדִי
  2. בְּרָאתִיו
  3. יְצַרְתִּיו
  4. אַף עֲשִׂיתִיו.
All that is called by My Name,

  1. for My glory,
  2. I have created it,
  3. I have formed it,
  4. and I have made it.

Thus there are 40 aspects to creation. And 40 days after conception the fetus has a human form. The Jewish People were created in 40 years in the desert. The world was reborn in a flood that rained for 40 days, and a person emerges reborn from a miqvah that holds at least 40 se’ah of water. When dealing with human creation, one element, creation ex nihilo is missing. So, when rest from work on Shabbos, we rest from “40 minus one” categories of constructive work; someone who was punished was lashed “40 minus one” times, and our tzitzis similarly have 39 windings.

So Rabbi Eliezer’s 10 x 4 makkos invokes a parallel to the creation of the natural world. (Even the derivation from their respective verses are similar — both count 4 nouns elaborating the first idea.) He appears to be saying that the supernatural occurances of the plagues are not different in kind than nature. When Rav Chanina ben Dosa’s daughter accidentally filled the Shabbos lights with vinegar, he proclaimed, “He Who commanded oil to burn could command vinegar to burn.” And they did.

If so, Rabbi Aqiva, in contrast, holds that nissim are different in kind than nature. Thus, each makkah had an element beyond the normal fourfold-act inherent in creation. It’s R’
Aqiva who says (Sanhedrin 67b, Tanchuma Va’eira 14) that one frog, when hit, became all the frogs of the makkah. (R’ Elazar b’ Azariah responds with a possibility that while rare, doesn’t defy nature — the frog called the others.)

This might be the beginning of building a broader dispute between these two tannaim. For example, they also debate what it is we build our sukkos today to commemorate. Rabbi Eliezer says we are commemorating the ananei hakavod, clouds of glory Hashem provided for shade, a floor protecting from anything sharp on the ground, and walls keeping out the elements. Rabbi Aqiva says they were actual huts built by the Benei Yisrael. (Sukkah 11b)

Perhaps it is because R’ Eliezer doesn’t see anything about miracles that would we couldn’t represent and recollect through very mundane, albeit holy, huts. Rabbi Aqiva, on the other hand, cannot represent miraculous protection through human imitation, because our imitation could never evoke that 5th element of perception of G-d that miracles reveal.

Teach Him Like the Laws of Pesach

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

The wise [son], what does he say? “What are the testimonial rites, the dictates and the laws which Hashem our G-d commanded you?”

And even you tell him like the laws of the Passover [offering]. We do not conclude after the Passover [lamb], a dessert.

This is the last of the thoughts that have been lagging since they crossed my mind during my sedarim. And it’s all about one letter, the kaf of “kehilkhos“. “Like the laws of the Pesach”. Why are we teaching him “like the laws”, rather than the laws themselves?

Later we tell the story of the all-night seder in Benei Beraq:

מַעֲשֶׂה בְּרַבִּי אֱלִיעֶזֶר וְרַבִּי יְהוֹשֻעַ וְרַבִּי אֶלְעָזָר בֶּן עֲזַרְיָה וְרַבְּי עֲקִיבָא וְרַבִּי טַרְפוֹן, שֶהָיוּ מְסֻבִּין בִּבְנֵי בְרַק, וְהָיוּ מְסַפְּרִים בִּיצִיאַת מִצְרַיִם כָּל אוֹתוֹ הַלַּיְלָה עַד שֶׁבָּאוּ תַלְמִידֵיהֶם וְאָמְרוּ לָהֶם: רַבּוֹתֵינוּ, הִגִּיעַ זְמַן קְרִיאַת שְׁמַע שֶׁל שַׁחֲרִית.

There was an event with Rabbi Eliezer, Rabbi Yehoshua, Rabbi Elazar ben Azaryah and Rabbi Aqiva were reclining [at a seder] in Beneiq Beraq, and they were telling about the exodus from Egypt that entire night. Until their students came and said to them: Our rabbis! It has come time to read the morning Shema!

Omitted is a similar story of Rabban Gamliel’s all-night seder in that same generation. This is the last Tosafta (10:8) of tractate Pesachim:

אין מפטירין אחר הפסח [אפיקומן] כגון [אגוזים] תמרים [וקליות].
חייב אדם [לעסוק בהלכות הפסח] כל הלילה — אפילו בינו לבין בנו, אפילו בינו לבין עצמו, אפילו בינו לבין תלמידו.
מעשה ברבן גמליאל וזקנים, שהיו מסובין בבית ביתוס בן זונין בלוד, והיו [עסוקין בהלכות הפסח] כל הלילה עד קרות הגבר, הגביהו מלפניהם ונועדו, והלכו [להן] לבית המדרש.
איזו היא ברכת הפסח? “ברוך … אשר קדשנו במצותיו, וצונו לאכול הפסח.”
איזו ברכת הזבח? “ברוך… אשר קדשנו במצותיו וצונו לאכול הזבח.”

We do not conclude after the Pascal offering a dessert, such as nuts, dates, and candies.

A person is obligated to busy himself [studying] the laws of the Pesach that entire night. Even if [only] between him and his child, even between him and himself, even between him and himself, even between him and his student.

An event with Rabban Gamliel and the elders , that they were reclining [at their seder] in the house of Boethus ben Zunin in Lod, and they were busy with the laws of the Pesach that whole night until the rooster crowed. They removed [the seder table] from before them and left, and went to the beis hamedrash.

The core of the Sanhedrin — its head, Rabban Gamliel, and the elders — made a seder about the laws of the qorban Pesach in Lod. This actually fits what we already know about Rabban Gamliel’s understanding of the seder, also from the Haggadah:

רַבָּן גַּמְלִיאֵל הָיָה אוֹמֵר:כָּל שֶׁלֹּא אָמַר שְׁלשָׁה דְּבָרִים אֵלּוּ בַּפֶּסַח, לֹא יָצָא יְדֵי חוֹבָתוֹ, וְאֵלוּ הֵן: פֶּסַח, מַצָה, וּמָרוֹר.

Rabban Gamliel would [often] say: Whomever doesn’t talk [about these] three things on Pessover, did not fulfill the obligation. They are: the Pesach offering, matzah, and maror.

To Rabban Gamliel, the seder revolves around the mitzvos of the night.

This is in contrast to what we discussed in the prior entry about Rabbi Aqiva, being the rabbi of Benei Beraq he was the host of the other seder, one which some of the members of the Sanhedrin made on their own. (Perhaps it was even the same year? A poetic thought, one we would like to be true, but we really can’t know.) But we saw how Rabbi Aqiva and another attendee, Rabbi Eliezer, focused more on the narrative. As we discussed in the prior blog entry, they counted exactly how many ways Hashem punished the Egyptians.

That is the seder we retell every year.

What do we tell the wise son? This son is fascinated with the laws of Pesach. (He is the proverbial Litvak.) He runs the risk of becoming the person who times each shofar blast with the second hand on his watch, making sure the teqiah is long enough to match the shevarim-teru’ah that preceeded it. And in the meantime, doesn’t hear the call of the shofar in the depths of his soul. In pursuit of a stringency, his loses the entire message.

We do not teach him the laws of Passover until the very last one about not eating afterward. We teach him to be more like that law. We are supposed to go to bed with the taste of the mitzvah in our mouths. Yes, in his discussion of the three mitzvos of the night, even Rabbi Gamliel relates each to the story of the Exodus. But it is Rabbi Aqiva explicitly telling the story of the seder that we repeat as an example.

רַבָּן גַּמְלִיאֵל הָיָה אוֹמֵר:כָּל שֶׁלֹּא אָמַר שְׁלשָׁה דְּבָרִים אֵלּוּ בַּפֶּסַח, לֹא יָצָא יְדֵי חוֹבָתוֹ, וְאֵלוּ הֵן:
פֶּסַח, מַצָה, וּמָרוֹר.

The Fourth Son

We can consider the rasha, the evil child, to be a failed chakham (the wise one). He is engaged with the laws of Pesach, but unlike the first child, he rejects them.

The third son, the tam, is usually defined simple in an unsophisticated or ignorant sense, as though his approach is inferior to the wise child’s. But when we find the word “tam” in the Torah, it is a complement. Yaaqov grows up to be an “ish tam yosheiv ohalim — a tam man, who dwelled in tents”. There is a kind of simplicity that is holy, positive — being of one mind, pursuing G-d without conflicting desires or motives.

And if the tam is someone who pursues Hashem on an experiential, desire, level, then the she’eino yode’ah lish’ol, the child who doesn’t even know to ask a question, is his failed counterpart. Just as the rasha is one who tries to encounter Judaism on the chakham‘s cerebral level but rejects what he finds, the she’eino yode’iah lish’ol fails on the experiential level, he finds nothing he can relate to.

And so we continue the Hagadah explaining why the mitzvah of retelling the story of the Exodus is limited to the night of the seder:

יָכוֹל מֵרֹאשׁ חֹדֶשׁ, תַּלְמוּד לוֹמַר בַּיוֹם הַהוּא, אִי בַּיוֹם הַהוּא יָכוֹל מִבְּעוֹד יוֹם, תַּלְמוּד לוֹמַר בַּעֲבוּר זֶה – בַּעֲבוּר זֶה לֹא אָמַרְתִּי אֶלָא בְּשָׁעָה שֶׁיֵשׁ מַצָה וּמָרוֹר מֻנָּחִים לְפָנֶיךָ.

I might have thought [the mitzvah applies] from the beginning of the month. Therefore we learn from what [the Torah] says, “on this day”. If it’s “on that day”, perhaps the mitzvah begins while it’s still daytime. Therefore we learn from what it says, “because of this” [– “this”, indicating something to point to]. “Because of this” I wouldn’t have said except at a time when matzah and maror are set out before you.

The mitzvah of telling the story cannot be cerebral teaching, from a book. It must be accompanied with the mitzvos of matzah and maror. An experiential education, an inculcation. This is the only way to reach the disaffected, the she’eino yode’a lish’ol.

And even the rasha requires this approach.  The thing that gets someone to reconsider their postulates and explore a different philosophy is the experience of (eg) a Shabbos or a Pesach seder. Otherwise, all the “proofs” in the world fall on deaf ears.

Units of Measure

Pesach-time it’s common for people to start discussing how much matzah and wine one is obligated to eat, so why should I be any different?

What are we trying to compute?

The definition of eating in numerous contexts requires a minimum quantity of a kezayis (like [the volume of] an olive [including the pit]). This measure, like most halachic measures (shiurim), is halakhah leMoshe miSinai. Usually, that’s literal — “a law [given] to Moshe from Sinai”. Sometimes it’s more idiomatic, meaning more like “[as certain as] a law…”

Rav Chaim Volozhiner famously holds that the term is prescriptive — a kezayis is defined by the size of an olive as they are in your place and time. Which implies that there is something particular about olives that define what it means to eat.  Well, it’s one thing to say G-d gave us, or Chazal decided, a shiur that happens to be the volume of a typical Second Temple era olive. But if it’s actually tied to the drift in olives sizes, so that the point is related to the olive… In a society where olives are a staple, I could see saying that whatever your local olive is, that’s what you general consider “akhilah“. But why would this still hold in RCV’s 18th (or early 19th) cent Volozhin? So I’m stymied by the idea.

But it would help explain what most people remember as common practice, of taking far less matzah than the range of theoretically derived kezeisim. Unfortunately, there is another explanation…. In the 18th century, matzos got thinner. This is around when the Ashkneazi cracker-style matzah began. We decided it wasn’t safe to exclude kneading time from the 18 minutes — what if the person gets tired and pauses? So, the whole process got rushed, and we moved to a thinner, more quickly baked matzah. Then the matzah machine was introduced, even more thinning the matzah. Some point along the way, all that was left was crust — a cracker. But in any case, the eye gets fooled by this. Two very thin matzos will register to your eye as as “thin sheets”, but one could be twice as thick as the other, and it would a sheet of only half the area to make of the volume of a kezayis. So, it could be the matzos got thinner faster than the estimate of the kezayis kept up with it.

Another reason why even the Chazon Ish’s large kezeisim could be possible is that Israeli fruit shrank in size (and declined in quality) drastically in the late tannaitic era. Y-mi Pei’ah 7:3 33a would place it around the time of the Hadrianic persecutions. (Note this is not about their mythic past, nor all that different than Palestinian experience trying to farm the same land as Gush Katif did. It may be exaggerated, but it’s unlikely to simply be medrashic metaphor.) The kezayis was decided before the Temple was destroyed, and well before Hadrian harasha. With that in mind, even the CI’s shiurim are possible. Olive pits found at Masada or Betar wouldn’t reflect the huge olives we had at the time we started talking about kezayis.

The positions cited at the two ends of the normally discussed range of values for shiurim are products of very different approaches. The Chazon Ish, following the Noda biYhudah’s general approach, deals with the question in purely theoretical terms. If they reach empirically unrealistic conclusions, they quickly invoke the notion that breeding or nutrition changed the size of the average forearm, or the egg, or the olive. R’ Chaim Naeh also invokes theory, but his shiurim are typical values used in practice in the communities of Jerusalem in his day. This is similar to a difference of approach often pointed out between the Mishnah Berurah and the Arukh haShulchan. The Mishnah Berurah more often ends up in more stringent rulings because he considers all positions equally. The Arukh haShulchan, however, reads more as an explanation of the theoretical underpinnings of the rulings accepted in Lithuania in his day (with a few exceptions where the Arukh haShulchan disagreed with accepted practice).

Personally, I do not see any reason why today’s kezayis must necessarily be the same as chazal’s was, even if kezayis was descriptive of a particular set volume (and unlike RCV). I presume halakhah is constitutional; ie what those with legal authority interpret it to be. It is a process, it is supposed to evolve. (In an extreme case: Ezra and his court required tubes running into the altar to receive libations, meaning that in their era, Shelomo’s altar woudn’t have been kosher!) So perhaps a kezayis is what the theoreticians and common practice say is a kezayis, regardless of whether the historical measure was recaptured.

A New Way to Compute a Historical KeZayis

All that aside, here’s my own suggestion for how to compute a historical kezayis.

On one of the sides of the presumed Even Shesiyah, the rock under the Dome of the Rock, there are two holes 43.7 cm apart, and there is a niche in it that is 131 cm = 3 x 43.7 cm long. Two slabs of rock used in the eastern wall are 2.6 m long, six times 43.3 cm. And these, I am told, are only a few of many many examples. The repeated use of multiples of a particular unit suggests that it’s a standard unit of measure. Or, that an ammah is 43.5 cm +/- 2 mm.

At the end of Hizqiyahu’s Water tunnel, dug during the first Beis haMiqdah, is a plaque by the diggers telling us of the moment diggers from both ends met, “and the water flowed from the source to the pool for 1,200 ammos“. The actual length of the tunnel was given various values by archeologists, but with more recent tools (Gitt 2001), it was measured as 525m. Which comes to 1,207 of our even-shesiyah-amos long. (Well within rounding and measuring error. An amazingly on-target number, actually. Even the longest estimate I found, 537.6 m length given in 1870, would be within rounding to the nearest hundred.)

But, for much of the construction of the Second Temple, the ammah was overestimated by 1/2 etzba (see Pesachim 86a), ie by 25/24, as the workmen wanted to err on the side that would avoid accidentally short-changing the sacred (me’ilah). And in a small underground room under the north east corner of the current platform, the recurring unit of measure is 42.8 cm. If it weren’t for the Water Tunnel, it might have implied that the 43.5 cm length was the overestimate, not the ammah. As it is, I have no explanation. (Perhaps it was from a different era, with a different halachic ammah? Perhaps it’s because the rationale about me’ilah only applies to measures of construction material, and not the foundation on the rock?) Despite this problem, the convergence of both archeological indications of the ammah seems compelling to me.

Well, there is a way to convert from an ammah to the volume measures used in the seder.

An etzba is 1/24 ammah, and a revi’is, the measure of wine one’s cup must hold (and one must drink most of the cup), is 2 x 2 x 2.7 etzba’os, or 10.8 cubic etzba’os. So, we get an etzba is 1.81 cm, and a revi’is would be 64.3 cc (= 2.17 floz).

A kebeitzah is 2/3 of a revi’is, and a kezayis is either 1/2 or 1/3 of a kebeizah. So, a kezayis would come to either 14.2cc or 21.4 cc (.483 fl oz or 0.725 fl oz), depending on that dispute. Since matzah is deOraisa, it is customary to use the larger measure. Which you use for maror, which is rabbinic if there is no Pesach offering, is a matter for discussion with your rabbi.

Above I argued that perhaps the commonly cited range of values should be more halachically binding than historically determined ones. To give you an idea of where the values I just suggest sit in comparison to that range:

ComputedRambamR Chaim NaehArokh haShulchan*R Moshe FeinsteinChazon Ish
Ammah43.5 cm45.6 cm48.0 cm53.3 cm54.0 cm57.6 cm
Revi’is64.3 cc75 cc86.4 cc118.6 cc130.6 cc149.3 cc
Kezayis21.4 cc< 15 cc25.6 cc26.3 cc43.5 ml49.8 cc

(* The AhS’s measures are computed based on OC 16:4, which says that 3/4 ammah = 9 ווייערסקעס  (singular: вершо́к = vershok], for which Wikipedia says 1 vershok = 4.445 mm, combined with the AhS’s position of 2 kezeisim per kebeitzah. And the “o” in “Arokh” is intentional.)

So, while the Temple Mount based numbers are slightly lower than accepted range, they are not unrealistically so.

R’ Mordechai Willig reports that matzah weighs half of water, so that 21.4cc would weight 10.7 gm. This is much like the Sepharadi practice of using weight as a more accurate proxy for kezayis than guessing at volume of a thin sheet, but Sepharadim take the very conservative estimate of assuming matzah weighs as much by volume as water (1 cc weighs 1gm), when experimentally we find it’s about half.

I do not feel comfortable recommending anyone follow these numbers, though. It needs far more review by people who understand the archeology and posqim who understand the halakhah better than I do.

Why the Middle Matzah?

So, I was asked in the middle of the second seder: Why do we break the middle matzah for Yachatz? Is there some significance to it being the middle matzah?

Here was my off-the-cuff answer, I wonder if it has any truth:

This thought leverages ideas I developed in two earlier posts Bilvavi part I, and part II. Then, I was exploring the question why so much of the Torah describes the Mishkan, which existed for such a short part of Jewish History. To summarize what I wrote then:

There are three aspects of the soul that comprise a person’s individuality: nefeshruach and neshamah. These ideas are developed in numerous ways, the following is that of the Vilna Gaon in his “Peirush al Kama Agados”, and leverages the Maharal’s understanding of the three pillars R’ Shimon haTzadiq identifies in Avos 1:2.

Nefesh: This is man’s connection to the physical world. Through it, we share that world with other people, and work together to address our needs. It is thus holds both the drive for physical comfort and pleasure as well as the ability to relate to other people.

Neshamah: A person’s presence in heaven, his connection to a higher calling, sanctity, and the A-lmighty Himself. If that calling is harnessed to serve some baser instinct, one is left with idolatry. On the other hand, as we say upon waking up in the morning, “My G-d, the neshamah which you placed within me is pure” — the neshamah itself is an image of the Divine, never sullied.

Ruach: People carry entire worlds in the space between their ears. In there they have models of what is going on outside of them, they plan and imagine outcomes and concepts. The ru’ach is the will that chooses between the conflicting callings and therefore also the egotism that is driven to see that desire be done.

Three aspects, each living in a different world, and enabling a different kind of relationship.

And similarly, the gemara in Yuma 72a (and explained by Rashi ad loc) identifies three crowns given at Sinai. Each is a perfection of one of these relationships, and each is represented by one of the crowned utensils in the Mishkan: The shulchan, the table with its showbread, sport the crown of kingship, organizing the interpersonal and showing the communal need to provide for everyone. The crown of Torah is “worn” by the aron, containing the luchos and with the manuscript of the Torah between its carrying rods. The golden mizbeich, upon which the incense was burned to provide its intangible offering had the crown of priesthood, of connection with the Divine.

The Mishkan and Beis haMiqdosh had three more, uncrowned, vessels. Outside was the kiyor (washing vessel), which was used to wash the dirt of this world off the kohein’s feet. Next to it, also outside the sanctuary building was  the larger Brass Mizbei’ach where most of the Avodah was performed. The menorah, like the aron, represents wisdom. “For a mitzvah is a lamp, and the Torah its light.” (More detail in the posts specifically on this topic.) The uncrowned utensils represents navigating the challenges and opportunities of the three domains, while the crowned ones represent the ideal relationship each domain enables.

Notice that in both sets of three, the symbol of the nefesh is placed in a holier location than the other two. The shulchan and the golden mizbeiach are in the outer room, the aron — in the Holy of Holies. The kiyor and large mizbeiach are outdoors, the menorah — inside. Even though the neshamah is our presence in heaven, our spirituality, it is the ruach where our holiness truly resides. The neshamah is a recipient of holiness; the ruach, the will and power to consciously decide, which creates holiness in true imitation of G-d.

Perhaps we can say something similar in understanding the three matzvos. In is the ruach, torn between our spiritual and animal callings which is broken. Perhaps we can view the crack where the middle matzah is broken is where the two collide; Rav Dessler’s “battlefront” between conflicting desires which force the need for conscious deliberated. This is where free will truly resides. Hopefully, a person moves this front such that more and more good is beyond it, requiring no struggle to be performed.

And so we break the matzah into two uneven pieces, and use the bigger one for the afiqoman. Because our service should be with the middle matzah, that which makes us in the “image of the Divine”, and with the purest of our intentions, which we hope is the larger “half” of our selves.

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.

But there is one difference… Pesach, matzah, maror are in a different order – avodah (relating to G-d), Torah (self-refinement), then Gemilus Chassadim (in how we relate to others). Describing a flow downward.

First we connect to the Source of all good, by eating the qorban Pesach which shows our trust in Him and an inviation to “eat off His table”, so to speak. Then we eliminate all of our selfishness, our ulterior motives and other goals that could get in the way, as we can find modeled in our matzah. We make ourselves into conduits of that good to His Creatures. And finally we feel the pain of others in the taste of our maror and share what we received from G-d to help them through their suffering.

And more than that, we find that it’s maror that gets dipped in charoses.  Charoses poses a paradox. On the one hand, the Rambam writes, “The charoses is amitzvah 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).

(The sweetness of charoses is discussed at more length in this earlier post.)

Charoses 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)

Maror gets charoses because the ultimate purpose of life is not our self-refinement or our cleaving to the Divine, but our utilizing them to aid those in need. In fact, neither of these can be defined without knowing what a person’s function is, and therefore how we measure refinement, and what it is G-d does for creation that we can contribute to ourselves. It is through giving G-d’s Good to others that we cleave to Him, reflect His Perfection, and achieve our own.

The Great Seal of the United State of America

Resolved, That Dr. Franklin, Mr. J. Adams and Mr. Jefferson, be a committee, to bring in a device for a seal for the United States of America.

– Journals of Continental Congress, July 4th, 1776

Rabbi Meir de Soloveitchik (as the rabbi of the Spanish Portugese Synagogue jokingly calls himself) recently mentioned this committee and the resulting seal when introducing a discussion at Yeshiva University featuring Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, and himself. (Video on YouTube, here, and audio from Soundcloud, here.)

What made this committee relevant is that the suggestions for design were examples of how much the Exodus from Egypt played a role in American self-definition.

Thomas Jefferson wanted the front to depict the Children of Israel in the wilderness, following the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of cloud at night.

Benjamin Franklin kept his reference to the Exodus to the reverse side (quoting a handwritten note from here):

Moses standing on the Shore, and extending his Hand over the Sea, thereby causing the same to overwhelm Pharaoh who is sitting in an open Chariot, a Crown on his Head and a Sword in his Hand. Rays from a Pillar of Fire in the Clouds reaching to Moses, to express that he acts by Command of the Deity.

Motto: Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God.

At some point the two compromised with Jefferson’s picture with Franklin’s motto for the reverse side:
Lossing realization (1856) of Du Simitiere's sketch
and for the front, something more reflecting Adams’ proposal, which is of less interest to us:

Lossing realization (1856) of Du Simitiere's sketch

The United States itself never ends up getting its own seal, although you might recognize the eye-and-pyramid design from the front of this proposal on the reverse side of the seal of the president of the US (check the back of a $1 bill):

Reverse side of Great Seal on the exterior of a U.S. post office

There is a religious subtext to all this.

Jefferson called upon the citizens of the new nation to follow G-d through the desert. G-d provides direction and protection for his people.

Franklin expects more autonomy. While he shows G-d drowning the Egyptians, he adds a motto to tell us this an example for us to follow “Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God”. Man is expected to redeem himself.

But the design that actually emerged from all this is neither the G-d saving man image of Jefferson nor the man partnering with G-d to redeem himself image of Franklin. The God of the final design is that of a Deist. It depicts well-designed but incomplete world, represented by the pyramid. God is depicted as an eye, watching from above, but not acting. It is man’s job to complete the pyramid on his own.

The evolution of the seal is emblematic of a basic value conflict between Judaism and the message of the book of Shemos and the values of American culture. Americans value the person who stand up for what’s theirs. The gemara:

אמר רבא: כל המעביר על מדותיו מעבירין לו על כל פשעיו

Rava said: Whomever is “maavir al midosav“ [forgives others when he is slighted -Yuma 23a], they [the heavenly court] passes [ma’avirin] over all his sins for him.

Shabbos 17b

America places human autonomy as the primary value, to the extent that it grapples with the entire concept of a moral code that goes beyond being able to do what one wants that doesn’t encroach on others’ opportunity to do the same. This is the battle between the Christian notion of needing God to save you, as per Jefferson’s original proposal, and the Enlightenment value of the self-made man.

As I wrote at more length in the past, American law is based on a social contract that guarantees rights in contrast to halakhah which is based on a covenant.

A successful contract is one where the outcome is a win-win. Each party takes away what they need from the deal, in exchange for giving up something that didn’t matter as much to them.

A covenant, however, creates a new community. A marriage is not a contract, an exchange of favors. It creates a new unit, the married couple, and each enters the marriage covenant with the commitment to contribute to the wellfare of that community of two.

Yetzi’as Mitzrayim, the Exodus, is thus not just a historical prelude to the Beris Sinai, the covenant forged at Sinai. It gave the Jewish People, who until then were slaves who were not given room to contribute, a taste of what it means to be a partner — to only merit the splitting of the sea or leadership and protection through the desert by being willing to follow Hashem’s moral lead as well. Hashem did not split the sea until we showed the faith to enter the water. (There are two opinions as to who went in first — either Nachshon, the leader of Yehudah, or that there was a fight over which tribe would go first, which Benjamin won.) Moshe promised that Hashem would save us: “ה’ יִלָּחֵם לָכֶם וְאַתֶּם תַּחֲרִישׁוּן — Hashem will fight for you, and you will remain silent.” (Moshe, as quoted in Shemos 14:14) But He asked us to take initiative, to show some ownership of our own need for redemption, and only then He stepped in.

Without taking responsibility, we would not have been ready for participation in a covenantal community.

Talmudic Sources for Avoiding Qitniyos

Here are two possibilities for the source of the minhag.
The Yerushalmi makes the same statement that we have in the Bavli, that dough made from rice and water undergo a sirchon, not chameitz. Then it continues (Pesachim 2:4, vilna 17a):

רבי יוחנן בן נורי אמר קרמית חייבת בחלה שהיא באה לידי מצה וחמץ ורבנין אמרי אינה באה לידי מצה וחמץ ויבדקנה על עיקר בדיקתה הן חולקין רבי יוחנן בן נורי אמר בדקו’ ומצאו אותה שהיא באה לידי מצה וחמץ ורבנין אמרין בדקוה ולא מצאו אותה שהיא באה לידי מצה וחמץ.

Rabbi Yochanan ben Nuri said: Qarmis (millet or something similar) requires [giving] challah [from the dough to a kohein] because it can become chameitz or matzah.

And the Rabbis say it doesn’t because it can not become chameitz or matzah.

So check it!

They disagree about the essence of the check: RYBN said they checked it and found it can become chameitz or matzah. The Rabbanan said they checked it and they didn’t find it can become chameitz or matzah.

I would suggest that the argument may not actually be about the chemistry of the findings, and we can avoid saying this is a machloqes in metzi’us. Because if it were, it is easy enough for later generations to repeat the experiment, rather than the dispute. I think the word “iqar” in “al iqar habediqah hein cholqin — they disagree about the essence of the check”. Why “essence”?

I think they found something that wasn’t textbook chameitz-style leavening, and RYBN disagreed about where the line is drawn. They disagreed about the meaning, the essence of the check, not the results themselves.

Either way, eating chameitz is not “merely” an issur (prohibition), it is an issur kareis, a prohibition whose punishment (for the fully culpable; I am not G-d’s judge) may involve losing one’s physical place in the Jewish People by their line not being born or dying out and/or by losing one’s spiritual eternal life. So it is not unrealistic to think a custom would arise to not entirely ignore a rejected opinion in the Yerushalmi.


As for my own favorite theory, this year it’s the Gra’s. He invokes Pesachim 40b:

רב פפי שרי ליה לבורדיקי דבי ריש גלותא לממחה קדירה בחסיסי אמר רבא איכא דשרי כי האי מילתא בדוכתא דשכיחי עבדי א”ד רבא גופא מחי לה קידרא בחסיסי:

Rav Papi allowed the exilarch’s manor’s kitchen staff to thicken the stew with lentils.
Rava said: is there one who permits this activity in a place where servants are common?
Others say: Rava personally allowed lentils in the stewpot.

The two variants of describing Rava’s position agree in content. The first says it in the negative — when dealing with kitchen staff, one shouldn’t allow cooking with lentils. The other in the positive — when dealing with himself, Rav would permit.

Still, we see there is an opinion in the gemara that prohibits cooking with lentils, at least by people less likely to be careful. If a community worries that its observance may be closer to the meticulousness of the exilarch’s kitchen staff than to Rav Papa’s, following this gemara would have them avoid cooking with lentils and anything else that shares this concern. The Gra suggests this is exactly the minhag of avoiding qitniyos.