Wednesday, April 20, 2005


By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

The Yom Tov of Pesach has an almost universal appeal, even to Jews who have regrettably drifted very far from Judaism. Every year more and more hagados are printed and sold. No matter how many hagados we may own, we are eager to add still another one to our collection.

What is it about the Seder that is so appealing?

We are taught that the Seder is to be conducted in a question-and-answer format. The children are prompted to ask questions and if there are no children present, the adults ask each other questions. If a person is celebrating the seder by himself, he directs both the questions and answers to himself. .

What is it about the question-and-answer framework that is so central to the Seder? A look into Chazal’s intentions behind the meticulous organization of the Seder might shed some light.

Chazal instructed us when telling sipur yitzias Mitzrayim to begin begnus and culminate beshvach, to start with the shame and end with the glory.

What is the purpose of beginning the Seder with tales and pesukim that hark back to humble beginnings and epochs in our history which were less than laudatory? Why do we have to revisit the times when we were slaves and idol worshippers?

Why, when presiding at our tables like kings and queens at the Seder and displaying our finest wares, do we dredge up the sad past?

Every person is obligated at the Seder to envision himself as if he had been released from bondage in Mitzrayim. In fact, we recite those very words. “In every generation a person is obligated to see himself as if he personally had exited Mitzrayim.” As we begin the Seder, we also recite the chapter that testifies that if our forefathers had not been released we would still be subservient to Paroh in Mitzrayim.

How can we make this assertion? How do we know that a revolution or other world events leading to the eventual overthrow of Paroh would not have set the Jews free? Paroh and his institutions are but a distant memory today. How then can one assume that the Jewish people would still be subservient to Paroh in Mitzrayim?

Perhaps this sweeping statement can be understood homiletically as alluding to how a person should deal with times of challenge.

Every one of us experiences ups and down; sad events and happy ones. People go through very trying times. There are often occasions of triumph and success. But life can also be very frustrating and cause a person to grow despondent. When all one sees is doom and gloom and it seems that the sun will never shine again, one can easily fall prey to confusion and despair. It is hard to be normal in a crazy world.

Whether it’s illness, parnassa problems, trouble with one’s children, parents or any one of a host of challenges we face in our daily lives, when things don’t go according to our plan, when our path is strewn with obstacles, we sometimes feel like giving up. We think it’s all over.

The Seder speaks to us, shakes us out of this negative mindset and helps us put everything in perspective.

We begin begnus, discussing how originally our forefathers were idolatrous; we recount that we were lowly slaves in Mitzrayim. We don’t just discuss it, we feel it. We eat the maror and relive the pain of servitude. We see the charoses and remember the back- breaking labor. We dip vegetables in salt water to recount the oceans of tears shed.

We think about the tears we have shed over our own problems, the work we have to do and the humiliation we have to put up with in order to put food on our own tables. We think not only about ourselves and our own predicaments but also about the people we care about who are sick, or those who have fallen on hard times. Our minds wander and we think about our own Golus Mitzrayim, and the things that afflict us.

And then we are mesayem beshevach, the hagadah continues and recounts how G-d kept his pact with the Avos and redeemed the Jews from the misery of Egypt. The darkness and gloom came to a radical and abrupt halt. The slavery ended, the decades of being enslaved to an evil master were finally over. We were out of Mitzrayim, free and triumphant.

After hundreds of years of incarceration people had given up and were unable to accept words of consolation from Moshe Rabbeinu. When he appeared before them and told them the avdus was about to end, they ignored him. What he was predicting seemed impossible. They were so overcome by their labor they could not imagine their fetters and chains locking them behind a stone curtain being broken.

The hagadah proclaims to every Jew to never give up. The hagadah reminds every Jew that all that transpires is part of a Divine plan. The plan is not necessarily evident to us as we live through it, but often times when the period of torment is over, with the benefit of hindsight, the entire picture becomes clear. The light at the end of the tunnel shines upon what transpired and gives one a more complete picture and understanding of what happened and why.

“Bechol dor vador chayuv adam liros es atzmo k’eelu hu yotzoh miMitzrayim.” When we say that every person at his Seder has to imagine that he himself left Mitzrayim, we mean that every person has to apply this lesson to his own life. Everyone has to reflect upon the departure from Mitzrayim and transpose it to his own life. Every person has to see that just as he was freed from Mitzrayim, he will be released from the stressful situations encumbering him.

At the Seder, every Jew chants Vehi She’amdah which proclaims that in every generation the Jewish people are targeted for death, but eventually triumph. In every generation, in some part of the world there is a Pharoh who seeks our annihilation, but G-d foils his plan and rescues us.

So too, in every person’s life there are times when things seem hopelessly tangled and headed for disaster. We feel thwarted at every turn. Curveballs are thrown our way, making havoc of our plans. At times we feel utterly lost.

We often are tormented by questions. Why does it have to be me? Why is this happening? Why don’t my plans succeed? We keep the questions bottled up inside of us, afraid of asking them and perhaps afraid of facing the answers.

True, there are times when our task lies in accepting what Hashem has sent our way without questioning Him, trusting that He alone knows why we must grapple with these particular challenges and that they are ultimately for our own good.

But questions can also lead us to better understand life as well as our mesorah and the yesodos of emunah and those are the questions that we are taught to ask on Seder night.

We are taught that every question has an answer—although we may not be privileged to attain or comprehend the answer- there is one. That is why we recite the story of yitzias Mitzrayim in question and answer format, for our own lives parallel the tale of yitzias Mitzrayim.

The matzoh is refered to in the Torah as lechem oni, as the posuk states in Parshas Re’eih, [Devorim 16: 3] “shivas yomim tochal alav maztzos lechem oni, ki bechipazon yatzasah mei’eretz Mitzrayim, leman tizkor es yom tzeischa mei’eretz Mitzrayim kol yimei chayecha.” For seven days you shall eat matzos, lechem oni, because you left Mitzrayim very quickly. You are to remember the day you left Mitzrayim all the days of your life.”

Lechem oni is commonly translated as “bread of affliction.” The Gemorah in Pesachim [115B] offers another explanation. It teaches that it is called lechem oni because it is “bread upon which we recite many words [at the Seder],” “lechem she’onin olov devorim harbeh.”

Perhaps in this usage of the word onin, from the root word anah, to answer, there is an allusion to the question-answer concept that runs through the Seder.

Matzoh is the bread upon which we answer many questions as we sit at the Seder. Therefore it is referred to as lechem oni. And why do we answer many questions in the presence of the matzoh? Because Hashem rushed us out of Mitzrayim, symbolized by the hastily baked matzos. And that sudden, dramatic reversal is something which we should remember all the days of our lives, the good days as well as the bad. No matter how bad times seem, as long as there is life there is hope, ki bechipazon yatzasah mei’eretz Mitzrayim.

The Yerushalmi in Brachos in the beginning of the third perek seems to support this idea. The gemorah derives from the posuk, “tizkor es yom tzeischa mei’eretz Mitzrayim kol yimei chayecha,” that the mitzva of remembering yetzias mitzrayim does not apply to a person who is preoccupied with the dead. Kol yemei chayecha teaches that one is obligated to remember yitzias Mitzrayim only when among living people, but not in the presence of death.

This limud can be understood according to our concept that recounting yitzias Mitzrayim is meant to remind us not to grow despondent with our personal situations. Just as G-d brought salvation to the Jews and rescued them from Egypt, so too He will rescue us from our stressful circumstances.

The obligation to never give up hope is only applicable as long as there is life. Obviously, once one is confronted with the finality of death and is dealing with a meis, one must apply the Chazal [Avos 4: 18] which states, “V’al tenachamenu beshah shmeiso mutal lefanav - “Do not offer words of consolation to a person while his dear recently departed lies before him.”

As long as there is life, sipur yitzias Mitzrayim and matzoh serve to remind us that yeshuas Hashem k’heref ayin, salvation can arrive as quickly as the blink of an eye. That answers many questions. The affliction is a portion of the salvation and often times a necessary component of it. Many times things happen which at the time you think will mean the end of the world for you, but as time goes on you realize that it was all for the good and in the end you came out ahead, stronger and better.


The seder night is referred to as leil shimurim, meaning that this night was singled out by Hashem as “a night of watching.” Yet doesn’t Hashem watch over us every night of the year? What is it about seder night that warrants this special appellation?

On the night of the seder as we recount the tale of slavery in Mitzrayim and our miraculous exodus, we recognize that even in the darkest days of avdus, Hashem was watching over the Jews as His preordained plan unfolded. Every pivotal event, from Yaakov’s descent to Mitzrayim and the beginning of the enslavement, to the eventual geulah, kriyas yam suf, kabolas haTorah and entry into Eretz Yisroel, was part of the Divine plan.

We see from the pesukim in the Torah that foretold these events, that everything followed a clear blueprint. So, too, as we contemplate our own personal travails against the backdrop of yetzias mitzrayim, we relive the redemption from Mitzrayim as if we ourselves were participants. That redemption and the soaring happiness of feeling Hashem’s guiding Hand, renews our faith that our present predicament, as well, is part of His plan.

We recognize that G-d is hovering over us now, too—sometimes in ways which take many years to understand.

On the night of the seder it becomes evident to us that just as He was watching and protecting us so many centuries ago in Mitzrayim, He is with us now too. Leil Shimurim teaches us to recognize His protective presence throughout the darkest hours of our private and national golus.

The posuk states in Micha [6: 15] “Kiyimei tzeis’chem meieretz mitzrayim arenu niflaos, in the end of days I will show you miracles as I did when you left Mitzrayim.”

Why does the posuk use the terminology of niflaos and not nissim, the more commonly used term for describing miracles?

We find that the word nes is used to refer to miraculous events which are supernatural, above teva, while niflaos applies to occurrences which conform to the laws of nature, but nevertheless defy human understanding.

Perhaps the posuk is not only referring to the many miracles which will take place at the end of days, but it is stressing that a day will come when Hashem will lift the veil on all the incomprehensible events down the centuries that befell us as a people and in our individual lives. All the trials that so bewildered us and that tested our faith and our very souls, will finally be understood.

The Michiltah states in chapter 3 of Parshas Shira in Parshas Beshalach, that at the time of Yetzias Mitzrayim, “roasah shifcha al hayam mah shelo raah Yecheskel ben Buzii,” a simple maidservant beheld more of Hashem’s revealed glory than the prophet Yechezkel ben Buzi was zocheh to.

The purpose of all the years of suffering and oppression in Mitzrayim which caused the Jewish people so much anguish was finally made clear.

On the night of the seder as we recount the nissim, makkos and niflaos which occurred at yetzias Mitzrayim, our task is to recognize the niflaos that take place each day in our lives. Just as a simple maid servant was capable of beholding Hashem’s glory, so too, on this night when we study the niflaos of sipur Yetzias Mitzrayim, we can gain the ability to understand the niflaos that take place in our lives as being Divinely engineered by the Keil Rachum Vechanun.

As a preparation for the Seder, the night prior before the Seder, we go through our homes searching in the dark for chometz, holding a small candle to light the way.
Perhaps the darkness of night represents the Golus and the candle symbolizes the flame of Torah and mitzvos, as the posuk states in Mishlei [6: 23], ki ner mitzva v’Torah ohr.

When confounded by the darkness of the exile and the vagaries of life, we turn to the light generated by the study of Torah and the observance of its mitzvos to light our way. With the ner, the proper observance of the commandments, and the ohr radiated by the study of Torah, we can find our bearings in a confusing, turbulent world. With our new insights into Torah, we are able to answer all the questions posed at the Seder.

May we all merit lives suffused with happiness, joy and the light of Torah and Mitzvos.

May we all merit the brachos of the Yom Tov as we depart our work stations for a full week of kedushas Yom Tov, spent in the company of our families and loved ones.

May we sit at the Seder as true bnei chorin asking and answering questions on a night filled with sacred traditions and customs.

And when we open the door for Eliyahu Hanavi this year, may he announce that the time has finally come for him to take us all to the Promised Land. Amen.


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