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Monday, March 25

The Weekly Shtikle - Leil Seder

Over the past couple of days, I have been thoroughly enjoying the newly published Haggada of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks by Koren Publishers. Unfortunately, this recommendation doesn't leave much time before Pesach is upon us but if you do still have an opportunity to get your hands on this haggadah, I highly recommend it. The haggadah includes commentary directly on the actual text as well as a collection of insightful essays in the back. There is a common theme that presents itself throughout - that the story of Yetzias Mitzrayim cannot be viewed simply as a singular historical event but rather a monumentally significant episode that shaped and continues to shape us as individuals and more importantly, as a people.

In the essay "The Missing Fifth," R' Sacks begins by going over the well-known "fours" - the four questions, four sons, four cups and four expressions of redemption. Four fours, in fact. He goes on to explain how each group actually has a missing fifth - a fifth question, a fifth son, a fifth cup and a fifth expression of redemption. Furthermore, there is yet a fifth group of four - the four pesukim from Ki Savo which we expound upon in the main part of Maggid. There, too, there is a fifth pasuk, 'Vayevi'einu el hamakom hazeh..." which we do not discuss. The common theme of these missing fifths is tied to the ultimate completion of the redemption from Mitzrayim, namely settling Eretz Yisrael and our ultimate redemption which has eluded us for so many generations but feels ever so much closer.

I couldn't even attempt to express these ideas nearly as eloquently as R' Sacks but this essay, as well as the themes expressed in other essays, inspired a perspective on the entire seder experience which was new to me and changed the way I understand the "duties of the day." The mitzvah of Sipur Yetzias Mitzrayim is a two way street. It is well known and much discussed that we must do our best to "take ourselves back" to the great redemption from the hands of Egyptian servitude - "chayav adam lir'os/lehar'os es atzmo..." We need to put ourselves there. However, at the same time, we need to "bring the geula to us." We need to understand that Yetzias Mitzrayim is nothing short of a blueprint for HaShem's constant Divine intervention on our behalf. This is perhaps made most evident by the "Vehi She'amdah" passage where we declare that it was not just in that generation but in every generation that our very existence hangs in the balance and HaShem ensures what we survive and endure. Just as the Dayeinu song expresses the ultimate purpose and completion of our exodus as the acceptance of the Torah and settling of Eretz Yisrael, statements such as "lashanah haba'ah b'nei chorin" and the themes found in the songs of Nirtzah express our trust and our yearning for our ultimate redemption, may it come speedily in our day.


A QUESTION: While this quandary might be classified simply in the realm of pilpul, perhaps it may spur some more insightful thought on the subject: There is a well-known dispute in the gemara (Pesachim 116a) as to the exact definition of "maschil bignus umsayeim bishvach," the requirement to express the "bad" and progress towards the "good" (to translate ever so loosely) in the retelling of Yetzias Mitzrayim. Rav is of the opinion that the "bad" is "mitechila ovedei avodah zarah hayu avoseinu." We begin with our lowly roots as idolaters and progress through the history from there. Shmuel is of the opinion that the genus is "avadim hayinu." We begin with our misfortune as slaves and proceed to tell the story of our redemption. 

There are various approaches to understanding this dispute. One would generally assume that the "less inclusive" opinion would have no objection to the "more inclusive" opinion. In this case, Shmuel holds that the required material need only begin with the Egyptian subjugation. Therefore, he should not object to Rav's approach which stretches much further back historically. However, there is an interesting nuance to this dispute. The passage of "Mitechila, etc." appears after that of "Avadim hayinu." So perhaps it remains to be seen what Shmuel's opinion to Rav's approach would be and vice versa. Or perhaps their dispute runs even deeper and would affect how the entire collection of texts is arranged.

Have a Chag Kasher veSamei'ach!

Eliezer Bulka

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