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Monday, April 22

The Weekly Shtikle - Leil Seder

For this year's thought on the Pesach seder, I wish to focus on a pasuk which is not traditionally part of the "meat and potatoes" of the Haggadah and was only added around the 12th century, possibly as a response to the devastating crusades. It has recently gained more prominence and recognition as it is featured the ominous perek 79 of Tehillim which has become a common part of the rotation since the tragic events of Shemini Atzeres.

We open the door for Eliyahu HaNavi and recite (Tehillim 79:6-7, followed by two pesukim from elsewhere in Kesuvim) "Shefoch chamascha el hagoyim asher lo yeda'ucha, v'al mamlachos asher beshimcha lo kara'u." We beseech HaShem to pour out his wrath upon the nations who do not know Him, and the kingdoms who do not call His name. I was puzzled by the use of el hagoyim vs. al mamalachos. Intriguingly, any commentaries I could find that address the usage of el and al suggest that they are more or less interchangeable. (Try asking for a ticket on an Al El flight and see where that gets you.) But why use different words in the very same pasuk? (It should be noted that this pasuk has a nearly identical mirror in Yirmiyahu 10:25 in which the word al is used both times.)

Perhaps the precise wording can be explained as follows: el denotes towards, in the direction of, whereas al means directly upon. We ask that HaShem mete out retribution towards the nations – the common folk who do not know HaShem but perhaps might still maintain an inkling of innocence and might still deserve the opportunity to repent. This is a somewhat softer tone. On the mamlachos – the kingdoms, I.e. the leadership – we ask that HaShem heap his anger directly upon them. They are the true source of the evil that confronts us and their due should come more swiftly and precisely. It is in fact this approach which – to some degree – governs the very delicate operation we are currently engaged in. There is a sinister entity which can be afforded nothing more than complete demise. At the same time, there is a nation in their midst – by no means innocent – but perhaps not deserved of the same fate.

Despite the apparent fit of this interpretation with the words, it is interesting to note that the plagues in Egypt seemed to follow a diametrically opposite pattern. Many plagues took a heavier toll on the citizens of Egypt than they did on Paroah himself.

Have a chag kasher ve'sameiach!

Eliezer Bulka

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:

For a collection of previous seder night shtikles, please check out my archive of past Seder shtikles.

Dikdukian: Shiras HaLevi'im

Dikdukian: Hagieinu vs Yagieinu

Dikdukian: Chad Gadya 

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