Haggada – My colleague and Mentor Dr. David Pelcovitz is also a well known PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder) expert. He noted that as part of a recent study he was involved in with Bessel Van Der Kolk, Van Der Kolk showed him the FMRI of a patient undergoing a traumatic flashback. The FMRI showed that the flashback impaired Broca’s area of the brain, normally associated with the production of language. Dr. Pelcovitz notes that this reminded him of the comments of Rav Yaakov Moshe Charlop ztl. the author of the Mei Marom who noted that slavery (like any other trauma) involves the process of being unable to process. One of the ultimate declarations of freedom is Maggid – when we are free to talk about our experience – and talk about it we will.
Kaddeish: Why the double language of Asher Bachar Banu Meekol Am AND Romimanu Mekol Lashon? Rav Simcha Bunim of Pshischa used to note that it is one thing to be a chosen people and another to be able to EXPRESS the distinction. We are doubly blessed to not only be Hahem’s chosen ones but also to have the clarity of language in order to be able to express that selection. When one understands something so clearly that s/he can put his/her own words to it, that too, is a cause for pause and thanksgiving.
Kaddeish: Why are so many Mitzvos assigned Zecher L’yetzias Mitzrayim? Rav Perr (Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva of Far Rockaway, Risisei Leil Shimurim) quotes Rav Nekritz(Rav Perr’s Father in Law) who noted that the slavery in Mitzrayim was an educational process and not meant to be a punishment. If we hadn’t learned anything from it, it becomes a useless punishment. Thus, the more we learn, the greater the purpose and the bigger the growth experience for us.
U’rechatz: Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach would note that on the Pesach Night we express the understanding that we are the Banim (children) Hashem. Therefore, like dutiful children who stick to the custom of the family, we tend to be Machmir (stringent) with all sorts of Hiddurim on Pesach. Thus, we follow the opinions of those who say we need to wash our hands before partaking of a vegetable dipped into a liquid. Hence, U’rechatz is a further expression of Pesach-based freedom.
Karpas: Rav Soloveitchik would underscore that the actions of eating are part of the mitzvah of Pesach recall (the Mitzva of Sippur Yetzias Mitzrayim). Eating, like when one eats the Karpas is to stimulate the young mind – perhaps especially the young mind that does not ask questions on its own, in order to get it rolling. The Mitzva isn’t just to tell the story because children do not listen if they are not interested.
Yachatz: Rav Perr notes that the goal of this step in the Seder is to hint to us that the best is hidden from us (Tzafun) and is yet to come (hence we put away the Afikomen for later). Moreover, the children tend to look for it, since the future is theirs to uncover.
Ha Lachma: The Gemara (Shabbos 19b) notes that welcoming guests is greater than greeting the Shechina. The Gemara’s proof is from Avraham who left Hashem’s presence to welcome the Malachim. But, since they were angels, no real Hachnassas Orchim existed?! Moreover, if there were no guests why was Avraham distressed? Rav Shlomo Heiman ztl(Rosh Yeshiva, Yeshiva Torah VoDaas) comments that Chessed involves 2 components – it involves the act itself as needed but also the teachable moment for Jewish destiny. While true that Avrhaham was not OBLIGATED in welcoming guests, he was distressed in the loss of the opportunity to train the descendants in the future.
Mah Nishtana: The word “Mah” is often misinterpreted as why – although technically it is “what” -- as in “for what purpose is this night different” Rabbi Lamm used to note that the goal of the Mah Nishtana is not to merely recite history or question Hashem but instead – to plumb the depth of Jewish existence and derive sources of strength and hope that will carry us through the Galus to the ultimate Geulah.
Kol HaMarbeh Harei Zeh Mishubach – Rav Lau once noted that we do not make a beracha on Maggid because we cannot know when we have achieved it (based on the Chasam Sofer). Rav Lau added that we find this in the language of the Haggada – normally we say do the mitzvah and do not add to it (Baal Tosif). But here it is a mitzvah to add to it.
Bnei Brak: Is it a place (as in the place mentioned in Sefer Yehoshua), a thing to sit on (As per the Abarbanel’s commentary to the Haggada) or a person or persons (as per the Midrash at the beginning of Parshas Shelach and the Gemara Gittin 57a <See Rav Hai Gaon there>)? In our Biblical Personalities classes we pointed out the commentary of Rav Avdollah Someich who points out that the Yetzer HaRa tries to stymie us any time we try to make a positive impact. These Rabbis tricked their Yetzer Hara by saying they were going on vacation to Bnei Brak and by the time the Yetzer Hara figured out that there was a spiritual ascent going on, it was too late. We added that based on this, we can understand that Bnei Brak is all three – it is a state of mind of self improvement. When we hit that state, we do not see the difference between day and night (Gaus and Geulah – See the Ohr HaMayir, Vayikra/Pesach).
K’Negged Arba Banim – Why is the knowing of Hashem directly connected to the process of telling the Sippur yetzias Mitzrayim (Shemos 10:2)? Rav Shraga Feivel Mendelowitz once noted that the telling of the story to the children must effect a clearer and deeper understanding of Hashem by the parents. Then and only then, have we fulfilled the obligation of telling the story.
Echad chacham: Rav Shach once noted that it does not say Echad Tzaddik because the first thing we ask of a Ben Torah is to be able to think and properly evaluate what he is choosing in life.
Answer to the Chacham – We tell him all the Halachos of Pesach. Rav Perr explains that the Yetzer HaRa of a Chacham is to stay within his strengths – the intellectual. He thinks to himself that he will do only that which makes sense to him. Therefore we tell him Hilchos HaPesach – up to Ein Maftirin – to tell him that we follow the letter of the law even after the intellectual reason for doing so is no longer appealing to us.
Mah HaAvoda HaZos Lachem; Rabbi Lamm once noted that young ppl. tend to ask the question “why should I” while the Chacham asks “what should I?”
V’Heeegadita L’Bincha: Moshe could have used the opportunity of Yetzias Mitzrayim to focus on a myriad of things to inspire the people. Instead, he reminds them about what to tell their children in the future when the children ask about the process of making Pesach. British Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks pointed out that upon their attainment of freedom Moshe wanted to highlight to the people that they had become a nation of educators. Freedom is not won in the political arena or on the battlefield nor in the courts but rather in the human imagination and will. To defend a free society one needs schools where ideals are passed from generation to generation. The Yirushalmi (Chagigah 1:6) explains that Rebbe Yehuda HaNassi once sent Rav Chiya and Rav Issi and Rav Ami through the towns in Israel. They came to a town without any teachers. The Rabbis asked to meet the defenders of the town and were introduced to the military guard. “These are not the defenders, they are the destroyers,” they said.
“Who were the protectors they sought?” they were asked. “The teachers” was the swift reply.
MeeTichila Ovdai Avoda Zara: Rav Ovadiah Yosef points out that at the dawn of time, it was acceptable to refer to idol worshippers as our forefathers. However, after we received the Torah, we no longer associate Jewish beginnings to anything but Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov. Rav Ovadiah tells the story of rav Yitzchak elchanan Spector who was assumed to be a reformed and enlightenend Jew by the Maskilim due to his often permissive views expressed in his response. When he was travelling through Vilna, he was approached by a Maskil who looked at him, adorned with the look of an old style Rav and said that he was surprised that the Rav was not “modern.” With a twinkle in his eye, Rav Yitzchak Elchanan retorted that indeed it was he who was modern and not the Maskil. After all, in the haggada we say, Meetichilah Ovdai Avoda Zara Hayu Avoseinu….
Bris Bein HaBesarim – during the Bris Bein HaBesarim Avraham is promised that his children will be like the Stars. Rav Elazar Kahanow (Nesanel Milstein’s grandfather) notes that stars are unique because when a person looks at stars from far away they look like tiny specks. When we get closer to them, we discover how great they really are. The same can be said about Bnei yisroel. When we are looked upon by outsiders who don’t really know us, they see us as small. If they were to truly appreciate us, they would recognize that we have a bright, large spiritual world.
Tze u’Lemad – The Lubavitcher Rebbe noted that sometimes we are too rigid in our thinking of how the world runs. We are told Tze U’lEmad. – go out of your box of thinking.
Arami Oved Avi: The language of this declaration is strange – Lavan the Arami tried to lose my father? What does it mean? Rav Avrohom Schorr (HaLekach V’HaLeebuv) points out that the job of a true anti-Semite is to make the Jew believe that Hashem is not his father. So long as a Jew feels the princely uniqueness, he thinks that certain practices are beneath his dignity and station in life. Becoming “real folk” lowers expectation. Maybe that’s why we are instructed to feel the freedom of princes on the Seder night – to remind us of our station and not allow the “fatherly” relationship to be lost upon us (hence Milamed She’Bnei Yisroel Mitzuyanim Sham).
VaNitzak El Hashem: What is the difference between Shaava and Zaakah? The Zohar explains that shaava refers to a worded prayer while zaaka is a cry without words. The Zohar adds that Shaava can be refused by Hashem but Zaaka cannot. Rav Shimshon Dovid Pinkus explains that Shaavah has to travel upward to Hashem while Zaaka is met by Hashem. The reason is that Zaaka refers to a purity that is unadulterated by word. Such simple, raw emotion is likely to be met emotionally by Hashem and uadulterated.
Baby boys born shall be thrown into the Yeor – Rav Pam noted that every attempt to downsize the Jewish people has resulted in more people becoming interested in Judaism. He compared it to Temurah where one tries to exchange Kedusha from one Korban to the next. We are told that in these situations it cannot be done. Instead both become Kodesh. Same thing in the time of Haman. He tried to exterminate Kedusha and many people tried to convert to Judaism as a result. The same will be true today as well.
Ani Hu V’Lo Acher – Rav Gedaliah Schorr ztl. notes that when the word Hu is used to describe Hashem it refers to Hashem’s conduct in a hidden manner. Ani refers to Hashem’s conduct openly. Ani Hu notes the unity in both. Don’t think that the revealed Hashem is weaker or stronger than the hidden one. They are one and the same.
B’Yad Chazaka Zo HaDever – Rav Shlomo Alkabetz notes that Dever was but the fifth Maka – why highlight it? He answers that from Maka 5, Pharoaoh lost his Bechira. Rav Tzedaka (cited by Chacham Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef) explains (using the parable of the nursemaid who did not want to drink a bitter medication meant to help her nursing client -- until the client’s father explained that it was due to her negligence that the child was sick in the first place.) that this is why Pharoh lost his choice. He had enslaved the Jews to the point that they could not choose Hashem. Thus it was up to the captors to serve as the training ground to repair the severed bond.
V’Al haYam Laku – What was the purpose of the makos in the Red Sea? After all, knowing Hashem when you are going to die is not the biggest deal is it? Rav Leib Chasman learns that the last Egyptians to perish learned the value of the moment. The moment before death can change one’s life from darkness to great awareness.
V’Nasan Lanu es Mamonam – How could Hashem give us the commandment to take something that we never intended on returning? Rav Sorotzkin (HaShir v’Hashevach) notes that after they left EGYPT the families of the Egyptians (Meegaras Beisa) took the furniture and other stuff that the Jews left behind. The gold, silver and clothes was a down payment on that repossession.
Pesach – The passing over was not the main part of the holiday, the killing of the Egyptian first born was/ Why call the korban and the holiday, Pesach? Rav Simcha Zissel Broide notes that once the Middas HaDin is activated, it is ruthless. Whatever saved the Jews from the same fate, is certainly the main part of the story – not just the death but the survival.
Matzah ZU - Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, late Rosh HaYeshiva of Mir, used to note that the Seder needs to be brought into the present – We say Matzah Zu and lift it etc. in order to bring a strong connection to it. This is in contrast to Aharon HaKohein would separate for 7 days prior to Yom Kippur. Rashi explains that when things are too comfortable or prevalent, the spirit of Kedusha is lost. This is the uniqueness of the Seder night. No matter how familiar we are with Pesach, we never seem to lose focus in it.
B’Chol Dor VaDor – The Rambam notes that one not only must see himself but must appear as if he was leaving Egypt now. Rav Soloveitchik noted that memory is not only the process of recall but also the reliving of the event. Re-experiencing has to be that which is so overwhelming that we act on it.
Eim HaBanim Semaicha – See Sotah 11a about how Miriam fought her father and convinced him to remarry her mother. The end result was Moshe who led the Jews out of Mitzrayim. At the wedding the scene is described with people calling out the possuk “Eim HaBanim Semaicha”. Rav Lamm points out that this is what is needed if we want nachas from the generation growing up – faith even in the face of doom; courage even when it seems ludicrous and trust in Hashem’s goodness even if it seems impossible. This is the legacy that we need to leave and lead within our children and theirs if we are to raise a generation that will avoid the vortex of assimilation. If we have the courage to see that future already in the present, it will be Eim HaBanim Semaicha.
4 expressions of Geulah: The Baal Haturim associates these expressions with the 4 exiles (Egypt, Babylonia, Greece and Rome). The Midrash notes that the exiles were linked as a result of Moshe’s complaint at the end of Parshas Shemos as to why Hashem increased the severity of the slavery. Hashem yielded and the Jews were released earlier and paid back the time of history with the other exiles. Rav Gedaliah Schorr explains that there are no free rides in history – if time is lessened
Koreich – Rav Schorr notes that the uniqueness of Koreich is in the fact that the marror liberates us from the constraints and impediments that prevent us from latching on to the spiritual. Only through the marror we experience the matza and its spiritual significance