Haggaga Points to Ponder 5775

The focus of the Seder – The Talmud notes that the ideal style for the Seder is a question and answer format. Questions and answers provide for a meaningful interaction in Torah transmission and Jewish transmission of Torah ideals, philosophy and way of living. Rav Moshe Twersky ztl. HYD pointed out that the process of Torah transmission is always focused on the Kesher between teacher and student. Absent that, one could merely speak to a tape recorder. Instead, in order to transmit the Chiyus HaTorah – which is the essence of life – one needs to be involved in the teaching of Torah. He would add that all have a Cheilek of the process of Lilmod U’l’lamed – everyone can teach. Seder night proves that point.

Hamavdil – We accentuate the differences between Kodesh and Chol and Yisrael and Amim. Those differences are more from the spiritual realm. Why do we include the difference between light and dark which is more physical in the list? Rav Elazar Kahanow ztl. (RY Torah VoDaas and Nesanel Milstein’s grandfather) explained that in the same way that light and dark vastly different and not confused, so too, we must see the differences between Shabbos and the weekdays, Kodesh and Chol and the Jews and the nations of the world. We live by a different standard, we need to hold ourselves to that standard.

SheHechiyanu – Rav Avigdor Miller Ztl. would highlight the specialness of this beracha which reminds us to stop and appreciate the moment of being alive. We spend so much time chasing the future and preparing for it that we often forget to thank God for being in the present. On Seder night we stop to do precisely that.

Dipping – Rav Belsky Shlita noted that in the olden days dipping was necessary in that bread was often old and hard. Dipping was an excuse to soften it.

Whoeveer needs shall come in and eat. This year we are here  – Rav Schachter Shlita  would often cite Rav Soloveitchik ZTL who explained this strange paragraph based on the mishna in Bava Metzia (83a) where the Gemara identifies the obligation to take care of ones workers. The gemara tells of Rav Yochanan ben Mattiya whose father told him that even giving the workers the  meal they deserve (Seudas Shlomo HaMelech B’Shaato”) one would not have fulfilled the obligation unless you minimize the obligation from the outset. Thus on the Seder night we tell the guests – this year we are recently released slaves, we have small amounts – maybe next year we will have more to offer but this year this is what we have.

Avadim Hayeenu – Rav Soloveitchik ztl. would explain that the Haggada really reads like a real life survival experience. When one survives a dangerous adventure, s/he first makes it clear that s/he is safe. Thereafter, once safety is clear and established can the story be retold in detail. It begins with the brevity of a telegram and later with more elaborate story-telling.

Mitzvah Aleinu L’Saper B’Yetzias Mitzrayim – What is the Mitzva all about? Ever notice that the word L’Saper is close to the shoresh L’Spor (to count) – Any connection? Rav Moshe Wolfson Shlita is oft to say that the Moditzer Rebbe ztl. would note that the concept of Yetzias Mitzrayim is mentioned in praise, 50 times in the Torah – the hint is to the fact that the Yetzias Mitzrayim was also from the 50th level of Tumah. Mitzva l’saper – to recall the count v’Chol HaMarbeh L’Saper – there are many more than 50 mentionings but of the 50 that count – Harei Zeh Mishubach – it is only the praiseworthy ones.


They spoke about Yetzias Mitzrayim all night long- The Rambam (Talmud Torah 13:13) notes that although it is a mitzvah to study Torah both day and night, one learns most of his Torah at night. However in Hilchos Deios (4:4) the Rambam notes that one should ideally sleep 8 hours in order to be healthy. How is one supposed to dedicate his learning to the nighttime if he is supposed to sleep 8 hours then?  Rav Hillel Zaks ztl. quoted the Brisker Rav who noted that if one wants to follow the letter of the law, one needs 8 hours of sleep. However, from the perspective of Talmud Torah, he who strives for the Keter of Torah does not need to worry about 8 hours. For such a person fulfills Chazal’s idea that if one studies Torah at night, the Chut Shel Chessed sits with him through the day.


The Torah speaks about four sons - Rav Wolbe ztl. comments that if the Torah felt it imperative to write four separate pesukim to parallel the four different sons, it implies that every child must be spoken to in a language that he can understand. Even the wicked son must be answered with a response that is hand tailored to his personality.

Tam – Rabbi Lamm Shlita would often note that the Tam need not be identified as a simple son in regard to hi lack of intellectual depth. Rather, he would (citing Akaidas Yitzchak) note that he was simple in his faith. The Tam need not ask impressive questions – his love and devotion to Hashem is whole and unshakable. He is unimpressed by intellectual acrobatics – he is more swayed by Temimus.

Because of this (the Pesach, Matzah and Maror) Hashem acted on my behalf when I went out from Egypt - Rashi explains that we were redeemed in order to perform His mitzvos. Rav Yeruchom Levovitz ztl would say that people think that because they want to eat they must therefore make a bracha. However, the opposite is true. The reason we were created with the need to eat is so that we should have the opportunity to say a bracha. Likewise, we do not perform these mitzvos because Hashem took us out of Mitzrayim, rather, the purpose of Yetzias Mitzrayim was to give us the opportunity to perform these mitzvos.

In the beginning our forefathers were idol worshipers, but now Hashem brought us near to Him. -  Rav Shlomo Wolbe ztl. asks why the text states, "now Hashem brought us to His service", for did this not occur more than three thousand years ago at the time of the redemption from Egypt? He answers that the celebration during Pesach is not merely a remembrance of what occurred in the distant past. Rather, at the time of the redemption there was a Heavenly spiritual illumination that was felt by Bnei Yisroel. Every year on the night of the Seder there is a re-occurrence of that exact spiritual illumination. If we tap into this illumination, we too can feel the feelings of those who actually left Egypt on this very night thousands of years earlier. It is with this aim that we recite the Haggada on the Seder night.

And I took Avraham from the other side of the River – Why do we not mention the fact that Avraham DISCOVERED Hashem and placed his faith in Hashem? Why stress only that Hashem took Avraham? Rav Chatzkel Levenstein ztl. (Mashgiach of Mir and Ponovez) would often point out that Pesach night is a time to reflect on Hashem’s Chessed to US. On that night, it is the primary focus instead of focusing on additional components of history – including Avraham’s tremendous faith. (This might also explain why Moshe is not mentioned at all except in connection to the faith in Hashem)


And I gave Eisav Har Seir – The Ben Ish Chai infers from the word L’Reshet that the Shoresh is from Rash or poor. In other words, Eisav became impoverished by this choice of taking Har Se’Ir as he lost his right to Eretz Yisrael.


Arami Oved Avi:  We speak of the anti-Semitism of the time of Lavan and of Pharaoh – stories that are many years old. Why mention them at the Seder this year? Rav Schachter Shlita quoted Rav Soloveitchik who explained that AntiSemitism is not an outgrowth of sociological or economic reasons to the point whereby one could safely say that if they didn’t exist there would be no anti-Semitism. Rather, anti-Semitism goes back to the period of Aami Oved Avi and the twins in the womb of Rivka.

VaYasimu Alav Sarei Misim – The commentaries explain that the building of these treasure cities were really an exercise in futility for as soon as the cities would be close to completion, they would sink. Similarly, Rav Hillel Zaks ztl. quipped that at the time of the establishment of the state of Israel the people had to be taxed in order to establish a functional government. They put taxes on everything. Finally someone came up with the idea to put a tax on stupidity. Why was that so brilliant? The more foolish one is, the greater the tax! So what did they do? They called the tax Mifal HaPayes.

Me and not an angel – The Midrash cites a Possuk that highlights the idea that Yetyzias Mitzrayim was Goy M’Kerev Goy. What is the intention of the phrase Goy M’Kerev Goy? The midrash (Socher Tov 114) compares it to birthing an animal or taking gold out of the smelter without tongs or mitts. Why was it so hard to take Bnei Yisrael out that it required the power of Hashem alone? Rav Yerucham Levovitz ztl (Mashgiach Mir and Rebbe of Rav Gershon Yankelevitz ztl) pointed out that even when Bnei Yisrael left Hashem was afraid that they would return – within a week – to the slavery. We also know that 4/5 of the people didn’t want to leave. This is a function of assimilation says Rav Yerucham. Assimilation is not only a situation that arises when we marry into the nations around us – we need to live in a way wherein inevitably a Jew stands out.

Kama Maalot Tovos Aleinu – On the one hand, one has the obligation to offer and express Hakaras HaTov but does one need to get into the details as much as we do at the Seder? Rav Mordechai Gifter ztl. explains that we most certainly need to do so. Only by getting into a full evaluation of the good performed will we truly get the essence of the favor received. If we paid more attention to the totality of the experience, we might fully appreciate the present.

Eilu Kervanu Lifnei Har Sinai – Why would that have been enough?  Rav Hershel Schachter Shlita  pointed out that the sign of the Jewish people is Rachmanim Baishanim Gomlei Chassadim.  This is learned, says the Gemara, from the experience at Har Sinai. In other words, the mere experience of Mamad Har Sinai brought about the middos that serve as the signs of Judaism. It would have been enough to thank Hashem just for showing us that.

Eilu Hachneesanu L’Eretz Yisrael - Naftali Lau-Lavie a”h used to recall the charge his father Hashem Yinkom Damo instructed him and young Luluk (RavYisrael Meir Lau): If you ever get out of the Tzaros of Europe go only to Eretz Yisrael. Even if you need to acquire it with Yissurim – those Yissurim are Yissurei Ahava. He made his younger brother (5 at the time) promise the same thing when he thought his time was up on Chol HaMoed Pesach in Buchenwald in 1943.

Maakos in Mitzrayim and on the Sea – Why were the Maakos on the Sea even needed? After all, didn’t the Jews already get out? Rav Dovid Winiarz ztl. (the self-declared Facebuker Rebbe) explained that when Moshe stood at the burning bush, HaShem gave him four different promises of redemption to deliver to the Jewish people. In Shemos 6:6-7, HaShem states, "And I will take you out of the burdens of Egypt; I will save you from their work; I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and great judgments, and I will take you to Me as a nation. ("Vehotzeisi, Vehitzalti, Vegoalti, Velokachti") The Seforno assigns a chronological order to these expressions. The burdens eased when the plagues began and they were saved from their work as they exited the borders of Egypt. They were redeemed when the Egyptians drowned in the sea, and became a nation at Mount Sinai. At the third step of the drowning of their captors, the Seforno comments that this is characterized by the word redemption because from that point forward, the Jews were no longer fleeing slaves.

Rabbi Winiarz added that it seems that in order to undergo the complete transformation from slaves to free men, seeing the ten plagues and actually escaping was not enough. There was an additional need for the Jewish people to personally witness their dead captors or they would have still viewed themselves as slaves on the run and not fully redeemed. A person's perception of his own realty is so often based on an inability to let go of a past mindset or ingrained personality traits. How we view ourselves is often the cause of much stress and dissatisfaction and we must work to overcome those toxic feelings and redeem ourselves to be truly free people.


The Pesach sacrifice that our fathers ate when the Bais Hamikdosh was standing; for what reason? Because Hashem passed over the houses of our fathers in Egypt. - Rav Wolbe explains that throughout the entire year we must be careful not to leap and jump in our service of Hashem, lest we fall flat on our faces. We must serve Hashem on a level that is appropriate for our spiritual standing. However, on Pesach we have an opportunity to grow by leaps and bounds. Rashi (Shemos 12, 11) explains the reason Bnei Yisroel in Egypt were commanded to eat the Pesach sacrifice in a hurry: "Just as Hashem jumped and skipped over the houses of Bnei Yisroel when He slew the firstborn, so too, you should "jump and skip" (hurry) in your service of Hashem (eating the Pesach night, we can "jump" in our level of service of Hashem in a manner that is not possible on any other day of the year.

Because he passed over – Rav Yechiel Yitzchak Perr Shlita (RY YFR) asked why the passing over was such a big deal. After all, the death of the Bechorim was a punishment for the Egyptians – of COURSE Hashem had to skip past the Jewsh homes? Rav Perr answered that the Bechorim were not deserving of death any more than any other Egyptian. Therefore, their deaths  were not merely a punishment but rather an opportunity for Kiddush Hashem. The Kiddush Hashem moment was opened to affect everyone present including the Jews. Hence the need to thank Hashem.

Marror – It seems strange to eat the Marror AFTER reciting and experiencing the process of Geulah. Why recall and consume the bitter AFTER having recited the blessing of Asher Gealanu?  The Chasam Sofer (Shut Chasam Sofer O.C. 132) notes that the different vegetables mentioned as ideals for Marror include the primary Chasa and Tamcha. Chasa stands for “Chas RAchmana Alan” or that Hashem shows compassion for us while Tamcha stands for “Tamid Misaprim Kevod Keil” or that the world always speaks the praise of Hashem. Rav Asher Weiss Shlita explains that the Chasam Sofer was not simply offering a “good vort.” Rather,  it is incumbent upon every Jew to recognize and sing the praises of Hashem even in the tough times – and to know that whatever Hashem does –L’Tav Avid (who better to make that point than Rabbi Akiva? <see Berachos 60b>). Thus, only AFTER reciting Asher Gealanu do we fully appreciate our jobs to recite Kol D’Avid Rachamana even on the Marror. 

Tzom L’Shaleish B’Pesach – The connection between Purim and Pesach is quite apparent. In fact, Mordechai and Esther removed the opportunity to keep the Seder and eat Matzah and Marror as commanded  by declaring a three day fast-- a theme we highlight in the Piyutim of Nirtzah. Rav Levi Rabinowitz ztl (author of Maadanei HaShulchan and father of Rav Gamliel Rabinowitz Shlita) noted that Esther’s request – Tzumu Alai V’Al Tochlu V’Al Tishtu has an inherent redundancy – why tzumu AND not eat or drink? He answered that when one eats, s/he should not eat to excess or even to fulfillment (See Mogen Avraham 571:1 who quotes this idea from the Raavad). Hence one can technically be eating and still be considered a Taanis as he starves the soul from full fulfillment. Esther and Modechai didn’t even want that during the fast of Pesach night.