Thursday, Jul 25, 2024

Karpas in Zaltzvasser

The Eisners were one of many European Jewish families who immigrated to America in the early part of the twentieth century. Like others, they thought that life in the “goldene medinah” would be all peaches and cream, but they quickly found out otherwise. The atmosphere in metropolitan New York was much more tumultuous than their serene shtetel in Poland. To their credit, the Eisners met the challenge with aplomb. Parnassah was difficult, but somehow, with help from Above, they made it from week to week. Their main concern was to sustain their level of Yiddishkeit, and here too they remained strong. Most important to them was their ben yochid, the apple of their eye, Avremele. With hardly any Jewish schools in those days, Abe, as he was known to his friends, attended public school. He was a gifted child and, despite the difficulty of adapting to English as his new language, he excelled in his studies. At night, he would learn Chumash with his father as a stop gap measure at best, until a more appropriate arrangement could be found for his limudei kodesh.

The one fly in the ointment – and it was a big one – was the bullying that he had to endure. Many foreigners find it difficult to integrate with others in school, but the fact that Abe was Jewish made it much harder for him. Those of Irish and German descent enjoyed picking on him, taunting him and physically pushing him around. The fact that Abe excelled in his studies and was respected by his teachers exacerbated matters, as those tough kids were also jealous of him.


At first, it was very difficult for the young boy. He would come home every night crying and not wanting to return to school the next day. But the natural warmth of his home and the encouragement of his devoted parents gave him the strength to go back. While suffering at the hands of the toughies during the day, he thought of what awaited him at home. His mother cooked up a delicious supper made with love. Afterwards, they sat down together just to shmooze, and she lent him an empathetic ear, allowing him to vent his frustrations. By the time he finished with his mother, his father was ready to learn with him. Come morning, he was revitalized both in body and spirit to return to school.


And so it went day after day, Shabbos after Shabbos. When Abe grew older, he attended yeshiva, where once again he excelled. He eventually found his life’s partner and started a business that prospered with time. With siyata diShmaya, he built a home of shomrei Torah umitzvos and supported his parents in their old age. As for the school bullies, many of them never really made it past the neighborhood bar.


Abe Eisner is not atypical of numerous boys who had to face the rough and tumble life of those early years in golus America. But his story is also a microcosm of the life of the beloved son, the apple of Hashem’s eye, Klal Yisroel, struggling to survive the derision and physical oppression that it faces at the hands of its antagonists in this long and bitter golus until the redemption arrives.


Unlike Abe, however, we don’t have the luxury of anyone’s sympathy or encouragement to buoy us on to meet the next day’s challenges. Yes, we have the botei knesses and botei medrash in which to cry out to Hashem, but we still live in a time of deep hester ponim, when the world seems out of control and when the beloved son, Yisroel, is scorned and vilified by the foes surrounding him. They stretch out a hand to their neighbors offering peace, but this is met with denigration and violence. And if we dare raise our hand to defend ourselves, it is considered the ultimate crime. We are expected to stand idly by as our blood flows. We have no shoulder to cry on, not a voice to root us on…usually that is. The night of Pesach is different.


On this night, says the Zohar Hakadosh, the heavens open up right above us. Hakadosh Boruch Hu gathers the heavenly household and instructs them, “Go and listen to the praises that My children say about me and how they rejoice in My redemption.” They gather and listen to the tales and songs of praise of Hashem’s children. Then the heavenly household praises Hashem for the holy nation He has on earth. Like an earthly king who is strengthened by the applause and exaltation of his subjects, this fortifies the Heavenly Throne.


The second cup is poured and here the son asks: ‘Why is this night different from all other nights?’” (Pesachim 116a). The seforim say that this is an opportune moment for us to daven and ask Hashem for all of our needs. It is also a time when we can ask Hashem all of our questions: Why is this night of golus so different from all of the other exiles? Why is it so much darker and deeper? In all of the other exiles, we tasted both chometz and matzoh, riches and poverty, but in this exile it is primarily poverty…certainly on a spiritual level. In all of the other exiles, we ate all sorts of vegetables, both pleasant and bitter, but in this golus it is total bitterness (Acharis Leshalom).


Why are these questions asked particularly after pouring the second cup? Because this cup correlates with the second of the leshonos of geulah, “VehitzaltiI will rescue you” (Shemos 6:6). The word hitzalti contains the word tzeil, the shade of Hashem. “Yosheiv beseiser ElyonWhoever sits in the refuge of the Most High, he shall dwell in the shade of the Almighty. With His pinion He will cover you and beneath His wings you will be protected” (Tehillim 97:1-3). In this warm atmosphere, in this vacuum of holiness, we can pour out our inner worries to Hashem.


This Pesach, unfortunately, we have a lot to unburden our hearts to Hashem about. Recent tragedies in Eretz Yisroel have brought new members to the heavenly family before their time. A horrific crime perpetrated on an innocent family, the wanton slaughter of a father, a mother and children by ruthless, beastly demons, chilled us to the bone…and the world remains silent. A bomb explodes in a crowded area and the world still remains silent. Deadly missiles rain down upon Israeli citizens, wreaking havoc with the lives of unoffending men, women and children, even hitting a school bus and critically injuring a student, yet the international community says not a word. Hashem yeracheim!


Ribono Shel Olam, You said in your holy Torah, “You may not slaughter it and its offspring in the same day” (Vayikrah 22:28). How can such a calamity transpire? We have become so used to hearing about these misfortunes and the world’s injustice that we are losing our own sensitivity to it. We utter a few “oy veys” upon hearing the news and then we go on with our lives. This, in and of itself, is tragic.


On this night, we and our families isolate ourselves within the portals of the holy bayis Yisroel much like the Yidden in Mitzrayim did. We leave behind a corrupt and merciless world out in the dark. From up above, the Divine light of Hashem comes shining down on His beloved children. We sing His praises and ask Mah Nishtanah to an attentive Ear up above. And as we recite the Haggadah imbued with the spirit from above, everything becomes clear. Our pains dissipate and our worries are assuaged.


From amidst the story of redemption, we hear the words: “And I passed over you and I saw you downtrodden in your blood and I said to you: through your blood you shall live, and I said to you: through your blood you shall live” (Yechezkel 16:6). From our narrow perspective of the here and now throughout the year, we cannot comprehend the world’s injustice towards us. But this night, under the gaze of Hashem Who is above time, we bond with the past and the future. In the overall scheme of things, our suffering and pain are for our own good, only to be seen when the light of the geulah arrives.




One of the mitzvos of the night is Karpas, dipping a piece of vegetable into vinegar or saltwater. The dipping of the food signifies nobility and indulgence. Still, we dip it into saltwater to remind us of the bitterness of the golus. Isn’t it incongruous that this custom representing our freedom should be integrated with a taste of bondage?


And Moshe went out from Paroh, from the city, and he stretched out his hands to Hashem; the thunder and hail ceased and rain did not reach the earth” (Shemos 9:33). The Medrash tells us that the hail did not reach the earth, but remained suspended between heaven and earth. It waited for forty years until the time when Yehoshua led the Jews in conquering Eretz Yisroel.


Then the Yidden fought with the land’s inhabitants, the Emori, and Hashem bombarded the enemy with large stones from the heavens (Yehoshua 10:11). These were the remnants of the makkah of borod that remained suspended. And the thunder, too, remained in limbo for over six centuries, until the days of Elisha the prophet. At that time, the army of Aram laid siege to the city of Shomron. So Hashem caused the Aramean camp to hear the sounds of chariots, the sounds of horses, and the sound of a great army, and they fled back home (Melachim II 7:6). These sounds were the remains of the thunder of Mitzrayim (Tanchumah,Va’eirah 16).


What an amazing miracle! But one wonders, why did Hashem have to save the hail and thunder from Mitzrayim for all those years? Everything in this world is at Hashem’s immediate disposal. Couldn’t He find new stones and other sounds to defeat the enemy with? Why the need to save these old weapons?


Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein quotes meforshim who give an answer to this question that is both mind boggling and most comforting. The borod was ice comprised of the collective tears of Klal Yisroel throughout their years in Mitzrayim. When the poor mothers had their baby sons torn away from them and thrown into the river, their tears were collected by Hashem. When little children cried because they needed their father and mother who were out in the fields working as slaves, Hashem collected their tears. These were the tears frozen and used to bombard the Egyptians as a punishment for their tyranny. When Yidden screamed out to Hashem in desperation because of their plight, when they moaned and groaned under the backbreaking yoke of work, those sounds were preserved by Hakadosh Boruch Hu. And they were used to avenge the oppression in the form of thunder.


This is why Hashem saved the hail and thunder for future generations. He wished to show us that every single tear shed by a Jew, every single scream, every single groan, is precious to him and He will not let it go to waste. It is for this reason that the Karpas is dipped into saltwater. Because it is the bitterness and the tears of golus that will bring about our redemption and our nobility in the future.


This should give us tremendous chizuk as we celebrate Yetzias Mitzrayim. All of our pains and all of our cries in this golus do not go to waste. Hashem preserves and cherishes each and every one of them. And although we may not feel it throughout the year, there is always a listening ear for us up there in Shomayim. Hashem conveys to us, “My children, I hear your cries, I feel your pain, and in the end it will all be worth it.” This realization should revitalize us so that we can carry on for another year in golus until the next Pesach. Or, perhaps, through our tefillos and our cries, it will be…just one more day.



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