A Practical Approach To Running The Seder
One of the most common pre-Pesach themes is hachanah, preparations. We all know that our homes require a great deal of work to become chometz-free and ready to live with matzah and kosher-for-Pesach foods. However, there is also a great deal of spiritual hachanah necessary to enter this holy season properly. For several reasons, I needed to do the latter somewhat differently this year, so would like to share the results in time for others to possibly benefit from my labors.
The Seder requires many of us, no matter what our usual profession and comfort zone might be, to become teachers. The requirements of sippur Yetzias Mitzrayim, relating the story of the exodus, extend far beyond the bare reading of the Haggadah. Just as each of us is a unique individual, so is each Seder and the needs of each group that has gathered to experience the bondage and redemption from Egypt. Some will be with children and grandchildren who have all heard the story many times before and will be bringing booklets full of stories and erudite explanations, replete with gematriyos and stories of tzaddikim. Some will have guests who know little of such things and will require the basics of how horrific our suffering was in Mitzrayim and how grand and splendid the geulah was. But whatever the case, and many homes will experience a combination of many of these scenarios, preparation is necessary.
The following represents a sampling of questions and answers for the Seder that will hopefully help with many, but probably not all, of the age-knowledge-religious commitment and other factors often gathered together at our Sedorim. However, the hope is that everyone will choose what will work for them best based upon the common goal of “You shall tell your son that day.” This means recounting the spectacular story of the birth of our nation, which, in a very short time, went from slavery to freedom, from defilement to holiness, from ignorance to prophesy, and from the depths of depravity to the heights of holiness. This is the mandate the Torah has given us for the next few weeks of our lives. It may not be easy, but as the novi (Micha 7:15) says, it can help us transplant the exodus from Egypt forward 3,335 years to help us bring the geulah to Nissan once again speedily in our days.
Question: Did Yaakov and his family know that they were going down to Mitzrayim to become slaves and suffer for hundreds of years?
Answer: Absolutely. This answer is actually crucial to an understanding of much of the Haggadah. Hashem told Avrohom Avinu (Bereishis 15:3) at the Bris Bein Habesarim that his children would be enslaved in a land that was not theirs. Yaakov instituted many safeguards for the 70 people who went down to Mitzrayim to fulfill the commitment to Avrohom Avinu. Thus, that Haggadah tells us that when we went down into slavery, Eisav and his clan went up to Mount Se’ir. Eisav had no interest in paying the debt of the covenant, so the Haggadah and all of Jewish history are testimony that we alone are the true progeny of Avrohom Avinu, deserving Eretz Yisroel and all that goes with it (Sefas Emes, Pesach 5663; Brisker Rov in Haggodas Brisk, Haggodas Yaavetz, Pachad Yitzchok 71:4).
Question: What lessons do we learn from how Yaakov Avinu prepared us for the bitter Egyptian exile?
Answer: Yaakov Avinu made sure that from the beginning until the end of the Egyptian exile, we were treated like foreigners. It is true that this led to anti-Semitism, but it also protected us from assimilation and intermarriage, as it has throughout Jewish history. This is also the message of Vehi She’amda (Haggodas Maharal, Ramban Bereishis 12:15, Haggodas Abarbanel, Tanna Devei Eliyahu 23, Meshech Chochmah beginning of Shemos).
Question: How is modern anti-Semitism like that of Mitzrayim against Klal Yisroel?
Answer: The Egyptians claimed that we were dangerous to their existence by virtue of our numbers and our lack of assimilation and intermarriage, as did all other minorities in ancient Egypt. At one point, when Paroh actually claimed that the Egyptians owed a debt of gratitude to the family of Yosef for all he had done for Egypt, they revolted against him until he, too, turned against us (Shemos Rabbah 1:9; Gra, Divrei Eliyahu, beginning of Shemos). Bilam Harasha was an advisor to Paroh and suggested subtle taxes and difficulties for the Jews so that their wealth would disappear and then we could be marginalized and destroyed. These plots against us were replicated in various forms throughout all the exiles in our history, including Spain and Germany (Sefer Hayoshor).
Question: How else do we see the bondage in Mitzrayim as the forerunner for, let’s say, the Nazis?
Answer: The Nazi innovation of assigning a group of Jews – Capos and Judenratt – to oversee the Jews and in fact demean and punish us was actually not so new. In Mitzrayim, one Jew was chosen strategically to be in charge of ten Jewish slaves. Initially, many of these Jewish taskmasters were quite heroic and suffered beatings for their kindness to their brethren. For this, they were later repaid by being chosen for the new Sanhedrin (Yalkut Shimoni 163). However, other than shevet Levi, many other Jews were enticed by concepts such as patriotism and nationalism to be loyal to Egypt and fell ever deeper into Egyptian slavery (Maharsha, Sotah 11, Baal Haturim 5:16).
Question: Is there a connection between the Ten Statements with which the world was created, the Ten Plagues, and the Ten Commandments?
Answer: Yes. The Maharal (Gevuros Hashem, Chapter 57), as explained by the Pachad Yitzchok (Pesach, Maamar 45) teaches that after the failure of Adam Harishon through his sin, Hashem recreated the world solely for Klal Yisroel. Therefore, He brought the makkos upon Mitzrayim, but not Klal Yisroel, each of which negated and removed one of the Asarah Maamaros. One obvious but striking example is “Let there be light,” which was overridden by the plague of choshech, darkness, when the Torah testifies that only Klal Yisroel had light in all their dwellings. However, this transference of the power of the universe to Klal Yisroel was predicated upon our acceptance of the Aseres Hadibros, which include the entire Torah. This also explains why Hashem told Moshe Rabbeinu at the sneh – his first nevuah at the burning bush – that Yetzias Mitzrayim would be followed by Mattan Torah. The connection is now self-evident – that the exodus from Egypt is totally associated with and predicated upon Klal Yisroel receiving the Torah and justifying creation through our total adherence to His Word. Also, this explains why we tell the chochom, the wise son, certain halachos of the Torah. That, ultimately, is the purpose of the night of Pesach and Yetzias Mitzrayim itself.
Question: Why is the Korban Pesach so important?
Answer: There are two types of korbanos. One is a korban yochid, the sacrifice by an individual who either volunteers or is obligated to bring one. A korban tzibbur refers to the daily sacrifices such as the korban tomid shel shachar, the daily morning sacrifice which represents every Jewish person. However, the Korban Pesach is in between. It is not a korban yochid, but it can’t be brought by an individual, only by a group. On the other hand, it is not a public korban, since it is offered by a group of individuals, but not by all of Klal Yisroel. The Korban Pesach actually represents Klal Yisroel’s transition from a group of yechidim to the nation that unifies all of us into one entity. That explains the uniqueness of the Korban Pesach. But of course, it also represents the fact that, as we say in the Haggadah, we were empty of mitzvos and therefore Hashem gave us bris milah and Korban Pesach. The korban symbolizes our eternal change from separate human beings into the one nation that is devoted totally to fulfill Hashem’s mitzvos in all that we do (Pachad Yitzchok, Pesach, Maamar 33).
All in all, we can see that there is much room for study, discussion and learning from the Haggadah. However, in this case, the Torah places the obligation – and the privilege – directly upon the shoulders of every parent, not professionals. With a bit of hachanah, we can all add many layers of meaning, feeling and understanding to our Sedorim.