Tuesday, Jun 18, 2024

You Shall Tell your Son

The mitzvah of Vehigadeta is unique to Pesach — there is no mitzvah to relate the story of other Yomim Tovim to our sons.Why this difference? At the burning bush, Hashem told Moshe that the purpose of leaving Egypt was to receive the Torah at Sinai: This shall be a sign to you that I sent you: When you bring the people out of Egypt you shall serve Hashem on this mountain (Shemos 3:12). For Am Yisroel, freedom from slavery was only a stepping stone to becoming a unique Torah nation. This is the vital message we transmit to our children on Pesach.

Double Deliverance


The freedom we speak of on Seder night is not the freedom of hedonism, but freedom to receive the Torah and build Klal Yisroel. The medrash(Shemos Rabbah 3:8) says that the elders had a tradition from Yosef that the person who came to redeem them would quote Hashem as saying Pakod Pokadti, I remember, I will remember you (Shemos 3:16),hinting that Hashem would remember them now in Egypt and also remember them later at the Red Sea.


Yosef was warning the elders of Am Yisroel to be careful of imposters. If someone came and promised them a physical redemption from Egypt they should ignore him. They should only listen to a redeemer who promised that Hashem would not only remember them in Egypt, but would also remember them at the sea where they reached the spiritual height of, believing in Hashem and in Moshe His servant (Shemos 14:31). Any redeemer who limits our freedom to tilling the land and enjoying its fruits is an imposter.


Because of the spiritual dimension of freedom, relating yetzi’as Mitzrayim on Seder night includes not only relating the story of how we left Egypt but also studying the halachos connected with yetzi’as Mitzrayim. At the Seder table, the father answers the wise son’s question by teaching him all the halachos of Pesach up to and including the eating of the Afikoman. Freedom from Egypt includes the freedom to study and observe our laws.


Why do we need to invest so much effort in teaching our children about Yetzi’as Mitzrayim? Why do we find the wicked son complaining about our observance of Pesach? Don’t youngsters love to be free from bondage and humiliation? Because when Hashem took us from Egypt, He took us not to a land of milk and honey, but to a wasteland of hunger and thirst, snakes, serpents, and scorpions. This was in order to teach the true meaning of freedom. Freedom is independent of physical circumstance. Even when one buys a non-Jew to be one’s slave, the Torah commands (Shemos 12:44), You shall circumcise him and then he shall eat of it [the korban Pesach]. He is liberated because we can only subjugate his body. His soul is free.


This, too, is how we can understand the verse (Devorim 26:28) that warns, Hashem shall bring you into Egypt again with ships… and there you shall be sold to your enemies for slaves and maidservants, but no one shall buy you. Even when Jews suffer tyranny from inquisitions and Nazis no one can rule their essence and no one can buy their souls.


What is the difference between a slave and a free person? Although every man is born for toil (Iyov 5:7), there is a difference between the free person who works for himself, and the slave who works for someone else. The Torah Jew is free even when he is enslaved because he toils for the benefit of his eternal soul, while free men who serve their base desires are essentially slaves.


But how should we ensure that the freedom of Torah life passes on to future generations and avoid having a son who challenges, What is this work to you, when he sees us toiling in preparation for Pesach?


One measure we can take is to teach by example. The Haggadah says that we may have thought the Haggadah could already be recited from Rosh Chodesh Nissan but derives from a verse that you should only recite the story of Yetzi’as Mitzrayim to your sons “when matzah and maror are placed down before you.” Speak of Torah while actually performing its mitzvos. Lip service will not guarantee the transmission of Torah values.


Ways of Pleasantness


When speaking to children of Torah and mitzvos, we must persuade them pleasantly and lovingly and not through force or by rote. Loving words penetrate to the soul.


This is hinted in parshas Nitzavim where it says (Devorim 31:21), And this song will testify before Him as a witness, for it [the Torah] will not be forgotten from the mouth of his seed. When a father relates to the Torah and mitzvos as a joyous song it will not be forgotten from his seed.


Conversely, if, “when you come to this land… you keep this work” (avodah) (Shemos 12:25) and regard Hashem’s service as a yoke on one’s neck, one may chas veshalom end up with the wicked son who asks, What is this work to you?(ibid verse 26).


This is especially relevant on Seder night. Although there is a mitzvah to gladden poor people on every Yom Tov, only on Seder night do we issue a special invitation to the poor saying, “This is the bread of poverty our fathers ate in Egypt… Whoever is hungry come and eat.” Why is this invitation limited to Seder night?


The Gemara (Kiddushin 66a) says: “King Yanai once went to Kuchlis in the desert and conquered sixty towns there. Upon his return he rejoiced greatly and invited all the sages of Yisroel. He said to them, ‘Our forefathers ate salted food when they were busy building the Bais Hamikdosh. We, too, will eat salted foods in memory of our fathers.” Rashi explains: “In remembrance of our forefathers’ poverty and to thank Hashem for saving us and giving us wealth.”


In a similar vein, when we eat matzos and maror at the Seder this is not meant to decrease our joy one iota but rather to make us more appreciative of what we now enjoy. Thus, we stress to our children at the Seder table, “This is the bread of poverty our fathers ate in Egypt,” but for us it is only a zecher (remembrance). And to emphasize the point we invite poor people to the Seder so that they, too, should only have a zecher of poverty for at least this important night.


Cultivating joy will help our children understand that the yoke of Torah is man’s ultimate freedom.



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