Pessach 5769 – Gilayon #597
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R. Hiyya taught: The Torah spoke in
reference to four sons:
a wise son, a wicked son, a stupid son,
a son who does not known how to ask.
(Yerushalmi Pesahim 70b)
Each of Us Contains Something of the Four Sons
The Torah spoke in reference to four sons, etc. It seems that this parallels the four
expressions of redemption [arba leshonot geula], for redemption must
take leave of four kinds of exile. These questions are found in every man of
Israel. There is an aspect of the mind's investigations through which the
evil inclination casts doubts upon the laws. An answer to that must be ready in
a person's heart: that there is more sense and joy in doing the Lord's will,
may He be blessed, than there is in understanding the commandment's rationale. This
is [alluded to by the answer to the wise son], "Nothing further is eaten,
etc." For the ta'am [rationale, but also "flavor"] of the
commandment of matzah is sweeter – even though it has no ta'am[rationale] – than a hundred rationales. The wicked [son] really throws
off the yoke [of the commandments, and asks]: "What is this service?"
And he says "to you," meaning, "What ability does flesh and
blood have to serve the blessed Lord?" Through this [question] he doubts
divine providence as is written in the books. And the answer [to the wicked
son] is: For the sake of this, meaning, since a person is made of flesh
and blood and lacking a proper mind, the Blessed One counts his service as
greater than that of the angels above.
The simple [son]'s question arises from [his] simple-mindedness when the
Holy One, blessed be He, in His kindness, grants him some illumination. He [the
simple son] becomes filled with pride when he manages to ask, "What is
this?" But he must know that it is sheer divine kindness [that allows him
to ask]. And so the answer [given to him] is: With a mighty arm, etc. – without
any human merit.
And he who does not know how to ask – He is in the bitter exile – he has no
idea how to open his heart. Regarding this it is said: "You, open up for
him." And this is a cause for praise. For the redemption from Egypt was
from all four kinds of exile in general and in particular, for each of these
aspects is found in every individual of Israel. And as for [the word] banim[sons]: truly, the [self -] construction [banyan] is completed through
these investigations carried out in the heart of man when he succeeds in
entering the way of truth and exiting the vanities of this world and its
(Sefat Emet Vayikra,
I suggest that we see the allusion to the four sons as presenting two
bridges or two basic manners of connection and disconnection from God. The wise
son represents the encounter with God as Makom – the Omnipresent, while
the wicked son represents the difficulty in that encounter. The simple son
represents the encounter with God as the Giver of Torah to His people Israel,
while the son who does not know how to ask represents the difficulty in that
(Gavriel Strenger, Masa
el HaHerut: Leil HaSeder KeTahalikh Tzemiha, pg. 77)
…but you shall also bless
And Pharaoh arose at night, he and all his
servants and all the Egyptians, and there was a great outcry in Egypt, for
there was no house in which no one was dead.
So he called for Moses and Aaron at night,
and he said, "Get up and get out from among my people, both you, as well
as the children of Israel, and go, worship the Lord as you have spoken.
Take also your flocks and also your cattle,
as you have spoken, and go, but you shall also bless me."
At midnight a great outcry is heard throughout Egypt. There is no house
without someone dead in it. And there will be a great cry throughout the
entire land of Egypt, such as there never has been and such as there shall
never be again (Shemot11:10).
Death, mourning, loss, the cries of fathers, the tears of mothers,
anguish – these were the lot of all, from the firstborn of Pharaoh down to
first born of the maidservant and the captive.
The catastrophe is unbearable; the natural continuation of life has been
cut down. Dynasties are broken, the order of the world and of creation have
collapsed. The natural human conduct of affairs has exploded in a cry of
You can feel the terror, the fear, the sorrow and the loss in that great
cry that tore through the night sky of Egypt, a land well-acquainted with
plagues. It seemed to be the end of the world.
Pharaoh had sworn that Moses would never see his face again, but now the
king goes out to search for him – perhaps that is why the meeting would take
place under the cover of darkness. He effectively expels all the Israelites
from Egypt – Get up and get out from among my people – everyone, from
Moses and Aaron to the last of the sheep. Pharaoh is consumed with anger, fury,
and rage. He sends all the Israelites packing – immediately.
The furious and perhaps fearful "expulsion speech" ends,
however, with a small but strange and surprising request: but you shall
also bless me.
What a strange conclusion to a speech brimming over with grief, anger,
What lies behind this "request"? What is hidden within it?
As usual, Rashi gives its plain sense: "Pray for me that I not die,
for I am a first-born." That is to say: "Death knocks on my door, on
the door of my house, and I, the king and god of the land, ask you to bless me
so that at least I might remain alive." Perhaps Pharaoh is asking that his
dynasty continue – if both he and his son were to die, that would mean the end
for the royal line and for Egypt itself.
While reading these verses we are reminded of an earlier story, a story
of a great outcry and of the request for a blessing in connection with the
first-born status. It is the story of Jacob and Esau's competition for Isaac's
blessing in parashat Toldot:
When Esau heard his father's words, he cried
out a great and bitter cry, and he said to his father, "Bless me too, O my
Esau emits the cry of the robbed first-born: he took my birthright,
and behold, now he has taken my blessing… Have you [but] one blessing, my
father? Bless me too, my father." And Esau raised his voice and wept.
Here we are dealing with a first-born son who has lost his status;
he cries out a great and bitter cry, he wants his revenge against Jacob. Perhaps
he is enraged against blind Isaac who erred and cannot bless him. Nonetheless,
he asks for a blessing.
How are these two stories connected? Is the similarity between them
Perhaps Pharaoh's stubbornness can be understood when viewed through the
lens of Jacob and Esau and their struggle over the first-born status.
"The child grew up, and she brought him to Pharaoh's daughter,
and he became like her son. Pharaoh's daughter would hug him and kiss him
and adore him…and Pharaoh would hug him and kiss him, and he would take the
crown off his head and throw it… "(Midrash HaGadol). This famous
story has Moses being raised as Pharaoh's son, living in the royal palace together
with the chosen heir to the throne. His childish play "threatens"
Pharaoh and his dynastic line. All of this gains new significance when
understood in terms of the story of Jacob and Esau.
Perhaps Pharaoh was acquainted with Israelite traditions and stories and
knew that the God of Israel chooses and rejects, selecting one to be the leader
and heir, while the other is set aside. This theme can be found in the stories
of Cain and Abel, Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, and in the story of Joseph
who was the favored son, the first-born of Rachel who brought blessings to
Egypt and almost ruled over it, had there not arisen a Pharaoh who did not
Even without knowing the Israelite heritage, Pharaoh could have
constantly seen Moses as a threat to his dynastic line – a threat to his
first-born son and to his own status as first-born. There was a rationale
behind his wanting to kill Moses. He was happy when Moses fled to Midian and
enraged when Moses returned to Egypt with a message from the terrifying God of
the Hebrews, the God with the worrisome habit of choosing people.
Perhaps he suspected that the Hebrew's God had accompanied Moses as the
latter returned to Egypt. Moses had grown up in the palace and now the Hebrew
God would choose Moses to replace Pharaoh as the leader of Egypt, as the ruler
and heir to the dynasty.
Perhaps Pharaoh's stubborn struggle with the God of Israel was meant to
defer and fight the evil decree of the God of Israel, Who might choose Moses to
Perhaps Pharaoh did not view Moses as a "slave leader," but
rather as someone who came to take away his dynasty and rule Egypt in his stead
and instead of his son. Moses, the "prince" who grew up in his home,
in his palace, came to wrench the crown from his line just as he had done in
childish play so many years before. He came to take the first-born status and
It was only when Esau stood in Isaac's tent,
when he understood the power of divine election and the significance of the way
things worked out, only when he realized that the struggle for divine election
was futile, since he had been beaten, only then – he cried out a great
and bitter cry.
It is only when Pharaoh is confronted by the limp body of his firstborn,
his heir and continuation dead at his feet, does Pharaoh understand the power
of divine election, of the futility of his struggle against the God of Israel. He
finally understands that his dynasty will not survive.
Only after Egypt is pierced with wailing and his firstborn son is dead
does Pharaoh understand for one fleeting moment that the Lord God of Israel
possesses the power to choose and to bless, and so he asks for His blessing,
just as Esau had asked, Bless me too. Who knows? Perhaps, like Esau, Pharaoh
raised his voice and wept.
In Midrash HaGadol we read: "From here you learn that
Pharaoh knew…that the Omnipresent does not forgive a person until he
reconciles himself to his fellow…the mouth that asked, Who is the Lord
that I should hearken to his voice? Is the one that said, the Lord is in
There, in a moment of great difficulty, we find genuine recognition of
the fact that it is indeed God who blesses and chooses.
Oshrat Shoham is a member of the Baka Egalitarian Minyan and an attorney
in the Jerusalem District Attorney's Office.
A Night of Watching: Who Needs to be Watched
Over? Who is Obligated to Stand Watch?
R. Yehoshua says: In Nisan they were redeemed and in Nisan they shall be
redeemed in the future. From where do we know this? Scripture says: A night
of watching – a night which is watched over and is coming, ever since the
six days of Creation.
(Rosh HaShanah 11b)
R. Avin said in the name of R. Yehuda ben Pazzi: Batya, the daughter
of Pharaoh, was a firstborn. But why was she saved? [She was saved] by Moses'
prayer, for it is written: [When] she advises that her merchandise is
good her lamp does not go out at night (Proverbs 31:18) – it says leil [night], as it says It is a leil
shimurim [night of watching] for the Lord."
It is a night of watching [shimurim] for the
Lord: Already from
their father's days the Holy One, blessed be He, would look forward to that
night to remove the Israelites from Egypt, as He had promised them. It was a
night of shimurim for Israel throughout their generations and for all
their generations; they look forward to celebrate the Passover Festival on that
night [in accordance with all its statutes] and laws. Shimurim is an expression
of waiting, as in, his father kept [shamar]the matter [to himself] (Bereishit 37:11).
(RaShBaM Shemot 12:42)
…therefore the Holy One, blessed be He, commanded that it be a night
of watching for Israel as well. In all generations they should stand watch
through that night; instead of sleeping they should give thanks and recount the
miracles and mighty deeds that God performed for us that night.
A night of watching [shimurim] for the Lord: The plain interpretation: Since it [first]
mentions its being a night of watching for the Lord, and in the end [it is called] shimurim for all the Israelites in their generations, it seems the meaning is that since the Lord watched over them and did not allow the destroyer to enter their houses to cause injury, He commanded that it should be a night of watching for all the Israelites throughout their generations, i.e., for eating the Paschal offering that night according to its laws, together with matzot and bitter herbs. Some interpret it in the sense of shomrei hahomot
mentions its being a night of watching for the Lord, and in the end [it is
called] shimurim for all the Israelites in their generations, it seems
the meaning is that since the Lord watched over them and did not allow the
destroyer to enter their houses to cause injury, He commanded that it should be
a night of watching for all the Israelites throughout their generations, i.e.,
for eating the Paschal offering that night according to its laws, together with
matzot and bitter herbs. Some interpret it in the sense of shomrei hahomot[the watchmen of the walls], i.e., they should not sleep but instead give
thanks and tell of the Lord's mighty deeds when they left Egypt. The Sages alluded
to this [in the story in which the students came to tell the rabbis who had
spent all night retelling the Exodus] "The time has come for the morning
recitation of the Sh'ma."
(Ibn Ezra Shemot 12:42)
A person is required to engage [in discussion of] the laws of
Passover and the Exodus from Egypt, to retell the miracles and wonders that the
Holy One, blessed be He, performed for our ancestors until he is overcome by
sleep…and it is customary to only recite the Sh'ma passage in bed, and
not the other things that are recited all other nights for protection, since it is a night of
watching from the agents of destruction.
(Shulhan Arukh Orah
Festival Joy on
Passover, Shavuot, Rosh Hashanah, and Sukkot – a Human and Ethical Perspective
Joy is mentioned thrice
on Sukkot: And you shall rejoice on your festival, And you shall be, oh so
joyful, and, You shall rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days, but
on Passover, joy is not mentioned even once. Why? We find that on Passover
the grain crop is judged. Since man does not know whether there will be grain
this year or not, there is no mention of joy.
explanation: Because on Passover, Egyptians died. And so we find that on
all seven days of Sukkot we read Hallel, but on Passover we read the Hallel
only on the first day of the festival and on its eve. Why? Because, If your
enemy falls, do not exult. And so we find that with reference to Shavuot,
joy is mentioned only once, as is written, Then you shall observe the Feast
of Weeks for Lord your God… you shall rejoice before the Lord your God.
Why is joy written only once? Because [only] the grain has been gathered in.
Why is joy not written twice? Because the fruits of the tree are being judged.
But on Rosh Hashanah joy is not written even once, because souls are
standing in judgment, and a person is more concerned with his soul than
with his possessions. But on Sukkot, because the souls have received reprieve
on Yom Kippur, as is written, For on this day he will grant you atonement, and
the grain and the fruits of the tree have been gathered in, therefore it is
written thrice: And you shall rejoice on your festival; And you shall
be, oh so joyful; and, You shall rejoice before the Lord your God
for seven days.
(P'sikta D'Rav Kahana [Mandlebaum ed.], additions to Parasha 2)
Passover – Our Time of Freedom?
This goal ["Our Time of Freedom"] of the Exodus from Egypt was
not achieved; the mission of "Our Time of Freedom" received a
semblance of freedom, something which may perhaps be a primary condition for
freedom, but is not yet true freedom. The people who left Egypt did not accept
upon themselves the Kingdom of God, and therefore we do not recite the complete
Hallel on a festival on which the attempt to realize our freedom fell short.
True, we read how, after the crossing of the Reed Sea, the people: …trusted
in God and in His servant Moses, but immediately afterwards the Torah relates
how that trust was only temporary. It was a spontaneous faith born out of being
powerfully impressed by what had happened and but not faith which derives from
awareness of God's divinity. Therefore it did not last even three days; the
people call out to Moses, Is the Lord present among us or not?
Even though this appointed time is a holiday for Israel, who was
delivered from the hands of its torturers and freed from the yoke of its
oppressors, there is still no justification for recitation of the "Complete
Hallel." We have yet to be redeemed from our enslavement to human nature.
This fact teaches us that redemption is not to be credited what befalls the
Jewish people in history, but rather to what the Jewish people does in history.
After all, everything that happens is indifferent because it is an act of God
in His world, whether we – from our perspective – call certain events
"redemptions" and "deliverances" and other events
"misfortunes," "pogroms," or a "holocaust."
(Y. Leibowitz: Sihot
al Hagei Yisrael UMoadav, p. 74)
Some time after
that, when Moses had grown up, he went out to his kinsfolk and witnessed their
toil. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his kinsmen. He turned this
way and that and, seeing no one about, he struck down the Egyptian and hid him
in the sand (Shemot 2:11-12).
The four actions taken by Moses tell of his
soul's greatness: it was full of exalted, divine courage. He was incapable of[passively] witnessing injustice and violence, always rescuing whomever he
could: 1) While living in the royal house, he set out to observe the condition
of his Israelite brothers, 2) He struck the Egyptian who had hit one of his
Hebrew brothers 3) He reprimanded the wicked Hebrew who had hit his neighbor 4)
He delivered the Priest of Midian's seven daughters from the shepherds.
Any person of character
and pure heart will learn from his example to stand in the breech and save his
brothers from their murderous tormentors.
This is particularly
true in those places where our brothers are oppressed and tormented by the
gentiles. However, one should not disregard abuse perpetrated by one of our own
brothers from the House of Israel. Even if the victim is a gentile, one must
stand by him because all injustice is abhorrent to God. From this we must also
learn that even when one lives comfortably, in peace and security in his own
tent, surrounded by wealth and honor, the regime attentive to his words, such a
person must not say to himself, "I am at peace in my own tent, why should
I trouble myself about others, be they my brothers or from the world at
Kalfon, Darkhei Moshe, Gerba, Tunis circa 19th cent.,
as quoted in HaLayla
HaZeh an Israeli Haggadah edited by Mishael and Noam Tzion)
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