Tzav 5773 – Gilayon #792
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Parshat Tzav – Pesach
The torah speaks about four children
One who is wise and one who is wicked; one who is
And one who does not even know how to question
does the wise child ask? What is the meaning of the testimonies, statutes, and judgments
which the Eternal our God has commanded us?
shall explain to him: 'The Lord delivered us from
with a strong hand'.
does the wicked child ask? What is the meaning of this service to you? What is
this bother with which you inconvenience us every year?
he excludes himself from the group, you should tell him; 'Because what the Eternal
did for me' for me he did, for that man he did not do. If that
man were in
he would have been unworthy of deliverance forever.
does the foolish child say? What is this? after the
Pascal meal [by saying] 'To the aftermeal
entertainment", [Hebrew], that he not move from one group to another.
child who does not know how to ask – you must begin for him. Said R. Yose: So says the Mishna: 'If the
child lacks knowledge [of how to ask], his father instructs him.'
(Yerushalmi, Pesahim, ibid, ibid)
Torah speaks about four sons", and the answer to the wise son is "You
shall explain to him the laws of the pesach
sacrifice, that one must not conclude etc.", but no Biblical passage is
cited, only laws of the Pascal meal, and this is because this is the Oral
Law, and regarding the Oral Law is it Witten "When the Lord delivered
you from Egypt etc." "shall you worship etc" on this mountain, for
the Oral Law is endless and it renews itself daily, therefore do we recall
the exodus from Egypt daily, because the entire Torah is commentary on the
exodus from Egypt, as is written "I am the Lord your God who delivered you
from the land of Egypt", and just as the Name, be He blessed, renews
creation daily and sheds light upon the land and its inhabitants, so is the
Oral Law renewed daily.
(R. Avraham Mordecai Alter of Gur: Imrei Emmet – Parashat Bo 5667)
– The Mundane
In the year
1300 AD a Christian poet and pilgrim landed on an island somewhere in the
southern hemisphere. Upon arriving on the shore, he spied an approaching ship
and heard its passengers singing "In exitu Isräel de Aegypto."
They were singing, in Latin, the psalm that we sing just before the Pesach meal
on Seder night, Psalm 114. That psalm is part of the "Egyptian Hallel": "When
came forth out of
the house of Jacob from a people of strange language." We speak here of
three journeys – that of the poet and passengers, that of the Israelites, and
ours, the participants in the Seder.
parts of the Seder, the recitation of the Hallel,
the set of psalms we recite on festivals and other days of celebration, is
different, in two ways. It is said at home, by the company that has gathered to
celebrate the Seder together, and not in public, in synagogue. And it is
divided into two parts. Two psalms are recited before the meal and the rest
afterward. On no other holiday do we halt the Hallel
in the middle to eat a meal.
particular psalm about the Exodus also differs in spirit from all that has
preceded it on the Seder night. To this point in the recitation and explication
of the Hagaddah we have told of the Exodus
and performed precepts and rituals that make that story into a concrete and
present action rather than a legend of the past. While the events we relate are
miraculous ones that stand outside the laws of nature, we tell of them as
events that indeed occurred on the same timeline and in the same geographical
space that we live in today. We do not merely recall these events, but are
meant to experience them as if we had been there at the time and are there
today. We eat matzah because it symbolizes the
bread of affliction that the slaves ate in Egypt and the bread that did not
have time to rise on the night of redemption; we eat bitter herbs in order to
feel ourselves the bitterness of slavery, and we eat from the paschal lamb (or
today, from a stand-in), just as God commanded the Children of Israel to do on
that night in Egypt. We also tell about the tellers of the story of the Exodus
– about the Sages in Bene Berak
who told the story all night.
But Psalm 114
does not tell of events that took place even within the miraculous reality of
the Exodus. When the Children of Israel left
sea flee, the mountains did not skip like rams nor the
hills like young sheep. There is no mention of any such phenomena in the book
of Exodus and we do not make any note of them while relating the story of the
during the narrative portion of the Seder. We do not rise from our seats on
Seder night to dance in evocation of the mountains that skipped, and the
symbolic foods on the Seder plate do not include spring water in memory of the
rocks that turned into a pool.
Don Yitzhak Abravanel proposed that the subject of Psalm 114 is in fact
the parting of the Red Sea, and argued that the two psalms recited before the
Seder meal are about the redemption from Egypt, while the rest of the psalms
recited after the meal are psalms of thanksgiving to God that hint at the
complete redemption promised for the end of days. But his interpretation is
difficult to accept for two reasons. First, the psalm itself says that it is
about the Exodus and not the parting of the sea. Second, it does not, as noted,
actually tell about the deliverance. In fact, the supernatural events it
describes seem to fit the final redemption better than anything that has
happened in the history of the Jewish people.
I suggest that
the simple meaning of this psalm is not its narrative but its emotion. Its
subject is not God's power to change the course of nature but the joy that
filled the world at the time that the Children of Israel cast off slavery for
liberty. The prancing hills, the reversing rivers, and the liquefying rocks
symbolize the new freedom the people received under the strong hand of the Holy
One Blessed Be He. The psalm appears at this point in the Seder because up to
this point we have not spoken of the joy of redemption. We have spoken of
slavery, of plagues, of the long night of waiting, but not on the elation of
the slave who is now free.
But then why
do we split the Hallel in two, just as we
previously split one of the three matzot on
the Seder plate in two, and then sit down to eat?
poet-pilgrim who arrived at the island on the other side of the world was
Dante, the great Italian poet, author of The Divine Comedy. That poem
tells of his journey to Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven. Psalm 114 appears when he
arrives at his second destination, the
where sinful souls are purified and cleansed before they return to the divine
presence. In this world the laws of nature no longer apply – there is only
divine providence. What could be a more appropriate song to sing than one about
the collapse of the laws of nature in the face of God's miraculous redemption?
They sing and ascend the mountain in the center of the island to receive their purgings and plagues, after which they will ascend to the
world that is only good.
And we – we
sing the same psalm and then sit down to eat meat and bread, to drink wine, and
to celebrate with our families, friends, and any poor person who comes to our
I suggest that
the Seder Hallel is interrupted because the
Jewish people's deliverance from
material world to paradise, but rather from slavery to freedom. Freedom is not
utter redemption. The Children of Israel left
to establish a society in its own land, one that was supposed to be the
diametric opposite of
It was to be a society founded on justice and liberty rather than on the
arbitrary whims of a Pharaoh and slave labor. The Jewish people did not die in
not pass on to a world that is only good. They remained alive and accepted a
mission to make this world a better one.
That is why,
once a year, we recite the Hallel in our homes,
rejoice in the Exodus from
and then leave off this divine recitation of miracles to do the most mundane
thing possible – to sit down and eat a family meal. Because after the holiday
we will remain in a world in which the labor is not yet completed,
and neither are we free to flee it. The redemption we celebrate is a mundane
one, as in the words of the Kotzker Rebbe: The heavens are God's heavens, and he gave the earth
to humankind… to make it into
Haim Watzman is a member of Kehilat Yedidya.
– the Great Sabbath"- The courageous iconoclasm and the miracle.
The Sabbath preceding Pesach is called "Shabbat Hagadol", for the following reason: A great
miracle was performed on it. The pascal lamb was to
have been obtained on the tenth, as is written 'On the tenth of this month they
shall take a lamb for each family a lamb for the house'. The Pesach on which
"Seder Olam"). Therefore we find that the
tenth of the month fell on Shabbat, and each took a lamb for his Pesach
sacrifice and tied it to his bedposts, and the Egyptians asked: What is this
for? And they replied: To slaughter it for the Pesach as the Lord commanded us,
and they gnashed their teeth because their god was to be slaughtered yet they could
say nothing, and because of this miracle it is called "Shabbat Hagadol."
(Tur Orach Hayyim 430)
he shall reconcile parents with children"
Haphtarah of Shabbat Hagadol in Malachi 3)
R. Yehudah says [Elijah comes] to
bring closer, not to distance. R. Shimon says: To smooth over disagreement. The
Sages say: Neither to distance nor to bring closer, but to make peace in the
world, as is written: 'Lo, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before the
coming of the awesome, fearful day of the Lord', and it says 'He shall
reconcile parents with children'.
(Yalkut Shimoni, Malachi Chap. 3, 595)
When the Holy One delivered Israel from Egypt, he did not
deliver only those who were in Egypt, but all generations did he liberate, as
we recite at the end of the Haggadah "Not only
did He redeem our ancestors, but He also redeemed us with them", meaning
to say that when the Holy One, blessed be He, removed Egyptian power over
Israel, this removal was not effected because they were of that particular
generation, for if that were the case, the exodus would have been for that
generation alone, but the exodus extended also to [future] progeny.
(Sefer Gevuroth HaShem of the Maharal of Prague, p. 227)
In every generation there is an exodus from
to the situation of the generation. All this existed during the exodus from
degree which a person believes "as though he had left
the current exodus from
and every one can be released from his personal straits.
(Sfat Emmet, Vayikra).
The Holy One blessed be He Suffers together, so-to-speak,
with those who suffer
And you find that all the while that
enslaved] with them, so-to-speak, for it is said: And they saw the God
and beneath his feet was the likeness of a sapphire pavement. And when they
were redeemed what does it say? Like the very sky for purity and
it is said in all their troubles He was troubled. This only tells
me about the community's troubles, where do I learn this regarding the troubles
of the individual? It is learned from the verse: He shall call me and
I will answer him, I am with him in his troubles.
(Mekhilta Bo Messekhet De Pas'ha 14)
If this had not appeared in Scripture, we would not be
allowed to say it. It is as if
told the Holy One blessed be He: "You redeemed Yourself."
Pesach – Our
Time of Freedom?
This goal ['Our Time of Freedom']
of the exodus from
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
did not accept upon themselves the
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 Moshe", but immediately afterwards the Torah relates how that
trust was only temporary – spontaneous faith born out of being powerfully
impressed by what had happened – but not faith which derives from awareness of
God's divinity. Therefore it did not last even three days; the people call out
to Moshe "Is the Lord present among us or not?"
Even though this appointed time
is a holiday for
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
primary thanks for redemption is not related to what happens to the
Jewish people in history, but to what the Jewish people do 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
(Y. Leibowitz: Discussions on Israel's
Festivals, p. 74)
Lord of the surprise: Who
believes in miracles?
The enumeration of the miracles performed
on behalf of the Children of Israel during the exodus from
central part of the Seder. But for modern man, educated on the knees of
Science, on the natural order of the world, the story of the miracles seems
childish, primitive, mythological.
If, however, we see the miracles
only as ancient superstition, we will miss the message of these extraordinary occurrences.
We must see the miracle as a symbol of the power of the spontaneous in
existence, as a belief in the ability to transform arrogant regimes. What had
been seen as destiny, the vulnerability of a small nation subservient to a strong
and secure empire, is revealed to be an illusion. The language of the miracle
is the Bible's method of protesting the deterministic attitudes of people who
accept the world as it is, sans faith in the power to change it. On the Seder
night we pour into ourselves the faith that there exists in the universe an unexpected
The belief in miracles is the
basis for the 'hope model' in Judaism. The exodus from
to plant in us revolutionary hope, despite historic conditions. The protest
against the conditions of the universe is possible because the Jews possess a
pool of memories which fashion that which seems to us to be possible. The
is essential because it allows us to hope. Order in the cosmos is not
unalterable. Tomorrow does not have to be as it is today.
Hartman, z"l, from: "This Night" – An Israeli Haggada,
ed. By Mishael and Noam Tsion)
The Holy One,
blessed be He, does not rejoice in the defeat of the wicked, sometimes in
contrast to human beings and the administering angels.
And we recite "Praise the
Lord, for his loving kindness endures forever". Said R. Yochanan, Why are the words "for it is good"
omitted from this praise? Because the Holy One, blessed be He does not rejoice
in the defeat of the wicked, as Shmuel b. Nahmani said in R. Yonatan's name: How to understand "and
they did not approach each other all through the night" – the administering
angels sought to sing praise, said the Holy One, blessed be He: My creations
are drowning in the sea and you sing praises before me?! Said Yosi b. Hanina: He does not
rejoice, but He causes others to rejoice, and this proven by the wording of the
phrase "so will He cause to rejoice"; it
does not say "He will rejoice".
(Yalkut Shimoni, II
Divrei Hayamim, Chap 2)
Does not rejoice etc. The explanation
for this is that joy is present when the joy is complete, and God desired their
creation because He is the cause of everything. And it is written that when the
world was created, (Psalm 104) "May
the Lord rejoice in his creations" because when God wants and desires his
creations, how then can He rejoice at their loss, as they said "My
creations are drowning in the sea and you sing praises before me?!" Therefore
He does not rejoice, but He causes others to rejoice because the wicked oppress
them and oppose them, and it is proper that others rejoice in their defeat, and
this is explained.
Does God rejoice at the defeat
of the wicked etc? Said R. Yose b. Hanina: He does not rejoice, but He causes others to rejoice,
and this proven by [close reading of] the wording of the phrase "so will
He cause to rejoice"; it does not say "He will rejoice"… [The Maharal
proceeds to strongly rejects the possibility that God causes others to rejoice
at the defeat of the wicked; he finds grammatical justification for
interpreting the text to mean that it is rather Man who causes others to
(Maharal's Novellas for Aggadot,
Part 3, p. 157)
Recites the Hallel with omissions, etc" – Because on the
seventh day of Pesach, the Egyptians drowned, the Holy One, blessed be He said "My
creations are drowning in the sea and you sing praises before me?" and
since on the seventh day we do not recite it [the complete Hallel],
therefore on Chol HaMoed
– the intermediate days – we also do not recite it, lest they become more
important than the final day of the festival.
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