Yeshivat Ateret Yerushalayim

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Pesach 5783
Rabbi Jablinowitz

The Gemara in Pesachim 36A quotes the pasuk in parshat Re’eh (Chapter 16, Pasuk 3), שבעת ימים תאכל עליו מצות לחם עני. The Matza we are commanded to eat is referred to as לחם עני, poor man’s bread. But it is pronounced as לחם עוני, and the Gemara darshens, לחם שעונין עליו דברים הרבה; it is the bread over which we respond many things. Rashi explains that we say the Haggadah and Hallel over the Matza. But why does the pasuk use the word עונין, which means to respond, and not a word which would indicate simply relating the story of Yetzias Mitzrayim.

Rav Tzadok explains that we learn from this term the notion stressed throughout the last chapter of Pesachim, that the mitzvah of סיפור יציאת מצרים needs to be an answer and a response to a question. This is why we attempt to arouse curiosity and interest on the part of the children to get them to ask questions to which we can respond. As a pedagogical technique, the purpose is clear; one understands and is more attentive when he begins with a question. If there is something we don’t understand, the answer has more meaning and is more fulfilling than if presented as a statement of fact or a lecture. But why precisely at seder night is the mitzvah of Sippur Yetzias Mitzrayim, relating the story of Bnei Yisrael leaving Egypt, presented in such a format?

Rav Tzadok teaches that on the first night of Pesach we have an obligation of בכל דור ודור חייב אדם לראות את עצמו כאילו הוא יצא ממצרים. In every generation, each person must visualize himself, or according to the Rambam, show himself, as if he went out from Egypt. We must go back in time and imagine ourselves as leaving Egypt. But this is also true on a figurative level as well. Mitzrayim comes from the word מיצר, straits. We must realize we are closed in and surrounded by negative influences; we are trying to see ourselves as free from those constraints. At seder night, we have new opportunities of feeling revived and refreshed and free from our desires weighing heavily over ourselves. And we need to give this feeling over to our children and other members of our household. This is not a typical night; there is something unique and special happening. The questions and answers are meant to excite and stimulate everyone as to the special opportunities of this evening.

The Ohr Gedalyahu explains the opportunity of Leil Pesach in the following manner. Rabban Gamliel teaches that there are three fundamental mitzvos we must mention on this night; Pesach, Matza, and Maror. The word Pesach means to skip over, and this represents a fundamental principle of the night. Whatever we achieve and accomplish in this world is not possible without Hashem’s help, both in the physical and the spiritual realm. And in order to move forward and receive Divine inspiration, the first step needs to come from us. As Chazal teach in Shir HaShirim Rabbah (5,2), פתחו לי פתח כחודו של מחט, ואני אפתח לכם כפתחו של אולם. Give me an opening, even as small as the eye of a needle, and I will open up a very large one for you. I will take you much further than what you begin with; but you must start first.

On Pesach, this stage was skipped over. As we say in the Haggadah, the state of Bnei Yisrael was very low; we were עירום ועריה. We were bereft of merit and mitzvos, and didn’t deserve to be taken out. But this was the גילוי השכינה of Yetzias Mitzrayim. Without any merit or us making the first move, Hashem gave us mitzvos to connect us to Him, and we responded. And as a result, He brought us the Geulah and took us from Mitzrayim.

And this experience repeats itself every year at Leil HaSeder. There is a גילוי השכינה as there was in Mitzrayim. And we need to imagine ourselves as experiencing this same Divine inspiration. But we need to respond, as Bnei Yisrael did, to this גילוי השכינה. We need to jump! We need to skip over our natural order of doing things as well. We can’t say, let me think about it, maybe I’ll change a bit, but slowly, over time. We must strike at the opportunity while we have it. Le’havdil, it’s like receiving a good job offer or business opportunity; if we wait or hesitate, it will be lost.

This, then, is the deeper meaning of בכל דור ודור חייב אדם לראות עת עצמו כאילו הוא יצא ממצרים. Seder night is a time of renewal and change. It’s a time to throw away living in a routine manner. The first mitzvah Bnei Yisrael received as a prelude to Yetzias Mitzrayim was החודש הזה לכם ראש חדשים; the notion of התחדשות. This is the feeling we need to create at the seder. This is why we perform the mitzvah of סיפור יציאת מצרים with questions and answers and enthusiasm. We want to inspire our families, so that they can in turn commit to living a life of Torah and mitzvos, a life of inspiration.

Good Shabbos and Chag Kasher V’Sameach!


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