06 Apr 2017 Layl Ha’Seder: The Journey to Freedom
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Erev Pesach, Nissan 5777… The month of redemption has once again returned, and Seder night is fast approaching. As we marvel at the passage of time…for is it Pesach again, is it chodesh ha’aviv (spring time) again, is zman cheiroseinu (the time of our freedom) here – yet again?…we reflect on our freedom.
As we sit down on layl ha’Seder, whether home or away, with family or friends, it is beautiful and moving to note that the foundations of Yahadus – of what it means to be a Jew – are embedded within the rituals and customs of this Exalted Evening and Haggadah shel Pesach.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה’, אֱלֹקִינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, שֶׁהֶחֱיָנוּ וְקִיְּמָנוּ וְהִגִּיעָנוּ לַזְּמַן הַזֶּה – Blessed are You Hashem…Who has kept us alive, and sustained us, and brought us to this very time.
The Jew must live in a world where every moment, every hour, every day, every week, month, year is appreciated and treasured. Do we pay attention to the words of this blessing, with which we usher in the chag? Do we truly – with feeling and emotion – give thanks to the Almighty for allowing us to reach this time?
With freedom and redemption came the wondrous gift of time: הַחֹדֶשׁ הַזֶּה לָכֶם, רֹאשׁ חֳדָשִׁים: רִאשׁוֹן הוּא לָכֶם, לְחָדְשֵׁי הַשָּׁנָה – This month (of Nissan) is for you, the first of the months; it is the first for you of the months of the year (Shemos 12:1). The first national mitzvah: kedushas ha’zman – sanctify time, strive to always use it well, and remember to appreciate the gift of life.
הָא לַחְמָא עַנְיָא דִּי אֲכָלוּ אַבְהָתָנָא בְאַרְעָא דְמִצְרָיִם – This is the bread of affliction that our forefathers ate in Egypt. The Jew does not live in a vacuum, he does not live for himself alone, he does not forget that generations of Jews, of history and destiny, came before him. He never thinks that he lives alone, for himself, unto himself. This is the bread – the very same bread! – that our forefathers ate in Pharaonic Egypt thousands of years ago. I remember, I recall, I relive, I experience. זְכֹר יְמוֹת עוֹלָם, בִּינוּ שְׁנוֹת דֹּר-וָדֹר – Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations, שְׁאַל אָבִיךָ וְיַגֵּדְךָ, זְקֵנֶיךָ וְיֹאמְרוּ לָךְ – Ask your father and he will tell you, your elders and they will say to you (Devarim 32:7). There is a past, present and future – and I am part of that process. This is the bread of history and of today…
כָּל דִכְפִין יֵיתֵי וְיֵיכֹל, כָּל דִצְרִיךְ יֵיתֵי וְיִפְסַח – Let all who are hungry come and eat, let all in need come celebrate Pesach with us. As the Jew sits down to his yom tov meal, he invites others to partake of his bread, his food, his bounty, to share his home and joy. He fills not only his own belly, but that of his fellow who is in need.
We learn from the founder and father of the Umah Yisraelis, Avraham Avinu, that the Jewish home must be a bastion of gemilus chassadim (acts of loving kindness towards others). וַיִּשָּׂא עֵינָיו, וַיַּרְא, וְהִנֵּה שְׁלֹשָׁה אֲנָשִׁים, נִצָּבִים עָלָיו; וַיַּרְא, וַיָּרָץ לִקְרָאתָם מִפֶּתַח הָאֹהֶל, וַיִּשְׁתַּחוּ, אָרְצָה – And he lifted his eyes, and he saw – and behold! Three men standing upon him. And he ran to greet them from the entrance of his tent, and he bowed down to the ground (Bereishis 18:2). It is compelling to note that Avraham ran to serve the visiting angels on the Yom Tov of Pesach (see Rashi to Bereishis 18:10). The first (metaphoric) כָּל דִכְפִין was uttered and established by Avraham Avinu, as he blazed the trail for his children after him.
מַה נִּשְׁתַּנָּה הַלַּיְלָה הַזֶּה מִכָּל הַלֵּילוֹת – Why is this night different from all the other nights of the year….? We are a thoughtful and intelligent people. We are a people who – from time to time – question, in order to learn, to understand, to know, to do. מָה הָעֵדוֹת וְהַחֻקִּים וְהַמִּשְׁפָּטִים אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה ה’ אֱלֹקִינוּ אֶתְכֶם – What are the laws and mitzvos that Hashem our G-d commanded you? asks the wise son. And yet, while we ask, we must accept that not every question has answers.
R’ Soloveitchik zt’l teaches that: “A Jew must accustom himself to the idea that not all questions have answers… When a difficult question is posed in the Gemara, the response sometimes is tai’ku; the answer is unknown. Yet if G-d gave us the Oral Law, shouldn’t it encompass all answers? How can the Gemara be so inconclusive? My father asked this question, and he answered that the Gemara’s tai’ku must reflect the unresolved questions within every individual. If a Jew never has to say tai’ku, if all life’s questions are answered, he is nothing more than a fool. At the same time, the ability to say tai’ku should not change one’s guiding principles or stymie further study. One must take note of the difficulty and then move on. Unanswerable, unexplained tragedies have likewise accompanied the Jew in his long history. A Jew regularly recites a blessing upon eating and satisfying his hunger. At that moment, all is well; he is healthy and in possession of his faculties. One can readily sense the presence of G-d. In cruel contrast, upon the tragic death of a loved one, as he tears his clothing at the moment of his greatest grief, a Jew also recites a blessing. This expresses a person’s ability to sometimes engage in passive acceptance.”
מַה נִּשְׁתַּנָּה הַלַּיְלָה הַזֶּה מִכָּל הַלֵּילוֹת – Why is this night different from all the other nights of the year….? We ask and answer. Yet sometimes, we ask and fall silent as we accept the rulership of G-d in our lives, and know that not all questions – neither on a personal or national level – can be answered.
כְּנֶגֶד אַרְבָּעָה בָנִים דִּבְּרָה תוֹרָה: אֶחָד חָכָם, וְאֶחָד רָשָׁע, וְאֶחָד תָּם, וְאֶחָד שֶׁאֵינוֹ יוֹדֵעַ לִשְׁאוֹל – The Torah speaks to four sons: one who is wise, one who is wicked, one who is simple, and one who does not know how to ask. The Torah speaks to all Jews, all children, all situations, all generations. We would do well to remember that the ideal Seder table includes all types of Jews, which should serve as a life lesson to us all. While we may not look, think, act, speak, or behave the same as other Jews – we are all Jews. And the Torah speaks to us all, each in our own way. חֲנֹךְ לַנַּעַר, עַל-פִּי דַרְכּוֹ– גַּם כִּי-יַזְקִין, לֹא-יָסוּר מִמֶּנָּה – Educate the child according to his way, so that when he is old, he will not stray from that path (Mishlei 22:6). Whether he is wise, or whether he is wicked, whether he is simple, or whether he does not know how to ask, that child, that person, that Jew, should be around our table, as we open his heart to Torah.
וְהִיא שֶׁעָמְדָה לַאֲבוֹתֵינוּ וְלָנוּ. שֶׁלֹּא אֶחָד בִּלְבָד עָמַד עָלֵינוּ לְכַלּוֹתֵנוּ, אֶלָּא שֶׁבְּכָל דּוֹר וָדוֹר עוֹמְדִים עָלֵינוּ לְכַלוֹתֵנוּ, וְהַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא מַצִּילֵנוּ מִיָּדָם – As we lift the cup of wine, we declare, we shout, we sing, we cry – for though in each and every generation they arise to destroy us, we know and believe with perfect faith, that Hashem always saves us from their hands. כּוֹס יְשׁוּעוֹת אֶשָּׂא – I will lift the cup of salvation, and in the Name of Hashem I will call (Tehilim 116:13).
We are a people who: Counts and appreciates its time; Reflects and recalls the past; Ensures that others are invited to share in the blessings and bounty; Question – even while we know that not all questions can, or should, be answered; Accepts and includes all types of Jews, from the simple to the wise; Believes, For we believe with perfect faith in the coming of Moshiach, and even though he may tarry, nevertheless, we wait for him each and every day.
As we sit down to layl ha’Seder, as we immerse ourselves in Torah u’mitzvos, in minhagim, in experience, in history, in the past, present and future, we once again celebrate leaving Egypt. For as the Sages teach: בְּכָל-דּוֹר וָדוֹר חַיָּב אָדָם לִרְאוֹת אֶת-עַצְמוֹ כְּאִלּוּ הוּא יָצָא מִמִּצְרַיִם – In each and every generation a person is obligated to see himself as if he left Egypt.
And so, as free Jews, we celebrate on this evening and give thanks. וַתֹּאמֶר הַפַּעַם אוֹדֶה אֶת ה’ עַל-כֵּן קָרְאָה שְׁמוֹ, יְהוּדָה – And Leah said, this time I will thank Hashem, and so she called the name of her fourth son Yehuda (Bereishis 29:35). It is not by accident that our people are called Yehudim, after Leah’s expression of thanks to Hashem.
וְקֵרְבָנוּ לִפְנֵי הַר סִינַי, וְנַתָן לָנוּ אֶת-הַתּוֹרָה, וְהִכְנִיסָנוּ לְאֶרֶץ יִשְׂרָאֵל, וּבָנָה לָנוּ אֶת-בֵּית הַבְּחִירָה – We give thanks to the One who brought us to Har Sinai, and gave us the Torah, and brought us into Eretz Yisrael, and built for us the Beis Ha’Mikdash…
And for the gift of life and time, for the past, present and future, for the chessed that we are able to do with others, for the questions we ask and sometimes answer, for all types of Jews, for our faith and trust, for our thankfulness and gratitude, for our Torah, our Land and our Temple…
אֲנַחְנוּ חַיָּבִים לְהוֹדוֹת, לְהַלֵּל, לְשַׁבֵּחַ, לְפָאֵר, לְרוֹמֵם, לְהַדֵּר, לְבָרֵךְ, לְעַלֵּה וּלְקַלֵּס לְמִי שֶׁעָשָׂה לַאֲבוֹתֵינוּ וְלָנוּ אֶת-כָּל-הַנִסִּים הָאֵלּוּ: הוֹצִיאָנוּ מֵעַבְדוּת לְחֵרוּת מִיָּגוֹן לְשִׂמְחָה, וּמֵאֵבֶל לְיוֹם טוֹב, וּמֵאֲפֵלָה לְאוֹר גָּדוֹל, וּמִשִּׁעְבּוּד לִגְאֻלָּה. And after we laud, praise, glorify, and thank Hashem, Who did all these miracles for our forefathers and us, we pray that:
לְשָׁנָה הַבָּאָה בִּירוּשָלָיִם הַבְּנוּיָה – May we merit the ultimate redemption and a rebuilt and redeemed Tzion v’Yerushalayim, may it be immediate and in our days. בניסן נגאלו בניסן עתידין ליגאל, In Nissan they were redeemed from Egypt, and in Nissan, in the future, they will be redeemed (R”H 11a). בברכת חג כשר ושמח,