Layl Ha’Seder: The Courage to Celebrate Chag Ha’Pesach

Nissan is here, Pesach is upon us, and in one week’s time we will sit down on layl Ha’Seder and celebrate the yomtov of Pesach, zman cheiroseinu – the time of our freedom.

Mah nishtanah – though this year, admittedly, is very different than every other year that any of us can remember in our lifetimes (no matter our age), it is yomtov and we will celebrate, with whatever modifications are necessary for our communal and individual situations this year.  We will work to be b’simcha, to find the joy and happiness in our lives and to focus on the blessings and goodness that the RS”O bestows upon us (yes, even in trying times we must strive to see the good that still abounds). 

In regard to the night of Yetzias Mitzrayim, the Exodus from Egypt, the pasuk says: וְהָיָה הַדָּם לָכֶם לְאֹת, עַל הַבָּתִּים אֲשֶׁר אַתֶּם שָׁם, וְרָאִיתִי אֶת-הַדָּם, וּפָסַחְתִּי עֲלֵכֶם; וְלֹא-יִהְיֶה בָכֶם נֶגֶף לְמַשְׁחִית, בְּהַכֹּתִי בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם – And the blood will be for you a sign upon the houses where you will be, and I will see the blood and skip over you; and there will be no plague to destroy you when I smite the land of Egypt (Shemos 12:13). 

The Israelites, about to be freed, were commanded to take from the blood of the Korban Pesach, the paschal lamb, and smear the blood on their doorposts and lintels.  When Hashem would see this blood, keviyachol, He would skip over the homes of the Bnei Yisrael, as He smote down the Egyptians in their homes. 

R’ Soloveitchik zt’l teaches, “A trait that was revealed that night was gevurah, courage.  The Medrash (Shemos Rabbah) says of the verse (which is recited in the Haggadah on layl ha’Seder) וָאֶעֱבֹר עָלַיִךְ וָאֶרְאֵךְ, מִתְבּוֹסֶסֶת בְּדָמָיִךְ; וָאֹמַר לָךְ בְּדָמַיִךְ חֲיִי, וָאֹמַר לָךְ בְּדָמַיִךְ חֲיִי – and I passed over you, and I saw you wallowing in your blood, and I said, in your blood you shall live, in your blood you shall live (Yechezkel 16:6) – (in which bloods do we live?) This is the blood of the Korban Pesach and the blood of milah (circumcision)

“…Moshe came and told the people: Undergo physical pain, circumcise yourselves – וְכָל-עָרֵל, לֹא-יֹאכַל בּוֹ, no uncircumcised male may eat of the paschal lamb (Shemos 12:48) – and offer the paschal lamb, which is deified by the Egyptians.  When the Egyptians notice, they will certainly blame the Jews for profaning their religion.  הֵן נִזְבַּח אֶת-תּוֹעֲבַת מִצְרַיִם, לְעֵינֵיהֶם–וְלֹא יִסְקְלֻנוּ – if we offer the abomination of the Egyptians in their presence, will they not kill us? (8:22). 

Nevertheless, the slaves took upon themselves both the suffering and the commandment of the paschal lamb with love, and were not frightened.  They were ready to pay with the blood of suffering and fear for the privilege of performing G-d’s command.  And thus the response: וָאֹמַר לָךְ בְּדָמַיִךְ חֲיִי, וָאֹמַר לָךְ בְּדָמַיִךְ חֲיִי – In your blood you shall live, in your blood you shall live!

Gevurah, courage or heroism, is (a) foundation of Judaism.  Kiddush ha’Shem, the sanctification of the Divine Name, manifests itself in courage.  This courage was shown by the Jews on the night of Pesach.  Moshe said: You shall dip the bundle of hyssop in the blood of the doorstep, and you shall reach the doorstep and its two sides… When G-d passes over to strike Egypt and sees the blood on the doorpost and its two sides, He will pass over the lintel and will not allow the destroyer to enter your homes and strike (12:22-23).  G-d wants to see your sacrifice, your transformation, your wondrous courage, your willingness to conquer your fear and suffering.  You have learned to distinguish between the sacred and the profane, and have displayed gevurah in conquering your fear and your will; therefore, G-d will distinguish between you and the Egyptians, and will reveal His trait of gevurah, or restraint – וּפָסַחְתִּי עֲלֵכֶם, And I will pass over you (12:13).

“Such is the miracle of the revelation of havdalah (separation) and gevurah.  On the night of Pesach, the ‘hidden miracle’ that took place in the hearts of the Jewish people manifested by the signs and wonders that G-d performed ‘with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm’” (Festival of Freedom, p.73-74). 

Mah nishtanah ha’laylah ha’zeh mi’kol ha’lei’losWhy is this night different from all the other nights of the year? we ask as we open the passage of Maggid in the Haggadah.  However, this year, in addition to asking why is this night different, we can state definitively that this year, this Pesach, this chag, this Seder table, is different than all other years. 

Many of us, accustomed to having guests, will find our tables bereft of guests.  Many of us, accustomed to being the guest, may find ourselves alone.  Many families, Hashem yerachem aleinu, have given the ultimate sacrifice, and with tremendous pain and longing beyond words, will find a loved one missing this year.  Many children (and adults) find themselves confused about the future, pained over tragic losses, and worrying about what will be.  We are all left with many more questions than answers. 

And yet! On the glorious night of Yetzias Mitzrayim, the RS”O wants us to find the courage within ourselves to live through our blood.  As the Rav said (quoted above), G-d wants to see your sacrifice, your transformation, your wondrous courage, your willingness to conquer your fear and suffering.

This is layl ha’Seder, this is the hidden miracle of the Exodus, this is the courage to be a Jew.  And as a reward for our gevurah, for our conquering our fears and channeling our resources to serve Hashem, the Rav teaches that G-d, in turn, reveals His trait of Gevurah – Restraint – and distinguishes us, His beloved nation, from the other nations of the world.

With my warmest wishes to you and yours for a healthy, uplifting, safe and meaningful chag kasher v’samayach.  And with my most heartfelt, tear-filled tefillos for an end to this mageifah and our pain, and shalom for our nation, our Land and our world.  והיה ביום ההוא יהיה ה׳ אחד ושמו אחד.

בברכת בשורות טובות, רפואות, וחג כשר ושמח,


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