- Rav Shmuel Brazil - Yeshiva Zeev HaTorah
Prior to answering this basic question we will give insight to another issue concerning the haggadah. Why is the mitzvah of relating our exodus on the night of the Seder called Maggid instead of Sippur? Both words are used relating to the specific mitzvah of Pesach night. In fact the mitzvah is called סיפור יציאת מצרים which makes the choice of the word מגיד even more difficult?
The passuk says [Shmos 12,42] ליל שמרים הוא לה' להוציאם מארץ מצרים הוא הלילה הזה לה' שמרים לכל בני ישראל לדורותם.. The Seforno learns the double שמירה in this passuk as follows: just as Hashem very much anticipated the coming of this night to redeem Yisrael from MItzrayim, likewise Hashem anticipates and longs for the future redemption of Yisrael.this is in line with the Chazal that say in the month of Nissan they were redeemed and in the month of Nissan they will once again be redeemed. The Baal Haturim expresses this idea even more by saying that Hashem saved half this night for the future redemption. This concept that the night of Yetzias Mitzrayim serves for the future geulah is also mentioned in the Medrash. The reason why the plural form of shimurim is used because it hints to many more incidents of geulah in which Hashem performed greatness to the tzadikim with the merit of this night. He saved Chizkiyahu with it, Channaya Mishael and Azarya from the furnace, Daniel from the lion’s den, and with this night Moshiach and Eliyahu come to fruition.
The Torah commands that one must imitate Hashem’s ways as much as humanely possible. Being so, we can say that just like this night of Pesach is the night that Hashem yearns and hopes for to redeem Yisrael from their galus, so too it is our obligation as well to yearn on this night for our future redemption which is part and parcel of Yetzias Mitzrayim.
To understand this in a deeper way the sefarim explain why galus Mitzrayim is not counted in the four exiles since it is considered the origin of them. The Megaleh Amukos hints to this with the passuk [Shmos 2,23] ויהי בימים הרבים ההם that the acronym of the word רבים symbolizes the four exiles רום בבל יון מדי. Since they are all contained in the origin galus, if we find that we were successful in being freed from that galus, then we are guaranteed to be freed from the other exiles as well. This turns our hoping and yearning for the present geulah on the night of the Seder into an integral essential of this special night and thereby separates it from the every day mitzvah of mentioning our exodus from Egypt.
This theme runs through the Hagadah if we take a closer look at it. We begin Maggid with הא לחמא עניא which ends with our trust in Hashem that לשנה הבאה בני חורין the coming year we will be free. The role of each Yid at the night of the Seder is twofold. One to recall and retell the chesed and wonders of Hashem in the past by redeeming us from galus Mitzrayim and secondly to be so connected to the living experience of leaving Mitzrayim that one can actually say in a declaration and not just in a request form that next year we will have our geulah לשנה הבאה בני חורין .
In the onset of Maggid we bring Rebbi Eliezer who disagrees with the Chachamim on whether one is required to recite the inyan of Yetzias Mitzrayim at night time. The Chachamim learn Rav Eliezer’s passuk thus כל ימי חייך להביא לימות המשיח A great Chassidic Master interpreted this to mean that one’s entire life should be occupied with bringing the Moshiach. According to our insight we can interpret this to mean that by remembering Yetzias Mitzrayim daily and with that emunah and conviction we strengthen our belief in our present geulah, we can actually make bring it on much swifter.
In the והיא שעמדה לאבותינו that we recite it is possible to say that והיא is referring to Yetzias Mitzrayim which parallels the same Medrash that says the night of Yetzias Mitzrayim was the merit that saved the tzadikim throughout the generations. This follows directly after the words ואחרי כן יצאו ברכוש גדול which promises from Yetzias Mitzrayim the coming of Moshiach.
In the ending beracha of Maggid we find a tefillah for binyan Beis Hamikdash and the return of the korbonos. We tell Hashem that at that time we will sing a שיר חדש which is in masculine gender thereby describing the human who is incapable of giving birth. This hints to the final geulah when there will no more tzoros which until now they give birth to new songs when attaining salvation from them.
During the entire topics of the last siman of the Seder - Nirtzah we reflect on the future geulah, the building of the Third Beis Hamikash , the usage of the other half of the night of Yetzias Mitzrayim to save Am Yisrael from other tzaros throughout the generations.
Now we can understand why the title of Maggid was chosen instead of Sippur. Maggid besides meaning to tell and relate also means to extend. The sippur of Yetzias Mitzrayim must be on the past referring to our geulah from Mitzrayim but it must also be extended to include the future geulah which we must yern for this very night. The Ramban in his Thirteen Principles of Faith writes that it is not sufficient just to believe in Moshiach but one must also actually yearn for his coming. If one merely believes but fails to yearn and anticipate his arrival, he is missing this very important principle. This daily obligation to believe and to yearn for his coming is fulfilled within our hearts. However at the night of the Seder we take our חובת הלבבות of the year and bring it into practice and actualization. It is on this night of ליל שמרים that we get up and open the door for Eliyahu Hanavi to herald in the news of Moshiach’s coming. At the night of the Seder our hoping and yearning of the heart concretizes itself into demonstration
One may ask the question why open the door for Eliyahu at all. Since he is a malach he enter through the wall if he wanted to? The answer is the opening of the door is not for him but for you. Many people talk the talk and even sing the song Ani Maamim bur not necessarily do they walk the walk. At the night of the Seder we must demonstrate that we mean business and it is not just lip service. By opening that door we are telling Eliyahu if you come I am out of here at the drop of a hat!!
In a deeper understanding why we open the door for Eliyahu at the night of the Seder, we find that the Har Habayis is called בירה. The Bayis on earth stands parallel to the Bayis in shamayim. When the flow of energy and light between them is strong then we attain shelaimus. As long as we are in galus we are missing this incredible connection. Its deeper significance is that by actualizing our belief in our geulah on the night of the Seder, we can really make it happen. Two times the word בירה is דלת . By opening that door and greeting Eliyahu we are connecting the Mikdash shel maalah with that of shel mattah.
On a personal note, I would like to share with you something to enhance your seder. One of the highlights of my family Seder is this time of opening the door for Eliyahu Hanavi. It is such an opportune moment to implant a very deep emunah in the hearts of our dear children and it will leave an incredible impact. Our family just doesn’t leave Eliyahu after reciting שפוך חמותך . Instead we sing together all those heartwarming devaikus kumsitz niggunim such as הנה אנכי שולח לכם, והביאותים, הרחמן הוא יזכנו לימות המשיח הנה ימים באים, שיבנה בית המקדש, ותחזינה עינינו והיה ביום ההוא יתקע בשופר גדול, and of course all the versions of Ani Maamin. All these niggunim have to do with Eilyahu, Moshiach, and our future geulah. If you weren’t ready to leave with Eliyahu after opening your door, I guarantee you that after singing together with the family and mamesh bonding with one’s future geulah for just those 15 minutes, even Eliyahu will have to catch up to you.
- Rav Shmuel Brazil - Yeshiva Zeev HaTorah
The Torah states that the purpose of Yetzias Mitzrayim was to receive the Torah at Har Sinai תעבדון אלקים על ההר הזה. In fact the Sefas Emes alludes to this by saying that the ten makos that brought Yisrael their redemption corresponded to the aseres hadibros. Another hinting to this idea can be gleaned from the passuk וימררו את חייהם בעבודה קשה בחומר ובלבנים ובכל עבודה בשדה The Egyptians embittered their lives with mortar and bricks with work in the fields etc. Our Chazal comment on this by saying that all the words in this passuk refer to Torah and its methods of learning. עבודה קשה hints to קשיא the question on a difficulty one asks while learning. חומר hints to the middah of קל וחומר the first of the 13 principles of Torah Shebe’al Peh. לבנים alludes to ליבון הלכתא the clarification of the דין. Our Chazal are relating to us here that the bondage in Mitzrayim was a preparation to purify the body to enable it to receive the lofty Torah at Sinai. This concept is also mentioned in the beginning Medrash of sefer Shmos that Torah is only acquired through affliction and by subjugation of the body.
With this being said we can now proceed with a deeper explanation and understanding of the function of Seder Plate. It is the foundation of all the symbols representing both bondage and redemption that are positioned on it during the recital of the Haggadah. For it represents the receiving of the Torah which is the tachlis of Yetzias Mitzrayim as we explained above. This can also be seen in the letters that form the word קערה – עקרה. Hashem blesses Yisrael with the beracha לא יהיה עקר ועקרה [עקב] that you will not be barren. Giving birth has a dual process, one physical and the other spiritual. As the passuk says אלה תולדות נח נח איש צדיק תמים היה בדורותיו upon which the Chazal explain the essential descendents of Tzadikim are their good deeds. For the mitzvah of פרו ורבו is to be understood also in the spiritual sense as the sefer Igra De’pirka explains in lengthy detail on that particular mitzvah.
To bring this point out even further let us examine the commentary of the Baal Haturim on the above passuk. The gematria of לא יהיה עקר ועקרה is equal to בדברי תורה. We can interpret this message to mean that only with Torah one enables himself to depart from a state of barrenness and enter a state of self birth and the birth of good deeds.
Now we can fully understand how the קערה symbolizes Torah. It contains the identical letters of עקרה but switched around in order to form the word קערה which is the vessel that contains the simanim of the Seder both of galus and geulah. Yetzias Mitzrayim was for the sole purpose of receiving the Torah from Hashem after their redemption from Egypt. By receiving the Torah they went from being a עקרה to a קערה a vessel full of desire to receive the light of Hashem. Note that the word קערה בגמטריא שעה The definition of שעה also means desire as we find the usage of this same term by the heavenly accepted sacrifice of Hevel.
With this understanding we can take the Seder Plate to the next level by examining their duel meaning. Not only do the simanim on the Seder Plate symbolize galus and geulah from Mitzrayim, but they also symbolize the six varying aspects through which one acquires the Torah and benefits from it. This thought is parallel to what we explained above that the words in וימררו את חייהם בעבודה קשה בחומר ובלבנים also portray a duel meaning; of slavery and of preparation for receiving the Torah. Now let us closely examine each siman and see how it fits into this pattern.
The Zeroah of the Seder Plate symbolizes the outstretched and strong hand that Hashem used to punish the Mitzreeyim and redeem the Jewish Nation from bondage. On the other side of the coin it represents the excitement and enthusiasm one must have while learning Torah. To bring out the point let us bring a story that happened during the days of the Chasam Sofer. Two Yidden were sitting together and made a wager with one another whether it was possible to fool an entire city into believing that the lecturer of a shiur whose real identity was a goy would not be able to be uncovered. The date was fixed and the Yid who proposed the wager handsomely paid a goy genius with a photographic memory and got him to successfully memorize in mama lashon an incredible dazzling unknown pilpul in the gemarrah. Upon the date of arrival of this hidden but now to be revealed Talmid Chacham, the main shul of Pressburg was filled to capacity all eager to hear this incredible pilpul that it truly was. Amongst the listeners was the Chasam Sofer. All through the first 20 minutes of the pipul the entire olam was oohing and ahhing as this goy brilliantly led them through the intricacies of the pilpul as if on a thrilling roller coaster ride. Suddenly, the Chasam Soffer jumped up from his seat and screamed sheker he is an imposter. Immediately the goy jumped down from the podium and out the first window he could find in order not to fall into the hands of a now infuriated lynch mob. The Yid who made the wager, who by now was totally humiliated and brimming with shame, approached the Chasam Soffer with deep regret and apology for making such a Chilul Hashem. Yet he could not help himself from asking the Chasam Sofer how did he know that he was an imposter? The entire olam was fooled but not him. The Rebbi of klal yisrael answered “It was quite very simple. How can a Yid say over such an incredible exciting pilpul while standing motionless completely void of any shukling, waving, and gesturing passionately with ones hands in the air as customary by those in the midst of learning Torah. There was no other reasonable explanation other than he just had to be a goy!
The nation of Amalek attacked Yisrael because they weakened their hands from the Torah as Chazal derive from the word רפידים. Here too we can understand the failing of Klall Yisrael in the light of the story of the Chasam Soffer. True they learned Torah but it was missing that geshmak, the flaying of the hands that it deserves. It was for this reason that they fell into the hands of Amalek.
Our Chazal say that Am Yisrael was enslaved through פרך which means a soft tongue. When they saw Pharaoh descend into the mud pits they were subtlety persuaded to work along side him and they followed suit with the greatest excitement and enthusiasm. This servitude to Pharaoh was all a preparation for the receiving of the Torah to serve Hashem which they would learn for their Master with excitement and enthusiasm.
The zeroah also symbolizes chesed and tzedakah since it is done through the hand. We even begin the Seder with the mitzvah of hachnasas orchim. In Tanna Debay Ailiyahu 24 it describes how Am Yisrael had only one mitzvah in Mitzrayim and that was that they made a bris between each other to do chesed. Even at the time of the exodus from Mitzrayim they were preoccupied in performing acts of chesed. As the Targum explains the word וחמושים עלו בני ישראל ממצרים that they left Mitzrayim with five children. The Be’ar Yosef explains the meaning of the Targum according to the Chazal that the word chamushim means 1/5 left and 4/5 of Yisrael died during the makka of choshech. Who was supposed to take care of the millions of orphans that were left because for sure they did not die? The answer is that all Am Yisrael performed the incredible chesed of taking into their own family these orphans. To this the Targum alludes to when it says 5 children which means 5 sets of children, one of their own and 4 other families. Let us remember that these foster families had no home of their own, no play group, but rather willing to go into the desert without any prior knowledge where they were going and from where their sustenance would come from. Now they would have to think of a few hundred more children to shlepp along with them. To this selfless chesed Hashem refers to when He exclaims זכרתי לך חסד נעוריך לכתך אחרי במדבר . Our zeroah was our merit to have our geulah from Mitzrayim. With this chesed we went out armed against our enemies which is the other interpretation of chamushim.
On the Torah side of the galus geulah \ Torah coin, we find that Torah is called תורת חסד that limud Hatorah must be coupled with chesed. A big tzadik asked in the desert where the Yidden travelled for 40 years and they had daily sustenance with the manna and their clothes grew with them, how did they do acts of chesed? He answered the following, by teaching the Torah to those who did not understand it as well as he. Chazal tell us אם למדת תורה הרבה אל תחזיק טובה לעצמך if one learns a lot of Torah don’t pat yourself on the back. Others learn that the word tova refers to Torah as we find in the passuk כי לקח טוב נתתי לכם Our chacahmim explain that when one learns Torah it should be in the form of Toras Chesed, by teaching it to others, by saying over a vort or a kashya thereby not preserving it for yourself but sharing it with others.
The Beitzah the roasted egg symbolizes the learning of Torah lishmah. The Baal Shem Tov asks on the Mishnah in Avos [6,3] that if one learns one perek or halacha from his friend he is obligated to give him kovod and this is a kal vechomer from Dovid Hamelech who learned two things from Achitofel and he called him his rebbi. The Besht asked how does this kal vochemer work in that the teaching of one halacha obligates kovid to be given to one’s rebbi from Achitofel who taught Dovid two halachos? He answers by saying that divrei Torah has the potential to give over multiple births of insight. For if it is transmitted properly then the one halacha is likened to a seed that bears forth many fruit in the heart of the receiver. Achitofel was not on that madraiga and Dovid only learned from him two things without further births of any chiddush coming from them. Surely if one learns only one halacha but it is transmitted is such a fashion that this one halacha will give birth to many more chidushim, one has to give the proper kovod to such a rebbi. To this Chazal refer to when they say if you will listen to the old you will listen to the new [Aikev 11,13, Rashi].
The egg laying process has a nature that it produces one birth after another. The hen lays the egg and then later from the same egg a chick is hatched. This is in contrast to other animals who are born with one birth alone. Proper intentions allow for multiple births in ruchniyus. The korban pesach was required to be processed and eaten lishmah as the passuk says פסח הוא לה' as Rashi comments [12,11]. So too on the other side of the coin that in receiving of the Torah and its learning one must strive for the multiple birth effect and learn lishmah. This is the reason why the baitzeh is positioned in line with the zeroah. Zeroah aside from being translated as an arm, it also contains the letters of zerah which means seed. This is to hint to us that the Torah that one gives over must be likened to a seed as the passuk says אור זרוע לצדיק That the tzadik transmits the light of Torah in the hearts of his listeners like a seed so that it will bear many fruit in the future.
The nature of an egg’s physical makeup is such that if positioned perfectly erect it could withstand any amount of pressure placed on it without resulting in cracking. The egg symbolizes that the miracles demonstrated in Mitzrayim were because Hashem hardened Pharaoh’s heart not to send out Yisrael. On the other side of the coin, Torah has the power to build in the heart of a Yid a wall of unyieldingness to bend to outside forces and influences. We are a stiff necked nation and we will not succumb to the mockery and cynicism addressed to us by other nations.
The Dorshei Reshumos say that the first night of Pesach always falls out on the same day of the week as Tisha B’av. Some mefarshim learn that this message teaches that since we did not fulfill the decree of slavery for the amount of 400 years we therefore have to make it up during other exiles which consequently predicts churban beis hamikdashes. For this reason there is a minhag to eat eggs in salt water at the Seder since eggs are a siman of availus.
On the other side of galus geulah, one most go through the process of a Tisha B’av prior to his acquisition of Torah. For Rav Hutner ztl writes in a letter to chizuk to a talmid who was experiencing many setbacks in his spiritual climb to greatness that the passuk says שבע יפול צדיק וקם. The foolish people interpret this passuk to mean that despite one’s fall nevertheless he arises afterwards. The chachamim interpret this passuk to mean that because he fell he was able to rise. Failure goes hand in hand with success. Moshe would erect and then take down the Mishkan for seven days straight until on the eight it remained standing. This was to teach us this lesson. Thus is understood the link between Pesach and Tisha B’av.
Karpas The letters of the symbol of the כרפס signifiy the ס' - 600,000 Yidden who underwent avodas פרך in Mitzrayim. The other side of the coin is that it is the nature of learning the 60 mesechtas of Shas that break the koach of a person as Chazal say תורה מתשת כחו של אדם. The כח referred to here is alluding to the passuk כחי ועוצם ידי עשה לי את החיל הזה that a person might feel haughty into thinking that his success is because of his smart business acumen or bright intelligence. The divine light received from toiling over Torah brings a person to humility whereupon he realizes that all his kochos come from the one above.
Another aspect of the karpas is an allusion to mechiras yosef and the brother’s hatred towards him. This allusion can be found in the Rashi describing the כתנת פסים that Yaakov favored him with over the other brothers. Rashi says it is compared to the word כרפס that we find in Megillas Esther. In other words the symbol of karpas alludes to the kesones passim which was a major contributor to the jealousy and hatred amongst the brothers towards Yosef and their selling of him to Mitzrayim. The Mitzryeem therefore midah keneged middah hated us and we were likened to thorns in their eyes. And just as the brothers dipped Yosef’s kesones in blood, our custom is to dip the karpas in salt water. Salt water symbolizes the tears that Yidden over centuries have wept from suffering progroms and persecutions because the sinas chinam the brothers possessed has not yet been completely rectified. It was Rav Elchanan Wasserman ztl who said that all the absurd and irrational accusations in the form of blood libels against Yidden stem from their dipping of Yosef’s kesones in blood with a false claim of Yosef’s demise to their father.
On the other side of the coin Torah purifies a person’s middos and character until he becomes a true ohaiv Hashem who must also be a hater of evil אוהבי ה' שנאו רע. An apathetic reaction or one who just remarks with a mere pareve nu nu upon hearing evil, without an emotion of disgusting hatred wishing to eradicate this evil that thwarts the kovod shamayim is not a full fledged ohaiv Hashem. Torah gives us the tools to hate when necessary.
The gemarrah in Kiddushin 30b takes this even further that when two people learn together as a chavrusah, even though during this period they might become enemies between themselves because of their opposing interpretations, nevertheless at the end they return to their former close and loving relationship. However, when it comes to evil one has to preserve his hatred towards its removal from this world.
Charoses symbolizes the back breaking labor especially the mortar from which we made bricks. In the root of the word חרוסת we find the word סחור which means to go around. This hints to the fact that they had to go around themselves to gather their own straw and still arrive at the same number of bricks made when the straw was given to them. That task was utterly impossible and not within the realm of human bechirah. Some mefarshim learn that for this reason Hashem hardened Pharaoh’s heart and took away his bechirah middah keneged middah. Hashem also removed the bechirah of Klal Yisrael by not allowing them to fall into the 50th level of tumah towards which they were heading. This way we were forcefully redeemed without our bechirah.
On the other side of the coin we find that at Matan Torah Hashem also forced Yisrael to receive the Torah by putting the mountain on top of their heads and giving them an ultimatum. Hashem was sending the message that one can choose not to have any choice but rather be coerced to fulfill the will of Hashem. For instance Rav Yisrael Salantar said that it is better to learn with a chavrusah even though one feels a little coercion rather to use full bechira and learn by oneself. It is harder to miss a seder in the former choice. When Rav Dessler ztl wanted to quit smoking, my uncle related to me that the Rav announced one day that he quit smoking. Wondering about such public behavior, Rav Dessler explained the more people who know about my decision the more embarrassed I will be to return smoking.
סחור which also means going around as we explained above, also has another connotation found in the pasuk סביב רשעים יהלכון the wicked go around in circles. Some explain this to be a reference to the gemarrah that describes the foolish Babylonians who eat bread with bread. The gemarrah means to teach that if you ask a foolish Babylonian why do you work he will respond by saying so I can earn a living. If you then ask him why must he earn a living he will respond in order to eat. His responses are in the form of circular logic which is senseless and without inner meaning. It is likened to eating a sandwich, bread with bread, working to enable to work.
On the other side of the coin Torah removes one from living a peripheral life running in circles without focus on an inner purpose. In the word חרוסת is hinted the purpose of the Yid which is to bathe in the glory of Hashem in the next world. The deeper sefarim explain that the word סוחר found in the passuk in parshas Chaya Sara when Avraham purchased Meoras Hamachpaila and paid 400 kesef עובר לסוחר explain it to mean that Avraham purchased a place through which the neshamos pass through and that leads to the 400 spiritual worlds of desire. “Sochair” refers to those 400 worlds where we will receive the rewards for all our struggles and challenges even while we stand amidst the mud of culture which results in “our charoses”, always trying to stay clear from the circles thrust upon us from society and rather choose to live an inner meaningful life of the spiritual. This is also hinted in the word charoses ( 400 ) סוחר ת' that every smear of mud that we struggle to rid ourselves from with will give us 400 worlds of pleasure from the rays of Hashem’s Shechinah.
And if one thinks it is so difficult to be a Yid and he is missing so much enjoyment in this world, the one who thinks so is dead wrong. Those who run to theaters and Broadway shows to escape their void should only experience a Shabbos together with the family at the Shabbos table and they will realize what true menucha and enjoyment is. For in the charoses mixture one places apples to hint to the miracle that Yidden gave birth under the apple trees in Mitzrayim without any pain whatsoever. Mud is challenging but instead of pain one can experience the happy exhilaration of giving birth to oneself spiritually everytime he cleans himself from the mud palced upon himself from the outside. Only after one overcomes the “mud experience” does he experience that pleasurably feeling of well being and goodness within. This is hinted by the walnuts we mix in the charoses אגוז בגמטריא טוב
Maror The sefarim say that the gematriah of maror is מות which means death. The Egyptians embittered their lives to the point that they mercilessly killed them and their babies. In Torah we have the same middah as Chazal say אין דברי תורה מתקיימת אלא במי שממית עצמו עליה. One has to kill himself in order to be successful in Torah learning. There are many interpretations to this Chazal. One of my favorites is that just like you cannot talk to dead people, so too make yourself like a dead person while learning so there is no allowance for interruptions. Whether it is one’s cell phone, beeper, or a shmuzzer that contacts you in the middle of the seder. All one has to do is just to view yourself as dead and dead people don’t respond. Sooner than later they will catch on and won’t bother you any more during the small precious time you set aside for your seder. Rav Hutner ztl compared the difference between a learning seder with interruptions and one void of them to the difference between singing for three hours and singing a three hour niggun. Singing for three hours includes phone breaks, cholent, sushi and what have you. Not so with singing a three hour niggun. It’s on a different planet!
Chazeres also symbolizes the embitterment that Yidden underwent in Mitzrayim. We read last week in the parsha about the chazir the pig who has the kosher siman of split hoofs but it doesn’t chew its cud. The other three animals have the opposite for they chew their cud but they don’t have split hoofs. Why is the chazir kosher on the outside? The nature of the chazir is that even if you chase it away many times it will still return to the same place. Being pushed away is to no avail. That is why the lashon of chazir stems from chazar to return. It just doesn’t give up. This is the redeeming point in the chazir, its feet.
MItzrayim in their oppression of Yisrael just did not give up. They did not give Yidden even a moment to rest. The city of Pitom that the Yidden built was constructed on sinking soil. This means that every day when the Yidden would come to the place where they left off building yesterday they found that whatever was built the day before returned to its original height. Yet they were forced not to give up but keep building even though it filled them with hopelessness and despair.
So too in Torah as well we mustn’t allow ourselves to be pushed away from attaining greatness because of our failures. We must keep on returning to a blatt gemarrah even though we don’t seem to be making much ground and containing what we learned. Dovid Hamelech says חשבתי דרכי ואשיבה רגלי אל עדותיך that even though I made different plans to go here and then there, my feet keep shlepping me to the Beis Medrash. Torah has become so much a part of his essence that his feet automatically keep returning to the place from where he is being chased away by the Yetzer Harah.
The Medrash relates a story of a king who ordered his servants to take pails and fill them up with water, then carry them across the huge courtyard of the palace and dump the water inside a tremendous container. The first day that they went to fulfill the king’s desire they realized that all the buckets had holes in them and by the time they arrived at the container there were wasn’t even a few drops left. So understandably, all of them terminated doing this routine except for one servant. Everyday he would fill the bucket, carry it across the courtyard and then have nothing to pour inside. After a year the king called together his servants and asked them to bring their buckets. They all found their respective pails each thinking of the excuse that they would give that we lost all the water anyway so it was useless. The king then asked to see the interior of the buckets. All those servants who did not obey the king’s command returned buckets that were old looking and decrepit. The bucket of the servant who obeyed the king was clean and fresh looking as the day it was given to him. The king remarked that the purpose of carrying the water was not to fill the container but to preserve the buckets keeping them clean and shiny. Only this one servant deserves the reward that awaits him.
So too in learning Torah the only goal is not only to be a container of Torah but to purify and refine the body and middos through Torah learning. Even if one forgets the Torah that he learns, its effect still remains. [This Medrash I heard from Rav Shneur Kotler ztl and years later by Rav Malkiel Kotler after the parlor meeting for Lakewood at Rav Amos Bunim’s house. I remember distinctly as if etched in my memory that we sat over tea and my Rebbi Rav Freifeld ztl nudged Rav Shneur to say over this Medrash that his father Rav Aron used to say over. And the same scenario years later was with Rav Malkiel in the same setting that he also nudged him to say over the same Medrash. To me that said a lot about the importance of this Medrash. It also said a lot about the koach and love of chazarah that my Rebbi had for divrei Torah and the mesorah of how and by whom it was transmitted.
These are the six simanim on the ke’arah which prepared Am Yisrael in their transition from being an akarah to bringing them into a state to receive the Torah and give birth. The Seder Plate teaches us to take the galus and geulah of Mitzrayim and apply it to its tachlis which is Matan Torah.
We would be remiss not to mention the matzos that are also placed on the keorah according to the Ari Hakadosh. The 3 matzos symbolize our three avos who are the DNA of our spirituality. They went through their own galus and geulah and observed the Torah before it was given. In this way they prepared our success to undergo galus geulah and then the tachlis Matan Torah מעשה אבות סימן לבנים . Therefore it is not surprising that all the simanim on the kearah are the gematria of 500 the distance of mil from earth to shamayim. The zayin of zeroah, the bais of baitza, the chaf of karpas, the ches of charoses, the mem of maror, the ches of chazeres, and the mem of matzos. Add this to the kearah which symbolizes Matan Torah and we arrive at 500!! When we step up to the plate at the night of the Seder our earthly bodies will go heavenwards and connect to our source of geulah, an experience that was repeated again at Matan Torah.
- Rav Shmuel Brazil - Yeshiva Zeev HaTorah
The custom of Yisrael is that at the night of the Seder a kittel is worn. Although many reasons have been given for this minhag I would like to suggest another one.
In the Haggadah the reason given for eating matzos on Pesach is because there was no time for the dough that they prepared to rise until Hashem revealed Himself and redeemed them. From here we can deduct that they really intended to make regular bread but it just did not happen. The reason for this is explained by the mefarshim because the presence of Hashem was revealed and the “chimutz” the rising element in the dough was consequently blasted away and removed like a mriacle. As the sefarim explain that the yeast is compared to the yetzer harah which causes haughtiness in a person. Hashem says about the haughty person that He and the baak gaavah cannot coexist. With the revelation of Hashem the yetzer hara which promotes haughtiness becomes nullified.
What the Haggadah is really relating is that the dough did not rise as the Yidden traveled from Raamses and Succos because the impact of the Shechina’s presence was there. Therefore, since Hashem deliberately removed the chametz factor in the dough, it was likewise commanded for us to follow suit and not to eat any chametz, just matzah unleavened bread during Pesach.
The Zohar calls matzah the food of both emunah and refuah. For the matzah that is eaten during Pesach is a Yid’s weapon to ward off his yetzer hara and help him curb its physical cravings. A remez to this thought is that if you will take the word עיסה which means dough and is gematria 145 and subtract from it חמץ which is 138, one remains with 7 which corresponds to the letter זין which means weapon and symbolizes the seven days of Pesach when only matzah can be eaten.
To elaborate on this theme of “avdus” in relationship of the Exodus from Egypt, let us turn to the explanation of the Bnei Yissacher [Nissan 4,5] who quotes the gemarrah in Yevamos 45b which is the halacha in Yoreh Deah 267/9. When one purchases a servant from a goy, his body does not become owned by the Jew until he immerses him in a mikveh with the intention of making him his servant. However, if the servant went and immersed himself with the intention of becoming a free agent, then he has the halachic status of a free person. In order to avoid such a scenario and mishap, the Jewish owner is advised to place upon the potential servant any type of servitude prior to his immersion in order to secure that from that moment onwards it would be to no avail to immerse for the purpose of becoming a free agent.
It is for this reason that we find in these two positive mitzvos of Karban Pesach and Milah that one who fails to fulfill them receives the punishment of Kares which is not found by any other positive mitzvah. The difference is that these two mitzvos served asd the vehicle through which Am Yisrael accepted Hashem’s servitude, contrast to the other mitzvos which are only the fulfillment of that acceptance. By failing to adhere and fulfill these particular two mitzvos he is stating more than these mitzvos are too challenging for me. Instead his behavior challenges the core acceptance of Hashem’s yoke in the first place. Such a conduct deserves a much harsher punishment.
We have talked up until now concerning the essential theme of Yetzias Mitzrayim which is the movement of freedom from a foreign yoke and the initiation of our unconditional acceptance of Hashem’s servitude in its place. At the night of the original Seder it was via the fulfillment of Milah and Pesach. It was reaffirmed by the matzah and prohibition of chametz the next day as explained by Rav Schwab. For it was possible that one might have misinterpreted that the bloods of Milah and Pesach and in fact even the matzah eaten with the Pesach, were merely meritorious opportunities given to Am Yisrael in order to be redeemed, but not that they themselves were the actual means of acceptance of Hashem’s sovereignty over them. To set such a distorted notion straight, Hashem created the miracle of the non leavening matzos to retroactively verify and clearly define the purpose of Milah and Pesach and even the matzah.
For this reason matzo is called “lechem oni” which Chazal interpret to mean the bread on which we answer many things [Pesachim 36]. The reason being that one might question when in the history of Jewish people did they accept the yoke to keep all the mitzvos and Hashem as their sole Master? The answer is that the matzoh of Yetzias Mitzrayim verified that the bloods of Pesach and Milah that you voluntarily placed on your doorposts for the Seder night testify to that acceptance.
Let us delve for a moment into the ramifications of what it means that Am Yisrael accepted the avdus of Hashem through these two specific mitzvos of Milah and Pesach. One has to be mosair nefesh when the time to demonstrate his allegiance to Hashem calls for it. For in both of these mitzvos we find the act of mesiras nefesh.
Taking the Pesach lamb which was the avodah zara of the Egyptians and publicly proclaiming of its slaughtering and sacrificing five days later, was tantamount to self imposing an immediate death sentence. As the Tur [Siman 430] writes that for this reason that 10th day was called Shabbos Hagadol for the Egyptians were involuntarily unable to respond to the Yidden who nevertheless unknowingly were ready to die for this mitzvah.
The mitzvah of Milah is also wrought with self sacrifice as the gemarrah in Gittin 57b explains on the passuk כי עליך הורגנו כל היום that it is referring to Milah as Rashi explains, sometimes the baby dies because of it. Yet to understand the deeper meaning of the mesiras nefesh of Milah we will bring a pshat from the present Belzer Rebbe shlita that he delivered before a yeshiva of Baalei Teshuva just prior to Rosh Hashana. The Torah portion that is read on Rosh Hashana deals with Akaidas Yitzchak and the mesiras nefesh both of Avraham and Yitzcahk. Why then is the merit of the Akaidah deemed the pinnacle of all his ten tests when at the very beginning of his passion for Hashem he already demonstrated his love by surrendering his life at Oor Kashdim? The Nezer Hakodesh answers it is more difficult to live day to day with the loss of a son than to deal with a one time sacrifice of one’s life.
The Rebbe continued by asking why after reading the parsha of the Akaida do we include in the reading of Rosh Hashana the end of the parsha the birth of Rivka? What relevance does that have do with the Akaida and especially to the Yom Hadin? The Rebbe answered that it comes to teach us that there is another type of mesiras nefesh aside from physical sacrificing of one’s life and that is the mesiras nefesh of the day to day challenges to fulfill the desire of Hashem. Rivka paralleled the mesiras nefesh of Avraham at the Akaida for she came from Besuail her father who was a rasha, she had a brother Lavan who was a rasha, and she lived in a place where they were all reashayeem. Yet with all three extreme negatives she did not learn from any of their deeds [Bereishis 25,20 Rashi]. This is our zechus to come before Hashem on the Judgement Day to accept both types of mesiras nefesh to fulfill Hashem’s ratzon.
Rav Pinchus Freidman, a chasid of the present Belzer Rebbe, added that this second type of mesiras nefesh is likened to the mesiras nefesh of Milah which involves much pain and bleeding. It is to teach the Yid that he must take upon himself the acceptance to sacrifice his pleasures and comfort zones, to undergo even pain and anguish in order to fulfill Hashem’s commands.
Once again let us make a quick review. The night of the Seder through the mitzvos of the karban Pesach and Milah, we took upon ourselves and on all the following generations, Hashem as our Master and we as His servants. This concept was reinforced the next day through the miracle of the matzos supernaturally not rising. In the acceptance of being subservient to Hashem we accepted the full spectrum of what it really means to be an eved to Hashem: the privilege to sacrifice our lives on both levels, physically as represented by the Pesach and day to day challenges of Kiddush Hashem as symbolized by Milah. For everything an eved owns belongs to his master as it states Pesachim 88b כל מה שקנה עבד קנה רבו.
In our master eved relationship with Hashem, this bond is expressed in the first passuk of Shema where we fulfill the mitzvah twice daily of Kabbalas ohl malchus shamayim. It is brought down that one should think as he recites these words that he is willing and ready to sacrifice his life for Hashem. This includes both types of mesiras nefesh symbolized by dam Pesach and dam Milah. For both of these mitzvos were the “derech” which led to the fulfillment of all the other mitzvos. For by making us into the ultimate servants of Hashem with the din of whatever is acquired by goes automatically to the master, we are now obligated to fulfill all His wishes.
It is these two types of mesiras nefesh which Amalek attempted to eradicate from Klal Yisrael as they left Mitzrayim. “Asher karcha baderech”. They attempted to cool Am Yisrael from the “derech” Pesach and Milah which was the gateway to all the other mitzvos. [Baderech can be read bais  derechs referring to the these two mitzvos that are the conduit for all the others]. In other words Amalek tried to cool us off from the Shema which many have brought that there is found in its acronym עול מלכות שמים . An incredible remez to this is in the acronym of כל מה שקנה עבד קנה רבו which is קרך שמע !! Amalek’s strategy was to cool Yisrael from the shema.
One who feels this dictum in his relationship with Hashem is willing to sacrifice himself on both levels. When we go through the Seder on the night of Pesach and eat the matzah, we must let us not forget the central theme of this Yom Tov night, that we are servants of Hashem to the fullest degree. Since the mitzvah of the Seder night is to feel as if each and every person just left Mitzrayim, then the feeling and commitment of becoming servants to Hashem instead of Pharaoh is part of that reality. When we say and explain the Pesach matzah and maror of Rabban Gamliel, we must try to fully understand the acceptance of nullifying our desires to those of Hashem’s even if it involves mesiras nefesh on both levels. This is hinted in the fact that Pesach and matzah are followed by demonstrating the maror which is gematriah מות maves – death.
We can now return to our original inquiry of the custom at the Seder of wearing a kittel. A kittel is white which the absence of color. It is for this reason that white receives and accepts all colors. It symbolizes the essence of an eved Hashem who has nothing of his own except what Hashem desires. For this status of eved means, that one is willing even to be killed in order to make the necessary Kiddush Hashem. The word kittel in Aramaic comes from the root ketala which means death. On the night of the Seder our task is to praise Hashem for taking us out of Mitzrayim to become His avadim. This undertaking of acquiring the Seder night the prestigious title of eved Hashem comes with the proclamation that I am willing to die for my master on any one of the levels of mesiras nefesh. The matzah and maror are here to remind us of our lofty goal. In times of the Beis Hamikdash we had the added reminder of the Karban Pesach. Nowadays the custom of Yisrael is to have a constant reminder from the beginning of the seder until its end of the commitment that we must make as we presently experience our Yetzias Mitrayim. That extra reminder is the kittel.