Pesach 5781 #3


Who knows one?[1]

אחד, מי יודע? אחד, אני יודע! אחד אלקינו שבשמים ובארץ
Who knows one? I know one! One is our G-d in the Heaven and the Earth[2]

After an uplifting seder, we’re on an all-time high. We jubilantly sing about how we performed all the mitzvos of the evening[3]. We’re all inspired to bring the Pesach offering next year in Jerusalem[4], and pray that the Temple be rebuilt[5] However, one song seems to be the odd one out. A favorite of many children, אחד מי יודע, “Who knows one?”, is a classic Pesach song. However, if we think about it, what does it have to do with Pesach? It’s seemingly random things in Judaism that are associated with numbers, ranging from one to thirteen. What’s it doing at the end of the Seder?

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Pesach 5781 #2


Four connected expressions of freedom[1]

בין הכוסות הללו, אם רוצה לשתות, ישתה. בין שלישי לרביעי, לא ישתה
Between [the first and second, or second and third][2] cups, if one wants to drink, they may. Between the third and fourth cup, don’t drink [anything][3]

Our Sages enacted that we drink four cups of wine at the Seder, at different points of significance. One we drink for Kiddush, like any other Yom Tov. One we drink after finishing “Maggid”, the main part of the Haggadah, where we tell over the Exodus story. One we drink after saying Birkas HaMazon, the Grace after meals. The final cup we drink after finishing Hallel, Psalms of praise to Hashem for redeeming us. Our Sages specified certain rules for how to drink the cups, and in what manner. They specified an interesting rule. One is allowed to drink as much as they want between any of the first three cups. However, between the third and fourth cup, consuming any beverage is forbidden. Why would this be?

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Pesach 5781


Fast of the firstborn[1]

הבכורות מתענין בערב פסח בין בכור מאב בין בכור מאם ויש מי שאומר שאפילו נקבה בכורה מתענה: (ואין המנהג כן)
The firstborns fast on the day before Pesach, whether they are the firstborn of their father or firstborn of their mother. Some say even firstborn women fast (Gloss: but this isn’t the custom)[2]

There’s an ancient custom[3] for the firstborn to fast on Erev Pesach, the day before Pesach. The common explanation[4] for this fast day is that it’s in commemoration of The Plague of the First Born. The last of the Ten Plagues, all the firstborn Egyptians died at midnight. All the firstborn of the Jews were miraculously saved, so every year right before Pesach the firstborn fast. This sounds like it’s due to the gratitude of the firstborns that they fast.

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Vayikra 5781


A desire to give[1]

ואם-תקריב מנחת בכורים ליקוק וגו’‏
If you bring your first fruit offering to Hashem…[2]

There are three mitzvos in the Torah that start with the word אם, usually translated as “if”. ואם-מזבח אבנים תעשה-לי, the mitzvah to build an altar[3]. אם כסף תלוה, the mitzvah to lend money, and more generally the mitzvah of tzedakah[4]. Finally, a verse in this week’s parsha, אם תקריב מנחת בכורים, the mitzvah to bring bikkurim, one’s first fruits as an offering in the Temple[5]. If אם is translated as “if”, these verses are saying: “if you build an altar”, “if you give tzedakah”, “if you bring the offering”. Rashi assures us[6] that these are not voluntary mitzvos, but rather bona fide commands. Why then are they expressed in an optional way?

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Vayakhel/Pekudei 5781


One mitzvah, or many?[1]

ויקהל משה את-כל-עדת בני ישראל ויאמר אלהם אלה הדברים אשר-צוה יקוק לעשת אתם: ששת ימים תעשה מלאכה וביום השביעי יהיה לכם קדש שבת וגו’ ויאמר משה אל-כל-עדת בני-ישראל לאמר זה הדבר אשר-צוה יקוק לאמר: קחו מאתכם תרומה ליקוק כל נדיב לבו יביאה את תרומת יקוק וגו’‏
Moshe gathered the entire assembly of the Children of Israel. He said to them: “These are the matters which Hashem commanded to do: Six days you shall work, and on the seventh day it shall be for you a Holy Shabbos”…Moshe said to the entire assembly of the Children of Israel, saying: “This is the matter that Hashem commanded, saying: Take for yourselves a donation for Hashem. All those with a generous heart will bring their portion for Hashem”[2]

This week’s parsha begins by speaking about the mitzvah of Shabbos. It then continues with a detailed description of the construction and materials of the Mishkan, the portable Temple the Jews built in the wilderness. There’s a discrepancy with how these two mitzvos are introduced. The mitzvah of Shabbos is described as, “these are the matters which Hashem commanded”, and the mitzvah of constructing the Mishkan is described as, “this is the matter”. Besides the inconsistency, these descriptions are also counterintuitive. One would think that Shabbos is only one prohibition, to refrain from creative labor. This is unlike the construction of the Mishkan, which involves many parts, such as the Ark, the Altar, the Menorah. Why then is Shabbos described in the plural, and the Mishkan in the singular?

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Ki Sisa 5781


Charity assurances[1]

העשיר לא-ירבה והדל לא ימעיט ממחצית השקל לתת את-תרומת יקוק לכפר על-נפשתיכם
The wealthy shall not increase, nor shall the poor decrease, from the half-shekel donation. To give the donation of Hashem [is] to atone for their souls[2]

This week’s parsha begins with the mitzvah to give the half-shekel donation to the Temple, known as the machatzis hashekel. This donation was to help fund the offerings throughout the year. In this instance, it was also to help fund the construction of the Mishkan, the portable Temple while the Jews were in the wilderness. There’s an interesting message embedded into the mitzvah. The same amount is donated by every Jew. It doesn’t matter what the person’s standing is. If they’re exceedingly wealthy, or terribly poor, every Jew is to donate the same amount. The wealthy shouldn’t give more, and the poor shouldn’t give less[3]. It shows that in many ways, we’re all equal. We’re all children of Hashem.

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