Pesach 5779


The mighty hand of Hashem[1]

מה נשתנה הלילה הזה מכל הלילות, שבכל הלילות אנו אוכלים חמץ ומצה וכו’‏
Why is this night different from all other nights? For on all other nights, we eat leavened and non-leavened bread etc…

עבדים היינו לפרעה במצרים ויוציאנו יקוק אלקים משם ביד חזקה ובזרוע נטויה
We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, and Hashem, G-d, took us out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm[2]

The Ma-Nishatana is a classic moment at everyone’s Seder. The youngest member of the house proudly gets up and asks the Four Questions. The Haggadah continues by declaring that we were slaves in Egypt to Pharaoh. This would seem to be an attempt to answer the child’s questions. However, what connection is there between the parent’s response and the child’s questions? They seem totally incongruous.

Although it appears that there are four questions, regarding the matzah, marror, dipping, and reclining, in reality there is really only one question: why is this night different? The rest are just examples of how the night is different. However, these questions are highly unusual. If they’re focused on the mitzvah itself, asking why is it this way, why don’t we do this with other mitzvos? Throughout the year we do mitzvos that are infrequent or seasonal, and we don’t ask why we are performing them.

In fact, while we can try to discern the reasoning behind certain mitzvos, many are completely beyond our grasp. Regardless, they’re all incumbent upon us to perform, whether we understand them or not. So too with these four mitzvos on the night of the Seder[3]. Why then are we encouraging our children to ask what their reasoning is?

The answer is based on what we said above. The main question being asked isn’t the reasoning behind the mitzvos. It’s why are we specifically doing things that are abnormal.  We’re almost going out of our way to do so[4]. For example, throughout the year when kneading dough, we specifically expend effort so that the bread will rise. That’s the whole point of the baking process. Why then on this night are we specifically avoiding the bread rising? Why are we only eating matzah? Also by the marror. Throughout the year we seek out vegetables that are enjoyable and tasty. Why on this night are we picking the most bitter and difficult to eat vegetable[5]?

How then is “we were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, and Hashem, G-d, took us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm” a proper answer to this question? The last part of the answer might be the clue. What does it mean that Hashem took us out with a mighty hand? Is there any need for strength on His part? He created the entire universe with just words alone, and everything from then until now. He really needed to apply strength to take us out of Egypt?

The mighty hand of Hashem in this context can refer to a change in nature. When Hashem created the universe, He implanted in everything its set nature. The way things work has been the same ever since. However, Hashem, in order to redeem the Jews and increase their faith in Him, made a change of nature. He created the Ten Plagues. Our sources tell us[6] that Hashem very much prefers to keep things going according to nature. Any deviation from that can be referred to as a mighty hand.

With this, we can understand the response to the child’s question. Why are we going out of our way to do things outside the norm on the Seder night? Because we were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt. Hashem took us out with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Meaning, Hashem went out of His way, so to speak, to change nature, which had been set since creation, in order to take us out. For us to properly understand and appreciate the good and the kindness that was done for us by creating these drastic changes to nature, we ourselves perform drastic changes. We publicize the changes, to thank and praise Him for all that He was done for us.

Good Shabbos and Chag Kasher VeSameach!

[1] Based on the Be’er Yosef’s commentary on the Haggadah (found at the end of Volume I, also published in a separate book)

[2] Haggadah Shel Pesach

[3] Technically only two are mitzvos. Matzah is biblical (Exodus 12:18), and while marror was biblical (ibid v. 8) these days its rabbinic (Pesachim 120a). Dipping (ibid 114b) and reclining (ibid 108a) are rabbinic institutions, to intrigue the children and convey aristocracy, respectfully, but they are not mitzvos in the technical sense

[4] For example we take away the Seder plate at the beginning of Maggid, solely so the children will ask what’s going on (see Pesachim 115b and Rashbam ad. loc. s.v. פטרתן Cf. Tosafos ad. loc. s.v. כדי)

[5] It’s also unusual to dip vegetables before the meal, and we definitely don’t recline while eating throughout the year (see the Gra’s commentary on the Ma-Nishtana, who points out that in the times of the Mishnah it was normal, which is why Pesachim 10:4 doesn’t list it as one of the four questions. The Aruch HaShulchan Orach Chaim 472:3 also says this)

[6] For example, Vayikra Rabbah 2:1. See Eitz Yosef ad. loc.