Shevii shel Pesach 5781

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The free choice to split[1]

הים ראה וינס הירדן יסב לאחור
The [Reed] Sea[2] saw and ran away, the Jordan River turned backwards[3]

During the holiday of Pesach (as well as every other holiday), we recite Hallel during the morning prayers. It consists of chapters 113 to 118 from Psalms. Chapter 114 describes how when the Jews left Egypt, nature was entirely subservient to them. Nothing stood in their way. Most pronounced was the miracle of the splitting of the sea. On the seventh day of Pesach, we commemorate this event with the Torah Reading being the Song at Sea that the Jews recited[4] after this miracle[5]. In Psalms the sea is described as “running away” from the Jews, meaning that it split in two, after seeing something. What did it see that made it split? One explanation[6] is from a Midrash, which says is it saw the Jews fighting whether they should jump into the sea or not[7]. Some felt it would be a sanctification of Hashem’s name, and they had faith He would perform a miracle. Others felt it wasn’t a good idea. This is very hard to understand. Why would this be a reason for the sea to split? If anything, the fact that the Jews disagreed whether to sanctify Hashem’s name should be a reason not to split. What’s the intent of this Midrash?

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Pesach 5781 #3

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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

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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

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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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Shevii shel Pesach 5780

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A sense of gratitude[1]

הים ראה וינס הירדן יסב לאחור
The [Reed] Sea[2] saw and ran away, the Jordan River turned backwards[3]

During the holiday of Pesach (as well as every other holiday), we recite Hallel during the morning prayers. It consists of chapters 113 to 118 from Psalms. Chapter 114 describes how when the Jews left Egypt, nature was entirely subservient to them. Nothing stood in their way. Most pronounced was the miracle of the splitting of the sea. On the seventh day of Pesach, we commemorate this event with the Torah Reading being the Song at Sea that the Jews recited[4] after this miracle[5]. In Psalms the sea is described as “running away” from the Jews, meaning that it split in two, after seeing something. What did it see that made it split? Chazal teach us that it was the coffin[6] of Yosef[7]. Why would the coffin of Yosef be the reason the sea split?

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Pesach 5780

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You take half, and I’ll take the other half[1]

ויקח מצה האמצעית ויבצענה לשתים ויתן חציה (הגדולה) לאחד מהמסובין לשומרה לאפיקומן ונותנים אותה תחת המפה וחציה השני ישים בין שתי השלימות
Take the middle matzah and split it into two. Give the (larger[2]) half to one of those at the seder to guard it for the Afikoman, and they put it under a cloth. The second half place among the other two complete matzos[3]

Many people have the custom to have three matzos on their seder plate[4]. While there are practical reasons to have this number[5], there’s also symbolism in the number three. A famous explanation is that they represent the three forefathers: Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov[6]. The simple explanation behind this symbolism is that it was in the merit of the forefathers that the Jews were redeemed from Egypt[7]. The part of the seder known as Yachatz is where we break the middle matzah and save the larger half for the Afikoman. Is there any connection behind this symbolism, and the fact that it’s specifically the middle matzah that is broken?

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Bo 5780

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Separation by lamb blood[1]

החדש הזה לכם ראש חדשים ראשון הוא לכם לחדשי השנה: דברו וגו’ ויקחו להם איש שה לבית-אבת שה לבית: ואם-ימעט הבית מהית משה ולקח הוא ושכנו הקרב אל-ביתו וגו’ ולקחו מן-הדם ונתנו על-שתי המזוזת ועל-המשקוף על הבתים אשר-יאכלו אתו בהם: והיה הדם לכם לאת על הבתים אשר אתם שם וגו’ ואתם לא תצאו איש מפתח-ביתו עד-בקר: ועבר יקוק לנגף את-מצרים וראה את-הדם על-המשקוף וגו’ ולא יתן המשחית לבא אל-בתיכם לנגף
This month will be for you the beginning of the months; for you it is the first for the months of the year. Tell [the Jewish people that]…they will take for them, each man, a lamb for the fathers’ homes, a lamb for each household. If the lamb will not suffice for the household, they and the neighbor close to their house will take…Take from the blood and place it on the two doorposts, and the lintel of the house that you will eat [the offering] in. The blood will be for you a sign on your houses that you will be in…and you shall not leave, each person, from the door of their house, until morning. Hashem will pass by to afflict the Egyptians, and will see the blood on the lintel…and He will not let the Destroyer come to your houses to afflict[2]

Before the plague of the death of the firstborn, Moshe instructed the Jews with several mitzvos. He started by informing them about the Jewish calendar, in which Nissan is the first of the months. This included details of the mitzvah to sanctify the New Moon, establishing the months accordingly. Subsequently, he informed them of the mitzvah of the Pesach offering. This included instructions on selecting a lamb for each household, taking its blood and putting it on the doorposts, and staying indoors until morning. How are we to understand the juxtaposition of these two mitzvos? As well, upon careful examination, we’ll observe that the first mitzvah given to the Jewish people as a whole is the mitzvah to sanctify the New Moon. Why was this mitzvah held in such high esteem that it merited to get the position as the first mitzvah? Finally, with regards to the Pesach offering, why is there so much emphasis on the house? It’s repeated and stressed multiple times. What could be the reason?

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Pesach 5779 #2

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The stubborn sea[1]

הים ראה וינס הירדן יסב לאחור
The [Reed] Sea[2] saw and ran away, the Jordan River turned backwards[3]

During the holiday of Pesach (as well as every other holiday), we recite Hallel during the morning prayers. It consists of chapters 113 to 118 from Psalms. Chapter 114 describes how when the Jews left Egypt, nature was entirely subservient to them. Nothing stood in their way. Most pronounced was the miracle of the splitting of the sea. On the seventh day of Pesach, we commemorate this event with the Torah Reading being the Song at Sea that the Jews recited[4] after this miracle[5]. In Psalms the sea is described as “running away” from the Jews, meaning that it split in two, after seeing something. What did it see that made it split? Some say that it was Moshe[6]. Others says that it was the coffin[7] of Yosef[8]. A very strange opinion[9] is that the sea “saw” the teaching[10] of the Academy of Rabbi Yishmael. What does this mean?

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Pesach 5779

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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.

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Toldos 5779

The delightful smell of betrayal[1]

ויגש וישק לו וירח את ריח בגדיו ויברכהו ויאמר ראה ריח בני כריח שדה וגו’‏‏
[Yaakov] got close and [Yitzchak] kissed him, smelled his clothes, and blessed him. [Yitzchak] said: “See that the scent of my son is like the scent of a field!”…[2]

This week’s parsha describes Rivka and her son Yaakov’s ploy to prevent Eisav from receiving Yitzchak’s blessings. Yitzchak had gone blind, and commanded his son Eisav to prepare a feast for him before the blessings would be given. Rivka, overhearing this, told Yaakov to impersonate Eisav and try to get the blessings himself. She would prepare a feast for Yitzchak, consisting of two goats, while Yaakov would put on Eisav’s prized garments. Since Eisav was hairy, and Yaakov was not, Rivka gave Yaakov goatskins to wear on his arms and neck. This was in case Yitzchak touched Yaakov, so he wouldn’t realize their ploy. Once the preparations were done, Yaakov went to Yitzchak’s tent, pretending to be Eisav.

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