Shevii shel Pesach 5784

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Songs of praise, or storytelling?[1]

אפילו כולנו חכמים כולנו נבונים כולנו זקנים כולם יודעים את התורה, מצוה עלינו לספר ביציאת מצרים
Even if we are all Sages, all of us are people of understanding, all of us are elders, all of us know the Torah, it’s a mitzvah for us to recount the story of the Exodus from Egypt[2]

On Seder night, we are commanded to recount the Pesach story to our children. This is seemingly different than the regular daily mitzvah to recall the Exodus from Egypt. Perhaps we can suggest two reasons for the once-a-year mitzvah of recounting the story: (1) It’s purely expressing and acknowledging to our children all of the miracles that Hashem performed for us. This approach fits simply with the verse: “When your child will ask you on that day….you shall recount to him”.[3] It sounds like the mitzvah is simply a response to the child’s curiosity. (2) It’s a form of song and praise to Hashem, not simply a retelling of the story[4].

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Pesach 5784

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The bittersweet herb[1]

מרור זה שאנו אוכלים על שום מה? על שום שמררו המצרים את חיי אבותינו במצרים
This marror that we eat, it represents what? It represents the fact that the Egyptians embittered the lives of our forefathers in Egypt[2]

The Pesach Seder is a confusing night. There are these contradictory themes of freedom and slavery.  It’s a bit astounding that at the time that we’re demonstrating our freedom by eating matzah, reclining, and drinking the four cups, we’re also required to eat marror, the bitter herbs representing our enslavement. The reason for this, however, is that through this we can engrain in our hearts that even that which seems bad in our eyes, in truth, has good in it. All of Hashem’s attributes are merciful, and everything He does is good[3].

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Shevii shel Pesach 5783

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Recalling the Exodus[1]

…למען תזכר את-יום צאתך מארץ מצרים כל ימי חייך‏
…In order for you to remember the day you left Egypt, all the days of your life[2]

Besides the Festival of Pesach, where we recount the Exodus at the Seder, there is an obligation to recall the Exodus from Egypt every day[3]. We fulfill this by saying the third paragraph of Shema both day and night[4], which mentions the Exodus. Now, the Magen Avraham innovates[5] that reciting Shiras HaYam, the Song at Sea that the Jews sang when the Reed Sea split, fulfills this obligation. Now, at first glance, this seems a little surprising. The Song at Sea was recited after the Exodus from Egypt. Why would reciting it be considered recalling the Exodus? The Torah indeed says[6] to recall the day we left Egypt, and the Sea split a week later[7]. Furthermore, the Midrash says that part of the obligation of recalling the Exodus is to recall the final plague of the death of the first born. If one didn’t say it, they haven’t fulfilled their obligation[8].

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Shevii shel Pesach 5782

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Repentance from idol worship[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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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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