The first question that we need to ask ourselves before we ask the questions at the Seder is, why are we still in exile? The commentators throughout the ages have offered various answers to this question. The answers range from the fact that the Jewish People are required to observe one or two Shabbasos to merit the redemption, eliminating strife and discord amongst Jews, people taking false oaths, desecration of HaShem’s Name, overindulgence in materialism, and more. While all these explanations serve a purpose to explain why we still wallow in the exile, what is needed is an awakening to the fact that we are still in exile and we need to take action that will arouse HaShem’s mercy to redeem us. Looking at the Egyptian exile, we see that HaShem only redeemed the Jewish People once they cried out to Him. It is said (Shemos 2:23) וַתַּעַל שַׁוְעָתָם אֶל הָאֱ-לֹהִים מִן הָעֲבֹדָה, their outcry because of the work went up to G-d. The Ohr HaChaim notes that the verse does not state that the Jews cried to HaShem to save them. Rather, they cried out from the pain of their bondage, and it is those cries that HaShem heard. Let us cry out to HaShem from our pain of being in exile, and HaShem should hear our cries and redeem us speedily, in our days.
One must wonder why it is necessary to eat Matzah and Marror by the Seder. True, the Torah commands us to eat these foods on Pesach, but if they are primarily a reflection of the slavery and liberation from Egypt, would it not be sufficient to talk about them. In fact, in the Hagadah we recite the words רַבָּן גַּמְלִיאֵל הָיָה אוֹמֵר: כָּל שֶׁלֹּא אָמַר שְׁלשָׁה דְּבָרִים אֵלּוּ בַּפֶּסַח, לֹא יָצָא יְדֵי חוֹבָתוֹ, וְאֵלוּ הֵן: פֶּסַח, מַצָה וּמָרוֹר, Rabban Gamliel would say: whoever does not recite these three things on Pesach has not fulfilled his obligation, and these are the three things: Pesach, Matzah and Marror. The answer to this question can be found in the words of the Mirrer Mashgiach, Reb Yeruchem Levovitz zt”l. From the Torah it appears that the reason why we wear Tefillin and Tzitzis is because through these mitzvos we commemorate the Exodus from Egypt. Reb Yeruchem, however, suggests that the rationale is diametrically the opposite. HaShem took us out of Egypt so that we can perform the mitzvos of Tefillin and Tzitzis. In light of this explanation we can better understand why we eat Matzah and Marror on Pesach. HaShem took us out of Egypt so that we should merit the mitzvah of eating Pesach, Matzah and Marror.
With this explanation we can better understand the words of Rabban Gamliel previously cited. Rabban Gamliel did not say that one is required to say the words Pesach, Matzah and Marror. Rather, he said that one who does not recite these three words has not fulfilled his obligation. The words for “has not fulfilled his obligation” are לֹא יָצָא יְדֵי חוֹבָתוֹ. The word יָצָא is literally translated to mean “go out,” and here we can understand it to be alluding to the idea of going out from Egypt. Thus, by reciting these words one becomes cognizant that HaShem took us out from Egypt so that we can perform the mitzvos of Pesach, Matzah and Marror.
In the Hagadah we recite the words רַבָּן גַּמְלִיאֵל הָיָה אוֹמֵר: כָּל שֶׁלֹּא אָמַר שְׁלשָׁה דְּבָרִים אֵלּוּ בַּפֶּסַח, לֹא יָצָא יְדֵי חוֹבָתוֹ, וְאֵלוּ הֵן: פֶּסַח, מַצָה וּמָרוֹר, Rabban Gamliel would say: whoever does not recite these three things on Pesach has not fulfilled his obligation, and these are the three things: Pesach, Matzah and Marror. One must wonder what the significance is in reciting these three things. Does the fact that one says Pesach, Matzah and Marror add to the splendor and awe of the Seder night? There are two answers to this question. One explanation is that there is a rule that הדיבור פועל הרבה בקדושה, words have a great effect regarding matters of holiness. Thus, by merely reciting these words we are connected to the source of these mitzvos. Additionally, Rashi (Devarim 27:17) writes that the word אמר, literally translated as “saying,” also connotes to praise and glorify. Thus, here in the Haggadah we are not just reciting words for the sake of recital. Rather, through these words we come to praise HaShem, as we continue to elaborate on the themes of Pesach, Matzah and Marror.
In the recital of the mah nishtana we ask questions that focus on the eating by the Seder, such as the eating of matzah and Marror, the dipping of the various foods and reclining while we eat. Why is there so much of a focus on food?
Perhaps the answer to this question is that the Mishna (Avos 3:3) states רַבִּי שִׁמְעוֹן אוֹמֵר, שְׁלשָׁה שֶׁאָכְלוּ עַל שֻׁלְחָן אֶחָד וְלֹא אָמְרוּ עָלָיו דִּבְרֵי תוֹרָה, כְּאִלּוּ אָכְלוּ מִזִּבְחֵי מֵתִים, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (ישעיה כח), כִּי כָּל שֻׁלְחָנוֹת מְלְאוּ קִיא צֹאָה בְּלִי מָקוֹם. אֲבָל שְׁלשָׁה שֶׁאָכְלוּ עַל שֻׁלְחָן אֶחָד וְאָמְרוּ עָלָיו דִּבְרֵי תוֹרָה, כְאִלּוּ אָכְלוּ מִשֻּׁלְחָנוֹ שֶׁל מָקוֹם בָּרוּךְ הוּא, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (יחזקאל מא), וַיְדַבֵּר אֵלַי זֶה הַשֻּׁלְחָן אֲשֶׁר לִפְנֵי ה, Rabbi Shimon would say: Three who eat at one table and do not speak words of Torah, it is as if they have eaten of idolatrous sacrifices; as is stated, “Indeed, all tables are filled with vomit and filth, devoid of the Omnipresent” (Yeshaya 28:8). But three who eat at one table and speak words of Torah, it is as if they have eaten at G-d’s table, as is stated, “And he said to me: This is the table that is before G-d” (Yechezkel 41:22).
We commence the Seder with a Torah discussion regarding food to demonstrate that we have forsaken the idols of the Egyptians and HaShem has brought us close to Him and His Holy Torah. This idea is reflected in the statement further on in the Hagadah where we recite the words מִתְּחִלָּה עוֹבְדֵי עֲבוֹדָה זָרָה הָיוּ אֲבוֹתֵינוּ, וְעַכְשָׁיו קֵרְבָנוּ הַמָּקוֹם לַעֲבֹדָתוֹ, initially our forefathers worshiped idols and now HaShem brought us close to His service.
In the Hagadah we recite the words רַבָּן גַּמְלִיאֵל הָיָה אוֹמֵר: כָּל שֶׁלֹּא אָמַר שְׁלשָׁה דְּבָרִים אֵלּוּ בַּפֶּסַח, לֹא יָצָא יְדֵי חוֹבָתוֹ, וְאֵלוּ הֵן: פֶּסַח, מַצָה וּמָרוֹר, Rabban Gamliel would say: whoever does not recite these three things on Pesach has not fulfilled his obligation, and these are the three things: Pesach, Matzah and Marror. We can suggest that Pesach corresponds to Avraham, as the three angels visited Avraham on Pesach and HaShem informed Avraham that on the night of Pesach He would redeem the Jewish People (there are more connections between Avraham and Pesach which are enumerated in the song וַיְהִי בַּחֲצִי הַלַּיְלָה). Matzah corresponds to Yitzchak, as the commentators write that the word מַצָּה can mean strife and discord, and one primary incident in the life of Yitzchak was the disagreement with Avimelech and the Plishtim regarding the wells. Marror, the bitter herbs that we eat by the Seder, corresponds to Yaakov, who suffered greatly from his brother Esav, his father-in-law Lavan, the disappearance of his favorite son Yosef, and other troubles that befell him and are enumerated in the Medrash.
One of the central themes discussed in the Haggadah is the ברית בין הבתרים, the Pact of Parts. The Gemara (Nedarim 32a) states that it is said (Bereishis 15:8) וַיֹּאמַר אֲדֹנָי יֱ-ה-וִ-ה בַּמָּה אֵדַע כִּי אִירָשֶׁנָּה, he said, “My Lord, HaShem/Elokim, whereby shall I know that I am to inherit it?” Avraham questioned HaShem regarding his worthiness to inherit the Land, so HaShem responded to Avraham (Ibid verse 13) that his descendants would be strangers in a land not their own and they would serve them and they will oppress them for four hundred years. This exchange appears difficult, however, as Avraham was the quintessential מאמין, believer in HaShem, so how could it be that he questioned HaShem regarding inheriting the Land?
In order to answer this question we are required to understand the life of Avraham. Once Avraham chose to believe that HaShem was the creator of the world, HaShem sent him on a mission, accompanied by a series of tests that Avraham was required to pass. Avraham was to undergo ten tests and upon passing them, he would be worthy of HaShem’s blessing and providence. When HaShem brought Avraham to Eretz Yisroel to partake in the Pact of the Parts, He informed Avraham that he would have a child and Avraham did not question HaShem regarding this good news. The reason Avraham did not question HaShem is because Avraham had already undergone the suffering of not having a child, so he knew that he had passed the test (an explanation is required as to why not having a son is not listed by the commentators on Avos 5:3 as one of the ten tests).
Regarding inheriting Eretz Yisroel, however, Avraham wondered what suffering was required in order to inherit the Land. HaShem therefore informed Avraham that in order to inherit Eretz Yisroel, the Jewish People would have to be enslaved and afflicted for four hundred years in Egypt. Thus, the knowledge that his descendants would undergo an exile was not necessarily a punishment for Avraham’s question. Rather, HaShem was responding to his justified question, as everything in this world requires some form of suffering in order to achieve results. This idea is actually reflected in the words of Rashi further on where it is said (Bereishis 36:6) וַיִּקַּח עֵשָׂו אֶת נָשָׁיו וְאֶת בָּנָיו וְאֶת בְּנֹתָיו וְאֶת כָּל נַפְשׁוֹת בֵּיתוֹ וְאֶת מִקְנֵהוּ וְאֶת כָּל בְּהֶמְתּוֹ וְאֵת כָּל קִנְיָנוֹ אֲשֶׁר רָכַשׁ בְּאֶרֶץ כְּנָעַן וַיֵּלֶךְ אֶל אֶרֶץ מִפְּנֵי יַעֲקֹב אָחִיו, Esav took his wives, his sons, his daughters, and all the members of his household, and his livestock and all his animals, and all the wealth he had acquired in the land of Canaan and went to a land because of his brother Yaakov, Rashi writes that the reason Esav left was because he knew that in order to inherit Eretz Yisroel, he would have to pay up the debt of the Egyptian exile, and he was unwilling to do this.
This statement indicates that the Egyptian exile was the prerequisite of inheriting Eretz Yisroel and not merely a punishment for Avraham questioning HaShem about his worthiness to inherit the Land. (While the Gemara uses the word “punishment,” we know that HaShem does everything for the good, so we are explaining the Gemara along those lines). Avraham certainly was not lacking faith in HaShem that he would give his descendants the Land. Rather, Avraham wanted to know the exact methodology that HaShem would employ to give them the Land, and HaShem explained clearly to Avraham how this would be manifest.
Have a Good Shabbos and a Chag Kosher Visameach.
Rabbi Binyomin Adler