We read in this week's parashah that two of Aharon's sons died
in the prime of their lives and on the day that should have been
the happiest day of Aharon's life. What was their father's
response? "And Aharon was silent" (10:3).
Naturally, writes R' Dov Meir Rubman (Rosh Yeshiva in Haifa;
died 1967), we are amazed at Aharon's strength. Incredibly,
though, the Midrash appears to belittle Aharon's silence by
asking, "What might Aharon have said?" How are we to understand
The purpose of this Midrash, explains R' Rubman, is to drive
home the foolishness of questioning Hashem. Why was Aharon
silent? Because he understood very well that there was nothing
to say. No matter how intelligent, how understanding, a person
may be, his intelligence is nothing compared to G-d's. As
Kohelet (5:1) said, "For G-d is in the Heaven and you are on
earth, so let your words be few." (Zichron Meir)
How can one train himself to accept G-d's Will? The Maggid of
Warsaw suggested that we reflect on the following: It is obvious
to any adult that a toddler cannot understand his parents'
thoughts, actions, or plans. What we must realize is that we are
but toddlers before Hashem. (Haggadah Shel Pesach Sha'arei Armon
"I will be sanctified through those who are nearest to Me."
R' Aharon Kotler (Lakewood Rosh Yeshiva; died 1962) writes:
This is an illustration of an inadvertent Kiddush Hashem /
sanctification of G-d's Name. Although Nadav and Avihu never
intended to sanctify Hashem's Name by dying as they did,
nevertheless, G-d's Name was sanctified when Bnei Yisrael
witnessed His judgment at work. And, because Nadav and Avihu
played a role in this Kiddush Hashem, even unwittingly, it is
mentioned to their credit.
This idea answers a famous Pesach-question. The Gemara
(Megillah 10b) says that Hashem would not permit the angels to
sing a song of praise as the Egyptians were drowning in the Yam
Suf / Red Sea. Yet, we know that Bnei Yisrael did sing. Why?
R' Kotler explains that there is a difference between the
angels' song and Bnei Yisrael's song. Angels are called "Omdim"
/ "Those who stand," because angels can never grow spiritually.
Thus, when they praise G-d, it is an honor to G-d, but it has no
effect on the angels' own spiritual condition. In contrast, when
man praises Hashem, man himself grows. G-d did not want to be
honored for drowning the Egyptians, so He did not allow the
angels to sing. However, when Bnei Yisrael sang, they honored
Hashem and, at the very same time, grew spiritually by
recognizing His great powers. And, the Egyptians themselves
received credit in Heaven for aiding in Bnei Yisrael's growth
because the Egyptians unwittingly played a role in that growth
(just as Nadav and Avihu unwittingly caused a Kiddush Hashem).
Since it was a benefit to the Egyptians themselves, Bnei Yisrael
(Mishnat Aharon III p. 4)
"You are to sanctify yourselves and you shall become holy."
The Torah requires certain foods, e.g., terumah and sacrifices,
to be eaten in a state of taharah / ritual purity. The Midrash
Tanna D'vei Eliyahu states: from the above verse, Rabban Gamliel
learned that, ideally, even food which the Torah does not require
to be eaten in a state of taharah, nevertheless should be eaten
in such a state ("Ochel chullin be'taharah").
R' Yaakov Zvi Mecklenburg z"l (East Prussia; 1785-1865) writes
that in light of this stringency we can understand another verse
in our parashah. We read (11:8, regarding non-kosher animals),
"You shall not eat of their flesh nor shall you touch their
carcasses." It appears from this verse that one is prohibited
from making himself tamei, i.e., bringing ritual impurity upon
himself, by touching the carcass of an animal that was not
"shechted" / ritually-slaughtered. In reality, however, there is
no such prohibition year-round; rather, the Gemara says that this
prohibition applies only on the festivals, when one is obligated
to visit the Bet Hamikdash and will be precluded from doing so if
he is tamei.
Why then is the pasuk phrased so generally? Because, answers
R' Mecklenburg, the verse is alluding to Rabban Gamliel's
stringency, i.e., that ideally a person should remain tahor /
pure all of the time.
"The more that one relates about the Exodus, the more
praiseworthy it is." (From the Pesach Haggadah)
R' Avraham ben Ha'gra (died 1808; son of the Vilna Gaon)
writes: the mitzvah of Sippur Yetziat Mitzraim / relating the
story of the Exodus is virtually unique in that it has no upper
limit. In contrast, most mitzvot are subject to the prohibition
of "bal tosif" / "You shall not add." [For example, one may not
keep nine days of Pesach or place an additional Torah-portion on
the parchment in his tefilin.]
R' Avraham continues: the story in the Haggadah about Rabbi
Elazar ben Azaryah and his colleagues who sat all night speaking
about the Exodus, until their students came and told them that
the hour had arrived to recite the morning Shema, is meant to
answer the first of the Four Questions - "Why on all nights may
we eat chametz and matzah, and, on this night, only matzah?" How
The Zohar says that the purpose of the mitzvah to study Torah
day and night ("You shall contemplate it day and night" -
Yehoshua 1:8) is to destroy one's "chametz." What does this
mean? Chametz is a metaphor for the Yetzer Hara, and the Gemara
says, as if quoting Hashem, "I created the Yetzer Hara and I
created the Torah as an antidote."
Thus, on all other nights, when a person has time to study
Torah, he may eat chametz, for the Torah he studies will destroy
the "chametz." However, on this night, one has no time for Torah
study; one must occupy himself all night with the mitzvah of
Sippur Yetziat Mitzraim. Therefore, one must not eat any chametz
on this night.
How far does the obligation of Sippur Yetziat Mitzraim go? R'
Avraham notes that the Sages' students did not say, "The time has
come to pray," but rather, "The time has come to recite Shema."
They knew that their teachers would stop their "story-telling" to
recite Shema at the earliest possible time, because Shema also
mentions the Exodus. However, they assumed that their teachers
would not pray until the latest possible hour so that they could
continue their Sippur Yetziat Mitzraim as long as possible.
(Haggadah Shel Pesach Ge'ulat Avraham)
Why is even the wisest sage obligated to retell even the basics
of the Exodus story every year? R' Nosson Zvi Finkel z"l (the
"Alter of Slobodka"; died 1926) explains: No matter how wise one
has become, no matter how old one is or how many times one
retells the story, one still retains the incorrect images of the
Exodus that he formed as a child. The story must be retold and
retold until these images are uprooted.
(Qoted in Haggadat Roshei Yeshivat Chevron p. 78)
A Pesach Parable
The mitzvah of Sippur Yetziat Mitzraim / relating the story of
the Exodus requires more than just reading the story. One's
recitation of the Haggadah must be from the heart and also must
penetrate one's heart, so that the story of the Exodus will serve
as the basis for strengthening one's emunah/faith. Indeed, R'
Simcha Zissel Ziv z"l (the "Alter of Kelm"; died 1898) used to
observe that the statement in the Haggadah, "The more that one
relates about the Exodus, the more praiseworthy it is," also can
be translated, "The more that one relates about the Exodus, the
more improved he is."
R' Yaakov Levitt z"l (Bialystok) illustrated with a parable the
difference between the right way to tell the story of the Exodus
and the wrong way:
A villager once took seriously ill. The doctor was called, and
the doctor recognized that the villager's illness was fully
curable if treated properly. He wrote out a prescription and he
told the villager's wife, "Give your husband this prescription
with water three times a day until it is finished, and he will be
The family did as it was told. Every day, the simple village
wife tore a small piece off the prescription, dissolved it in
water and gave it to her husband to drink. Needless to say, his
condition did not improve.
The doctor was called, but he was very perplexed. "I know that
this prescription works," he said. "I have prescribed it for
this illness before."
"Let me see the prescription," he requested finally. "Perhaps
I made a mistake." The villager's wife explained, however, that
she could not show him the prescription because she had given it
to her husband as instructed.
"Fools," he shouted. "Can a piece of paper cure your husband's
illness? It's not the paper that makes the difference, but
what's written on the paper that would have cured him."
So it is with the Haggadah. It is not the book of the Haggadah
nor simply reading the Haggadah which illuminates one's soul.
Rather, one must absorb the contents of the story.
(Haggadah Shel Pesach Sha'arei Armon p. 150)
Bobbi and Jules Meisler
in memory of father Irving Meisler a"h
Elaine and Jerry Taragin
in memory of Asriel Taragin a"h