Preparing for Pesach: Not Just Talk - Action!
By Rabbi Raymond Beyda
The holiday of Pesah begins with a night where Jews all over the world,
throughout the generations, gather together to conduct a festive meal at
whose center is the story of Pesah -- the Redemption from Egypt -- being
told to the next generation of Jews. Many techniques -- gimmicks -- were
added to the ceremony in order to arouse the curiosity and the inquiries
of the children in order to involve the young ones in the entire process
of reliving the Exodus. We dip vegetables into salt water, we eat bitter
herbs, we dip into a brick colored dip called haroset and we lean like
kings as we eat our massa. On other holy days we do commemorate great
events in our spiritual history but none compares to Pesah in detail. The
night is named after the orderly progression from slavery and idol worship
to freedom and allegiance to the Torah -- Seder.
Why so much symbolism? Why so much acting out the message? Wouldn't
telling the story do the job just as well?
The Sefer Hahinukh asks a similar question about the misvot. Why is it we
have so many commandments to remind us of one historical event -- the
Exodus? He answers, "Ha Adam nif-al kefee pe-ulohtav" --a person is
shaped by his or her external actions. In other words --behavior molds the
psyche. If a person repeats a good deed many times over that person is
drawn closer to good and similarly, if someone were to repeat a wicked
deed that person would become more wicked. The action forms the
personality of the person.
On the night of Pesah a person is required to reach a level of actually
feeling as if he or she came out of Egypt and not that it was a historical
event that our forefathers experienced. In order to assist the individual
in achieving this feeling the Sages instituted a night of acting out the
emotional events of the time gone by. Feel the salt of their tears and eat
a bitter food to feel the bitterness of their lives in bondage. On the
other hand, eat the food that they prepared in haste as they left as free
people in a hurry and drink four cups of wine-- reclining like royalty. If
one does the misvot of the night with feeling and understanding then one
will feel the ecstasy they felt 3300 years ago. The Jew will feel as if- I
came out of Egypt and I want to express in praise and song the joy and
gratitude I feel towards my Savior. That is the climax of the night--
Hallel -- a song of wild praise evoked through acting out the phases of my
development from slave to free people. Our night of freedom -- acted
out -- brings the genuine emotion needed to properly climax the night
with a royal "thank you" to our G-d our Savior. Prepare and enjoy.
TABLE TALK --QUESTION FOR THE SEDER TABLE
We do many things differently on the night of Pesah than on other nights--
why are the four questions specifically about Matsah, bitter herbs,
dipping and reclining? Also, how does the answer "we were slaves in Egypt
and Hashem freed us" answer the four questions?
The Abarbanel answers, "We ask about two things that represent slavery,
why do we eat the bread of the poor Matsah and why do we eat bitter herbs
and we also ask about two things that represent freedom why do we dip our
foods like aristocrats and why do we recline like royalty? In Jewish law
it takes two witnesses to establish a fact and so we bring two proofs for
each of the conditions -- slavery and freedom.
Then we answer, "We do these things because --fact one -- avadeem hayeenu-
-we were slaves in Egypt and we do the contradictory rituals because --
fact two --vayoseaynu Hashem Elohenu me sham-- "Hashem our G-d-freed us
DID YOU KNOW THAT
One who will be away from home for Pesah, but who is still at home on the
night of the 14th of Nissan must do a search [Bedikah] with a blessing at
this time, and the next day he should check his new quarters without a
blessing (unless the new quarters were checked previously).
If a person is leaving his home before the night of the fourteenth, the
search should be done the night before he leaves --without a blessing--and
the search should be done on his new abode on the night of the fourteenth
with a blessing. On the day of the fourteenth --he burns his hames
wherever he may be. When spending the holiday in a hotel one must search
the room carefully and must not rely on its cleanliness. The berakha
follows the time when the search is done as outlined above. [Gateway to
Halacha p. 23 -- based on Shulhan Arukh Siman 431:1]
NOTE: In the days remaining until Pesah our daily "minute" will be
replaced with a brief thought on Pesah and a question for discussion at
your Seder. The minutes will return to our regular format after Pesah.
Raymond J Beyda
Text Copyright © 2004 by Rabbi Raymond Beyda and Torah.org.