April 15, 2024
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April 15, 2024
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The Seder Leil Pesach is quite possibly one of the most symbolic activities of the Jewish year. Every action, every step, has a purpose and a message, and even our most bizarre and most difficult-to-explain traditions are done to fulfill the passuk of “ki yishalcha bincha…” (“when your son will ask… ”) by making the evening so unusual that our children cannot help but ask, “what makes tonight different from other nights?” On the other hand, many other Pesach-night activities are done to symbolize our victory, to show that we, in the year 5775, are living a life of freedom that our ancestors in Egypt could only dream of; we are bnei chorin.

The most obvious of these is the obligation to lean on the Seder night. In Mesechet Pesachim, the Mishna writes:

“And even a poor man in Israel shall not eat without leaning, and should not have less than four cups of wine.” [Pesachim 10:1, 99b]

Rashbam elaborates on this, explaining the reason that we brought above:

“And even a poor man in Israel should not eat on Pesach eve without lying on a bed like a free man, sitting at a table, in commemoration of our freedom” [Rashbam, there]

Later on (Pesachim 108b), the Gemara expands on this idea of freedom by asking how it is actualized at our seder—we know that we must drink four cups of wine and we know that we must lean on Pesach eve, but when must we lean? Surely, on this night of symbolism, there must a be a deeper message in our heseba beyond cherut, freedom.

The Gemara answers by bringing a teaching of Rav Nachman that says we must lean for only two cups, further strengthening our question. But, then, which two cups do we lean while drinking? Why?

There are two opinions on this issue:

One proposes that the last two cups are the ones that require leaning—after all, in the step-by-step retelling of the Exodus that we do on Pesach night, we don’t reach the actual freeing of the Jewish People until the end of Magid, after drinking the second cup of wine. Until then, there’s no reason to celebrate and lean, since our ancestors were still in slavery. However, after they were freed, we truly became royalty, freed from our enslavement, so we lean while drinking the last two cups.

In contrast, another anonymous Amorah answers that we should lean for the first two cups. In light of the opinion that we just saw, this seems a little bit unusual—after all, why should we be acting as royalty when reading about how the Egyptians embittered our ancestors’ lives? Because, up to and during Magid, there were some bitter times, but it’s clear to us that they were leading up to something amazing, the redemption from Egypt. So, now, we can celebrate those miserable times, knowing that they were the darkest part of the night immediately before the dawn of Geulah. In hindsight, we can see Hashem’s master plan and realize that all of that bad led to our ancestors being led out of Egypt by G-d. That is truly worth celebrating.

Now, in contrast (and remember that this Gemara was written in first century CE in Babylon, nearly 2000 years ago), we are suffering in the Diaspora, and, this time, the end is not in sight. The generation that left Egypt were kings and free men—on the other hand, as is written so eloquently, “we are still slaves to Egypt.” So, once we transition in the seder from speaking of ancient times to more modern times, we can no longer pretend to be royalty, to lean back and drink our wine, since it is time to come to terms with the fact that, for the past 2000+ years, we are “Avadim Hayinu”—the bitter parts of Magid are speaking as much about us as they did about our ancestors in Egypt.

Even though the Gemara concludes that, practically, we satisfy both opinions by leaning for all of the cups of wine, this second anonymous opinion in the Gemara is an important reminder to us of how we must celebrate Pesach. We must remember that even though this is a holiday of reliving previous redemptions, we are still exiled and eagerly awaiting our modern-day Exodus. We must have extremely strong focus for the last parts of the seder, the ones that the second Amora ruled that we cannot lean for as a remembrance of our current exile, and we must have strong kavanah when praying to G-d to “Shefoch Chamatcha El Hagoyim” and when singing “L’shana Haba B’Yerushalayim.”

With Hashem’s help, we will merit a speedy answer to our prayers for redemption, and merit to celebrate this Pesach with the bringing of the Korban Pesach in a completely rebuilt Jerusalem. Chag Sameach!

Tzvi Silver is a Teaneck native studying Engineering in Machon Lev-Jerusalem College of Technology and The Jewish Link of New Jersey’s Israel Correspondent.

By Tzvi Silver

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