July 19, 2024
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July 19, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

In honor of the holiday, I’m diverting from Daf Yomi, and focusing on Pesach! Last week, I mentioned that I’ve spotted dozens of hidden examples of al tikrei, where a prooftext is given but it is using a different vowel pattern or an alternate shoresh. Let us explore a few examples from the Haggadah.

In Maggid, we interpret verses from parashat Ki Tavo, the recitation for bikkurim. We say וַיֵּרֶד מִצְרַיְמָה – אָנוּס עַל פִּי הַדִּבּוּר, my ancestor descended to Egypt—he was compelled based on the Divine Word. We understand this as part of Hashem’s plan, expressed in Lech Lecha at the brit bein habetarim and carried out through the brotherly strife, the sale of Yosef, and the famine in Canaan. The text simply helps us to appreciate Hashem’s guiding hand, against Yaakov’s will. However, while ירד means to descend, רדה means to impose one’s will. Consider וְיִרְדּוּ֩ בִדְגַ֨ת הַיָּ֜ם, that mankind will dominate the fish, birds, cattle and the whole earth. Hashem dominated Yaakov towards Egypt.

Similarly, וּבְמוֹרָא גָּדֹל – זוֹ גִּלּוּי שְׁכִינָה, that the “great awe” is the revelation of the Divine presence, which would naturally prompt awe. The parallel prooftext mentions וּבְמוֹרָאִים גְּדוֹלִים, in the plural. There are two possible roots, ירא for awe or ראה for sight. The Samaritan text of Ki Tavo has ובמראה גדול, matching sight, and thus visual revelation of Hashem.

In interpreting וָרָב, with a prooftext of רְבָבָה כְּצֶמַח הַשָּׂדֶה נְתַתִּיךְ וַתִּרְבִּי וַתִּגְדְּלִי, we typically think this refers to the Hebrews multiplying. However, the message is not a רְבָבָה as in myriad, but וַתִּרְבִּי as maturing, either a woman physically maturing or a small family maturing into a nation. Though רְבָבָה כְּצֶמַח might also convey maturing.

For וַיָּרֵעוּ אֹתָנוּ הַמִּצְרִים, this is typically understood do mean that they conspired against us, did evil to us, הָבָה נִתְחַכְּמָה לוֹ. Perhaps we should reinterpret it to suggest that they attributed malice to us, וְנוֹסַף גַּם הוּא עַל שֹׂנְאֵינוּ וְנִלְחַם־בָּנוּ, that in case of war the Hebrews would join the Egyptian enemies. Perhaps we should reinterpret it as “befriending” us, so that we would patriotically join in the labor, as another midrash indicates. Don’t worry, I won’t suggest that וַיְעַנּוּנוּ is an oblique reference to Mork of Ork.

Seder With No Korban

While the Beit Hamikdash still stood, the focal point of the Seder was the korban Pesach, which they ate. Its preparation may prompt the children to ask, and the father could relate how Hashem took us out of Egypt. With the Temple destroyed, what would the seder look like?

We might imagine three approaches. One is visceral. There has to be something to experience, to point to, a בַּעֲבוּר זֶה. Fifth-generation Tanna, Rabbi Yossi, relates that Todos, or Theodosius, of Rome (Pesachim 53a) instituted for the residents of Rome to prepare a gedi mukulas, essentially a paschal lamb without the sanctity of a korban, as a remembrance. The Sages sent him a message that, were he not Theodosius, such a chashuva mentch, they would have excommunicated him. Theodosius’ scholastic generation is unclear. He may have lived during Temple times, and established the gedi mekulas because of the distance from Israel. Note that if a single limb is boiled, that doesn’t count as a gedi mekulas. Perhaps some took this route after the churban.

A second approach is to study the laws of the korban Pesach. Hoshea says וּֽנְשַׁלְּמָ֥ה פָרִ֖ים שְׂפָתֵֽינוּ, that we fulfill our sacrificial obligations with our lips. Thus, recitation of korbanot or pitum haketoret is reckoned as if we brought it. Could we learn the laws of the slaughter, offering and consumption of the korban Pesach, as a stand-in for actually eating it?

A Mishna (Pesachim 49a) relates that if one is on his way to perform a mitzvah, namely to slaughter his korban Pesach, circumcise his son or eat a betrothal feast in his in-law’s house, and recalls that there is chametz in his house, then if there is time to dispose of the chametz and return to perform the intended mitzvah, he should do so; otherwise, מְבַטְּלוֹ בְּלִבּוֹ, he should nullify it in his heart. A brayta (Pesachim 7a) substitutes, for לִשְׁחוֹט אֶת פִּסְחוֹ, one is sitting in the study hall, הָיָה יוֹשֵׁב בְּבֵית הַמִּדְרָשׁ. Rather than going home, he nullifies it in his heart, even on Shabbat and Yom Tov. (Note Rav Acha bar Yaakov’s interpretation there, which includes בְּתַלְמִיד יוֹשֵׁב לִפְנֵי רַבּוֹ עָסְקִינַן, that the student is sitting before his teacher. The rest of the statement has implications as to the present status of that about-to-become-chametz, but the first emphasizes the importance of the teacher-student relationship. There is no performing both, since any time spent in travel will be lost from sitting before his rebbe.)

Similarly, Tosefta Pesachim 3:9. Rabbi Eleazar beRabbi Tzadok I, a third-generation Tanna, relates: Once, we were sitting in the study hall in Lod, before third-generation Rabban Gamliel of Yavneh (during a year in which Erev Pesach fell on Shabbat). Zunin, Rabban Gamliel’s deputy, came and said “the time has come to remove the chametz..” Then, my father Rabbi Tzadok and I went to Rabban Gamliel’s house and removed the chametz (on Shabbat).

This is a case of both הָיָה יוֹשֵׁב בְּבֵית הַמִּדְרָשׁ and יוֹשֵׁב לִפְנֵי רַבּוֹ, yet they broke off dispose of the chametz. It wasn’t a case of suddenly remembering, but planned all along. And presumably even Rabban Gamliel left, so opportunity wasn’t lost. We see the emphasis of presence in the study hall on Erev Pesach.

Also in Lod, a Rabban Gamliel Seder itself! Tosefta Pesachim 10:8: They were reclining in the Beitos ben Zunin, and they were עִסּוּקִין בְּהִלְכוֹת הַפֶּסַח, studying the laws of the Pesach, either the holiday or perhaps the sacrifice, the entire night until cock’s crow. They raised the covering of the window. Then, did they go to read Shema of Shacharit? Nope! They went to the study hall, perhaps to study different Torah! But the Torah at the Seder was הִלְכוֹת הַפֶּסַח. Note that Rabban Gamliel nevertheless, or therefore, provides a bare minimum for fulfilling sippur Yetziat Mitzrayim. Whoever doesn’t mention pesach, matzah, maror (and what it signifies) hasn’t fulfilled his obligation.

This contrasts nicely the third approach, exemplified by Rabbi Akiva et al. reclining in Bnei Brak, as we recite in our Haggadah. There, they were engaged in relating the story of the Exodus from Egypt the entire night, until their students told them the time for reading Shema (which also contains zecher Yetziat Mitzrayim) had arrived. The third approach is to focus on the story, the relatable events that occurred and our gratitude to Hashem for freeing us.

The Four Sons

We might map aspects of these three approaches to a subset of the four sons, who also map to people of different backgrounds and personality types who can appreciate the Seder in different ways. The אֵינוֹ יוֹדֵעַ לִשְׁאוֹל might need encouragement and prompting with visuals. The חָכָם might focus on the laws, like Rabban Gamliel, and we mention not only אֵין מַפְטִירִין אַחַר הַפֶּסַח אֲפִיקוֹמָן in delineating the four sons, but also the meta-Seder discussion of יָכוֹל מֵראשׁ חֹדֶשׁ? תַּלְמוּד לוֹמַר בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא, for the timing, and the extent of the obligation.

The hero, and focus of our Seder, however, is the תָּם, the simple son. Don’t get too clever. He asks “what is this” and we tell him how, with a strong arm, Hashem took us out of Egypt, from the house of servitude. That’s the main thrust of our Maggid!

Indeed, this point is well made in the Yerushalmi, where Rabbi Chiyya has a variant of our four sons, their questions, and their responses. The Chacham asks the same, and is told the story, בְּחוֹזֶק יָ֗ד הֽוֹצִיאָ֧נוּ. This is because he isn’t asking for a primer on the laws. He studied them beforehand. He is asking about what motivates the laws. The Tam, now called the tipesh (fool), asks “what is this?” He is told all the laws of Pesach, including that we don’t go off after consuming the korban Pesach to engage in an afterparty, an afikomen. This, because the poor fellow doesn’t know the laws, so must be informed, though that’s well outside the focus of the night.


Rabbi Dr. Joshua Waxman teaches computer science at Stern College for Women, and his research includes programmatically finding scholars and scholastic relationships in the Babylonian Talmud.


1 Note how this feeds into the separate issue of whether roast meat should or should not appear at the seder, and the form of that Mah Nishtanah question, either before or after the Churban. At my seder, we have a roast shankbone for the zeroa, but don’t point to it for “Pesach zeh”. However, I’ve innovated the practice to seize it and stretch it across the table every time we say זְרֹעַ נְטוּיָה.

2 See Tosefta Pesachim 4:12 where, after being asked about the korban, Hillel teaches them הִלְכוֹת הַפֶּסַח

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