Seeing how this is Shabbos HaGadol, which means that Pesach is this upcoming week, we will deviate from the regular parshah sheet format and focus on the Seder itself. The Kabbalists point out that, unlike other Jewish holidays, the spiritual light that flows down from Above during the first half of the first night of Pesach is a Heavenly gift. Whereas the rest of the year we must do something to draw the light down, Leil Seder the light comes down ON ITS OWN regardless of what we do as it does every year at this time, ever since the first Seder in Egypt while the firstborn of Egypt were being killed.
That’s funny, because the one holiday that has the most amount of ritual, usually designed to invoke a Heavenly flow of light, is Pesach and specifically the night of the Seder itself. However, explain the Mekubalim, that is just to make sure that when the light knocks at our spiritual doors, we’re “home” to answer and receive it.
For, how many mitzvos do we miss each year because of distractions? How many times do we intend to pray with extra intention only to find our minds pulled away by issues that are clearly not the priority at that time? Life is VERY distraction, and the Sitra Achra is an expert at finding just what he needs to pull us in his direction as opposed to G-d’s direction.
Therefore, the Haggadah Shel Pesach was designed to make sure that we are occupied with and focussed on that which allows us to be as perfect a receptor for the light of Pesach and redemption. The following has been designed to act as key somewhat to enhance the Haggadah experience, and has been adapted from my book, “Redemption to Redemption: The Very Deep & Intricate Connection Between the Holidays of Purim and Pesach.”
The Seder is the implementation of all that has been discussed up until now. That is, Purim is about reaching into the level of Sod — Kabbalah — of achieving such intellectual clarity that even Haman is seen as a vehicle of G-d to help the Jewish people do teshuvah and choose redemption (Sanhedrin 97b).
At the end of Parashas Beshallach, when Amalek first attacked the Jewish people, Rashi uses a parable of boy riding in the shoulders of his father to symbolize the Jewish people riding on the “shoulders” of G-d, above Nature and evil nations such as Amalek. Putting the boy on the ground symbolized the Jewish people descending to lower spiritual levels, at which point the dog — the symbol of Amalek — was able to bite the boy.
In other words, Amalek can only attack us when we stoop to his level, which is the realm of the non-Sod levels of understanding. For, intellectual confusion is still possible on those levels (the gematria of Amalek is “suffek,” which means “doubt”), and on these levels we must fight Amalek on his own terms.
This is why, said the Vilna Gaon, that G-d told Moshe to speak b’aznei Yehoshua after the battle against Amalek. The gematria of b’aznei is Sod, and thus, revealed the Gaon, the only way to defeat Amalek is b’derech Sod, through a sublime spiritual perspective on how G-d runs his world, and why — at least as much as possible, as much as He allows it. How much more so is this the case today as we see terrorism growing in ways we never considered likely, and anti-Semitism returning just when we thought it was over for good.
Even the word “haggadah” means “mystery”(Nefesh HaChaim 1:13), which certainly sheds light on what the seemingly simple words of the Haggadah are trying to convey Seder-Night.
To understand how the Seder is supposed to facilitate our becoming a better “vessel” to receive the light of the Fifty Gates of Understanding, and to develop a more essential connection to Da’as Elokim — G-dly understanding — it is important to examine various aspects of the Seder itself, and the reasons for their inclusion.
After all, a mitzvah is like an envelope with a message inside; possessing the envelope is essential, but peering inside the envelope is the only way to fully understand the meaning of both, and how, as a unit, they deliver their message. The same is true of a mitzvah and its sod, in terms of their message of spiritual perfection:
One who does not look into the sod (mysteries) of the mitzvos of the Torah, to understand how they are rooted in the esoteric World Above . . . will not see how to rectify the various aspects of that World . . . (Zohar, Terumah 165b)
What this means is, though it is crucial to correctly fulfill the technical aspects of a mitzvah, knowing the sod of it means to be able to “aim” the mitzvah to have its desired impact. This is why the Aramaic word for prayer is also the word for “arrow” (zlosahon), as if to say there is a “target” for mitzvos, and it is far more effective to know what to aim for than to “blindly” send the “arrow” off in a general spiritual direction. The same idea is true for the different sections of the Haggadah as well.
It is difficult to dispute the fact that the last 5764 years of history have been anything but Paradise. This has prompted many to ask over the millennia, “If G-d is so perfect, why is His world not?”
The answer is, it IS perfect, that is, it is perfectly imperfect. We even bless G-d for this:
Blessed are You, Our G-d, King of the World, Who creates many living things with their deficiencies.
This is an idea that is implicit in Bris Milah itself, which requires man to participate in the physical and spiritual completion of his own being. Man was purposely and purposefully made incomplete, so that he would have a forum within which to exercise free-will and earn his portion in the World-to-Come (Derech Hashem 1:3). G-d made man, and the world within which he lives, but it is man himself who must bring both to fulfillment.
This process of spiritual refinement and purification is synonymous with making a person and the world a better receptacle for the light of G-d. The light of G-d is like water that presses against the wall of a dam; open the channel and the water forces its way through. The concept of bitul chometz (annihilation of chometz) is the idea of removing spiritual obstacles (particularly bad character traits) that keep the light of G-d out, and which hold back Da’as Elokim.
After all, what is bread but bloated matzah? The yeast is an agent to cause the dough to rise, giving the impression that more is there than really is. In this sense, the yeast symbolizes the yetzer hara, which tends to make that which is unimportant important, and vice versa.
We burn the chometz (biur chometz) to indicate that the destruction of spiritual “germs” must be complete, and that it can only really be achieved through the Da’as of Torah, which is likened to fire. Fire also indicates the idea of that which can continuously give to others, without lessening its own intensity. This is only possible through Torah, because it is infinite. In fact, the very process of teaching Torah usually results in the teacher gaining as a result, as the Talmud confirms:
Rebi said: I learned a lot of Torah from my teachers; from my colleagues more than from them; and from my students, more than from all of them. (Makkos 10a)
The need for bedikas chometz (searching for chometz), which is of rabbinical origin, indicates the necessity to throw oneself into the process of character refinement. In a very real sense, bedikas chometz represents the idea embodied in the 248 Positive Mitzvos, which is to use Da’as as a motivator and source of inspiration to maximize our godly potential.
Chometz, then, represents a kind of orlah — a kind of spiritual interposition. Even though the rest of the year (other than the week of Pesach), it is permissible to benefit from chometz, the truth is we battle its effects constantly. Thus, the root of the word milchamah, which means “war,” is the word lechem, which means “bread.”
It is as if to say that the real “war” in life is not on the outer battlefield, but on the inner one, against the yetzer hara. This is because we need its drives to be effective in life; yet, unbridled, those very same drives can destroy individuals, nations, and the world. Reigning in the powers of the yetzer hara is the “tightrope” walk of life.
Removing chometz from our possession and replacing it with matzah has a similar effect as Bris Milah. It is the removal of the orlah, of all spiritual barriers that prevent us from channeling our drives in the direction of the service of G-d. Hence, this represents another reason why only those who have fulfilled the mitzvah of Bris Milah can eat from the Korban Pesach — the Passover Offering.
Matzah is the quintessential symbol of Pesach, and the word itself differs in spelling from chometz by one letter:
Mem-Tzaddi-HEH — CHES-Mem-Tzaddi However, it is a variance that makes all the difference in the world, since it alludes to the deepest of ideas. For, the transition from the letter Ches of chometz to the letter Heh of matzah, symbolizes the actual process of creation, and of redemption from Egypt (Biur HaGRA, Safra D’Tzniusa).
Matzah, which is the product of only flour and water alludes to both the end result of the refinement process, and the spiritual freedom that results. It is the symbol of Divine simplicity (Maharal, Haggadah), which is crucial for G-d being able to “relate” to us, in order to infuse us with His Da’as, so-to-speak.
It is referred to as “Poor Man’s Bread” because it only uses flour and water. However, as the Talmud states:
Be careful with the poor, for it is from them that Torah will emanate. (Nedarim 81a)
The reason for this is simple. Elsewhere, the Talmud reminds us that the more one is involved in the physical world and in the pursuit of physical possessions, the more his mind is occupied with the concerns of that world. However, the poor Torah-Jew, because of his simple lifestyle, has little else to think about than spirituality.
Matzah is also called, “Lechem Oni” (“Bread of Answers”). It adorns the Seder table to make us think deeply, to make us re-examine where we have gone in the course of the previous year, and to measure how close or far we have become from the ideals of Torah. In so many ways, matzah symbolizes everything the Jew is supposed to strive to become.
Thus, even though we eat matzah to commemorate the fact that our ancestors lacked sufficient time for their bread to rise, the truth, it was meant to be that way. Because of all that matzah symbolizes and teaches us, it was decreed that the Jewish people should eat matzah on the fifteenth day of Nissan throughout all the generations. This way, at least once a year, we are made to confront our raison d’être at the Seder table.
The second verse of the Torah states:
The earth was null and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep, and the spirit of G-d hovered above the water. (Bereishis 1:2)
Though G-d could have made a perfectly complete world from the start without passing it through a chaotic stage, Divine wisdom dictated otherwise. The result was a primordial “soup” called Tohu, or “Null.” The only question is why? Why did G-d introduce the concept of chaos into the world?
The answer to that question is the subject of the next verse,
G-d said, “Let there be Light!” And there was Light.(Bereishis 1:3)
What this means is the following. The natural state of this perfectly imperfectly world is chaos, and not order. Hence, the main battle of the Jew is to bring order — seder — to that chaos, just as G-d did by creating light on the very first day of creation. It is not a physical struggle, but an intellectual one. It is a battle that is manifested in the physical world, but one that is fought in the spiritual realm.
To forget this fundamental message is to doom creation to darkness and destruction, to allow mankind to become swallowed up by the inherent forces of null and void. And no one knows this better than the Jewish people; no one has experienced this more than the nation that was redeemed from Egyptian bondage to prevent this from happening.
This is one of the first and foremost messages of the Seder. When we remember this, and act upon it by bringing the light of Torah into the world, then we fulfill the mandate for which we were freed: to create and maintain seder in creation. Then, we become the “light unto nations” we were destined to become.
Though it is true that we start each Shabbos and Yom Tov meal with Kiddush, we do so for a very important reason, especially Seder Night.
Kiddush and Havdalah represent the same concept: separation between holy and profane. The Talmud points out that Havdalah is a function of wisdom, for it is only after penetrating to the essence of ideas that we can truthfully see how they differ from one another (Brochos 33a). Then, and only then can we properly evaluate the worthiness of a concept, and use it properly without abuse.
This is why the distinctions raised in the “Four Questions” form the basis of the introduction to all that will follow the rest of the evening. Teaching children to notice subtle differences in life, to pay attention to nuances in learning, and to be “hungry” for questions is central to their intellectual and spiritual growth.
Furthermore, Kiddush and Havdalah are verbal, which means they epitomize all that man (and especially the Jew), aspires to achieve. It is the ultimate use of human intelligence and the power of speech, whereby we use our mouth as a vehicle to elevate our consciousness and transform the physical reality. Kiddush and Havdalah embody the message that we were to have learned from the manna just prior to the attack from Amalek (Redemption to Redemption, 1:4).
This is the true source of holiness. The separation that leads to holiness is one that begins in the mind, one which grows out of being a receptacle for Da’as Elokim. Thus, it is appropriate that Kiddush acts as the threshold over which we cross into the world of the Fifty Gates of Understanding.
From Purim we learned about the intrinsic connection between wine and freedom. Wine, with the help of gematria, alludes to the sod of Torah and the basis of Jewish wisdom. Here the connection is quite literal, for we drink one cup of wine at the Seder for each of the four different words the Torah uses to refer to the redemption from Egypt:
“Therefore say to the Children of Israel, ‘I am G-d, and I will bring you out (vehotzaisy) from under the burdens of the Egyptians. I will deliver you (vehitzalty) out of their service, and I will redeem you (vega’alty) with an outstretched arm, and with great judgments. I will take you (valakachty) to Me to be a people …’ ” (Shemos 6:6-7)
Vehotzaisy: I will lead you out (of Egypt);
Vehitzalty: I will deliver you (from any type of servitude);
Vega’alty: I will redeem you;
Valakachty: I will take you (as My people). (Shemos Rabbah 6:5)
This also introduces the concept of the number of four into the picture, and its role in bringing about redemption.
The number four, and multiples of four, are prominent in the Haggadah (four cups of wine, four sons, etc.) and the history of the Jewish people. The Jewish people spent four hundred years in a “land not their own” prior to Yetzias Mitzrayim, and after that they spent forty years wandering the desert before entering Eretz Yisroel. The Torah was given to Moshe over forty days.
There are many concepts associated with the number four. To begin with, the number itself refers to all four directions over which G-d has dominion. It also alludes to the Hebrew letter Dalet, which is related to the word, delet, which means door — an opening to freedom. There are four worlds, according to Kabbalah, and they represent the ascension from the lowest level up toward G-d:
Ain Sof (light of G-d)
The letter Dalet has within it the word dal, which is a poor person (Shabbos 104a). This is consistent with the theme of the evening as expressed through the matzah, which is Lechem Oni — Poor Man’s Bread. As well, the gematria of the world dal is thirty-four, whose Mispar Katan is the number seven (34 = 3 + 4 = 7) the number of Malchus (kingship). Hence, the humility inherent in the number four is what ultimately leads to Malchus, and the fulfillment of creation.
As such, the Dalet also alludes to the ultimate unity: the unification of G-d’s Ineffable Name, and the time that G-d’s kingdom will be firmly established on earth:
On that day, G-d will be One and His Name will be One . . . (Zechariah 14:9)
This is why in a Sefer Torah the Dalet of the word “Echad” (One) in the Shema is larger. The Dalet, combined with the first two letters of the word “Echad” allude to the complete unity of creation. For, the Aleph and the Ches in gematria total nine, to signify the unity of the first nine sefiros. The last of the ten sefiros is the Malchus, represented by the Dalet itself. Thus, in the word Echad is an allusion to the Days of Moshiach and the unity of that time,
And how is that unity achieved? The first word of the Shema also has one letter larger than the rest, the Ayin. The letter Ayin, as we now know, alludes to the perspective that looks beyond the natural, physical reality to reveal the hidden hand of G-d to the mind’s eye. Combined, the enlarged Ayin and the enlarged Dalet spell the word: eid, which means “witness.” Therefore, the Jew who says the Shema with the above intentions is bearing witness to the hidden kingship of G-d in this period of history, and to the revealed kingship in the Time-to-Come. This is called Emunas Yisroel — the Faith of the Jewish people.
Rebi Akiva asked: Why does the Dalet turn its face toward the heh (in the Aleph-Bais)? Because all who are poor in This World will be rich in The World-to-Come, like all of Israel who busy themselves with mitzvos. (Osios d’Rebi Akiva)
Hah Lachmah Ania is a strange way to start off the evening. Unless, of course, tzedakah is an identifying trait of the Jewish people.
After living among the Nations-of-the-World for millennia, we have picked up the appearance and often, the attitudes of our non-Jewish hosts. As a result, G-d may have difficulty “recognizing” us. By giving tzedakah, we reveal our innermost self to G-d, thereby gaining His acceptance in order to receive the light He will emanate that night (Bais HaLevi, Haggadah).
Furthermore, as we learned from Purim and the mitzvah of Matanos L’Evyonim, every Jew is “a guarantor for his fellow Jew.” Situations in life may vary from person to person, but we all need each other in order to bring about the completion of G-d’s master plan; we all must rise to the level of k’ish echad b’leiv echad — the unity of a single being with a single drive to serve G-d. Tzedakah is a direct way to do that.
Symbolically, washing our hands before eating wet vegetables is a throwback to Temple times, when the reality of spiritual purity was an issue. However, the Temple is another key symbol of Da’as, and washing our hands is an external depiction of what we are supposed to achieve on the inside. It is the Da’as of the Fifty Gates of Understanding that have the true “cleansing” power.
Having completed all that is in the Haggadah until this point, we can turn our attention to the story itself. This is the way the mind and body work; first we must create the proper atmosphere and catch our attention (a goal of all the activity Seder-Night), and then it becomes possible to efficiently transmit the message. Mind and body must work together if they are to act as the conduit for the light from Above.
The breaking of the matzah has tremendous significance. First of all, it is this that transforms the matzah into Lechem Oni, since a poor person does not consume all his food at one time, being concerned that tomorrow he will have none. Breaking the matzah also symbolizes the breaking of the spirit, for:
Anyone who has a humble spirit is like one who sacrificed all kinds of sacrifices, as it says, “The sacrifices of G-d are a broken spirit.” (Tehillim 15:19; Sotah 5b)
This results in the kind of humility necessary to receive and maintain Torah. AFIKOMEN
However, the breaking of the middle matzah also results in the creation of the Afikomen, which is then hidden for the children to find, for which they are rewarded. The message to all present (not just the children): a humble spirit is what inspires a person to go in search of truth, which results in the finding of it, and which will lead to eternal reward. This is the opposite of kotzer ruach — the state of complete helplessness the Jewish people just prior to the redemption — and its effects, and the basis of the posuk:
If you want it as you do silver and search after it like buried treasures, then you will understand fear of G-d; Da’as Elokim you will find. (Mishlei 2:4)
Like Kiddush, the telling of the story of Yetzias Mitzrayim represents the usage of our power of speech to speak D’var Hashem, the word of G-d. It is a central part of the evening, acting as an integral part of the process to “free” the mouth.
If this mitzvah is done properly, it should lead one’s consciousness to the realm above time, to the world beyond Nature, to the reality and unity of the Shema. This is what happened to Rebi Eliezer, Rebi Yehoshua, Rebi Elazar ben Azaryah, Rebi Akiva, and Rebi Tarfon when they sat down to fulfill the mitzvah in B’nei Brak. One would never have known that these rabbis lived in the most terrifying and distracting of times, at the beginning of the Roman exile.
As we know from the midrashim, night symbolizes exile, and morning, redemption. Thus, when their students came and informed them that the time had come to recite the morning Shema, it was an allusion also to the redeeming power of the Haggadah to end bitter exile, and lead us to the day of which we will say: On that day, G-d will be One, and His Name will be One.
The process to this eternal freedom is the process of drush, of exegesis, the main intellectual “tool” of the Talmud. This is what Rebi Elazar is telling us (“I was like a man of seventy . . .”), and this is what the Midrash states:
The people who walk in darkness see the Great Light. (Yeshayahu 9:1): These are the masters of Talmud who see the “Great Light” because The Holy One, Blessed is He, illuminates their eyes. (Tanchuma, Noach, 9)
This then leads to one of the central points of the entire evening: the Four Sons and the all-important concept of chinuch banim (education of children).
To begin with, the Talmud states:
The wise man is better than the prophet. (Bava Basra 12a)
At first, this strikes us as strange. Who could be better than a prophet, someone in direct communication with G-d? The answer to this question is, what the prophet understands through prophecy the Chacham is supposed to discern through wisdom.
It is the Chacham who represents the fulfillment of the concept of Tzelem- Elokim, the image of G-d in which man was created:
The term Elohim can be used to describe every intelligent force that is separated from matter (i.e., spiritual instead of physical) . . . As such, it is eternal, and thus the term is used regarding G-d and His angels. It is also applied to judges because of their ability of reason [and power of discernment] . . . (Sforno, Bereishis 1:26)
This is why, even though he did not stand at Mt. Sinai and receive the Torah personally, he can still refer to the G-d of his fathers as his G-d too. For, through wisdom and discernment he can project outside of his reality. Hence, not only is it true that:
The wise man’s eyes are in his head . . . (Koheles 2:14)
But, a wise person is defined as:
. . . One who can see what will transpire. (Tamid 32a)
In other words, the wise man is someone who creates a large enough mental picture that his perception of reality comes to mirror that of G-d’s. It is the difference between eating from the Aitz HaDa’as Tov v’Rah, and the Aitz HaChaim, the Tree of Life, or as we call it today, “kol Torah kulo” — Torah in its entirety. Whereas the Aitz HaDa’as represented the details of Creation and how it functions, the knowledge of the Aitz HaChaim is all- encompassing, and provides the intellectual “framework” within which to place those details:
When one knows a number of things, and understands how they are categorized and systematically interrelated, then he has a great advantage over one who has the same knowledge without such distinction. It is very much like the difference between looking at a well-arranged garden, planted in rows and patterns, and seeing a wild thicket or forest growing in confusion. When an individual is confronted by many details (i.e., the knowledge of the Aitz HaDa’as) and does not know how they relate to one another or their true place in a general system (i.e., the Aitz HaChaim), then his inquisitive intellect is given nothing more than a difficult, unsatisfying burden. He may struggle with it, but he will tire and grow weary long before he attains any gratification. Each detail will arouse his curiosity, but not having access to the concept as a whole, he will become frustrated. The exact opposite is true when one knows something in relation to its context. Since he sees it within its framework, he can go on to grasp other concepts associated with it, and success will bring him pleasure and elation . . . (Derech Hashem, Introduction)
As such, he can even project outside of himself and his “slice” of time, without the help of prophecy. For this reason, we hold nothing back from him; we tell him the whole story, without leaving out a single detail. With such an outlook, and such an attitude, no knowledge can damage him, since he reaches for the Aitz HaChaim first.
The mistake of Adam was that he didn’t wait for . . . Shabbos. But doesn’t the verse explicitly state that the transgression was eating from the Aitz HaDa’as? Rather, it seems that anyone who merits to achieve the fiftieth gate in holiness can no longer be damaged by any further knowledge . . . Shabbos is the “Tree of Life,” a tree planted in a place of life, which is understanding. (Shem M’Shmuel, Bereishis 5671)
Not so the Rasha. The Rasha is very intelligent, but intellectually abusive. He is the result of what happens to the seichel — mind — when one eats from the Aitz HaDa’as Tov v’Rah before eating from the Aitz HaChaim. Knowledge that could have drawn him close to G-d and Absolute Truth instead pushes him away from G-d into his own subjective reality — just as it had to Adam HaRishon. He will use the very same information the Chacham used to find G-d, to hide from G-d.
This is what Dovid HaMelech warned:
The beginning of wisdom is the fear of G-d. (Tehillim 111:10)
Fear of G-d can only be the result of the Aitz HaChaim, and as we have quoted earlier:
The secrets of G-d to those who fear G-d. (Tehillim 25:14)
Thus, the Rasha’s question and excluding nature:
The Evil Son, what does he say? “What is the service to you?” (Shemos 12:26). To you, and not to him, and because he excludes himself from the rest, he is a denier of Torah . . .
The Rasha refers to the Korban Pesach. In Egypt, the Jewish people had been mired in idol worship, which included the worship of the lamb, an Egyptian god. In order to merit redemption, they had to make a spiritual break from the Egyptian way of life. For this reason, the Midrash explains, the Jews were commanded to take a lamb and parade it through the streets with the expressed purpose of slaughtering it to G-d.
However, asks the Evil Son, who worships animals today?
What he is really asking is, “What use is there in continuing the service of the Pesach-Offering anymore?”
It is a question that he will ask, and has asked throughout the ages, on many other mitzvos whose Divine reasoning is elusive. However, the Haggadah answers the Evil Son back in kind, and in no uncertain terms: break his teeth!
The word shein (tooth) numerically is equal to 350, the gematria of the word seichel, or intellect. The response to the Evil Son is: abuse your intellect, lose your intellect. It is one thing to plead ignorance, the Haggadah warns, but it is something altogether different to have intelligence and access to the truth, and yet overlook that truth in the name of human reason. That is not what it means to be a Tzelem-Elokim.
Furthermore, finishes the Haggadah, it is not the basis of being Jewish either, and it denies the fundamental reason for which G-d turned history upside down to free our ancestors. “Had you been there and had you thought like that,” we tell the Evil Son, “you would not have been redeemed. You would have died with the other four-fifths of the Jewish population that quietly perished in the Plague of Darkness, because they too had possessed such a dark perspective toward Torah, mitzvos, and redemption.”
This is why the Simple Son is paired with the Chacham, and the Aino Yodeah Lishoel — the one who does not know how to ask a question, is usually paired with the Rasha. At least with the simple son, there is humility, and that is a good starting point for learning.
However, very often people don’t bother to consider the possibility of questions because they believe that reality can only be the way they see it. That is not a humble opinion, and it leaves people vulnerable to having to find out the hard way that there is a larger, more all- encompassing reality beyond their own. Therefore, like we do to the Rasha, we answer him and say,
“For the sake of this (zeh) G-d took me out of Egypt . . .”
That is, to achieve and maintain the level of intellectual clarity associated with zeh Keli v’Anveihu — this is my G-d and I will glorify Him. As Rashi points out there, G-d was so clear to the Jewish people by the Red Sea that it was if they could point their fingers at Him.
“You might have thought from Rosh Chodesh . . .”
To understand the importance of Rosh Chodesh to the theme of Pesach, the Talmud states:
Anyone who blesses the new moon is like one who has received the Shechinah — Divine Prensence as it says, “HaChodesh HaZeh ” (i.e., This month — Shemos 12:2), and it says over there, “Zeh Keli v’Anveihu” (Shemos 16:2) … (Sanhedrin 42a)
In other words, the Talmud is finding a conceptual connection between Kiddush HaChodesh (New Moon Sanctification) and revelation, vis-a-vis the usage of the word zeh in both verses. In this sense, the concept of the new month represents the goal of all of Torah and the Jewish nation as a whole.
Why? To begin with, the fact that the mitzvah of sanctifying the New Moon was the first one given to the Jewish people as they prepared to leave Egypt is very significant. For, this informs every Jew throughout history that embodied in the mitzvah of Kiddush HaChodesh is the basic concept of the Jewish nation and the key to Yetzias Mitzrayim.
As the prophet Yeshayahu teaches, the Jewish nation left Egypt with a mission, a mission that would only begin by receiving the Torah at Mt. Sinai fifty days later. This mission is encapsulated in the words of the prophet, “light to nations” (Yeshayahu 42:6).
What does this mission have to do with the moon?
One of the main properties of the moon is that it does not create its own light; rather, it reflects the light of the sun. Even during the blackness of night when the sun can no longer be seen, the moon can still gather in rays of sunlight hidden from us on earth and reflect them earthward for mankind to find direction in the darkness of night.
We know from Tradition that the Jewish people are compared to the moon.
When the moon is affected, it is a bad sign for the Jewish people. (Succah 29a)
And, just as the moon waxes and wanes, so too has the Jewish nation cyclically grown and been reduced in numbers. However, the most important comparison of the Jewish people to the moon is not in terms of its appearance, but rather, in terms of its mission.
Just as the moon reflects the light of the sun, so too are the Jewish people meant to reflect the light of G-d. The idea of being a “light to nations” is really that of being a “reflector” to the nations. In other words, it is the Jewish nation’s role to reflect the light of Torah to every last corner on earth, and to not fulfill this function is to “eclipse” the world and leave it in darkness and chaos. This results in periods of historical darkness, and usually worse: terrible anti-Semitism.
Hence, it is quite logical and very meaningful that the first mitzvah to be given to the Jewish people should be the sanctification of the new moon once a month. What better way is there to remind the Jewish people of the purpose for which they were freed from Egypt? What better way is there to monthly point out to the Jewish people the mission for which they were “hand-picked” by G-d, than to have them focus their attention on the new sliver of moon that is fighting to bring light to the darkened sky?
It was the acceptance of this first mitzvah and mission that acted as the spiritual “threshold” across which each Jew in Egypt had to pass to “earn” his or her freedom. The Torah sanctions originality. However, the principles of Torah are fixed, are axioms of Creation, Divine wisdom beyond human reason and therefore beyond human change.
Our job is not to create them, or even recreate them, but to reflect them. Our task is to become committed to understanding them as much as we can, and then perform them to the best of our ability. In this way, the light of Torah becomes increasingly more apparent, and like the moon, reaches a crescendo of light, which we are promised will eventually never wane again, as we say during Kiddush Levanah every month:
May it be Your will . . . to fill the flaw of the moon, that there be no diminution in it. May the light of the moon be like the light of the sun and like the light of the seven days of Creation, as it was before it was diminished . . .
That the word Hallel can also mean “light” (Pesachim 2a) is indication enough that Hallel should have a prominent place in the Haggadah and Seder Night. If anything is going to draw down light, it is going to be Hallel, and this is why it is a part of the prayers on holidays and Rosh Chodesh.
However, Hallel incorporates another very central idea that is very much related to redemption, as we learn from Adam HaRishon:
He [G-d] said, “Who told you that you were unclothed? Did you eat from the from the tree that I commanded you not to eat?”
The man said, “The woman you gave to be with me, she gave to me from the tree, and I ate.” (Bereishis 3:11)
Commenting on Adam’s response, Rashi says:
Here he denied the good. (Rashi)
Hakores hatov — recognition of good — plays a major role in Creation. It is more than just an issue of saying “thank you” for good received; it is one of recognizing that all of life flows from G-d, every aspect of it. That’s why Dovid HaMelech was suited to be the primary author of Tehillim, being someone who was able to trace every aspect of his life back to his Creator, which he acknowledged in each psalm.
Adam’s failure to see the creation of a wife as a “good” thing, one for which he ought to have been grateful regardless of her involvement in the sin, expedited his banishment from Gan Aiden. Had he not denied the good, he would have had no choice but to take responsibility for what he had done, which would have resulted in the necessary teshuvah to stay in the Garden.
Hence, Hallel is a verbalized perspective on life. It is born out of an attitude of serving G-d with joy, regardless of the existing set of circumstances. When said with the right understanding and intention, it is indicative of one’s connection to the Supernal Light of Creation, and thus it is associated with the proclamation of miracles.
What a fitting way to end the Haggadah and the journey to freedom. In a real sense, Hallel on Seder Night is the climax of the weeks of preparation that began on Purim. It is the emanation of an Inner Light that began on High and was channeled through the Bar Da’as — the Jew who fashioned himself into a conduit for Da’as Elokim, for the Da’as of the Nun Sha’arei Binah — the Fifty Gates of Understanding.
Hallel, like Shirah, is the song of the soul. It is the result of the body being elevated to the vision of the soul, to a revelation of G-d so pristine and breath-taking that it has no choice but to step back in awe, and with gaping mouth, give way to the symphony of a soul united with its Creator.
This was Dovid HaMelech’s vision, which made him the perfect extension of G-d’s hand in This World and author of Hallel. For this reason, he may have been the “cornerstone that the builders rejected” (Tehillim 118:22), but he was G-d’s true anointed, and source of Moshiach — the king who will herald the final redemption for which we have waited until this very day. He may have lived for only seventy years, but his legacy lives on forever!
May we merit to see the redemption of the ALL of the Jewish people from the four corners of the earth. May evil cease to exist and may we merit to greet Moshiach without any further suffering.
Chag Kosher v’Samayach,
Copyright © by Rabbi Pinchas Winston and Project Genesis, Inc.
Rabbi Winston has authored many books on Jewish philosophy (Hashkofa). If you enjoy Rabbi Winston’s Perceptions on the Parsha, you may enjoy his books. Visit Rabbi Winston’s online book store for more details! www.thirtysix.org