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Posted on April 4, 2023 (5783) By Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein | Series: | Level:

Pesach and the Mitzvos

Rav Yaakov Galinsky told the story of two men in the concentration camp who wanted to have matza on Pesach. They found a small amount of grain and baked it. One of them hid the matza in his clothing, but was spotted by a guard. The Nazi smashed the matza and beat the Jew unconscious. When he awoke, he collected the broken pieces, but alas, there remained only enough for one person.

The two debated who should get to eat the matza. The one said that he had suffered so much to bring the matza that he should be entitled to eat it. The other, however, came from a line of tzaddikim and pleaded for the opportunity. It had been his idea, and he had kept track of the date of the upcoming Yom Tov. He also knew the Hagada by heart and would help his friend say it.

Finally, they agreed. The tzaddik would eat the matza, they would say the Hagada together, but the one who had brought the matza would get the reward for the mitzva in the next world.

So it happened. They said the Hagada and the tzaddik ate the matza. The next morning, while saying Hallel in a state of ecstasy, the tzaddik got out of line and was killed instantly.

The other man survived the war, went to Eretz Yisrael and built a family. Many years later, the tzaddik came to him in a dream. He was missing the reward for that one mitzva and begged his friend to return to him the merit for having eaten the matza.

The dreamer was disturbed. He had sacrificed so much for that matza, and they had made a deal. Was it necessary to honor the request and forfeit the merit of the mitzva?

He was advised to seek a Rebbe. The Rebbe told him that it would be proper to be m’vater — to give up the reward. However, he would have to come to terms with this on his own, not simply because he was told to do so. After much soul-searching, he agreed to give up the reward.

The Rebbe then pointed out that the one who had passed away had no more opportunity to perform mitzvos, but he — who remained alive — had thousands of additional mitzvos. Every moment of life provides endless opportunities for further merit. The living friend could easily afford to give up the one mitzva, since he would have so many more additional mitzvos.

We’ve greatly condensed this beautiful story; readers are advised to see the original in Rav Galinsky’s sefer “V’higata.”

What surprised me is that the tzaddik would return to request the reward. It is well known that tzaddikim are happy to give away their reward and do the mitzva lishma — without ulterior motive. Cf. the famous story where the owner of the choice esrog would relinquish it to the Vilna Gaon only if the Gaon would give the seller the reward for the mitzva. The Gaon gladly did so and rejoiced greatly that Sukkos — for once he would do the mitzva completely lishma!

Why was it so important for the tzaddik to request the reward for the mitzva?

We suggest the following: Dreams are not reliable. Chazal derive this from Yaakov Avinu’s response to Yoseif’s dream. Even though Yoseif was a navi, Yaakov told him that there was falsehood in his dream.

It seems to us that the dream in Rav Galinsky’s story was only in the imagination of the dreamer. His conscience was bothering him. It had been the last hours of his friend’s life. Had it really been necessary to bargain with him, and deprive him of the reward for his last bit of matza? In the back of his mind, this thought gave him no rest until he dreamed that the tzaddik was pleading for the reward.

The Rebbe told him that his dream was very important. We don’t live for ourselves alone. To give mitzvos — to share mitzvos — to spread merit — this is the purpose of our lives!

On Layl Seder, we have many opportunities to perform and share mitzvos!

Brochos on the Kosos

There is a fundamental argument — how many times should we make the brocha for the wine at the Seder? Today, Ashkenazim make the brocha four times — once for each of the four cups. Normally, we try to restrict the amount of brochos; various explanations are given for the custom to repeat the brocha several times.

The Rif (Rav Yitzchak Alfasi [1]), combines several of the answers together: The four cups represent four mitzvos; each requires its own brocha. However, we only repeat brochos for mitzvos when there is a significant interruption. After each cup, there is a significant break: Recital of the Hagada, Bentching, saying the Hallel. Due to the interruption, the original brocha is no longer valid and requires repetition.

Early authorities questioned this. (2) It is clear that many interruptions do not require repeating brochos for food and drink. But the Rif was very clear about this! He did not consider the brochos over the cups mere brochos for food and drink. They were brochos for mitzvos! The Rif demonstrates that significant interruptions necessitate additional birkas hamitzvos.

Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach explains that brochos recited before the performance of mitzvos represent our thanks and praise that Hashem has provided us with the wherewithal to carry out His will. (3)

1. Daf 24 of the Rif in the old standard editions.
2. Ba’al Hama’or, Ibid.
3. See Halichos Shlomo, Pesach, chapter nine.