Hamaayan / The Torah Spring
Edited by Shlomo Katz
Volume XII, Number 18
8 Nisan 5758
April 4, 1998.
Mr. Moshe Cohen
on the yahrzeit of his father,
Aaron & Rona Lerner
on the yahrzeits of their fathers
Avraham ben Yaakov Hakohen a”h
and Yaakov Yonah ben Yisrael a”h
Mr. and Mrs. Jacob Edeson and family
on the first yahrzeit of mother and grandmother,
Mrs. Julia Edeson a”h
A well-known midrash states that the Shabbat before Pesach is called “Shabbat Hagadol”/”The Great Shabbat” because of the miracle which happened on the Shabbat preceding the Exodus. On that day, the Jews set aside lambs to be sacrificed for the Korban Pesach, and the Egyptians, who worshiped the lamb, did not challenge the Jews or even object.
Why is this miracle particularly worthy of a day commemorating it? asks R’ Zalman Sorotzkin z”l (1881-1966; the “Lutzker Rav”). Surely, many more incredible miracles have taken place in our history!
The typical person, notes R’ Sorotzkin, is much more moved by an open miracle, i.e. one which is difficult to explain in natural terms, than he is by a miracle which can be rationally explained. In fact, however, the opposite should be true. G-d’s using nature to accomplish His ends should be much more impressive than a sudden change in the course of nature. When G- d uses nature to accomplish His goals, he demonstrates that when He created the world thousands of years ago, He foresaw the future and implanted in creation the tools that He would need in the future.
The miracle which happened on the first Shabbat Hagadol is so memorable because there, in the midst of the open miracles of the plagues, Hashem performed this low-key and “natural” miracle, a miracle which can easily be explained rationally. In all likelihood, this miracle actually went unnoticed by the masses. Chazal, however, recognized its greatness, and they therefore called this day “Shabbat Hagadol.” (Quoted in Birkat Chaim p.103)
There is a widespread custom to read a portion of the Haggadah on Shabbat Hagadol because, say Chazal, the redemption began on that day. (For a description of what happened on that day, see page 1). However, says the Vilna Gaon z”l, the idea that Shabbat Hagadol was the beginning of the redemption appears to be contradicted by the Haggadah itself.
We read in the Haggadah, “One might think that the mitzvah of sippur yetziat Mitzrayim/relating the story of the Exodus begins at the beginning of the month . . . or on the 14th day of Nisan.” The Haggadah considers the possibility that those days might be appropriate times to relate the story of the Exodus. On the other hand, the Haggadah does not even consider the possibility that sippur yetziat Mitzrayim should begin on Shabbat Hagadol! If that day is considered the beginning of the redemption, why doesn’t the Haggadah at least consider the possibility of beginning sippur yetziat Mitzrayim on that day?
R’ David Cohen, shlita (of Brooklyn) suggests the following explanation for the above-mentioned custom: Our Haggadah actually consists of two Haggadot – that of the Talmudic sage Shmuel and that of the Talmudic sage known as Rav. (The former begins with “We were slaves in Egypt” and continues through “One might think . . .” Rav’s Haggadah begins with the next paragraph: “In the beginning . . .”) According to Rav, the Haggadah should focus on our spiritual redemption; therefore we read that our ancestors were once idol worshipers but that Hashem has now given us the Torah. However, according to Shmuel, we should focus on our physical redemption; therefore we read that we were slaves in Egypt and Hashem took us out. (This is consistent with Shmuel’s view in the Talmud that the only difference between today and the days of mashiach will be that gentiles will not rule over Jews, i.e., there will be a physical redemption. Spiritually, there will not necessarily be a change.)
It is only according to Rav that Shabbat Hagadol is the beginning of the redemption, that day being when the Jews severed their ties to Egypt’s idolatry by setting aside a lamb (an Egyptian deity) to be sacrificed. As noted, however, the part of the Haggadah which discusses when the mitzvah of relating the Exodus begins is part of Shmuel’s Haggadah.
(Mas’at Kapi II p.60)
Why is it relevant to the story of the Exodus that our ancestors were idolators? R’ Moshe ben Machir z”l (16th century) explains that the Haggadah is contrasting Avraham with our ancestors in Egypt and with ourselves. In the process, we see Hashem’s greatness and kindness.
Avraham abandoned the idolatry of his fathers and rose to great heights. His descendants in Egypt again became idolators.
Depite Bnei Yisrael’s idolatry, Hashem redeemed them. So, too, he redeems us repeatedly from our oppressors in the merit of His covenant with Avraham.
The gemara (Berachot 54a) teaches, “Four types of people are obligated to give thanks: one who traverses the sea, one who traverses a desert, one who was sick and is healed, and one who is released from prison.” Why these four?
R’ Shmuel Eliezer Eidels z”l (“Maharsha”) explains that there are four types of problems that commonly impact on a person’s spiritual growth: earning a living, enemies, sickness and wealth. The four types of people who must give thanks correspond to these. Also, the four cups of wine at the seder correspond to these four types of problems. [Unfortunately, Maharsha’s explanation is too lengthy and complex for this space.]
Chazal say: “The Todah will never cease to be brought.” R’ Aryeh Levin z”l (died 1969) asks: Why is this a happy tiding? The korban todah is brought, after all, by one who has been saved from danger! If the todah will never cease to brought, that means that people will never cease to find themselves in danger!
R’ Levin answers: When Pharaoh refused to release Bnei Yisrael from Egypt and instead decreed that they work harder, Moshe asked Hashem (Shmot 5:22-23), “Why have You made things worse for this nation?”
Hashem answered him, “You will see!” He meant: You will see, Hashem told him, that from every tragedy comes something good; from exile and persecution comes redemption.
The midrash says that when Yosef died, the Jews wanted to assimilate into Egypt. Hashem therefore made the Egyptians hate the Jews, thus causing the Jews to reunite and to support each other. This is an example of how good – the continued existence of the Jewish people – came from bad – the Egyptians’ hatred.
So, too, Chazal say that the gift of Eretz Yisrael is acquired through suffering. The Torah (Devarim 8:5) tells us, however, that it is the type of “suffering” which a loving parent imposes on a child for the child’s own well-being.
(Quoted in Ish Tzaddik Hayah p.303)
Why is it that Eretz Yisrael can be acquired only through suffering? Why, similarly, do Chazal say that the gift of Torah is acquired through suffering? What kind of gift is that?
R’ Yehuda Alkali z”l (of Saraevo; 1798-1878) explains that the holiness of these gifts requires that man be purified before he receives them. The purpose of suffering is to break down man’s material nature.
(Darchei Noam: Introduction)
born approx. 1250 – died 1305
R’ Moshe ben Yom Tov de Leon was born in Leon, Spain. He was the author of a number of works on kabbalah, and was an opponent of philosophy.
R’ Moshe earned his living as a traveling scribe, copying old manuscripts. On one of his trips he discovered the Zohar, the kabbalistic midrash traditionally ascribed to the sage of the mishnah, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai.
The 18th century halachic authority, kabbalist, bibliographer and traveler, R’ Chaim Yosef David Azulai (“Chida”), writes that the Zohar was lost not long after R’ Shimon bar Yochai and his son passed away. Centuries later, it was uncovered by an “eastern king” who sought, in vain, a scholar who could decipher it. Not until the manuscript reached the Jews of far-away Toledo, Spain, could anyone make sense of the work. Chida also quotes a sage who wrote that the Zohar was hidden in the library of the University of Heidelberg, Germany until it was uncovered there. (Interestingly, Chida does not mention R’ Moshe in connection with the Zohar.)
Many opponents of kabbalah have claimed that R’ Moshe himself was the author of the Zohar. It has been shown, however, that R’ Moshe’s own kabbalistic teachings, as found in his works, do not comport with those of the Zohar. (Sources: The Artscroll Rishonim p. 98; Shem Ha’gedolim: Erech Zohar)
Copyright © 1998 by Shlomo Katz and Project Genesis, Inc.
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