WE HAVE FINALLY arrived at Shabbos HaGadol, b”H. We have also arrived at Parashas Metzora because, thanks to the leap year, they are able to coincide. It would seem, however, as if the two matters have little in common, but they actually have a lot in common. And as is often the case, finding such a connection leads to an important insight that might otherwise had been overlooked.
You will recall that all the way back in Parashas Shemos, when God first approached Moshe about delivering the Jewish people, Moshe challenged God’s decision to redeem them claiming they were unworthy. Right or wrong, God did not like what he said and promptly punished Moshe with tzara’as. As Rashi also explains, God indicated to Moshe that by speaking loshon hara he was taking up the profession of the snake who had spoken it about God back in Gan Aiden.
The question is, was all of that just a side story, or was it part of the main story, the story of redemption? The answer is in the name of the holiday itself, Pesach, or rather, peh sach…the mouth that spoke. On a Pshat level Pesach comes from the word posayach, which means to skip over, as in God skipping over the houses of the Jews to kill the Egyptian firstborn. But on a Drush level, it is called Pesach to allude to peh sach, and the role of speech in redemption, both for the Jews in Egypt and later the metzora who spoke loshon hara.
I don’t need to explain the importance of speech. You just have to lose it once to realize how central it is to life and getting things done. Words have the power to create and they have the power to destroy, the power to impress and the power to embarrass. As the Zohar says, you can size up a person by the way they speak.
Tradition teaches that the negative space in the letter Peh alludes to the fact that God used speech to make all of Creation. In a Sefer Torah, the negative space in a Peh is the shape of a Bais, the first letter of Bereishis—Creation. God’s peh—mouth, so-to-speak, spoke all of Creation into existence.
The world picked up on this idea and started using words to manipulate reality, or at least make movies in which people do that by uttering some phrase or incantation. Balak complimented Bilaam by saying that “whomever you bless is blessed, and whomever you curse is cursed.” You can fire a gun at a person, but if they’re too far, you will miss. But if you target them with words, you can be thousands of miles away and still hit a bullseye, for good or for bad.
Thus the word dibur—word—has the same root as dever, which means plague, which tzara’as is also called. Both can originate with something very small and spread far and wide, leaving death and destruction in their wake. The only difference between the two words is that dibur also has the letters Yud and Vav.
ANOTHER EXAMPLE OF this is the words suffek and sippuk, doubt and satiation. One of the most dissatisfying feelings we have in life is doubt because it freezes us from moving forward. Amalek, the nemesis of God and the Jewish people, equals suffek in gematria because that’s what Amalek is famous for, creating doubt in Divine Providence.
But add a Yud and Vav to suffek and it becomes sippuk, something a person can only truly have when they are real with the reality of God. This is why people who are in doubt about God in their lives have to indulge so many material pleasures. Contrary to popular knowledge, God is the pleasure of all pleasure, and lacking that, we are forced to seek lesser forms of it of the material type.
This is why Dovid HaMelech was able to write love songs about God even while God had him chased around by Shaul HaMelech and other enemies, including his own son at one point. He never doubted God’s love for him, and that was enough for him in life, as he wrote:
One [thing] I ask of God, that I seek: that I may dwell in the house of God all the days of my life, to see the pleasantness of God and to visit His Temple every morning. That He will hide me in His tabernacle on the day of calamity; He will conceal me in the secrecy of His tent; He will lift me up on a rock. (Tehillim 27:4-5)
The question is, what significance, if any, do these two particular letters, Yud and Vav, have?
Off the top, these letters are special because they are the first and third letters of the Shem Hovayah, God’s name that we do not pronounce the way it is written. This is the name of God that Pharaoh was introduced to the hard way, via the Ten Plagues.
In this name the Yud corresponds to the sefirah of Chochmah, and the Vav corresponds to the six sefiros of Chesed, Gevurah, Tifferes, Netzach, Hod, and Yesod. The first Heh between the Yud and the Vav corresponds to Binah, and the last Heh after the Vav corresponds to the sefirah of Malchus, the actual level of our world.
This is not the place to go into a detailed discussion about the sefiros, which I have done several times in several of my books. (Besides, today you can google it (Sefirot) and get some good background.) For now, the sefiros are the spiritual entities that God created and used to make Creation, and continues to use to sustain everything as per His will, every moment of existence.
Our history is governed by those six sefiros, the first one thousand years by Chesed, the second by Gevurah, etc. We’re in the sixth millennium, so our millennium is governed by the sixth sefirah of Yesod, which basically dictates all the potential for our history, the good and the bad. So, these six sefiros represent what you might call the stage of life, where the light of the abstract world of Chochmah is actualized through Creation and human activity.
I know this is all quite kabbalistic, but the ending is quite down to earth, b”H.
THE FOUR LEVELS represented by the four letters of God’s name correspond to different members of the family. The Yud—Chochmah—corresponds to a father, the Heh—Binah—to a mother, the Vav—Zehr Anpin (Chesed through Yesod) to a son, and the final Heh—Malchus—to his bride. Together they are like one happy family when all the light flows as it should from top to bottom, of which we are the final recipients.
Even though a mother is usually between a father and a son, taking what the father “brings in” and filtering it for the children, there is a special direct relationship between a father and son, just as there is between a mother and a daughter, or in the case of the sefiros, a daughter-in-law. Secular society may be doing its own thing once again when it comes to gender differentiation, but it is set in the sefiros. Zehr Anpin, like many actual sons, has a special and direct connection to Chochmah—Wisdom—the “father” by virtue of its builtin similarity to it.
When that is maintained, the wisdom of Chochmah flows down to the world of Zehr Anpin, and dever becomes dibur, suffek becomes sippuk, and potential destruction instead becomes creation. When the opposite is true, then the opposite is true, and you get intellectual and spiritual confusion and, eventually destruction of the world and mankind, God forbid.
In this way, dibur represents redemption and dever represents exile. How we speak, what comes out of our mouths is the ultimate measurement as to how much a person is truly liberated, and how much they are actually oppressed by their yetzer hara. There are a lot of people today who think they are free, but they are actually quite enslaved to their evil inclinations. Because of them the Vav does not receive the wisdom of the Yud. As the rabbis warned, truth will be lacking right before Moshiach comes (Sotah 49b). This is the reason why.
IT SAYS IN the Haggadah:
This is the bread of affliction that our fathers ate in the land of Egypt. Whoever is hungry, let him come and eat; whoever is in need, let him come and conduct the Seder of Pesach. This year [we are] here; next year in Eretz Yisroel. This year [we are] slaves; next year [we will be] free people.
The ideas in this short paragraph seem unrelated. What does matzah have to do with a mitzvah of tzedakah, or the fact that we are still in exile? However, it is the last sentence that ties all of this together: This year we are slaves; next year we will be free people, as if to say, “Why are you still making a Seder in exile?”
Never mind the fact that we feel and act like free people because of the materialism and social rights we have gained living in exile. It is still exile. With the Jewish people scattered to the four corners of the earth, the Temple still not built in Jerusalem, and the Divine Presence still waiting to dwell within it, exile is as bad as it ever was.
“This the bread of our affliction,” three millennia ago and today as well. “Whoever is hungry, let him come and eat,” because we are all in this exile together, and need to be concerned for one another. “This year we are here; next year in Eretz Yisroel,” not just physically, but spiritually as well. You can’t work on redemption if you disregard the reality of exile.
We also mention Eretz Yisroel in this declaration, which is not something to be downplayed. Make no mistake about it: The Jewish people have been in exile for over 3300 years because our ancestors rejected the gift of Eretz Yisroel in the second year after leaving Egypt, and we have never recovered since then.
Eretz Yisroel is to the Jewish people what flour is to bread, or in this case, matzah. It is such an integral part of who the Jewish people are and destined to become. It wasn’t meant only to be the homeland of the Jewish people. It is the only place when the Jewish people can be the Jewish people in the fullest sense, as the Torah states:
I am God, your God, Who took you out of the land of Egypt, to give you the land of Canaan, to be God to you. (Vayikra 25:38)
Ultimately, the Holy Land is exactly that, holy, which is why it is the best conduit for a close and profound relationship between a Jew and God. It is the place from which every Jewish soul has been hewn, and therefore the place in which every Jewish soul must find its home. Doing so completes the process of development of becoming an “adam,” and achieving true and lasting freedom.
What changed this night [that it is different] from all other nights?
The question means: What, if anything, is unique about the night of the Seder that we do all of this? All of the events of the evening suggest that something more than mere commemoration is taking place. They suggest that every 15th of Nissan is the reliving of a special opportunity that began back in Egypt but which repeats itself each year.
It is as if some kind of spiritual portal opens up, and through the events of the Seder, we are able to enter it. We may not physically time-travel, but spiritually we do, at least those, unlike the Evil Son, who believe it is possible.
A major emphasis of the entire evening is contrast. We are interested in keeping ourselves and the children alert. We encourage curiosity, because a person only absorbs that to which they pay attention. The more one pays attention to life, the more one learns from it.
The main device that Amalek uses to spiritually weaken the Jewish people is distraction. It doesn’t really matter what, just as long as a Jew is incapable of taking advantage of the spiritual opportunity at hand. Indeed, the entire Haggadah was created to make sure that Jews are in the right place at the right time on the night of the Seder.
And the questions are not mere questions either. Rather, they focus on major themes of the Seder and freedom. They are not necessarily questions that our children would have asked, but they are questions that they should learn to ask, including the child within all of us.
On all nights we need not dip even once, on this night we do so twice!
And on all nights we eat chometz or matzah, and on this night only matzah.
On all nights we eat any kind of vegetables, and on this night marror!
On all nights we eat sitting upright or reclining, and on this night we all recline!
One theme that is prevalent is discipline. For a night that represents freedom, we are certainly confronted by restrictions (we must dip, we eat only matzah, etc.). That may be the main question of the evening: How does restriction result in freedom?
It an important question because everyone’s yetzer hara asks it at some time or another. Yes, we were taken out of Egyptian bondage, but fifty short days later we were compelled to accept 613 mitzvos. Disobeying Egyptian commands resulted in torture or death, but disobeying God’s can result in death in this world and in the next world! How is that freedom?
Indeed, perhaps that is what concerned the four-fifths who chose to remain in Egypt and therefore died during the Plague of Darkness. It certainly has been on the mind of many a Jew since that time as well, and one that the Haggadah comes to answer. As it says:
The Tablets are the handiwork of God, and the script was God’s script charus—engraved—on the Tablets. Do not read charus but cheirus—freedom—for you can have no freer person than the one who engages in Torah study. (Pirkei Avos 6:2)
Perfection in this world, aside from God Himself, is not automatic or easy. Wheat must be grown, harvested, ground finely, and then sifted before it is edible. The Torah gives us the means and discipline to grow into a being made in the image of God, and we don’t get any freer than that. (Redemption to Redemption: The Very Deep & Intimate Connection Between the Holidays of Purim and Pesach.)
Chag Pesach Kasher v’Samayach