First and Second Yom Tov Days of Pesach
FROM THE HAGGADAH OF PESACH
The festival takes its name from an annual lamb sacrifice called Pesach, explained below, which was apparently the primitive pastoral observance of Spring. The Haggadah reinterprets primitive Spring seasonal observances to symbolize miraculous events of our liberation by God from Egyptian bondage. The Seder night is the anniversary of our Exodus from Egypt following the Plague of Death of the Egyptians’ First Born. These events are described in the early chapters of the Book of Exodus and, more specifically in reference to the Seder night, in chapters 11 and 12.
The Seder Plate
The following foods, as they relate to the Haggadah, are displayed as centerpieces during the Seder and may be covered, uncovered, removed, or restored, as directed in the Haggadah:
Three separate whole pieces of Matzah (Unleavened Bread) piled vertically and separated from each other either in separate compartments or by partitioning napkins, emblematic variously of the new grain harvest of the Spring, the ritually-required accompaniment of the Pesach (see below), the bread of affliction we ate as slaves in Egypt, and, paradoxically, the hastily-prepared victuals of freedom when God redeemed us from Egypt
Zeroa (Roasted Shankbone) to symbolize the Pesach, which was a yearling lamb or kid (of sheep or goat) originally sacrificed, roasted and eaten, by every household at the beginning of the Spring lambing, later associated with the protective function of its blood to immunize the Israelites in Egypt from the Plague of Death of the First Born of Egypt, eventually becoming a people‘s sacrifice carried out every Spring alongside the centralized institution of Temple and Priesthood in Israel
Chagigah (Roasted Egg) to symbolize the well-being offering brought by Israelites to the Temple on festivals for sacrifice and consumption in holiday feasts and which on Pesach served the vital function of providing the bulk of the meat consumed, as the supply of the narrower category of Pesach became limited due to seasonal demand
Karpas, preferably green, usually parsley, but permissibly any raw vegetable over which the blessing ending with the words Borey Pri Ha‘adamah, “Creator of the Fruit of the Earth,” can be recited, usually suggesting the recurrence of Spring and used for dipping in Salt Water possibly as a remembrance of the dipping of hyssop in the blood of the Pesach to apply some of it to the lintel and doorposts of Israelite homes on the night of the Plague of the Death of the First Born (see above under Zeroa)
Salt Water, in which the Karpas is dipped and likened to the tears we shed as Israelites oppressed by Egyptian taskmasters
Maror, a Bitter Herb, usually lettuce or horseradish (on some seder plates there is a separate place for each), emblematic of both the purgative accompaniment of the protective Pesach and the bitterness of oppression
Charoset, a mixture of chopped apples, cinnamon and wine or grape juice as the basis, to which some add dried fruits or nuts, in which Maror is dipped, and likened to the mortar of the bricks we were forced to manufacture for Pharaoh’s works and which alleviates with sweetness the bitterness of the Maror
The 14 Simanim
1. KADESH: Recite the Kiddush
The First Cup of Wine
The Kiddush is recited over Wine. This is usual for every Shabbat and Yom Tov. Drink this and all other cups of wine reclining to the left on a cushion as an indication of liberation. Some say reclining is in emulation of the Greco-Roman mode of privilege in the surrounding culture of post-Second Temple times.
2. URECHATZ: Leader washes hands without blessing
In some households everyone at table washes hands, but never with blessing.
Reflects the early Rabbinic practice of purifying hands before dipping food in liquid to avoid the transfer of ritual impurity from the hands to the liquid to other foods, apparently as an emulation of the sacred institution of the Kohanim (Priests), who needed to be ritually pure in order to handle the sacrifices of Israel in the Temple
At the beginning of Pesach, the head of the household brought his family’s Pesach lamb or kid to the Temple and slaughtered it himself in lieu of the Kohanim.
Remembrances of the Temple are found in the Seder because the Seder has had to replace the actual Pesach, an annual springtime sacrifice of a yearling goat or sheep, which was performed partly in the Temple (prior to its destruction by our adversaries).
This special feature of the Seder of Pesach precedes the dipping of Karpas and is not practiced on any other day.
3. KARPAS: Dip a vegetable in Salt Water and recite blessing before eating it
This practice may be an emulation of the dipping of hyssop in the blood of the Pesach to apply some of it to the lintel and doorposts of lsraelite homes on the night of the Plague of the Death of the First Born (see Exodus 12 :22 and above under The Seder Plate).
The vegetable is usually green and is often parsley.
A connection may be made between the green vegetable and the spring season of the year.
The Salt Water may be likened to the tears of oppression shed by the Israelites under Egyptian bondage.
This constitutes an appetizer within the Seder of Pesach. At this point some hosts and hostesses provide an additional supply of raw vegetables which come under the Borey Pri Ha ‘adamah (“Creator of the Fruit of the Earth”) blessing of Karpas.
4. YACHATZ: Break the middle matzah and hide the larger of the two pieces
At the usual festival meal there are two loaves of bread; during Pesach a full, unbroken piece of matzah replaces each loaf of bread; because of the special festive nature of the Seder there are three loaves, i. e., matzot.
The middle matzah is broken to recall the defect in our material welfare as slaves and to provide, in one of its pieces, a bit of matzah that will be eaten for “dessert,” called Afikoman, to allow a full-circle quality to the meal and, possibly also, to recall the Pesach which was originally eaten at the end.
Strictly speaking, the Afikoman need only be hidden enough so that it is not mistakenly eaten before the end of the meal; however, to entertain the children the game of full-scale hiding and seeking is carried out.
A non-monetary reward for finding the Afikoman is in the spirit of Yom Tov.
5. MAGGID: Tell the Story
This is the longest section and the bulk of the traditional Haggadah. It is founded upon Biblical passages which direct us to tell the Exodus story to our children, e.g., Exodus 13:8 (“And you shall tell your child on that day … “), and so “Haggadah” means “Telling.”
But the Rabbinic mode of telling is not straightforward; moreover, the ancient Rabbis assumed that their students already knew the written Torah (Five Books of Moses), in which the story is told at length, so they engaged in oral elaborations of the written Torah, called Midrash and Aggadah or Haggadah. Therefore, the “Telling” that results is rabbinic in nature: “oral” (now written down in the Haggadah) elaborations and hyperboles of the originally written (in the Torah) treasured story.
The Midrash and Aggadah or Haggadah is a specialized kind of literature, which can be understood optimally in its original language and which therefore is often inaccessible to one untrained in Hebrew and Midrash. Some translators have been able to communicate the meaning of the Midrash in English more successfully than others.
In this section are contained most of the unique ideas of the Haggadah of Pesach. It would be normal for them to engender extended discussion among the company.
Liberal and home-made Haggadahs usually adapt or replace some or all of this section with alternatives that provide a streamlined rehearing of the story of the Exodus.
Outline of Maggid
Ha Lachmah: “This is the bread of affliction … ” ~ Introduces the Unleavened Bread (Matzah), which was the agricultural mode of observing the beginning of Spring and the new series of harvest seasons, beginning with the barley harvest, in the Land of Israel; but here the Matzah is being likened to poor rations provided our ancestors as slaves in Egypt, an example of the Rabbis’ reinterpreting our primitive Spring nature observances with a narrative overlay.
Mah Nishtanah: “Why is this night different…?” (The Four Questions) ~ The children have seen enough of the unique practices of the Seder night–Matzah, Karpas, Reclining–to be stimulated to ask “Why?” in accordance with Exodus 13: 14, “When in the future your child should ask you, ‘Why is this?'” These are not actually four questions but one, which can be expressed, “Why?”, “What is this all about?”, “What does all this mean?” for four reasons, because of four things the children observe. The second reason, Maror (Bitter Herb), seems out of place because there has, as yet, been no explicit reference to it. This is sometimes explained by the fact that the children might have noticed already the Maror on the Seder Plate which is on the table in front of them.
Avadim Hayinu: “We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt…” ~ This constitutes one way to begin to answer the child’s question–that we were slaves and God redeemed us–and it introduces the notion of Rabbinic elaboration of the story of the Exodus. For the alternative beginning of the answer, see below: Mitechilah: “From the beginning …. “
Ma‘aseh b’Rabbi: “It happened with Rabbi … ” ~ Five eminent Rabbis of the second century recount the Exodus all night among themselves.
Amar Rabbi Elazar: “Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah said … ” ~ One of the Rabbis mentioned above uses the midrashic method to justify telling the Exodus story at night.
Baruch Hamakom: “Blessed be the Omnipresent..” ~ A doxology which provides transition between Rabbis’ learning Torah and the customized education of children
K’neged Arba‘ah Vanim: “With reference to four children” (The Four Children) ~ Midrash on how the Torah indicates that there are at least four ways to educate children about the holiday, depending upon the type of child.
Yachol meRosh Chodesh: “I might have thought from the New Moon (1 Nisan) … ” ~ Perhaps the formal Rabbinic teaching of the narrative interpretation of the Spring nature and sacrificial observances should begin two weeks in advance, at the New Moon, the beginning of the month, even though the observances themselves do not occur until the Full Moon (15 Nisan, middle of the month), but no, the midrash infers: let them begin when the instruments of the holiday actually lie before them at the Full Moon (tonight).
Mitechilah and Baruch Shomer: “From the beginning … ” and “Blessed be the Keeper … ” ~ This is the alternative way of beginning an answer to the child’s question: by going all the way back to Abraham, to whom God revealed the destiny of his descendants to be oppressed for 400 years and then to be redeemed.
V‘hee She–amdah: “And that is what has stood by our fathers … ” ~ God’s faithfulness in Egypt has been constant for us ever since.
Tsey Ulmad: “Go out and learn…” ~ This is the core of the Haggadah (defined above as Oral elaborations of the Written Torah, also called Midrash after the method of interpretation it employs): Midrash on Deuteronomy 26:5-8, which itself is a succinct account of the Israelites’ history of oppression and liberation since patriarchal times through the liberation from Egypt that the Midrashic method hyperbolizes both for its degradation and its salvation.
Deuteronomy 26:5–9: My father was a wandering Aramean. He went down to Egypt few in number and sojourned there; and there he became a great and populous nation. But the Egyptians dealt harshly with us and oppressed us; they imposed heavy burdens upon us. We cried to the Eternal, the God of our Fathers, and the Eternal heard our plea and saw our affliction, our toil and our oppression. The Eternal freed us from Egypt by a mighty hand, by an outstretched arm and awesome power, and by signs and by wonders. He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.
Eilu Eser Makkot: “These are the Ten Plagues … ” ~ Climax of the Haggadah (as defined above) demonstrating symbolically the power of the Plagues
Kamah Ma‘alot: “How many benefits … ” (“Dayenu”) ~ Turning from the awe-inspiring destruction to a hyperbolic summary of God’s positive record of abundant blessings, anyone of which would have been enough!
Rabban Gamaliel: “Rabban Gamaliel says … ” ~ The official Rabbinic interpretation of each of the three main objects of the Seder: Pesach, understood in accordance with Exodus 12 as meaning “Passing Over” or “Protecting”; Matzah, Unleavened Bread associated here with hasty baking as the Israelites rushed to prepare for their Exodus; and Maror, finally receiving deserved attention in the Haggadah as the symbol of lsrael’s bitterness and hard bondage.
B ‘chol Dor Vador: “In each and every generation … ” ~ Every Jew should regard himself as having been liberated from Egyptian bondage by God–thus begins the transition to Hallel (see below).
Lefichach Anachnu Chayavim: “Therefore we are obligated to give thanks … ” ~ The fact that we have been liberated obligates us to recite the following Hallel (Psalms 113-118) tonight, the anniversary of our liberation, in praise of God. Hallel is normally included in the morning service on every Torah-ordained joyous festival and also during Chanukah. Tonight, the first two psalms of Hallel are included before the meal, stressing the immediacy of our gratefulness and confidence in God’s miraculous salvation:
Hallelu Avdey Adonai: “Praise, 0 servants of the Eternal…” (Psalm 113) ~ God’s exaltedness, which does not prevent Him from reaching down and lifting up the needy, justifies our praise of Him.
Betzeit Yisrael: “When Israel went forth from Egypt. .. ” (Psalm 114) ~ The Exodus from Egypt, which bound Israel to God its Redeemer, convulsed all of God’s creation that witnessed it.
The remainder of Hallel (Psalms 115 ff.) follows the meal.
The Second Cup of Wine
Maggid concludes with an introductory blessing over the Wine, Asher G‘alanu, acknowledging God’s having redeemed us (in the spirit of Maggid) and having brought us to this night (in the spirit of the She-he-cheyanu blessing which followed the Candle Blessing and the Kiddush Blessings above). This reveals the special function of the Second Cup of Wine for the Seder, which is not the practice of Yom Tov usually, as a second Kiddush, over which Maggid was recited (as if we had been holding up the Second Cup of Wine throughout Maggid). (That is why the Second Cup was filled at the beginning of Maggid.) Over the First Cup the Yom Tov is sanctified. Over the Second Cup our Haggadah (“Telling” our children who we are) is sanctified.
Then follows the Blessing over Wine itself, Borey Pri Hagafen, and the drinking of the wine.
6. RACHTZAH: Washing of the Hands with a Blessing
This is the normal Netilat Yadayim, Washing of the Hands, by every participant followed by the blessing, in anticipation of the eating of bread. Like Urechatz (above), Washing of the Hands before the eating of bread was adopted by the Rabbis to reflect the purification practices of Kohanim (Priests) in the Temple.
7. MOTZI MATZAH: Blessing over Bread & Blessing over Eating Matzah
These blessings are recited over two pieces of matzah: one from the upper matzah on the Seder Plate and the other from the broken middle matzah that remained on the Seder Plate. The first blessing is the usual Blessing over Bread, Hamotzi Lechem Min Ha‘aretz, and the second blessing, Al Achilat Matzah, is recited only at the Seder before performing the mitzvah (commandment) of eating Matzah as one of the two ritual foods (Matzah and Maror) that used to accompany the Pesach (when it was eaten in Biblical and in Temple times, cf. Exodus 12:8: “They shall eat the meat [Pesach]…with unleavened bread [Matzot] and with bitter herbs [Merorim]”) and then remained in the Seder without the Pesach. The two blessings for Motzi and Matzah are said consecutively followed by the consecutive eating of the two pieces of matzah.
8. MAROR: Bitter Herb
The vegetable used as Bitter Herb is determined by custom. Lettuce seems to have been the practice of the Rabbis who developed the Seder at the time of the Destruction of the Temple, while horseradish was used centuries later by Ashkenazic Jews who lived in lands where horseradish was available and lettuce was not. This practice also constitutes the second dipping mentioned in the Mah Nishtana (“The Four Questions”). The Maror itself accompanied the protective Pesach sacrifice perhaps as a purgative ingredient. The acts of dipping might have been emulations of the Greco-Roman banquet, an acculturated symbol of freedom for Jews living in the Hellenistic world. In any case, the dipping condiment is Charoset, the uniquely Jewish mixture that suggests the mortar of bricks we were forced to manufacture for Pharaoh yet also the sweetness of hope that mitigates the bitterness of despair. The blessing, Al Achilat Maror, is said only for the Maror as the symbolic food we are commanded to eat along with the Pesach (cf. Exodus 12:8) and, after the destruction of the Temple, without the Pesach, on the night of the Seder.
9. KORECH: Hillel Sandwich
In order to underline the ancient fulfillment of the Biblical command in Exodus 12:8, to eat the Pesach with Matzah and Maror, and in order to utilitize the third (lower) matzah on the Seder Plate, each participant takes two pieces of the remaining lower matzah and eats therewith a sandwich of Matzah and Maror in remembrance of the way that the sage Hillel (first century B.C.E.) modeled the mitzvah of Pesach while the Second Temple still stood. However, since in our times the Temple is not standing and the Pesach sacrifice is therefore not actually observed, the sandwich consists only of Matzah and Maror.
10. SHULCHAN ORECH: The Meal
The Meal begins with whole hard-boiled eggs in salt water. The use of eggs, both here and in the Roasted egg Chagigah on the Seder Plate, is not explicitly central to the Haggadah but finds its way into these core Seder observances because of its established role in Judaism as symbol of rebirth and eternal life.
11. TSAFUN: The Hidden Afikoman
The Afikoman, which had been hidden for safe-keeping, is broken into pieces and distributed as the last food to be eaten during the Seder (after the dessert or final course of Shulchan Orech). There is no blessing or special reading because it is simply the last part of the meal. See above, Siman No. 4 Yachatz, for a fuller explanation of the significance of the Afikoman and a notice on the custom of searching for it. Although there is nothing to recite, there is no prohibition against discussing it freely and rigorously with company!
12. BARECH: Blessing After the Meal
Birkat Hamazon, the Blessing Over the Meal, which is actually a string of several blessings, is commanded in the Torah (Deuteronomy 8:10) to be recited after every full meal. For Sabbaths and Holidays there are inserted additions, and for Pesach in particular these blessings must be recited over a cup of wine (optional on other holidays). This, then, is the Third Cup of Wine, which is filled upon commencement of this siman.
Outline of Barech
Shir Hama‘alot: “Song of Ascents … ” (Psalm 126) ~ Celebrates the future return of Israel to Zion after Exile and precedes Birkat Hamazon proper on a Sabbath or Holiday; the celebratory spirit of this psalm is deemed appropriate for these occasions, and on Pesach especially it connects our reclaiming of the Land with the natural role of a people’s land as the source of its sustenance.
Rabotai Nevarech: “My teachers, let us bless … ” (Zimmun or Mezuman) ~ Public invitation to company by leader to fulfill the commandment of Birkat Hamazon as a group
Hazan: “Who sustains all…” ~ First of string of three blessings derived from the Torah, this on the theme of God as Sustainer of all
Nodeh Lecha: “We give thanks. to you … ” ~ Second of string of three blessings derived from the Torah, this on the theme of God as our Redeemer from Egyptian oppression and Grantor to us of the Land from which we receive our sustenance
Rachem: “Be merciful, Eternal One… ” ~ Opening of third of string of three blessings derived from the Torah, this on our appeal to God to compassionately restore Jerusalem, the Throne of David and the Temple, including insertions for Shabbat and for Yom Tov:
R’tsey Vehachaleetsaynu: “May it please You, Eternal our God, to give us rest…” ~ Petition for rest on the Sabbath (when the Seder night falls on the Sabbath) without distress and for consolation in the rebuilding of Jerusalem
Eloheinu Veylohey Avoteinu: “Our God and the God of our fathers…” ~ Remember us for deliverance on this day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread.
Uv‘ney Yerushalayim: “And build Jerusalem … ” ~ Conclusion of the third blessing, identifying God as the merciful Rebuilder of Jerusalem
Baruch Atta: “Blessed are You … ” ~ A fourth blessing, ordained by the Rabbis, confirming God’s goodness
Harachaman: “0 Merciful One … ” ~ Thus begins each in a series of ten appeals to the above-established benevolent God for divine sovereignty, sustenance, liberation, domestic blessing, reappearance of Elijah the Prophet, and worthiness to merit the time of the Messiah, interrupted only by an extended reference to our model recipients of blessing, the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, for their pleading merit Bamarom: “On high (in Heaven)… ” on our behalf as their descendants on earth, and by an extended reference to the Messiah’s forerunner David, who described God as his and his offspring’s Migdol Yeshuot: “Tower of salvation … ” (II Samuel 22:51). This section ends with familiar Rabbinic words:
Oseh Shalom: “May the Maker of peace … ” ~ Concluding formula requesting the transcendent God’s blessing of peace
Yir ‘u Et Adonai: “Revere the Eternal…” ~ Verses selected from Psalms declaring that God will not fail to provide for the faithful, the righteous, and for His people Israel
The Third Cup of Wine
Borey Pri Hagafen: “Creator of the fruit of the vine.” ~ Blessing over the Third Cup of Wine and conclusion of Birkat Hamazon
Kos Eliahu: The Cup Of Elijah
With the filling of The Fourth Cup of Wine, there is an interlude (not one of the Simanim) during which the door is opened to welcome Elijah the Prophet, circa 9th century B.C.E., who will return to Earth from Heaven and identify the descendant of King David who will be the Messiah (Hebrew: Mashiach, meaning King of Israel “Annointed” with Olive Oil) to lead the Jewish people back to the Land of Israel and establish for that purpose a world of peace. Elijah and the Messiah were mentioned in the Harachaman section near the conclusion of Birkat Hamazon. A separate cup may be filled for Elijah at this time. No one (other than Elijah the Prophet) drinks from it.
Shefoch Chamatcha EI Hagoyim: “Pour out Your wrath upon the nations who do not know You … ” (Psalm 79:6) and two other comparable verses ~ A late addition to the Seder, first attested among Ashkenzic scholars in the 12th-13th centuries, it might have been inserted as a response to the contemporaneous Christian Crusaders, who murdered thousands of Jews in Europe on their way to the Land of Israel, placed here because of the theme of the next psalm of Hallel (Psalm 115 in Siman 13 below) to be recited.
Eliahu Hanavi: “Elijah the Prophet…” ~ Song of expectation in the reappearance of Elijah the Prophet, usually sung as part of Havdalah on Saturday night at the conclusion of the Sabbath, offered in some liberal Haggadahs as a replacement for Shefoch Chamatcha EI Hagoyim.
13. HALLEL: Continuation of Hallel
All of the remaining psalms of Hallel (except for 116) contain explicitly universal assertions:
Lo Lanu Adonai: “Not for us, Eternal One … ” (Psalm 115) – The victory and truth are not ours but God’s: the nations need only reject their idols whereupon God will be their help.
Ahavti Kee Yishma: “I love that the Eternal listens to my voice … ” (Psalm 116) – The psalmist has found God to be faithful and responsive in the time of greatest need and catastrophe.
Hallelu Et Adonai Kol Goyim: “Praise the Eternal, all nations … ” (Psalm 117) – God is mighty, loving and eternal, deserving the praise of all nations.
Hodu Ladonai Kee Tov: “Give thanks to the Eternal, for He is good … ” (Psalm 118) – All classes of Israel and all humankind who fear the Eternal should acknowledge His eternal lovingkindness, and thereby they have nothing to fear of man. Our hopes for salvation and prosperity should be directed to the Eternal.
Yehalelucha Adonai: “Let all of Your works praise You, Eternal One … ” – This is the customary closing benediction for the recitation of Hallel in the morning service except that the ending blessing signature (Baruch atta Adonai: “Blessed are You, Eternal One … “) is omitted, probably to distinguish this less formal recitation from the synagogue setting. For the same reason, apparently, there is no opening blessing at the beginning of Hallel in the Seder (before the meal) as there is in the morning service.
Hodu Ladonai Kee Tov: “Give thanks to the Eternal, for He is good … ” (Psalm 136) – Known as Hallel Hagadol, “The Great Hallel,” it is found in the introductory section (Pesukey d’Zimra: “Verses of Song”) of the morning service for Sabbaths and Holidays.
Nishmat Kol Chai: “Let the breath of every living being bless Your Name … ” – Known as Birkat Shir, “Blessing of Song,” it also is found in the introductory section (Pesukey d ‘Zimra: “Verses of Song”) of the morning service for Sabbaths and Holidays. As there in the Siddur (Jewish prayer book), it is a climactic sealing of the psalmody that marks the Festival. Here it is distinguished by its proximity to the blessing for The Fourth Cup of Wine, over which Continuation of Hallel implicitly has been recited.
The Fourth Cup of Wine
Borey Pri Hagafen: “Creator of the fruit of the vine.” ~ Blessing over the Fourth Cup of Wine and conclusion of Hallel
Al Hagefen V‘al Pri Hagefen: “For the vine and for the fruit of the vine … ” – This is the blessing after occasional drinking of wine, which needs to be recited since the Third and Fourth Cups of Wine were not, strictly speaking, part of the meal over which Birkat Hamazon was already recited.
14. NIRTZAH: The Seder is Concluded
Chasal Siddur Pesach: “Concluded is the Seder of Pesach … ” – A piyyut (“liturgical poem”) from the 11th century by Rabbi Joseph Tov-Elem of Provence, it draws a distinction between the Seder of Pesach, which accompanies the Pesach and which we have accomplished, and Asoto, the “doing of it” (sacrificing and eating the Pesach), which awaits God’s leading His congregation to Zion.
Lashanah Haba‘ah Birushalayim. “Next Year in Jerusalem!” ~ This follows directly upon the distinction drawn in the previous poem. Of course it also appeals to a broader spectrum of Jewish expectation.
Zemirot: Table Songs
At the table on any Shabbat or Yom Tov it is customary for the company to engage in singing songs composed for the occasion. Songs that are found in the back of the Haggadah are Zemirot peculiar to the Seder. Many families have their favorites, frequently determined by the melodies they have learned and passed on.
The purpose of the following synopsis is to review the parts and themes of the Haggadah in order to reveal the reason for their order.
Our Israelite ancestors practiced an annual sacrifice every Spring of a yearling sheep or goat which was probably intended as a petition for God’s protection of the pastoral enterprise for the year ahead, the months then being counted from the spring, the season of nature’s rebirth. It was called the Pesach, which probably meant “Protection” in some sense and was prepared most expressly for human consumption by quick roasting. At the same time, the agricultural year began with the early Spring harvests and was sanctified by the baking and eating of the new grain most expressly in the form of unleavened cakes called Matzah. The common theme of rapidity in preparing and consuming underlined the vital source of the ingredients as apart from the artifice of their products.
The Torah, in the Book of Exodus, associates both of these categories of observance, Pesach and Matzah, pastoral and agricultural, with the narrative of liberation from degradation in the history of Israel, the Exodus from Egypt, as historical rebirth, occurring also, fittingly, at the beginning of Spring. Both observances, Pesach and Matzah, emanating from their respective primitive natural connections, were redefined as elements in the events of the Exodus. Now the people, which had been faithful to its pre-Biblical heritage, understood these practices as national experiences which defined their political independence and religious philosophy. When Israel came into its Land and established its Temple, it integrated the Pesach within its sacrificial practices but retained the people’s nature of the Pesach, wherein each head of household, in lieu of the Kohanim (Priests) but within the Temple precincts, on the anniversary of liberation, would slaughter his sacrifice. (All other sacrifices were slaughtered by the Kohanim, who eventually also took over the Pesach.) At the same time Israel retained the other practices within this springtime complex but most especially the close association of the protective Pesach with Maror, the purgative Bitter Herbs, and the agricultural facet of Matzah.
When the Temple was destroyed and the priestly class of Kohanim was effectively decommissioned, the successor leaders, the Rabbis, continued the Pesach, as it were, without the Pesach. This is what we call the Seder. While the word Seder literally means “Order,” its contemporary contextual meaning is: what we do in place of actually performing the Pesach.
We begin by sanctifying the appointed day over wine (Kadesh) as we do for any Yom Tov. This is the First Cup of Wine. To recollect that the head of the household slaughtered the Pesach as if he were a Kohen, the Leader engages in an act of ritual purity (Urechatz) before his household and, in order to justify that purifying act in its place, we (now protected against the transmission of impurity) immediately dip an appetizer (Karpas) in a liquid, thereby also adding the festive touch of hors d’oeuvres with dips to our celebration. However, this banquet, though joyous, is not a typical party, for it serves as remembrance of our oppressed origins (Salt Water).
Our Torah-based motivation for the preceding acts of purification, appetizing and dipping, none of them typical of a festival meal, was to stimulate the children to ask, “What is this all about?” so that we can tell them (cf. Exodus 13:14) the events that we remember or were told and are thus memorializing. In the same vein we call attention to the Matzah by breaking it well before eating it (Yachatz), something that we would never do with a loaf of bread for Shabbat or any other Yom Tov, and then we assign a disturbing epithet to it, “the bread of affliction,” (Ha Lachmah Anya) both as further stimulation of their curiosity and in anticipation of the answer we are prepared to give them (Maggid). The children then ask their inevitable question (Mah Nishtanah).
We commence our direct response to their question by addressing the simplest understanding of the question: We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, but God freed us (Avadim Hayinu). And if God had not freed us, then you and I would still be slaves today. So this is something we really need to talk about and understand. Even the great Rabbis, who know more than children, need to discuss it and learn about it (Ma‘aseh b‘Rabbi) and especially tonight (Amar Rabbi Elazar). But God gave His Torah not only to Rabbis but also to children (Baruch Hamakom). So as to you, children, we will answer your question according to your individual ability to understand and even whether you have been good or bad (K‘neged Arba‘ah Vanim). Maybe we should have begun to have this discussion in advance, when the month of Pesach and the Biblical year actually began two weeks ago, on the established new-moon holiday of Rosh Chodesh, but there is an advantage to deferring it until now with the symbols of Pesach, Matzah and Maror before us (Yachol meRosh Chodesh).
No one wants to be a slave. But some of you can understand that, worse than being a slave to another human being is to worship an idol. Our patriarchs came from people who did just that, but God freed them from the bondage of idolatry, which, as we said, is even worse than enslavement (Mitechilah). And God explained to Abraham what would happen to his descendants, how they would be enslaved to a foreign king, but also when our bondage would come to an end (Baruch Shomer). And tonight we remember not only those events but also the fact that whenever an enemy tries to destroy us, God will come to our rescue (V’hee She‘amdah).
So now let us learn, as our Rabbis learn, every word and implication in the Haggadah of the Torah’s account of our idolatrous origins, our degradation in Egypt, and our liberation by God with all sorts of wondrous miracles (Tsey Ul‘mad), especially the Plagues against the Egyptians (Eilu Eser Makkot), but also the many positive Benefits that God has provided us along the way (Kama Ma‘alot)!
The great Rabban Gamaliel (Rabban Gamaliel) wanted to make sure that each of us understands the connection between the ancient practices of the holiday–Pesach, Matzah and Maror–and the events of the narrative we have just reviewed, especially because our Haggadah sometimes goes into such detail that we can forget the forest for the trees! And this also will prepare us for enjoying or remembering, as appropriate, the ceremonial foods that are displayed on the Seder Plate. Most importantly, we need to take away from the Haggadah the attitude that each and every one of us (B’chol Dor Vador), as we said at the beginning on Avadim Hayinu, was given his and her own personal freedom by God when He liberated our fathers and mothers from Egyptian slavery.
Therefore, each and every one of us should praise God with the Hallel for Yom Tov, even tonight redundantly before the Yom Tov service of tomorrow morning: God is exalted, yet He reached down and lifted us up when we needed it (Hallelu Avdey Adonai), and His liberation of us was so powerful that all of creation reacted to it (Betzeit Yisrael)!
All that we have reviewed leading up to our redemption from Egypt justifies an extraordinary second Kiddush for the Redemption of Pesach night (Asher G’alanu) to celebrate over a Second Cup of Wine (Borey Pri Hagafen). So, after this Kiddush, let us all wash our hands (Rachtzah), as we now usually do with the Rabbis in emulation of the Kohanim during the time of the Temple, and immediately recite the blessing for bread (Motzi) followed by the special blessing for the mitzvah of eating Unleavened Bread (Matzah) which accompanied the Pesach. We recite these over the top two matzot, the first one we come to (from the top) as usual and the second, broken one, which we come to next, to emphasize that our history of bondage and the destruction of the Temple and consequent suspension of the real Pesach temper our joy over being able to do everything else on the anniversary of our freedom.
Next, let us take the ceremonial food of Maror as the Bitter Herb that accompanied the Pesach that we once sacrificed and ate. We will keep the mood festive by attenuating the Bitter Herb with Charoset, thus observing the form of yet another appetizer and dip and sweetening the bitterness.
Finally, before we continue with The Meal, let us remember almost exactly how it was when the Temple stood at the time of Hillel and make a sandwich with two pieces of the remaining third, lower matzah as he did, except without the Pesach. So we will have a Hillel sandwich of Matzah and Maror only, as a remembrance of the Temple.
We begin The Meal (Shulchan Orech) on a note of hope by eating a whole hard-boiled egg in salt water. At the same time we emulate the Chagigah on the Seder Plate symbolized by the Roasted Egg. The Chagigah was the festival peace offering, brought by individuals and families, that provided the bulk of the meat eaten at the Pesach meal during Temple times. It was consumed directly before the eating of the Pesach. The egg itself is symbolic in Jewish practice of rebirth and eternal life. At the beginning of our Meal, that hope symbolically grows out of the tears of suffering symbolized by the Salt Water. It is the joy of one who has been chastened and, familiar with life, loves His Creator and Redeemer.
As we came full circle in our answers to the children’s question, so at the end of The Meal do we come full circle from Matzah to Matzah. We conclude with the Afikoman (Tzafun), which the children have helped us to protect and are themselves holding onto for safekeeping (and any ancillary benefits that may accrue therefrom): it is the last item we eat, even after a sweet dessert, to get us back into the Seder mood. As the broken piece of middle matzah was subtracted from the Seder Plate, our restoring and eating it is an act of wholeness out of fragmentation. And also, we might imagine, as we eat the Afikoman, we are eating the Pesach, as it would have been the last item we ate in the original Pesach Meal.
As always, we conclude our festive meal with the Torah-ordained blessings after the meal (Barech), acknowledging God as the Sustainer of all, as the Grantor of our Land from which sustenance stems, and as Restorer of Jerusalem, scene of the real Pesach during Temple times. With the Rabbis we confirm God’s goodness, thereby justifying our ensuing messianic appeals to Him as the Merciful One, whose faithful patriarchs plead our merit, and whom His beloved David champions as a Tower of salvation. At the same time, God transcends the world He has created: may He imbue it with the peace of His own being. Indeed, God will not fail to provide all who are in need with sustenance to support them. We drink the Third Cup of Wine (Borey Pri Hagafen) over which we have recited this highest festive Birkat Hamazon of the year.
On the anniversary night of redemption, expectations are high, so we open the door and fill a cup of wine (Kos Eliahu) to demonstrate our readiness to welcome the precursor of redemption Eliahu Hanavi (“Elijah the Prophet”). He will identify Mashiach ben David (“Messiah son of David”), whose ancestor King David never shrank from facing his enemies, nor do we (Shefoch Chamatcha El Hagoyim: “Pour out Your wrath upon the nations who do not know You…”), and so we sing his song of welcome.
With the warmth and hope radiated around the Cup of Elijah, we turn to the continuation of Hallel (Hallel), which we began before the meal. While we are inspired by our own redemption from Egypt, it is truly God’s victory and one that can be shared by any nation that renounces idolatry (Lo Lanu Adonai). Indeed all can depend upon God in the time of greatest need (Ahavti Kee Yishmah). God’s perpetual reliability deserves the praise of all nations (Hallelu Et Adonai Kol Goyim). All classes of Israel and all peoples should join in this acknowledgement and direct their hopes for salvation and prosperity to the Eternal (Hodu Ladonai Kee Tov). We close Hallel much as we do on Festival mornings (Yeha!elucha Adonai), although not with the formal blessing signature which we defer to the morning, and pick up some other of the Festival morning favorites (Hallel Hagadol and Nishmat Kol Chai), which advance us, expectantly, to the position in tomorrow morning’s congregation anticipating the formal Call to Worship (Nishmat Kol Chai is the last substantive prayer before “Barechu…”). But for now, still gathered around the Seder table, let us take advantage of our unique position by concluding this extended Hallel of praise over a Fourth and Final Cup of Wine (Borey Pri Hagafen).
For the Third and Fourth Cups of Wine, which were consumed after Birkat Hamazon, we recite the blessing for occasional drink (Al Hagefen V’al Pri Hagefen).
The Seder is concluded (Nirtzah) with a piyyut (poem) (Chasal Siddur Pesach) which expresses our hope that just as we have been able to complete the Seder without the actual Pesach, so may we merit the performance of the actual Pesach next year in Jerusalem (Lashanah Haba‘ah Birushalayim).
FROM THE TORAH
FIRST YOM TOV DAY OF PESACH
The Night of the Pesach
SACRIFICE OF PESACH
Moses announces to all the Elders of Israel to proceed with the taking of lambs for their families and to slaughter the Pesach. He also instructs them to dip a bunch of hyssop in the blood that is collected in the basin and apply it to the lintel and the two doorposts, “and none of you shall go outside of the door of his house until the morning” (Exodus 12:22)! For when the Eternal goes through to attack the Egyptians and He sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, He will protect the entrance of that house by not allowing the destroyer to enter your houses to strike down.
Observe this as a statute for yourself and for your children forever. Preserve this service when you come to the Land that the Eternal has promised to give you. When your children ask you to explain it, tell them that it is the Sacrifice of Pesach to the Eternal for His having protected the houses of the Children of Israel in Egypt when He attacked the Egyptians and spared our houses.
The people bow in homage. The Children of Israel do what the Eternal commanded Moses and Aaron.
THE ETERNAL STRIKES
“Now it comes to pass, at midnight, that the Eternal strikes down every firstborn in the land of Egypt: from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne to the firstborn of the captive who is in the dungeon and every firstborn of cattle” (Exodus 12:29). Pharaoh arises that night, and all of his servants and all of Egypt: there is a great cry throughout Egypt! For there is not a house without someone dead. Pharaoh summons Moses and Aaron in the night and says to them, “Get up, get out from the midst of my people, you and the Children of Israel: Go, worship the Eternal as you have demanded” (Exodus 12:31)! Take your flocks and your herds and begone! And may you bless me also.
The Egyptians are desperate to get the Israelite people to leave the land before “all of us are dead” (Exodus 12:33)! Accordingly, the Israelites pack up their dough before it has leavened, their kneading bowls wrapped in their garments on their shoulder. As Moses had encouraged them to do, the Children of Israel borrow from the Egyptians gold and silver implements (cf. Exodus 11:2) and clothing (cf. Exodus 3:22), which the Egyptians are willing to lend them and which amount to their plundering Egypt.
EXODUS OF THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL
The Children of Israel travel from Raamses to Sukkot, approximately 600,000 men on foot, besides children, along with a large diverse group of others, and flocks and herds, very much livestock. They bake the dough which they have brought out of Egypt into cakes of unleavened bread, as they were cast out and therefore had no time to wait for the dough to be leavened. They also did not prepare other food for themselves.
The Children of Israel dwelled in Egypt for 430 years. At the end of that time, to the very day, all of the hosts of the Eternal came out from the land of Egypt. That night of the Eternal’s vigilance to bring them out of the land of Egypt, is a night of vigilance for the Eternal by all the Children of Israel throughout their generations.
RULES OF THE PESACH
The Eternal explains to Moses and Aaron the legal requirements for eating the Pesach. It is restricted to a native Israelite, or to a non-native all of whose males are circumcised. In the case of a purchased slave, if you circumcise him then he may eat of it. Other non-natives, including those who are merely sojourners or hired laborers, may not eat of it.
All of the Pesach that you eat must be consumed in a single house; do not take any of it outside of that house; and you may not break a bone of it.
The entire Congregation of Israel must participate in it. If a non-native who sojourns with you wishes to participate in the Pesach, then circumcise all of his males and he will be allowed to offer it. He shall be considered as a native of the Land. The same rules shall apply to both the native and to him.
Thus all of the Children of Israel comply with what the Eternal commanded Moses and Aaron. For on that very day the Eternal brought the Children of Israel out of the land of Egypt by their hosts.
Maftir for the First and Second Yom Tov Days of Pesach
Pesach and Matzot for Seven Days
On the fourteenth day of the first month is Pesach for the Eternal, and beginning on the fifteenth day there is a festival for seven days on which Matzot (Unleavened Bread) is eaten. The first of the seven days is a holy convocation; do not perform work of service. Bring a fire offering, a burnt offering, for the Eternal: two bulls of the herd, one ram, and seven year-old lambs without blemish, and their meal offering of fine flour mixed with oil, three-tenths of a measure for the bull and two-tenths of a measure for the ram and one-tenth of a measure for each of the seven lambs. Bring also one goat as a sin offering to seek atonement for you. Bring these on each of the seven days: food, a fire offering of pleasant aroma for the Eternal in addition to the regular burnt offering which is brought every morning and its libation. The seventh day shall be a holy convocation for you: do not perform work of service.
SECOND YOM TOV DAY OF PESACH
The Pattern of Sacred Times
PATTERN OF SANCTIFICATION
The Eternal explains to Moses that a newborn ox or sheep or goat remains with its mother for the first seven days of its life. From the eighth day onward it is acceptable as a fire offering to the Eternal. However, you may not slaughter an ox or a sheep with its offspring on the same day.
When you make a sacrifice of thanksgiving to the Eternal, you sacrifice it for your acceptance. It must be eaten on the same day; nothing of it may remain until the morning. I am the Eternal.
Preserve and fulfill My commandments. Do not profane My holy Name, but let Me be sanctified in the midst of the Children of Israel. I am the Eternal, who sanctifies you, who is bringing you out of the land of Egypt to be your God. I am the Eternal.
The Eternal tells Moses to advise the Children of Israel regarding His appointed times:
For six days you shall do your work, but the seventh day is a complete Sabbath (Shabbat Shabbaton), a holy convocation. Do no work. It is a Sabbath to the Eternal in all of your settlements.
PESACH AND UNLEAVENED BREAD
The following also are appointed times of the Eternal, holy convocations which you shall declare at their appointed time:
On the fourteenth day of the first month, at twilight, there is Pesach for the Eternal, and on the fifteenth day there is the festival of Matzot (Unleavened Bread) for the Eternal: you shall eat unleavened bread for seven days. The first of the seven days shall be a holy convocation for you: you shall do no work of service. Throughout the seven days you shall bring fire offerings to the Eternal. The seventh day shall be a holy convocation: you shall do no work of service.
The Eternal tells Moses to advise the Children of Israel regarding the grain harvest:
When you come to the Land which I am giving to you and you reap its harvest, you shall bring to the Kohen the first Sheaf (Omer) of your harvest. Eat no bread or parched ear or fresh grain until the very day that you bring this offering to your God. The Kohen shall wave the Sheaf before the Eternal for your acceptance on the morrow of the day of rest. On that day you shall provide a year-old lamb without blemish for a burnt offering to the Eternal. Its meal offering shall be two-tenths of a measure of fine flour mixed with oil, a fire offering to the Eternal of pleasant aroma, and its libation shall be a quarter of a hin of wine. This is an everlasting statute throughout your generations in all of your settlements.
You count from the morrow of the day of rest, from the day when you bring the Sheaf of waving, seven complete weeks. Then, on the morrow of the seventh week, count a fiftieth day and bring thereon a new meal offering to the Eternal. You shall declare on that very day a holy convocation for you. You shall do no work of service. It is an everlasting statute in all of your settlements throughout your generations.
On that day, from your settlements bring two loaves of bread as a wave offering: two-tenths of a measure of fine flour shall they be and baked leavened, first fruits for the Eternal. Bring with the bread seven year-old lambs without blemish, one bull of the herd, and two rams, as burnt offerings to the Eternal, and their meal offering and their libations, a fire offering of pleasant aroma for the Eternal. You shall provide one male goat for a sin offering and two year-old lambs for a sacrifice of well-being offerings. The Kohen shall wave them as a wave offering before the Eternal along with the bread of first fruits, which shall be holy to the Eternal for the Kohen along with the two lambs.
When you reap the harvest of your land, do not wholly reap the corner of your field, and do not gather the leftovers of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and for the stranger. I, the Eternal, am your God.
THE SEVENTH MONTH
The Eternal tells Moses to advise the Children of Israel regarding other holy convocations:
On the first day of the seventh month, you shall have a day of rest, announced by Teruah (Blast of a Horn), a holy convocation. You shall do no work of service. You shall bring a fire offering to the Eternal.
But, says the Eternal to Moses, the tenth day of this seventh month shall be Yom Hakippurim (The Day of Atonement), a holy convocation for you, on which “you shall afflict your selves” (Leviticus 23:27) and bring a fire offering to the Eternal. As it is a day of atonement before the Eternal your God, you shall not do any work on it, it is a complete Sabbath (Shabbat Shabbaton) for you. Indeed any soul that is not afflicted on this same day shall be cut off from its people; I shall cause anyone who does work on this day to be lost from among his people. You shall not do any work, as an everlasting statute, throughout your generations in all of your settlements, beginning on the ninth day of the month in the evening, from evening to evening shall you observe your day of rest.
The Eternal advises Moses to speak further to the Children of Israel:
Beginning on the fifteenth day of this seventh month, when you gather in the produce of the Land, you shall observe the festival of Sukkot (Booths) to the Eternal for seven days. The first day is a holy convocation; you shall do no work of service. You shall take for yourselves the fruit of a splendid tree, branches of palm trees, a bough of a leafy tree, and willows of the brook, to rejoice before the Eternal your God for these seven days. It is an annual observance, an everlasting statute throughout your generations. In addition, you shall dwell in booths throughout the seven days, every native in Israel, so that future generations will know that I caused the Children of Israel to dwell in booths when I brought them out from the land of Egypt, I, the Eternal, your God. Throughout the seven days you shall present a fire offering to the Eternal.
Then, on the eighth day you shall have a holy convocation of Atzeret (Conclusion); on it you shall do no work of service, and you shall bring a fire offering to the Eternal.
SUMMARY OF APPOINTED TIMES
These, then, are the appointed times of the Eternal, which you shall declare, holy convocations, to bring a fire offering to the Eternal: burnt offering and meal offering, sacrifice and libations, each on its day, besides the Sabbath offerings to the Eternal and besides your gifts and vows and besides all of your voluntary offerings which you bring to the Eternal. Thus Moses explains the appointed times of the Eternal to the Children of Israel.
Maftir for the First and Second Yom Tov Days of Pesach
[See First Day of Yom Tov.]
FROM THE PROPHETS
Haftarah for the First Yom Tov Day of Pesach
Joshua 3:5-7; 5:2-6:1,27
Transition Under Joshua
Joshua bids the people be sanctified in anticipation of wonders that the Eternal will perform in their midst on the morrow. In accordance with Joshua’s command, the Kohanim lift the Ark of the Covenant and position themselves at the head of the people. The Eternal assures Joshua that He will magnify him so that the people will regard him as they had regarded Moses before him.
The Eternal then commands Joshua to prepare knives of flint and circumcise the Children of Israel in anticipation of Pesach. The generation that left Egypt had to be circumcised at the time of their departure, but they had died during the forty years in the wilderness because of their failure to follow the word of the Eternal. Now their descendants, who were born in the wilderness, were left uncircumcised, so it was time to circumcise all of them as had been done to their fathers in Egypt. This is done at Giv’at Ha-Aralot (“The Hill of Foreskins”), and the men remain in their places in the camp until they are healed. The Eternal says to Joshua, “‘This day I have rolled away (galoti) the reproach of Egypt from upon you,’ and the place is named Gilgal to this day” (Joshua 5:9).
While they are in Gilgal, the Children of Israel observe the Pesach on the fourteenth day of the month in the evening in the Plains of Jericho. They begin to eat of the produce of the Land on the day after the Pesach: unleavened bread (matzot) and parched ears. The manna ceases on the day that they eat of the Land’s produce; it does not return, and the people eat of the produce of the Land of Canaan that year.
When Joshua is in the vicinity of Jericho, he sees a man standing before him with his sword drawn in his hand. When Joshua asks the man if he is friend or foe, the man identifies himself as the Captain of the Army of the Eternal: “Now I have arrived” (Joshua 5:14)! he says. Joshua bows down with his face to the ground and asks the visitor to speak to him. The Captain of the Army of the Eternal says to Joshua, “Take off your sandal from upon your foot, for the place upon which you stand is holy” (Joshus 5:15; cf. Exodus 3:5). So did Joshua comply.
Jericho is besieged by the Children of Israel. The Eternal is with Joshua, who is known throughout the Land.
Haftarah for the Second Yom Tov Day of Pesach
II Kings 23:1-9,21-25
Josiah Removes Idolatry
King Josiah orders all of the Elders of Judah and Jerusalem to be assembled before him. He ascends to the House of the Eternal and reads in the hearing of all of the people, including the Kohanim and the Prophets, all the words of the Scroll of the Covenant which was found in the House of the Eternal. Standing upon the platform (amud), the King executes the Covenant before the Eternal to follow His commandments with a full heart and a full soul in accordance with the words that are written in this book, and the people affirm the Covenant.
Then the King orders Hilkiah the Kohen Gadol (High Priest), the Associate Kohanim, and the Guards of the Entrance, to remove from the Temple of the Eternal all of the objects that had been made for Baal and for the Asherah, and for all of the host of heaven, and he burns them outside of Jerusalem in the fields of Kidron and takes their ashes to Beth El. He invalidates the idolatrous priests whom kings of Judah had ordained to offer to the sun, moon and stars, and all the host of heaven, in places of worship throughout the cities of Judah and around Jerusalem.
He removes the Asherah from the House of the Eternal and burns it outside of Jerusalem at the Brook of Kidron, then grinds it into dust, which he spreads over common graves. He demolishes the stations of sacred prostitutes that were in the House of the Eternal at the place where the women decorated stations for the Asherah.
He recalls all of the Kohanim who had officiated at the places of worship throughout the cities of Judah and at the entrance of the gate of Joshua, governor of the city, which is on the left hand as one enters the gate of the city. He invalidates those places of worship, and he does not allow their Kohanim to officiate at the Altar of the Eternal in Jerusalem. However, they are allowed to eat the unleavened bread together with their brethren.
Then the king charges all of the people: “Observe Pesach to the Eternal your God as is written in this Scroll of the Covenant” (II Kings 23:21)! Such a Pesach had not been observed, since the days of the Judges who ruled Israel and all of the days of the Kings of Israel and the Kings of Judah, as was observed in the eighteenth year of King Josiah in Jerusalem. Moreover Josiah did away with ghosts and idols, teraphim and other detestable things that had been seen in the Land of Judah and in Jerusalem, in order to support the words of the Torah that are written in the Scroll which Hilkiah the priest found in the House of the Eternal. Never before was there a king like Josiah, who returned to the Eternal “with all of his heart, with all of his soul and with all of his might” (II Kings 23:25; cf. Deuteronomy 6:5), in accordance with all of the Torah of Moses, nor has any like him arisen after him (cf. Deuteronomy 34:10 ff.).
Shabbat Chol Hamoed Pesach
THE MEGILLAH OF SONG OF SONGS
The greatest of songs,
the Song of Songs,
belonging to Solomon:
BELOVED MOST ADMIRED AND DESIRED
Let him give me of his kisses—
for your love is better than wine;
your scent makes maidens love you!
Draw me after you, let us run—
were the king to bring me into his chambers,
our joy and happiness would still be in you,
we would remember your love above wine—
rightly do they love you!
I have been darkened by the sun,
O daughters of Jerusalem,
compelled by my brothers
to guard their vineyards,
thereby neglecting my own.
So tell me, love of my life,
where you shepherd,
where you lie down at noon,
for why should I be hidden from you
among the flocks of others?
If it is not known to you,
most beautiful of women,
venture out in the footsteps of the flock,
and pasture your kids
where the shepherds encamp.
I imagine you, my beloved,
as my very own mare
among the chariots of Pharaoh,
adorned with gold and silver,
your scent extending
as far as the king commands.
My beloved is my very own bundle of myrrh,
lodging between my breasts,
a cluster of henna
in the vineyards of Ein Gedi.
Most beautiful are you, my beloved;
your eyes are doves.
Handsome are you, my beloved,
and my pleasure.
Our couch is luxuriant;
the beams of our house are cedars,
cypresses our roof.
I am a rose of Sharon,
a lily of the valleys.
As a lily among thorns,
thus is my beloved among women.
As an apple among trees of the wood,
thus is my beloved among men.
Under him is my pleasure,
his fruit sweet to my taste,
his left hand under my head,
his right hand embracing me:
I am lovesick.
I adjure you,
O daughters of Jerusalem,
not to frustrate love,
but to allow it its pleasure.
COME DOWN TO BE WITH ME
The voice of my beloved approaches,
leaping over hills like a gazelle.
Now he stands outside our house,
looking for me through the windows:
Arise, my beloved, and join me,
for the rains of winter are past,
given way to the blossoming of trees,
the songs of birds, the ripening of figs,
and the sweet scent of vines.
Come down from your crags of concealment;
show me your face, let me hear your voice,
for your voice is pleasing,
and your face is beautiful.
Catch those foxes that invade our vineyards
when they are in blossom—
but my beloved is mine,
and I am his,
who shepherds among the lilies—
before the day is done
and the shadows are gone,
be you like the gazelle, my beloved,
upon the steep hills!
I FIND MY BELOVED AND BRING HIM HOME
At night, from my bed,
I seek my beloved,
but I find him not.
I arise to search for him
through the markets and plazas of the city,
but I find him not.
I am found by the guards
who patrol the city:
Have you seen my beloved?
No, they continue their watch,
and then I find him!
I grasp him,
not letting him go,
until I bring him home,
to the room
where I was conceived.
I adjure you,
O daughters of Jerusalem,
not to frustrate love,
but to allow it its pleasure.
WED AS ROYALTY
Who is she,
emerging from the desert
in a column of dust,
in a bouquet of perfume,
secure in Solomon’s palanquin,
surrounded by sixty of Israel’s protectors?
King Solomon made it himself
from the wood of Lebanon,
with columns of silver,
coverings of gold,
and a seat of purple,
lined with love
by the daughters of Jerusalem.
Now go out and behold,
O daughters of Zion,
Solomon wearing the crown
which his mother made for him,
for the happy day of his wedding!
HE DESCRIBES HER BEAUTY
Most beautiful are you, my beloved:
your eyes are doves
peering modestly over your veil,
your hair streaming brightly
like the wool of sheep descending Mount Gilead,
your teeth like the flock sheared and bathed,
each one perfectly matching.
Your lips are like a scarlet thread,
your mouth a comfort,
your pink cheeks like a pomegranate
hidden within your veil,
your neck alert
like the Tower of David.
Your breasts are like twin gazelles
that pasture among the lilies.
But before the day’s shadows have fled,
I shall retreat to the fragrant hill.
You are beautiful, my beloved,
with no blemish at all.
Come with me from Lebanon, my bride;
look out from the heights
of Amana, Senir and Hermon,
from the dens of lions and leopards.
Your love has conquered me,
my sister, my bride,
even only one of your eyes,
only one of your charms.
Your loving is sweeter than wine,
your scent more fragrant than any perfume.
Your lips drip with honey, O bride,
milk and honey are under your tongue;
the scent of your robe
is like the scent of Lebanon.
My sister, my bride,
is a locked garden, a hidden spring,
with sprouts of a multitude
of fragrant plants,
a fountain of fresh water
trickling from Lebanon.
Be roused, O winds,
from north and from south,
blow upon my garden,
spread its perfumes,
to bring my beloved to his garden
for him to enjoy
its excellent fruits!
I am coming to my garden,
my sister, my bride,
to pluck my fragrant flowers,
to eat my honeycomb and my date,
to drink my wine with my milk.
Eat, O lovers, and drink:
be drunk with love!
MY BELOVED IN MY DREAM
I am asleep, but my heart is awake.
My beloved’s voice is at the door:
Open for me, my sister, my bride,
my perfect dove,
for my head is full of dew,
my locks with the drops of night.
I have already undressed,
how shall I cover myself?
I have washed my feet,
how shall I soil them?
My beloved reaches through the window,
my stomach quavers,
I rise to let him in,
my hands, my fingers,
drop myrrh upon the bolt.
I open the door,
but my beloved has disappeared,
I myself away
with the sound of his speech;
I seek him out, calling to him,
but he does not reply.
The watchmen who patrol the city find me:
they beat me and lift my veil from upon me,
those guardians of the walls!
I adjure you,
O daughters of Jerusalem,
if you find my beloved,
that I am lovesick!
SHE EXTOLS HER BELOVED AND DELIGHTS IN HIM
How is yours more beloved than another,
most beautiful among women?
How is yours more beloved than another,
that you thus adjure us?
My beloved is glowingly ruddy,
he stands out among the many,
with the brightness of gold
under his raven’s dark locks.
His eyes sparkle like doves
watered and bathed in milk,
set perfectly in their place,
his cheeks like a fragrant garden,
his lips flowers dripping myrrh,
his arms cylinders of gold,
his chest a plate of ivory,
his legs pillars of marble;
altogether his impression
is imposing as the cedars of Lebanon.
His mouth is sweetness
and altogether a delight.
This is my dear beloved,
O daughters of Jerusalem!
Where has your beloved gone,
O most beautiful of women?
Let us look for him with you!
My beloved has gone down to his garden,
to enjoy its fragrant beds
and graze among its lilies.
SHE IS CHERISHED BY HER BELOVED
Your beauty, my beloved,
is as imposing as Tirzah or Jerusalem,
it overtakes me!
Turn your eyes away from me,
I cannot bear your beauty,
your hair like a flock of goats
winding down from Gilead,
your perfect teeth
like a flock of bathed ewes,
your pink cheeks like a pomegranate
hidden within your veil.
Many are the queens and concubines,
but one is my perfect dove,
unique to her mother:
all of the other maidens
can but admire her!
Who is this
who appears as the dawn,
as lovely as the moon,
as intense as the sun,
as imposing as the stars?
To the garden of nuts
I went down,
to see if the vine blossomed,
if the pomegranates were in bloom,
and before I knew it
my spirit lifted me
upon a noble charioteer!
HER PASSIONATE DANCE
Turn, turn, O Shulammite,
that we may see you!
What shall you see
in this Shulammite
as she dances
about the camp?
How beautiful are your
the turning of your thighs
with their hoops
is a work of artists,
your navel a perfect bowl for wine,
your belly a heap of wheat
surrounded by lilies,
your breasts like twin gazelles,
your neck like a tower of ivory,
your eyes as pools in Cheshbon,
your nose like a tower of Lebanon
looking towards Damascus,
the head upon you like Mount Carmel,
a king would be captured in your tresses!
How beautiful you are,
how fit for the pleasures of love:
you stand like a palm tree,
your breasts are its fruits;
I would climb up
and grab hold of them
and enjoy the apple scent
of the breath of your mouth!
Yes, it flows directly to my beloved
through my sleeping lips.
I am my beloved’s,
is upon me.
SHE INVITES HIM FOR A NIGHT OF LOVE
Come outside with me,
to spend a fragrant night,
to see if the vine has blossomed,
if the blossom has opened,
if the pomegranates have flowered.
There I shall give you my love,
where all the fragrances about us
I have reserved for you.
MY LOVER, MY BROTHER
Were you my brother,
having shared with me
my mother’s breasts,
I could kiss you in public
I could bring you home
and learn to make you
from the juice
of my pomegranate—
his left hand under my head
and his right hand embracing me!
I adjure you,
O daughters of Jerusalem:
hinder not the pleasure of love!
LOVE IS ABSOLUTE
Who is this,
coming up from the desert,
leaning upon her beloved?
It is I,
who stirred your love
under the apple tree,
where your mother
labored and delivered you.
Place me as a seal upon your heart,
as a seal upon your arm,
for love and jealousy its companion
the very fire of the Eternal,
and without price!
AS A YOUNG WOMAN MATURES
We have a young sister,
not yet mature,
but how can we protect her
when men begin to speak to her?
If she were a wall or a door,
we could build a barrier for protection.
But she says:
I am a wall
and can take care of myself.
I will bring you
peace of mind.
Solomon’s vineyard is large,
watched over by many,
each of whom brings in
a thousand pieces of silver.
While my vineyard
can be watched
entirely by me.
You can have your vineyard, Solomon,
with its thousands to you
and its hundreds to your watchers.
Now, my sister,
the men are beginning to notice you.
Quickly, my beloved,
like a gazelle,
or a hart,
over the fragrant hills!
FROM THE TORAH
MOSES IS REASSURED
As the Eternal had told Moses, “I shall not go up in your midst” (Exodus 33:3), “but now My angel shall go before you” (Exodus 32:34), Moses asks (cf. Exodus 33:7-11), in effect: Then whom will You send with me to bring up this people (Exodus 33:12a; cf. Exodus 33:2)? Moses acknowledges that the Eternal has confirmed revelation of His Name to him (Exodus 33:12b; cf. Exodus 6:2ff.) and that he has found favor in His sight (Exodus 33:12c), but he implores the Eternal: “Make known to me Your plan so that I may continue to know you and thereby continue to find favor in Your sight” (Exodus 33:13a)!
Then Moses adds a rejoinder to earlier words of the Eternal. When the Eternal disclosed to Moses the sin of the golden calf, He said to him, “Go, descend, for your people, whom you brought up from the land of Egypt, has corrupted” (Exodus 32:7). Now Moses concludes his request for divine clarification by insisting, notwithstanding, “And see that this nation is Your people” (Exodus 33:13b)!
Thereupon the Eternal reassures Moses on both points, “My Face shall go, and I grant it to you” (Exodus 33:14). Moses responds that only if Your Face shall go, should He bring them up from their current place (Exodus 33:15). Moreover, it would be known thereby that both “I and Your people” have found favor in Your sight, for “when You go with us,” we—”I and Your people”—are thereby distinguished “from every other people that is upon the face of the earth” (Exodus 33:16)!
The Eternal again assures Moses that He will grant him his wish and that he retains divine favor and acquaintance (Exodus 33:17). Moses responds, “Show me Your Grave Presence (Kavod)” (Exodus 33:18). “I can show you My Goodness, I can declare to you My Name (referred to herein as ‘the Eternal’), and I can demonstrate My Favor by compassion, but no living person can see ‘My Face’” (Exodus 33:19-20). The Eternal explains: “You can take your place ‘with Me’ in the cleft of a rock, and as ‘My Grave Presence passes by…I shall put My hand over you…then, when I remove My hand, you shall see My Back, but My Face shall not be seen’” (Exodus 33:21-23).
The Eternal tells Moses to “carve two tablets of stone like the first ones, and I shall write upon the tablets the words which were on the first tablets that you shattered” (Exodus 34:1). “Then, in the morning, you shall go up to Mount Sinai and be present to Me there upon the top of the Mountain. Let no one else come up with you, not even be seen in all the Mountain, and let no flock or herd be pastured at the foot of the Mountain.” So does Moses, taking up with him the two tablets of stone in his hand.
The Eternal Descends
The Eternal descends in the cloud and stands with him there, proclaiming the Name of the Eternal. The Eternal passes over his face and declares, “The Eternal, the Eternal, God compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness and truth, preserving lovingkindness for the thousandth, forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin, but without acquitting, visiting the iniquity of fathers upon children and upon children’s children to the third generation and to the fourth generation” (Exodus 34:6-7; cf. Exodus 33:18-23).
Moses Requests Divine Presence
Moses quickly bows down to the ground and prays, “If indeed I have found favor in Your sight, O Lord, let the Lord go in our midst,” then offering the very reason of the Eternal’s previous demurral (cf. Exodus 33:3) as cause to grant his request for reconsideration: “For it is a stiff-necked people,” and therefore he asks directly, “Forgive our iniquity and our sin, and accept us as an inheritance” (Exodus 34:9)!
The Eternal Outlines His Covenant
He says: “I hereby establish a Covenant. I shall perform before the people, in whose midst you are, awesome wonders that have not been created before. Observe well what I command you this day!” (Exodus 34:10-11a) —
- Do not make a molten god. I am expelling from before you the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. Do not worship another, for the Eternal is a jealous God. Take care not to make a covenant with the Land’s inhabitants that you may encounter, but break down their altars, shatter their pillars, and cut down their idols, lest they become a snare in your midst and you make a covenant with them and sacrifice to their gods and accept their invitation to eat of their sacrifices, or you marry your sons to their daughters and your sons are drawn to their wives’ gods. (Exodus 34:11b-17)
- Observe the Festival of Pesach. For seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, as I commanded you, for the Festival of the Month of Aviv, as in that month you went out from Egypt. (Exodus 34:18)
- All that opens the womb is Mine. Sanctify the firstborn males of ox and sheep. Redeem with a lamb the firstborn of an ass, otherwise break its neck. Redeem every firstborn of your sons. Let them not appear before Me empty-handed. (Exodus 34:19-20)
- Six days shall you work. On the seventh day shall you rest. You shall rest in ploughing and in harvest. (Exodus 34:21)
- Observe for yourself the Festival of Weeks, first fruit of the wheat harvest. (Exodus 34:22a)
- Observe the Festival of Ingathering, at the completion of the year. (Exodus 34:22b)
- Three times in the year shall all of your males appear before the Lord, the Eternal, the God of Israel. For I will drive out nations from before you and expand your territory, so that no one will covet your property when you go up to appear before the Eternal your God. (Exodus 34:23-24)
- You shall not offer the blood of My sacrifice when leavened bread is there, and the sacrifice of the Festival of Pesach shall not remain overnight until morning. (Exodus 34:25)
- The prime quality of the first fruits of your Land shall you bring to the House of the Eternal your God. (Exodus 34:26a)
- Do not boil a kid in the milk of its mother. (Exodus 34:26b)
Maftir for Shabbat Chol Hamoed Pesach
Bring a fire offering, a burnt offering, for the Eternal: two bulls of the herd, one ram, and seven year-old lambs without blemish, and their meal offering of fine flour mixed with oil, three-tenths of a measure for the bull and two-tenths of a measure for the ram and one-tenth of a measure for each of the seven lambs. Bring also one goat as a sin offering to seek atonement for you. Bring these on each of the seven days: food, a fire offering of pleasant aroma for the Eternal in addition to the regular burnt offering which is brought every morning and its libation. The Seventh Day shall be a holy convocation for you: do not perform work of service.
FROM THE PROPHETS
Haftarah for Shabbat Chol Hamoed Pesach
Life to Dry Bones
The hand of the Eternal was upon me, whereupon He took me out with the breath of the Eternal and put me down in the midst of a valley that was full of bones. As He took me over and around them, I could see that there were very many over the valley and that they were very dry. “Son of man,” He says to me, “Shall these bones live?” I reply, “O Lord God, You know!” He then called me to prophesy over them and say to them, “O dry bones, hear the word of the Eternal!”
“Thus says the Lord God to these dry bones: I shall put breath into you and you shall live! Sinews and flesh shall I place upon you, with skin shall I cover you, I shall put breath into you, you shall live and know that I am the Eternal.” When I thus prophesied as I was commanded, there was the sound of bones joining together. I saw sinews and flesh be upon them, skin laid over them, but no breath was in them. Then He bid me, “Prophesy, O son of man, prophesy to the wind: ‘Thus says the Lord God: Come, O breath, from the four winds, and breathe life into these slain!’”
When I thus prophesied as He commanded me, breath came into them and they came to life. They stood upon their feet as a very great army, and He said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the entirety of the House of Israel, who say, ‘Our bones are dried up, our hope is lost, we are destroyed!’ Therefore prophesy and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I shall open your graves and raise you up from them, O My people, bring you to the Land of Israel, and you shall know thereby that I am the Eternal! I shall put My spirit into you, and you shall live. I shall place you upon your Land, and you shall know that I, the Eternal, have spoken and acted, as the Eternal attests.’”
SECOND DAY OF CHOL HAMOED PESACH
Do not treat “My people, the poor with you” (Exodus 22:24), as a creditor would normally treat a debtor. Charge no interest when you lend him money. If he gives you his garment in pledge, return it to him before the sun sets because it is the only covering for his skin. If he cries out to me, I will listen because I am compassionate.
Do not curse God.
Do not curse a leader among your people.
Do not be late in offering of the fullness of your fields or of your wine or oil.
Give to Me the firstborn of your sons. This also applies to your cattle and to your flock: for seven days it shall be with its mother, on the eighth day you shall give it to Me.
Do not eat torn flesh of an animal in the field; throw it to the dogs. You shall be holy people to Me.
Do not utter an unfounded report.
Do not join with the guilty to be a malicious witness.
Do not follow a multitude to do evil.
Do not pervert your testimony in a dispute to favor a party because he is mighty or because he is weak.
If you encounter the ox or ass of your enemy wandering, you must return it to him.
If you see the ass of your enemy lying under its burden, you must aid him in freeing it regardless of how you feel towards one who hates you.
Do not pervert laws which are meant to protect the powerless in their disputes. Keep far from a falsehood, which might lead to the death of the innocent and the righteous, for I will not justify the wicked. Do not accept a bribe, which blinds the clear-sighted and suppresses the candor of the honest. Do not oppress a stranger, for you know the plight of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt.
Farm your land for six years, then let it rest in the seventh. The needy of your people may eat from its produce during the seventh year; whatever they leave may be eaten by the beast of the field. The same applies to your vineyard and to your olive grove.
Do your work for six days, then observe a Sabbath on the seventh day, in order that your ox and your ass may rest, in order that your worker and the stranger may be refreshed.
Be careful to observe all that I say to you. Do not mention the name of other gods, let it not be heard upon your lips!
FESTIVAL OFFERINGS OF THE YEAR
Three times in the year shall you observe a Festival for Me. Keep the Festival of Matzot (“Unleavened Bread”) for seven days by eating unleavened bread as I commanded you (cf. Exodus 12:15), for the month of Aviv, when you went forth from Egypt, when no one should appear in My presence empty-handed; the festival of Katzir (“Reaping”), the first fruits’ harvest of what you have labored to sow in the field; and the festival of Asif (“Ingathering”), the last gathering of your labors from the field at the end of the year. All of your males shall appear before Me, the Lord, the Eternal, three times in the year.
Do not offer My blood sacrifice (cf. Deuteronomy 12:24 ff.) while there is unleavened bread present, and do not leave the fat of My festival sacrifice overnight until morning (cf. Exodus 12:10).
Bring the choicest of your first fruits to the House of the Eternal, your God.
Do not boil a kid in the milk of its mother.
[See Shabbat Chol Hamoed.]
THIRD DAY OF CHOL HAMOED PESACH
[See Shabbat Chol Hamoed.]
[See Shabbat Chol Hamoed.]
FOURTH DAY OF CHOL HAMOED PESACH
PESACH AS PRESCRIBED AND DEFERRED
In the Wilderness of Sinai, in the first month of the second year of their Exodus from the land of Egypt, the Eternal advises Moses that the Children of Israel should perform the Pesach at its appointed time: on the fourteenth day of the month at twilight. Moses duly advises them, and the Children of Israel observe it in accordance with all that the Eternal had commanded Moses.
But there are people who, because of their impurity from contact with a human corpse, cannot perform the Pesach on that day. They ask Moses and Aaron why, because of their impurity, they should be prevented from bringing the offering of the Eternal along with their fellow Israelites at its appointed time. Moses asks them to wait until he learns what the Eternal may command them.
The Eternal charges Moses to communicate to the Children of Israel His answer. Anyone who is impure from contact with a human corpse or who is far away when the time comes to perform the Pesach, both now and in the future, should do it on the fourteenth day at twilight of the second month. Eat it with matzot (unleavened bread) and merorim (bitter herbs), do not let any of it remain until morning, and let no bone of it be broken, in complete accordance with the law of the Pesach.
The soul of anyone ritually pure and not on a journey who fails to perform the Pesach shall be cut off from his people for neglecting to perform the offering of the Eternal at its appointed time. Such a person shall bear his sin.
A sojourner among you who would offer the Pesach to the Eternal must offer it in accordance with every rule of the Pesach (cf. Exodus 12:48). The law is the same for you, whether non-native or native of the country.
[See Shabbat Chol Hamoed.]
FROM TALMUD AND MIDRASH
Talmud Pesachim 116a
Two Kinds of Degradation
The Mishnah (Pesachim 10:4) requires that children be taught in response to the Four Questions “beginning with degradation (genut) and ending with the praiseworthy achievement of redemption (shevach).” That is clearly the order of our Haggadah of Pesach, beginning with Avadim Hayinu…, “We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt…,” as enslavement is generally regarded as a degraded condition.
The Gemara then provides us with an apparent disagreement between the 3rd-century sages Rav and Samuel: While Samuel identified Avadim Hayinu as the beginning degradation, Rav said that the beginning of degradation was Mitechilah Ovdey Avodat Gilulim Hayu Avoteinu…, “From the beginning our ancestors were idolators…,” that our degradation began even earlier than our enslavement in Egypt, as our father Abraham’s roots were in the degrading idolatry of his father Terach and the society around him! That position is recognized later in our Haggadah, beyond the Four Children and immediately following Yachol meRosh Chodesh (see “From the Haggadah of Pesach” above at: Mitechilah and Baruch Shomer).
Children, to whom these discussions are ostensibly directed, might be expected to recognize the physical enslavement of Egypt as degradation more readily than the spiritual idolatry of Aram (Abraham’s first homeland). But the words used for both conditions share the same Hebrew root, ayin-vet-dalet, which means “to serve.” The Hebrew word for “slave,” eved, also is used elsewhere in the Bible to mean “servant.” Rav uses the related word oved to mean “one who serves idols.” From the placement of his formula after the physical degradation of the eved, that is, the oved after the eved, we can recognize the linguistic nexus between them. Both are servants, both are slaves: one is in thrall of a person, the other in thrall of an idea.
The Haggadah then proceeds to present at the end of Maggid the antidote to both slavery and idolatry for Israel, at the very beginning of Hallel: Hallelu Avdey Adonai…, “Offer praise, O you servants of the Eternal…,” using a form of the root ayin-vet-dalet which could, out of context, be construed as either “slave” or “servant,” but here means “one who serves the Ultimate,” not a person, not an idol—the prescribed vocation of Israel, to be neither slaves nor even servants of any thing, person, value, idea, or deity, that is less than the Creator and Moral Guarantor of all.
Talmud Berachot 12b-13a
Remembering the Exodus in the Days of the Messiah
“Do not eat with it (the Pesach)
anything that is leavened;
for seven days you shall eat with it Matzot,
Unleavened Bread, bread of affliction,
as in haste you went out from the land of Egypt,
in order that you may remember
the day of your departure from Egypt,
all the days of your life.”
MISHNAH: We mention the Exodus from Egypt at night (as part of the Shema, Numbers 15:37-41, containing the commandment to wear tzitzit; Rashi: Even though night is not the time of wearing tzitzit…, still we recite it at night because it includes the Exodus from Egypt). Said Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah: Even though I appeared to be as old (and wise) as seventy years, I was not able to derive midrashically why the Exodus from Egypt should be recited at night, until Ben Zoma derived it from, “In order that you may remember the day of your departure from Egypt, all the days of your life.” Just “the days of your life” would mean just the days, but “all the days of your life” is meant to include the nights! But the Sages interpret the verse differently: “Just “the days of your life” would mean just this world, but “all the days of your life” is meant to include the days of the Messiah!
GEMARA: It is taught in a baraitha—Ben Zoma challenged the Sages: Should we actually mention the Exodus from Egypt in the days of the Messiah? For has it not already been said, “Behold the days are coming, says the Eternal, when they will no longer say, ‘As lives the Eternal, who brought up the Children of Israel from the land of Egypt,’ but ‘As lives the Eternal, who raised and brought the offspring of the House of Israel from the north land and from all of the lands to which I scattered them…’” (Jeremiah 23:7-8). They answered him: It does not mean that the Exodus from Egypt shall be removed from its place, but that the oppression by foreign powers shall be the general remembrance, while the Exodus from Egypt shall be a part of it! Similarly, when He says, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel shall be your name” (Genesis 35:10), it does not mean that the name Jacob shall be removed from its place, but that Israel shall be the overarching name, while the name Jacob shall be a part of it.
Pesikta d’Rav Kahana 7:3-4
The Creation of Midnight
“Now it comes to pass, at midnight,
that the Eternal strikes down
every firstborn in the land of Egypt…”
The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Moses: “I shall pass through the land of Egypt on that night, and I shall strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt…” (Exodus 12:12). But Moses went and said to Israel: “Thus says the Eternal: ‘At midnight I shall go forth in the midst of Egypt, and every firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die…’” (Exodus 11:4-5). The Holy One, blessed be He, thought: I have already declared My trust in Moses, in that I said about him that he is unlike any other Prophet, “My servant Moses is trusted throughout My household” (Numbers 12:7)! So should I make him appear as a liar? No: Just as Moses said “at midnight” (Exodus 11:4), so shall I, “at midnight” (Exodus 12:29)!
The question is asked: Who divided the night in half? Our Rabbis taught: Its Creator divided it. Not only do you have the night divided into half here, but also, “It was divided concerning them, night, he (Abraham) and his servants defeated them (the invading kings)…” (Genesis 14:15), which the Rabbis interpreted to mean, “The night was divided because of them…!” Rabbi Tanchuma explained: “Abraham your Father went out with Me at midnight, so I am going out with his children at midnight!” The Rabbis analyzed the verse further more precisely. “The night was divided because of them…“ (Genesis 14:15): Said the Holy One blessed be He, “Your Father went out with Me from last night until midnight, so subsequently I am going out with his children from midnight until the morning!”
Pesikta d’Rav Kahana 7:7
The Role of the Egyptian Firstborn
“Now it comes to pass, at midnight,
that the Eternal strikes down
every firstborn in the land of Egypt,
from the firstborn of Pharaoh,
who sits on his throne…”
From this we can infer that Pharaoh himself was a firstborn!
All of the firstborn of Egypt pleaded with their fathers to expel the Hebrews because of the threat of the tenth plague: After all, whatever Moses has predicted to occur against the Egyptians has come true. So if you do not let them go, all of our people will die! Their fathers, who each typically had ten children, responded that the loss of one firstborn child out of ten children would not necessitate their letting the Hebrews go.
So the firstborn concluded that their only hope would be Pharaoh, himself a firstborn. Perhaps he would have compassion for himself and thus expel the Hebrews. When confronted with their argument, Pharaoh became angry and declared, “I have said, ‘My life or the life of the Hebrews!’ and you would dare demand my compassion?”
Whereupon all of the firstborn went out and killed their fathers, which is written, “Give thanks to the One who struck Egypt through their firstborn…” (Psalms 136:10). He struck Egypt through the firstborns’ killing their fathers!
Exodus Rabbah 18:2
“Now it comes to pass, at midnight,
that the Eternal strikes down every firstborn
in the land of Egypt…”
“At midnight I will rise to give thanks to You
because of Your judgments of righteousness [mishpetey tzidkecha]!”
At midnight You did indeed perform “judgments” against Egypt
by striking down their firstborn,
but alongside Your judgments
You delivered “righteousness”
in the sense of championing us!
When Moses said, in the Eternal’s Name,
“I will strike down every firstborn” (Exodus 12:12),
some of the Egyptians became afraid enough
to bring their firstborn child to an Israelite
and ask him to shelter the child overnight.
When midnight arrived,
although the Israelites provided shelter,
the Holy One, blessed be He,
killed all of the Egyptian firstborn.
In those Israelite houses He would stand between
the Israelite firstborn and the Egyptian firstborn.
He would take the soul of the Egyptian
and leave the soul of the Israelite.
In the morning,
the Israelite, upon waking up,
would find the Egyptian firstborn dead
alongside his living Israelite children,
in fulfillment of the divine promise,
“I shall pass over you to protect you
so that my plague of destruction
throughout the land of Egypt
will not affect you” (Exodus 12:13).
Then did Israel begin to sing:
“At midnight I will rise to give thanks to You
because of Your championing judgments [mishpetey tzadek’cha] for us!”
Exodus Rabbah 20:1
Pharaoh Compared to a Stubborn Swineherd
“As snow in the summer
or rain at harvest,
so is honor not fitting
for a brute!”
This refers to Pharaoh, who may be compared to a herder of swine who stole one of his master’s ewes and concealed it among his own swine. When his master demanded the return of his ewe, the swineherd denied that it was in his possession. Thereupon the master discovered where the swineherd watered his animals, and he had the water source stopped up. Again the master demanded that the swineherd return his ewe, and again the swineherd denied that it was in his possession. Thereupon the master discovered where the swineherd sheltered his animals, and he had the swine pens destroyed. Yet again when the master demanded that the swineherd return the master’s ewe, the swineherd denied that it was in his possession. Thereupon the master discovered where he pastured his animals, and he had all vegetation burned away. Even still, when the master demanded return of his ewe, the swineherd denied that it was in his possession.
Then the master discovered where the swineherd’s son attended school, and he had the boy seized. This time, when the master demanded that the swineherd return the stolen ewe, the swineherd complied: “Here is your ewe!” When the ewe was returned, the master then had the swineherd himself seized and held along with his son. The swineherd protested: “Now that you have your ewe back and there is nothing of yours any longer in my possession, why have you seized me? What can you claim from me any longer?”
The master replied, “I demand from you all that the ewe you seized produced while in your possession: the young she produced and the wool that you sheared from her.” The swineherd was indignant. “I should have kept the ewe,” he complained, “and stood my ground, thereby showing that the master was only out to destroy me!”
So Aaron struck the Nile, and it was turned into blood, and the Egyptians could find no water to drink. When God demanded, “Let My people go,” Pharaoh would not heed. Knowing where the animals were pastured, He brought down hail to destroy the trees and fire to burn it all up, as was said, “The Eternal sent thunder and hail, and fire went along to the ground.” (Exodus 9:23) He sent locusts to devour all vegetation and what remained of the trees. He brought all of those plagues upon Pharaoh, yet Pharaoh refused to let the people go!
Then He took Pharaoh’s son, as was said, “The Eternal struck down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh, who was sitting upon his throne, to the firstborn of the captive, who was in the dungeon, and the firstborn of cattle.” (Exodus 12:29) Pharaoh told Moses and Aaron, “Arise, get out from the midst of my people, you and the Children of Israel!” (Exodus 12:31)
“But so it was [Vayehi],
when Pharaoh let the people go…”
Then he regretted releasing them and pursued after them (cf. Exodus 14:1-9). God seized him and imposed upon him the same fate that He imposed upon his son: “He overthrew Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea!” (Psalms 136:15) So the story begins, “Vayehi,” implying Pharoah’s woeful regret, “Vaye! Vaye! Hoyi! beshalach Par’oh…much regret when Pharaoh let the people go!” (Exodus 13:17): “I should have kept the people,” he lamented, “and stood my ground, thereby implying that the one who sought to free them was only out to destroy me!”
Pesikta d’Rav Kahana 8:1,3
Waving the Omer in Six Directions
“When you come to the Land
which I am giving to you,
and you reap its harvest,
you shall bring to the Kohen
the first Sheaf (Omer) of your harvest.”
Rabbi Benaiah taught that the Holy One, blessed be He, said to Israel: My children, when I gave you the manna, I said, “Gather as much of it as everyone requires to eat, an omer per person…” (Exodus 16:16). Now, in commanding you to bring Me the Omer, I require nothing more than one Omer from all of you, and not wheat but barley!
Rabbi Yannai taught: In the way of the world a person purchases raw food from a market and then he has to work hard to prepare it for cooking, but the Holy One, blessed be He, causes winds to blow, raises the clouds, brings down the rains, brings out the dew, grows the plants, and fattens the fruit, while we sleep on our beds, and He does not ask of us individually even a single omer!
Said Rabbi Levi: It is true that you have labored—you have plowed, you have sown, you have weeded, you have pruned, you have hoed and you have reaped, bound and threshed, and you have stacked the sheaves. Yet, if He did not bring forth the wind to winnow, how could you survive? And you do not even pay him a fee for the wind!
“He shall wave the Omer
before the Eternal
for your acceptance
on the morrow of
the day of rest.”
How would the Kohen wave it? Rabbi Chama son of Rabbi Ukbah in the name of Rabbi Yosi bar Chaninah: He waved it to the four points of the compass in order to cancel harmful winds, and he waved it up and down in order to cancel harmful dews. Rabbi Simon in the name of Rabbi Joshua ben Levi: He waved it to the four points of the compass in recognition of the One whose world it is, and he waved it up and down in recognition of the One to whom both the upper regions and the lower regions belong. (According to Rabbi Abin, the difference of opinion is between Rabbi Yehudah and Rabbi Nechemiah.)
Exodus Rabbah 1:28
Four Reasons for Israel’s Redemption
Rav Huna taught in the name of Bar Kappara: There are four reasons why Israel was redeemed from Egypt.
First: Because they did not change their names. They went down to Egypt as Reuben and Shimon, and they came up as Reuben and Shimon. There is no indication that any of their names were changed, such as from Reuben to Rufus.
Second: Because they did not change their language. A fugitive brought the news of Lot’s capture to “Abram the Hebrew” (Genesis 14:13), and still Moses and Aaron in Egypt said to Pharaoh, “The God of the Hebrews has appeared to us” (Exodus 5:3)! Moreover, when Joseph sought to convince his brothers of his identity, he said, “It is my mouth that is speaking to you” (Genesis 45:12), meaning that I am speaking our ancestral language even though I have risen to power over Egypt!
Third: Because they did not engage in gossip. The Eternal commanded Moses: “Tell the people that they should borrow from their (Egyptian) neighbors objects of silver and gold” (Exodus 11:2). Even though not every Israelite had an Egyptian neighbor with silver and gold objects to lend, and even though the Israelites knew that those borrowed objects would not be returned but would be permanent loans, no one let it be known even out of envy!
Fourth: Because (virtually) no one engaged in illicit relations. The one exception is named: “There went out the son of an Israelite woman, and he was the son of an Egyptian man…the name of his mother was Shelomit daughter of Divri of the tribe of Dan” (Leviticus 24:10-11). By naming her and her father and her tribe exclusively, all other Israelite women are assumed to be pure.
Exodus Rabbah 31:12
Why loan interest is prohibited
“If you lend money to My people, the poor with you,
do not act towards him as a creditor;
do not impose upon him interest.”
This is what is written:
“One who shows compassion to the poor
makes a loan to the Eternal,
and He will repay him
what is due him.”
To what extent?
is a slave
to the lender.”
What shall we say about
“the poor with you?”
No affliction in the world is more feared or more known than poverty!
When Job was allowed to choose between all other afflictions and poverty, Job said to the Holy One, blessed be He: Master of the universe, I would accept upon myself all of the afflictions of the world instead of poverty. If I go out to the marketplace and lack even a perutah, what shall I eat? But then when he suffered other afflictions—which he chose over poverty!—he cried out in shock and disbelief: “My complaint is bitter…would that I knew how to reach Him…let me argue my case before Him and fill my mouth with evidence” (Job 23:3)!
Poverty is different from all of the afflictions chosen by Job because, unlike them, poverty is in the mind of everyone, including the would-be creditor. Hence, the Eternal says to him, “the poor with you,” as if the Holy One, blessed be He, is reminding the would-be creditor, “The suffering of the poor is already with you, in your awareness. His poverty is not enough? And you would also exact from him interest?”
Exodus Rabbah 31:13
God bonds with the poor
“Do not treat My people, the poor with you,
as a creditor would normally treat a debtor.
Charge no interest when you lend him money.
If he gives you his garment in pledge,
return it to him before the sun sets
because it is the only covering for his skin.
If he cries out to me, I will listen because I am compassionate.”
“The poor with you?” says God in disbelief! They are not with you; they are with Me; they are “My people!” and thus says David: “For You shall deliver a poor people” (Psalms 18:28)!
In this regard the nature of the Holy One, blessed be He, is different from the nature of flesh and blood. A wealthy man of flesh and blood who has a poor relative will not acknowledge him. If he sees his poor relative, he hides from him, for he is ashamed to carry on a conversation with him because he is poor. Thus says Solomon, “All brothers of the poor hate him” (Proverbs 19:7), and “The poor is hated even by his own close one, while many are the friends of the wealthy” (Proverbs 14:20), and Job complained, “My relatives are gone, and my friends have forgotten me” (Job 19:14)!
But who are with the Holy One, blessed be He? The poor. When He sees a poor person, He bonds with him. “Thus says the Eternal: The heaven is My throne, the earth is My footstool” (Isaiah 66:1), “yet to this one do I look: to the poor and broken of spirit” (Isaiah 66:2)! As Moses says to Israel, “It is not because you are the most numerous of all peoples that the Eternal has desired you and chosen you, for you are the smallest of all peoples” (Deuteronomy 7:7)! And when He expresses His love for Zion, on whom does He have compassion first? On the poor, as was said, “The Eternal shall establish Zion, and He shall shelter therein the poor of His people” (Isaiah 14:32), and “The Eternal shall comfort His people, showing mercy to its poor” (Isaiah 49:13)!
Leviticus Rabbah 27:10
Sabbath Precedes an Offering
“When an ox or a sheep or a goat is born,
it shall stay with its mother for seven days;
then, from the eighth day onward,
it is acceptable as a fire offering to the Eternal.”
Rabbi Joshua of Sichnin in the name of Rabbi Levi taught: This may be compared to the conquering king who decrees that none of the population shall see him before they have seen his queen. Thus said the Holy One, blessed be He: You shall not bring Me an offering before the Sabbath has passed over it, as there are no seven days without a Sabbath!
Similarly there is no circumcision without a Sabbath. That is what is meant by: “From the eighth day onward it is acceptable!”
Leviticus Rabbah 27:8
Israel did not make the Golden Calf
“When an ox or a sheep or a goat is born…”
What did He see
to mention the ox
before all of the other
Said Rabbi Levi: It may be compared to the case of a lady whose reputation was besmirched by one of the nobles in the kingdom. The king looked into the facts and found no basis for the rumor. So he put on a banquet and placed the noble who had started the rumor at the head of the table. What did all of the king’s efforts accomplish? They let it be known that he had looked into the facts and found no basis for the rumor! So the nations of the world harass Israel: You made the golden calf! But the Holy One, blessed be He, looked into the facts and found no basis for the accusation. For that reason, the ox was made chief of all the offerings, as is written: “An ox (calf) or a sheep or a goat…!”
Rabbi Huna and Rabbi Ayvu in the name of Rabbi Samuel bar Nachman argued in support that if Israel had made the golden calf, then they would have produced the rallying cry, “This is our God, O Israel!” Instead, it must have been the non-Israelites who came up with them from Egypt who made the golden calf and then egged them on by saying, “This is your God, O Israel” (Exodus 32:4)!
Song of Songs Rabbah 1:7
Elevation of Torah
“The greatest of songs,
the Song of Songs,
belonging to Solomon:”
(Song of Songs 1:1)
“The Singing of a Song,” wisdom of Torah that is heard, as reflected in:
“The heart of the wise instructs his mouth,
and upon [al] his lips increases [yoseef] learning.”
His heart is full of wisdom, so one might assume that it is the sole source of his wise words, that his mouth and his lips are passive instruments in the communication of wisdom. But the true role of his mouth and lips is to add to and enrich the wisdom that is in his heart, as Solomon said:
“…and his lips raise up [al], increasing [yoseef] learning!”
Through the act of communicating words of Torah that are in his heart, employing his mouth and his lips, as in “the singing of a song,” he adds to the learning of Torah. His mouth and his lips elevate the lesson!
This may be likened to a barrel full of gemstones and pearls which is sealed and hidden in a dark corner so that no one knows the value of its contents. But as soon as someone comes and opens it, everyone suddenly knows of its value. So it was with Solomon: his heart was full of wisdom, but no one knew what was inside him. Until the Holy Spirit settled upon him, whereupon he composed three books: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs. Then everyone knew of his wisdom. “His lips raised up words of Torah, increasing learning,” learning which he added upon words of Torah.
Moreover, learning which he added upon words of Torah elevated him, as he said:
“I applied my heart to seek and scout out wisdom…”
He became a seeker of wisdom. If he found someone knowledgeable of Bible, he would go to him. If he found someone knowledgeable of Mishnah, he would go to him. But not only wisdom of Torah in the strictest sense did he seek, but also:
“…concerning all that was done under the heavens…”
Maharzu (Ze’ev Wolf Einhorn, 19th cent. Lithuania): He became learned of all of Torah to the highest degree, just as a scout stands at the head of the people whom he guides ever searching for the best place for them. Solomon searched for the greatest exponents of wisdom.
Song of Songs Rabbah 1:30,31
The Power of Love for Human and Divine
“This is the day which the Eternal has made:
let us rejoice and be happy in it/Him [vo]!”
Rabbi Abin taught: From this verse we might not know in what to rejoice: “in it [vo],” the day? or “in Him [vo],” the Holy One, blessed be He? But then Solomon came and clarified it:
“The King has brought me into His chamber:
Let us be glad and rejoice in You…”
(Song of Songs 1:4a)
“Let us rejoice in You” and thereby in Your Torah, in Your Salvation and in Fear of You!
Rabbi Isaac explained how Solomon’s words, “in You,” can mean in Your Torah and, thereby, in Your Salvation, which follows from Torah. The letters of “in You” [“bach”: beyt-chaf] have the numerical value of twenty-two, the twenty-two letters of the Alef-Bet that are used to write the Torah. From the Torah (cf. Genesis Rabbah 45:3) the mitzvah of “Be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:22) leads to Salvation —
Mishnah Yevamot 6:6: If one has married a woman and lived with her for ten years, during which time she has not borne a child, he may not avoid the commandment to be fruitful and multiply. He may divorce her, so that she may marry another (who has not yet fulfilled the commandment), and he may stay with her for ten years (so that she might yet bear his child). If she aborts, the counting of ten years is reset from the time she aborted. The man is obligated to be fruitful and multiply, but not the woman. However, Rabbi Yochanan ben Beroka teaches: For both of them it says, “God blessed them and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply…’” (Genesis 1:28) —
Now it happened that in Sidon a man married a woman and lived with her for ten years, during which time she did not bear a child. They came to Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai to be divorced (in accordance with the Torah). He said to them: Just as you were wedded to each other amid feasting, so it is only fitting that you take leave of each other with festive eating and drinking! They followed his direction and made for themselves together a great festival meal, in which she induced him to have too much to drink.
When he recovered his composure, the man said to the woman, “My daughter, see what is precious to you in my house, and take it and remove it to your father’s house.” What did she do? When he fell asleep from the wine, she directed her servants to lift his bed with him in it and to remove him to her father’s house. At midnight he awoke, the effect of his wine having worn off. “My daughter, where am I?” “In my father’s house,” she answered. “What am I doing in your father’s house?” “Did you not tell me last evening, ‘See what is precious to you in my house, and take it and remove it to your father’s house?’ There is nothing more precious to me in all of the world than you.”
They returned to Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai. He took it upon himself to pray on their behalf, and their prayer was answered. From this we learn that just as the Holy One, blessed be He, intercedes for barren women (cf. Sarah in Genesis 21:1ff. et al), so also may the righteous of flesh and blood intercede for barren women. And how much the moreso, if the prayer of one, who says of another person there is none more precious to me than you, is answered, shall the prayer of Israel, who await expectantly the salvation of the Holy One, blessed be He, and say to Him that there is none more precious to us than You, be answered! Indeed we say as Solomon, “Draw me as we run after You; let the King bring me into His chamber, where we shall be happy and rejoice in You…” (Song of Songs 1:4a)!
“…we cite our love more than wine [mi-yayin];
rightly do they love you.”
(Song of Songs 1:4b)
We cite our love apart from wine [mi-yayin];
soberly do they love You!
This may be likened to the queen who was bereft of her husband the king, her sons, and her sons-in-law, who had traveled far away to secure the kingdom. After a long absence, the queen abandoned all hope of their return.
But then, when she least expected it, heralds came and announced to her the return of her sons-in-law. “That does not raise me from despair,” she said; “let my daughters rejoice.” When later they announced to her the return of her sons, she likewise responded, “That does not raise me from despair; let my daughters-in-law rejoice.” But then, when they told her that her husband the king had returned, her response was different: “That is my greatest joy, that is the end of my despair!”
So shall it be in time to come. When the prophets shall come and say to Jerusalem, “Your sons shall come from afar…” (Isaiah 60:4), she will only say: That does not raise me from despair. And when they say further, “…and your daughters shall be nursed at your side” (ibid.), she shall again say: That does not raise me from despair. But then, when they say to her, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; behold, Your King is coming to you, righteous and victorious” (Zechariah 9:9), at that time she shall respond: “I shall greatly rejoice in the Eternal; my soul shall be joyful in my God” (Isaiah 61:10)!
Exodus Rabbah 15:4
Talmud Rosh Hashanah 11a
Genesis Rabbah 68:2
Merit of the Fathers and Mothers
When Moses told Israel,
“The Holy One, blessed be He, has said to me:
‘Today you are going out in the month of Aviv’” (Exodus 13:4),
“Where is He?”
and Moses answered:
“Behold the voice of my Beloved as He comes,
skipping over the mountains [al heh-harim],
jumping over the hills [al ha-gevaot]!”
(Song of Songs 2:8)
Rabbi Judah explained “skipping over the mountains, jumping over the hills”: Said the Holy One, blessed be He, “When I consider the behavior of Israel, they would never be redeemed, so whom then should I consider? Their holy fathers, as the Prophet addressed them, “Hear, O mountains [harim]…O strong ones, foundations of the earth” (Micah 6:2): “Hear, O parents [horim], who are the strong ones, the foundations of the earth!” Hence, when the Holy One, blessed be He, comes to redeem Israel, He “skips” their unworthy behavior because of [al] the merit of the fathers [heh-harim, “the mountains,” masculine], He “jumps” their unworthy behavior because of [al] the merit of the mothers [ha-gevaot, “the hills,” feminine synonym for harim].
Exodus Rabbah 32:8
God is held accountable for His word
“I am sending an angel before you
to protect you on the way
and to bring you to the place
that I have prepared.”
To this Moses objects:
Was that our understanding?!
Did You not tell me at the burning bush,
“I am coming down to rescue you
from the hand of Egypt
and to bring you up from that land” (Exodus 3:8),
and now You say that
You are going to send an angel instead!
No, that won’t do:
“If You personally are not going to lead us,
don’t bring us up from here!” (Exodus 33:15)
Yes, I did say that I would
personally bring you up from that land;
“Only, I will not go up in your midst,
since you are a stiff-necked people,
lest I put an end to you
on the way!” (Exodus 33:3)
Moses says to the Eternal,
“See, You say…” (Exodus 33:12):
You say what You say,
and I say what I say;
let’s see whose words
Said the Eternal to Moses:
“I will go in the lead
and give rest to you.”
“Give rest to you”
in the sense of,
“I will concede to you.”
This was expressed
by the Holy Spirit:
“The word of the King is authoritative!”
but immediately thereafter he says:
“One who preserves the commandment
will not know a bad word.”
Yalkut Shimoni Joshua 5
Evil Blood Averted by Circumcision
“The Eternal says to Joshua:
This day I have rolled away
the reproach of Egypt
from upon you…”
What was “the reproach of Egypt,”
and how did the Eternal “roll it away?”
During the encounters between Moses and Pharaoh, Pharaoh refused to let Israel go, and in response to one of Moses’s demands he said, “Evil is before you” (Exodus 10:10)! Pharaoh was basing his comment upon astrology: I have learned, he said, that a certain star is rising before you; its name is “Evil,” and it is a harbinger of blood and death! So when Israel sinned, later in the Wilderness, with the golden calf, and the Holy One, blessed be He, wanted to kill them, and Moses entreated God in his prayer, “Why should the Egyptians say, ‘He brought them out with evil intent to kill them…?’” (Exodus 32:12), he was actually saying: Why should Pharaoh be confirmed in his claim that You brought them out under the star of “Evil” to kill them…!
Then we are told, “The Eternal repented concerning the evil which He had spoken (intended) to do to His people” (Exodus 32:14). It was actually saying: The Eternal repented concerning the star “Evil” about which Pharaoh had spoken to act upon His people; He turned the blood of violence that Pharaoh promised against Israel into the blood of circumcision under the aegis of Joshua! Pharaoh’s astrological prediction of blood was the “reproach of Egypt,” which the Eternal rolled away with the blood of circumcision in the time of Joshua.
Talmud Sanhedrin 64a
Talmud Shabbat 56b
Repentance or Righteousness?
“So shall you love the Eternal your God
with all of your heart,
with all of your soul,
and with all of your might.”
Why mention both “your soul” and ‘your might?” For one whose life is more precious to him than his money, love the Eternal “with all of your soul!” For one whose money is more precious to him than his life, love the Eternal “with all of your might (understood as wealth)!
“Before him (Josiah)
there was no king like him,
who turned to the Eternal
with all of his heart,
with all of his soul,
and with all of his might,
in accordance with all of the Torah of Moses.”
(II Kings 23:25)
Rabbi Samuel bar Nachmani said that Rabbi Yonatan taught: Whoever says that Josiah was sinful is making a mistake, as was said, “He did that which was right in the sight of the Eternal, and he followed all of the path of David his father, not departing from it in any way” (II Kings 22:2)! What do I learn from “…who turned to the Eternal” (II Kings 23:25), which implies that he repented from some behavior? (“Turning to the Eternal” means repentance!) I learn that he reviewed for correction every case that he had judged between the ages of eight and eighteen. (Rashi: He ascended the throne at the age of eight (cf. II Kings 22:1), and Hilkiah the Kohen Gadol found the Torah scroll in the Temple when Josiah was eighteen years of age (cf. ibid. 3ff.). Thereupon Josiah immersed himself in the laws of both the Written Torah and the Oral Torah, becoming aware of which cases he had decided incorrectly before he had the Torah to guide him.)
Shall I assume that he transferred erroneous awards from an undeserving litigant to the other who deserved it, in order to correct the outcomes in accordance with the Torah? No, we actually learn an Oral Torah from, “…who turned to the Eternal…with all of his soul and with all of his might” (II Kings 23:25): His turning to the Eternal was accompanied by his “might” understood (in contradistinction to “soul”) as wealth, so that he used his own wealth to reimburse the litigants who had been deprived through him of a correct judgment!
This explanation is in disagreement with Rav, who taught: There was no greater penitent in his generation than Josiah!
Genesis Rabbah 19:11
Questions and Answers
“He said to me, ‘Son of man, can these bones live?’
And I answered, ‘O Lord, God, only You know!’”
When the ceramicist has completed a bottle created to contain fine wine, he or she might tap it, before releasing it, in order to test its mettle, to determine its solidity and its reliability for the intended purpose. Five were the ones whom the Holy One, blessed be He, “tapped on their bottle” to determine their worthiness: Adam, Cain, Balaam, Hezekiah, and Ezekiel.
Of Adam He “tapped”: “Did you eat of the tree from which I commanded you not to eat” (Genesis 3:11)? A simple question, requiring a yes-or-no answer, which in the case of Adam should have been, “Yes.” But instead, Adam sought to transfer responsibility to his wife: “The woman whom You granted to be with me gave me of the tree, and I ate” (ibid. 12). The Creator, after testing Adam, found His creation to be defective and unworthy of holding the fine wine of Prophecy.
Of Cain He “tapped”: “Where is Abel your brother” (Genesis 4:9)? Of course Cain knew full well that his brother’s body was lying in the field where Cain had murdered him (cf. ibid. 8). Instead, Cain gave an evasive answer, “I do not know” (ibid. 9), as if God did not know, and then sought to justify it by asking a rhetorical question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (ibid.), which would deserve diametrically-opposed answers by God and Cain. So here, too, after testing Cain, the Creator found His creation to be profoundly flawed and unworthy to be the progenitor of humanity (cf. Genesis 4:25-5:32).
Of Balaam He “tapped”: “Who are these men with you?” (Numbers 22:9) in the sense of “What are you doing with these men!” in anticipation of His command, “Do not go with these men; do not curse the people because it is blessed” (ibid. 12)! But Balaam did not understand or chose to ignore the import of God’s words, instead taking them literally, as if God did not know who those men were, so that Balaam informed God of what God already knew, “Balak…sent them to me” (ibid.10)! Hence, the Creator found that His creation, though vouchsafed the gift of prophecy, was not wise enough or responsible enough to be trusted.
Of Hezekiah He “tapped” (through His Prophet Isaiah): “What did these men say, and whence do they come to you?” (II Kings 20:14) in opposition to King Hezekiah’s display of his treasures to the Babylonian embassy (cf. ibid. 20:12-13). Hezekiah’s patronizing answer, “They have come from a faraway country, from Babylonia” (ibid. 14), reflected his arrogance in crafting a foreign policy to ally with Babylonia against Assyria even after God had instructed Isaiah, “Tell Hezekiah that I will rescue you and Jerusalem from the hand of the king of Assyria for My own sake and for the sake of My servant David, your father” (cf. II Kings 20:5-6)! Hence, the Creator found that His creation, scion of His servant David, was unworthy of the Davidic dynasty, as Isaiah would say to Hezekiah, “Behold, all that is in your house shall be carried away to Babylonia, and the sons whom you will father as well shall be taken to the palace of the king of Babylonia” (II Kings 20:16-18)—to which Hezekiah answered, “Good, I am glad to hear that, because it means that there will be peace and security for me in my own days” (ibid. 19)!
Finally, of Ezekiel He “tapped”: “Son of man, can these bones live?” to which the Prophet answered, “O Lord, God, only You know!” (Ezekiel 37:3) Said Rabbi Chanina bar Pappa: This may be likened to the situation of a bird trapped in the hand of a hunter. The hunter asks a bystander: What do you think: Is this bird in my hand alive or dead? The bystander says to him: If you want, it is alive; if you want, it is dead. The bystander, like the Prophet, cut through the pretense of life’s games of dishonesty, evasion and arrogance. That would be the test of the Prophet’s mettle.