A Few Divrei Torah for Your Seder Evening

The internet is replete with websites from which you can cull divrei Torah to say at your Seder. Of course, there are thousands of Haggadot out there as well from which you can use Divrei Torah. I present here some thoughts that you may feel free to use at the Seder, as well. (All are being presented in abbreviated format)

1. קדש ורחץ (Kadesh U’rchatz):  In the list of the steps of the seder, it is ONLY this one step in which you will find the letter “vav” (meaning “and”) between two steps. Why is this one step any different from the others? Why the seemingly extra “vav”?
When we are physically dirty, we wash ourselves to cleanse our body. The same is true when we wish to purify/cleanse ourselves spiritually. When one wants to sanctify himself (לקדש את עצמו) perhaps one of the very first steps would be to cleanse one’s self from the “stain” of the sin. In other words, these two statements of KADESH (sanctification) and RACHATZ (washing) are intertwined and give us this message. As we begin the seder, and as we enter the first step of our new year of Emuna, we seek to better ourselves. The Ba’al Haggda is indicating that the first step on that path is through “cleansing” ourselves of sin…THAT will help us to sanctify ourselves and move to that next level.

2. The answer given to the “wise son” (the חכם) is: “אין מפטירין אחר הפסח אפיקומן” (meaning: “after eating the Afikoman, we do not eat anything else.”). Really? This is the WISE son and that is all we tell him? No mention of mazta, no mention of the four cups of wine? The telling of the story?
If you look at the last Mishne in Massechet Psachim, the last one dealing with the Mitzvot of Pesach, you will see that the quote to the chacham comes from that Mishne. So, the answer we are providing the Wise Son is not only that one item! The Haggada is telling us that to such a child/student we teach them EVERYTHING possible, up to and including the last Mishne that deals with this particular Halacha.

3. The three Matzot: There are numerous explantions as to why we use THREE matzot at the Seder. The more common one is that they represent Kohen, Levi and Yisrael and thereby we include all of the Jewish people, symbolically. Another common one is that they represent Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov. While that is a nice idea, what is the connection between them and The Exodus?

All three of the Avot were directly involved in the story of the Exodus! It is to Avraham that G-d says the original decree: ידוע תדע כי גר יהיה זרעך בארץ לא להם that we will be strangers in a strange land. While He originally says it will be for a period of 400 years, rather than reckon those years from the moment of the exile to Egypt, He reckons the year from the birth of Yitzhcak. Finally, we know, of course that it is Yaakov and his sons’ going down to Egypt that was the first step in the beginning of the Exile. All three Avot are connected to the story of the Exodus.

4. If you look at the Four Sons, you see that three of the four are measures of intellect or ability to use that intellect. Yet, the fourth, the Evil Son, is NOT a measure of intellect but describes his character. Why do we not say something like “Fool” instead of “wicked/evil”?

In truth, the “Wicked son” is also a very intelligent individual. Yet, instead of using his intelligence for GOOD purposes, he uses it for evil. Consider a modern day computer hacker. While he/she is quite intelligent insofar as the ability to break into someone else’s computer, the intellect being used is for evil purposes.

5. The Pasuk in the Haggada states that when Yaakov went down to Egypt to see his son, Yosef, he was “אנוס על פי הדיבור” (“compelled by Divine decree”). Yet, when you look at the Psukim, the Torah itself says that Yaakov stated he wants to go to Egypt before he dies in order to see his son. No where does it say he was forced by Hashem to go. In addition, it is strange to refer to Hashem as דיבור even though it is most appropriate.

In order to answer this, we look at the story of the Exodus backwards. Why was Yosef in Egypt? Because his brothers sold him there. Why did they sell him? There was hatred and animosity between the brothers and Yosef. What was the source of that animosity? The favoritism shown to Yosef by their father Yaakov. In anger, Yosef goes to his father and speaks Lashon Hara about them. As the Torah says: “ויבא יוסף את דיבתם רעה אל אביהם” (“and Joseph brought evil report of them to their father”) AS A RESULT OF THE SPEECH ׂׂ(דיבור) OF YOSEF, THE ENTIRE SERIES OF EVENTS BEGAN THAT ENDED UP WITH YAAKOV NEEDING TO GO TO EGYPT TO SEE YOSEF. When the Haggada states that Yaakov had to go down because of the DIBBUR, it refers not to Hashem but to the DIBBUR/SPEECH of Yosef.

6. The King of Egypt died and the Torah states: וַיַּ֥רְא אֱלֹהִ֖ים אֶת־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל וַיֵּ֖דַע אֱלֹהִֽים  (And G-d saw the Bnei Yisrael [their crying out to Him] and G-d knew.) What is the meaning of the words “And G-d knew”? Hashem knows everything, so what does the Pasuk which we quote in the Haggada mean “And G-d knew”?

Immediately prior to the Jews crying out to G-d, we are told that their King, Pharaoh died. When the leader of a country dies, it is only natural for its citizens to mourn the loss of their leader. The Egyptian population was crying and mourning the loss of their leader. At the same time, the JEWS were crying to Hashem due to the slavery and suffering. The EGYPTIANS saw the Jews crying and thought that they too were crying for the death of the king. Yet, in truth, they were not crying for that but rather their enslavement. It is at that point that the Torah tells us “And G-d knew.” Indeed, the Egyptians did not know but the One Who sees and knows all, knew exactly why they were crying; and it certainly had nothing to do with the death of Pharaoh.

These are merely a few ideas and thoughts on the Haggada. Many questions can be found in looking at the text as it were for the very first time. Bringing a fresh set of eyes to any text is always helpful!

Chag Kasher V’sameach!

About the Author
After living in Chicago for 50 years, the last 10 of which Zev Shandalov served as a shul Rav and teacher in local Orthodox schools, his family made Aliya to Maale Adumim in July 2009. Shandalov currently works as a teacher, mostly interacting with individual students.
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