Divrei Torah for Your Seder — 5776

Last year, I posted a few Divrei Torah that you could use at your Seder. Once again, this year, I am posting a few more. Some are original and others are quoted from other sources. Feel free to share at the Seder and add some of your own Torah to these as well!

  1. רבן גמליאל היה אומר כל שלא אמר שלשה דברים אלו בפסח לא יצא ידי חובתו ואלו הם: פסח, מצה, ומרור  (“Whoever does not state these three items on Pesach has not fulfilled his obligation: Pesach, Matza and Maror”)  There are two issues with this statement. First, the ORDER of the words seems incorrect, as historically the MAROR (the bitterness) came first and only then came the other two items that symbolize freedom. Secondly, what “obligation” does Rabban Gamliel refer to exactly? We know there are various Mitzvot of the evening (four cups of wine, matza, etc) but what OBLIGATION do we not fulfill when we do not mention these three items and delineate them?  To answer the first question, we can suggest that until the Jews completely left their state of bitteness, their slavery, they didn’t even realize how horrific things had actually gotten. It was not until they saw what freedom truly was could they only then “appreciate” how bad things had truly been. As far as the obligation that Rabban Gamliel refers to, I believe it is not an “obligation” in the sense of a mitzva but rather a “debt.” Perhaps a better translation would be that we would not completely discharge our debt without mentioning these items clearly. When we only go through the motions at the Seder and we do not internalize its message; or worse, if we go through the Seder and do not fully sense a feeling of Hakarat HaTov (gratitude) then we have fulfilled our MITZVA but not our OBLIGATION of true expression of gratitude to Hashem for having brought us from a state of slavery to a state of freedom to serve Him.
  2. לגור בארץ באנו כי אין מרעה לצאן אשר לעבדיך (“We came to sojourn in the land because there is not sufficient feed on which to graze for our flock[in Canaan]”) In the Haggada, when these Psukim analyzed, this one should give us pause to think and say: If the brothers were attempting to explain that they were coming to the Land of Egypt due to a famine in Canaan, would it not have made more sense to say that THEY THEMSELVES had no food to eat? Why mention the ANIMALS did not have sufficient food? The answer to this question came to me from a very unlikely source: The Chicago Sun-Times of January 1985! I came across an article that was a part of a series on Hunger in Africa. The title of this particular installment was: “In Mali, People are Reduced to Eating Leaves.” It described how the famine was so bad that the animals had no food since the people were eating the animals’ food! This is how bad it also was in Egypt. The famine was so bad, say the brothers, that the animals had no food since the humans were eating THEIR food. 

(Here is the original article that I saved)

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3. We dip twice at the Seder. The first time we dip, we dip Karpas in salt water. That dipping symbolizes our bitterness and slavery. The second time we dip, we dip into charoset, symbolic of a free person who may dip their food for flavoring (yes, it also it has many other symbolic meanings). These also recall for us two “dippings” in the Torah; one of a nefarious nature and one of a positive nature. When the brothers of Yosef want to “prove” to their father, Yaakov that Yosef was dead, they dipped his coat of many colors in blood. This was to make it appear that he had been torn apart by wild animals. (ויטבלו את-הכותונת בדם) This dipping took place at the early stages of the Galut Mitzrayim (the exile to Egypt). The second dipping was a much more elevated and glorious reason; this one also was a dipping in blood. As the Jew’s prepare for the night of Makkat Bechorot, the death of the First Born, they are commanded to dip a hyssop in blood and to spread that blood on the (interior!) doorposts of their homes so that the first born there would not die. As the Torah tells us: ולקחתם אגודת איזוב, וטבלתם בדם אשר-בסף. Therefore, both of the dippings at the Seder remind us of these two in the Torah: One reminds us of the sina’t chinam and early stages of the exile. The other one reminds us of how Hashem protects us, even as He prepares to bring destruction around us.

4. Why does Hashem command the Bnei Yisrael that when they prepare the Korban Pesach that its proper mode of cooking is to ONLY be “roasted”  (צלי) and no other method? In addition, when they ate the Korban, they were not permitted to break any bone in the animal. What does Hashem “care” how it is prepared and how it was to be eaten?
Roasting is the one method of cooking that is unique to others in regards to the state of the meat after it is cooked. In all other methods, the meat partially falls away from the rest of the piece or, in some cases, falls off the bone completely. Only when roasting meat does the meat not only stay on the bone but the meat “shrinks” and comes “closer together.” This symbolically gave the Jewish people a “visual” message of achdut/solidarity/unity. If we want to be free to serve Hashem; if we want to not be subjugated, then we need to be united. This is also why the bones could not be broken. Even once the meat is roasted and the meat “comes together” symbolizing our unity, that needs to not only be a “surface” message! We can not pretend on the outside to be united when on the inside we do not want to be or we are fractious. Not breaking bones was to symbolize that both on the OUTSIDE and on the INSIDE our unity as a people is critical for our survival and for serving Hashem.

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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