Leaning for Freedom

The סדר ליל פסח is quite possibly one of the most symbolic activities of the Jewish year. Every action, every step, has a purpose and a message, and even our most bizarre and unexplainable traditions are done to fulfill the פסוק of “כי ישאלך בנך,” by making the evening so unusual that our children cannot help but ask; “מה נשתנה הלילה הזה מכל הליליות.” On the other hand, many other Pesach night activities are done to symbolize to our victory, to show that we, in the year 5775, are living a life of freedom that our ancestors in Egypt could only dream of, we are בני חורין.

The most obvious of these is the obligation to lean on the סדר night. In מסכת פסחים, the משנה writes:

אפילו עני שבישראל לא יאכל עד שיסב ולא יפחתו מארבע כוסות של יין

And even a poor man in Israel shall not eat without leaning, and should not have less than four cups of wine. (פסחים י:א, צט:)

Rashbam elaborates on this, explaining the reason that we brought above:

ואפילו עני שבישראל לא יאכל בערבי פסחים עד שיסב כדרך בני חורין במטה ועל השלחן זכר לחרות

And even a poor man in Israel should not eat on Pesach eve without lying on a bed like a free man, sitting at a table, in commemoration of our freedom (רשב”ם שם)

Later on (פסחים קח:), the גמרא expands on this idea of freedom by asking how it is actualized at our סדר– we know that we must drink four cups of wine and we know that we must lean on ליל פסח, but when must we lean? Surely, on this night of symbolism, there must a be a deeper message in our הסיבה beyond חירות, freedom.

The גמרא answers by bringing a teaching of Rav Nachman which says that we must lean for only two cups, further strengthening our question. But, then, which two cups do we lean while drinking? Why?

אמרי לה להאי גיסא ואמרי לה להאי גיסא

There are two opinions on this issue:

One proposes that the last two cups are the ones that require leaning- after all, in the step-by-step retelling of סיפור יציאת מצרים which we do on Pesach night, we don’t reach the actual freeing of the Jewish People until the end of מגיד, after drinking the second cup of wine. Until them, there’s no reason to celebrate and lean, since our ancestors were still in slavery. However, after they were freed, we truly became royalty, freed from our enslavement, so we lean while drinking the last two cups.

In contrast, another anonymous אמורה answers that we should lean for the first two cups. In light of the opinion that we just saw, this seems a little bit unusual- after all, why should we be acting as royalty when reading about how the Egyptians embittered our ancestors’ lives? Because, up to and during מגיד, there were some bitter times, but it’s clear to us, that they were leading up to something amazing, the redemption from Egypt. So, now, we can celebrate those miserable times, knowing that they were the darkest part of the night immediately before the dawn of גאולה. In hindsight, we can see Hashem’s master plan and realize that all of that bad led to our ancestors being led out of Egypt by G-d. That is truly worth celebrating.

Now, in contrast (and remember that this גמרא was written in first century CE in Babylon, nearly 2000 years ago), we are suffering in the Diaspora, and, this time, the end is not in sight. The generation that left Egypt were kings and free men- we, on the other hand, are, as is written so eloquently, “אכתי עבדים היינו,” we are still slaves to Egypt. So, once we transition in the סדר from speaking of ancient times to more modern times, we can no longer pretend to be royalty, to lean back and drink our wine, since it is time to come to terms with the fact that, for the past 2000+ years, we areעבדים היינו“- the bitter parts of מגיד are speaking as much about us as they did about our ancestors in Egypt.

Even though the גמרא concludes that, להלכה, we satisfy both opinions by leaning for all of the cups of wine (“הכי אידי ואידי בעו הסיבה“), this second anonymous opinion in the גמרא is an important reminder to us of how we must celebrate Pesach. We must remember that even though this is a holiday of reliving previous redemptions, we are still exiled and eagerly awaiting our יציאת מצרים. We must have extremely strong כוונה for the last parts of the סדר, the ones which the second אמורה ruled that we cannot lean for as a remembrance of our current exile, and we must have strong כוונה when praying to G-d to “שפוך חמתך על הגוים,” and when singing “לשנה הבא בירושלים.”

With Hashem’s help, we will merit a speedy answer to our תפילות for redemption, and merit to celebrate this Pesach with the bringing of the קרבן פסח in a completely rebuild ירושלים עיר הקדש. Chag Sameach!

About the Author
Born and raised in Teaneck NJ, Tzvi Silver moved to Israel in 2012 after catching aliyah fever while learning abroad. Tzvi is now pursuing a degree in Engineering from the Jerusalem College of Technology, and works on the side as a contributor for local newspapers in the New York Area. Tzvi's interests include learning Torah, rabble-rousing, and finding creative ways of mixing the two.
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