The body is tangible. We have hands, a head, and eyes, and we touch and feel objects. We are all able to see them and feel they exist. All that surrounds us, and all of physical reality is clear, and we can sense it. We see the table, the chair, our home, the people around us. They are all here and they exist clearly before us. We see with the eye. It’s clear that we eat, and drink. We get dressed and we are kept warm. We go to buy groceries, which requires money. All of this seems extremely clear and tangible.
There are other things – simple facts but they aren’t revealed, and they aren’t tangible. The fact God is constantly creating life, every second to all that exists and the fact all blessing comes from heaven (shamayim). Everything that happens is from God; these are facts as we know and believe. Nevertheless, they are not revealed and aren’t tangible, rather they are concealed. The world is hidden from us. The true reality, the deepest reality is hidden.
It’s the same with our own identity. There are certain aspects to a person’s identity which are more revealed and obvious. For instance, what does one do for a living, what is one’s background, family, education? There are many ways we define ourselves, and identify ourselves. To define, what am I? When someone asks you – what are you? Someone might say, “I’m a student at University of Maryland”, or “I study computer science”. Someone might say “I’m a Sefardi Jew from Morocco”. Someone might say “I’m a teacher”. There are many answers to this exact question. Someone might say “I’m an emotional type” or “I’m intellectual, extrovert type”. Sometimes people identify themselves from where they come from – “I’m from London” or “I’m from Teaneck”, “I’m from Woodmere”. But of course, it’s not about what I do, where I come from or if I do x, y, and z. We are the Jewish people. The simple, natural truth (emes) is that we are Jews but sometimes this can be the least open, clear, and obvious.
When asked who am I, it seems that we automatically say what or where we are studying, or what we do every day with our time. These things are tangible, just as it is with the food we eat. But who am I? I am a Jew. Is that not the most important thing? The difference is – that being a Jew is a definition concealed – even if you dress a certain way, and even if your day-to-day life is dedicated to doing certain things. We feel more connected to how we look, where we come from, our community, what I do, whereas the inner and truest essence that defines who I am – as a Jew.
וַיְהִי מִקֵּץ שְׁלֹשִׁים שָׁנָה וְאַרְבַּע מֵאוֹת שָׁנָה וַיְהִי בְּעֶצֶם הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה יָצְאוּ כׇּל־צִבְאוֹת ה’ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם
“It is a night of anticipation for Hashem to take them out of the land of Egypt, this was the night for Hashem; a protection for all the Children of Israel for their generations” (Exodus 12:42)
The Torah describes the first night of Pesach – a night of watching for Hashem to take Bnei Yisrael out of Mitzrayim; a night for Hashem, a protection for Bnei Yisrael and the generations.
The word הַזֶּה, the pasuk says “this was the night”. The word הַזֶּה we all know would normally talk about something tangible, which you and I can see in this world. Usually, when you say the word this – you can point to it. I can say “this is a table” and it is the table you sit doing your homework at, so you can then point and say “I am writing this paper”. We can see it there right in front of us.
Another example, is the mitzvah of Rosh Chodesh:
הַחֹדֶשׁ הַזֶּה לָכֶם רֹאשׁ חֳדָשִׁים רִאשׁוֹן הוּא לָכֶם לְחׇדְשֵׁי הַשָּׁנָה
“This month shall be for you the beginning of the months, it shall be for you the first of the months of the year” (Exodus 12:2)
The mitzvah of Chidush Hachodesh – it is הַזֶּה לָכֶם. This month is yours to be sanctified. And why הַזֶּה? Hashem showed Moshe, He pointed out to the new moon and said, like this, is what you have to be sanctified. The moon is something you can see and relate to and you say הַזֶּה because what you talk about is obvious and tangible.
What does it mean מַה נִּשְׁתַּנָּה הַלַּיְלָה הַזֶּה מִכָּל הַלֵּילוֹת?
The two words הַלַּיְלָה הַזֶּה are a contradiction of each other. When we think of the night, it is something dark and concealed, as it says in Psalms 18:12, “He made darkness His concealment”. The deeper meaning of לַּיְלָה, the night, is the concealment in creation. The deepest truth of creation is not tangible or clear. That is what לַּיְלָה means – concealment, darkness and not anything for us to say זֶּה. Therefore, לַּיְלָה is not זֶּה.
But, as the famous question goes, why is this night all different from other nights? Because on the seder night, the deep, hidden truth of reality, the לַּיְלָה that’s hidden, like the night of creation, becomes so tangible. Something usually that is so concealed and hidden, but it reaches Pesach night, and I can say מַה נִּשְׁתַּנָּה הַלַּיְלָה הַזֶּה; I can see the hidden world. The avodah is to come to the הַלַּיְלָה הַזֶּה as it is so clear. Hashem passed through Mitzrayim, הַלַּיְלָה הַזֶּה. No one could see, but by the 10th plague, everyone was able to recognize, open their eyes and see the true reality.
גַּם־חֹשֶׁךְ לֹא־יַחְשִׁיךְ מִמֶּךָּ וְלַיְלָה כַּיּוֹם יָאִיר כַּחֲשֵׁיכָה כָּאוֹרָה
Even darkness obscures not from You; and night shines like the day; darkness and light are the same (Psalms 139:12)
The darkness doesn’t hide anything from God. The night shines bright like the day.
This is the night of Pesach. The night was so bright, so clear like any afternoon. It’s not talking about sunlight, rather the לַּיְלָה was so הַזֶּה, normally hidden but became so clear that the presence of God was so tangible. That darkness and concealment was illuminated with clarity of the day.
On other Yomim Tovim, you say Hallel by day. But at the seder, by night of course. This is the chidush! The night of Pesach is like the day. Something normally concealed and hidden, but on Pesach it’s clear and obvious; when God’s presence is revealed tangibly. We tell the stories of the miracles and we become connected to that moment. That presence of God which is normally hidden, is sitting around the seder and it is different. Everything is more tangible. It’s the same with making a bracha, as for example, we don’t make a bracha on Hallel, karpas, neither magid. The Sefat Emet says, in terms of magid, that such an obvious, logical mitzvah to thank God that it shouldn’t need a bracha. The tangibility of the night to see everything so clearly, and it is like nothing we have experienced; therefore we aren’t commanded to make a bracha.
So we leave Mitzrayim, and we could see in such a clear way, who we really are, and so we ask who am I really? Am I a biology student, or am I from Los Angeles?
We see the birth of the Jewish people. Like a baby would naturally runs to its mother – as we left Mitzrayim, we knew who God was. God took us as His people and we took Him as our God; we are His first-born. Every year on the night of the seder, it returns and we can feel it in a natural way, the clearest way, the presence of God and that God is our God who took us out of Mitzrayim. It becomes clear and tangible to us, the הַלַּיְלָה הַזֶּה.
We must remember to take the message of הַלַּיְלָה הַזֶּה through Leil Seder, internalizing where we are and what we are celebrating, but internalizing that it can come with us everywhere. There is an order (seder), which means there is a plan which God has. May it allow us to remember we are part of something, and may it let our connection to God and our Yiddishkeit become tangible. On this night, we express ourselves through a manifestation of geulah, as the Jewish people, and as Hashem’s children, but may that always be.
Shabbat Hagadol indicates to us that what is ahead of us is the birth of a nation and it indicates that there is something more tangible ahead of us. It’s greatness, as the ‘great’ Shabbat is what lies in the week ahead of us coming closer to Pesach.