Mordechai Silverstein

The Holiday of Wonder

Throughout the ages, rabbinic sages have been particularly fond of puns and wordplays. They found inspiration in places which other people overlooked. This was all part of a reading strategy which saw the texts of the tradition as omni-significant – overflowing with meaning. For the Hasidic tradition, in particular, this very mindset extended well beyond the reading of text into all areas of life and existence.

The famous Hasidic master, the Kidushat Levi, Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev (!8th century Ukraine) applied this sort of thinking to his understanding of the festival of Pesah, a holiday known by many names, among them: Hag Haaviv – the festival of Spring and Zman Heruteinu – the time of our Freedom.

The inspiration for his drasha comes from a wordplay on the name of the hag, “Pesah”. By splitting the word in two, a type of midrash called by its Greek name, notarikon, we are left with the words: peh (mouth) and sakh (converses). While the origins of this particular drasha are unclear, it is frequently used as a description of the recounting of the miraculous story of the redemption from Egypt. The Kidushat Levi, however, uses it to fashion a new and different understanding of what Pesah is about with a remarkably modern message:

The Holy One, Blessed be His name for ever and ever, did miracles and wonder for us and struck the Egyptians with all of the makot (plagues) in order to deny the worthless idea of those who believe in the eternity of the world and deny its creation… for since we saw that God blessed be He changed the order of things and did as he willed [in redeeming us from Egypt], we learn from this that there is a Master in the world who renews the works of creation each day in His goodness… (Adapted from Kedushat Levi Derush L’Pesah ‘Inyan Pesah’)

Hag HaPesah, then, is intended to serve as an inspiration for recognizing God’s hand in the world, not simply as the children of Israel’s redeemer, but, perhaps more significantly, as the world’s continuous and forever renewing Creator. One cannot help but see this idea as being inspired by Pesah also being Hag HaAviv, the celebration of spring.

This profound drasha represents the essence of Hasidic thinking, namely, that we should appreciate and be awed by all that God created and continues to create. Anything less than this essential idea is spiritual idolatry from which we must be redeemed. And what better time for our mouths to spread this message of wonder than on Pesah.

About the Author
Mordechai Silverstein is a teacher of Torah who has lived in Jerusalem for over 30 years. He specializes in helping people build personalized Torah study programs.
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