“You’ll Accompany Me” Pesach 5779

I always like it when we get to the part of the Pesach seder that begins with the words “Rabbi Gamliel used to say: Whoever has not mentioned the following three things on Pesach has not fulfilled his obligation: Pesach, Matzo, and Marror”. It means that the longest part of the seder, maggid (the part dedicated to telling the story of the exodus from Egypt), is finally coming to an end and soon it will be time to address the gnawing empty feeling in the pit of my stomach. It’s sort of like a “seventh inning stretch” in the Haggadah.

Let’s take a closer look at what Rabbi Gamliel is telling us. It is clear that “Pesach” and “Matzo” are integral to the evening and that not mentioning them at the seder table is a critical error. “Pesach” is referring to the Paschal Lamb – the “Korban Pesach” – that was offered by each and every Jewish person at the Beit HaMikdash on the day before Pesach. The Paschal Lamb is so important that a person who does not offer a Paschal lamb incurs the “Karet” (Cutting off) penalty. While our Sages are divided as to the precise nature of Karet, they make it evident that it is something that we want to steer clear from.

It is also clear why “Matzo” is on Rabbi Gamliel’s list. Matzo is jam-packed with meaning. It symbolizes the bread that the slaves ate in Egypt. It symbolizes the speed in which G-d redeemed the Jewish People from Egypt – so quickly that their dough did not have time to rise. Matzo is so ingrained in the Pesach experience that the Torah commanded the Jewish People to eat matzo on Pesach evening even before they left Egypt.

But “Marror”? Why can’t I fulfil my obligation on the seder night without mentioning marror – bitter herbs? We all know that marror is a metaphor for the suffering and racial persecution of the Jewish slaves at the hands of their Egyptian taskmasters, but many of us do not know that the commandment to eat marror at the Pesach seder is nowadays only Rabbinical in nature. Even in the time of the Beit HaMikdash, when marror was a commandment of Biblical nature, it was not a commandment that stood on its own two feet. The Rambam – Maimonides – writing in the Mishne Torah [Hilchot Chametz u’Matzo 7:12] teaches, “[Marror] is not an independent Biblical commandment in its own right, but one that is contingent on eating the Paschal Lamb. For there is just one single commandment: to eat the Paschal Lamb together with… marror[1]”. Marror is nothing but an accompaniment. Marror is the “mustard” that is eaten along with the Paschal “Burger”. Why is it so important to Rabbi Gamliel that we remember the mustard?

Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the last Lubavitcher Rebbe, speaking at a public address (sicha) on the last day of Pesach 5720, offered a truly remarkable solution[2]. “If the Paschal Lamb represents liberation and marror represents life’s difficulties, then the message implicit in the Rabbi Gamliel’s words is that our difficulties should never be perceived in isolation. They are nothing but an accompaniment to enhance our subsequent feelings of liberation and happiness, just like the marror was a ‘flavour enhancer’ to the Paschal Lamb”. The Rebbe is teaching that G-d sends us trials and tribulations “in order to make the subsequent relief more profound and personally meaningful”.

Pardon me, but isn’t this kind of obvious? Marror – “trials and tribulations” – is more than just an accompaniment: it is a prerequisite for redemption. There can be no redemption if there is nothing from which to be redeemed. If a person is not subjugated, then, for him, freedom is irrelevant. He is already free. What is the Rebbe’s innovation? We can shine some light on the Rebbe’s words using the “little satellite that could”. I am, of course, referring to Beresheet, the Israeli lunar lander that crashed on the moon’s surface last week.

On May 25, 1961, President John F, Kennedy gave a speech before a joint session of Congress in which he set a goal for the U.S. to “send a man safely to the moon” by the end of the decade. In the ensuing eight years, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) invested about 27 billion dollars – worth about 177 billion dollars in 2019 – to turn the President’s words into deeds. Tens of thousands of people supported the program. On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong walked down the steps of the Apollo 11 Lunar Excursion Module onto the surface of the moon, stating the famous words “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind”. In order to get to the moon, a huge Saturn V rocket lifted off from Cape Canaveral, carrying Armstrong and another two astronauts. After orbiting the earth, the astronauts performed a manoeuvre that sent them on a trajectory that eventually intercepted the moon. The return trip to earth took place in a similar fashion.

The Israeli program to put a man on the moon was much more modest. Most of the people from SpaceIL, the organization that ran the program, were volunteers. The entire cost of the program was about 100 million dollars, less than one thousandth the cost of Apollo. In order to make maximal use of minimal resources, SpaceIL used a lot of ingenuity along with a little help from their friends. Beresheet was launched into orbit by “piggybacking” on the launch of an Indonesian satellite from a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. This made getting to the moon problematic: the initial earth orbit was not in the proper direction for lunar intercept and making the necessary corrections would have required more fuel than the little lander could carry. In order to reach the moon, the scientists at SpaceIL sent Beresheet into a highly elliptical orbit around the earth. At the top (apogee) of its orbit, Beresheet would be very far from the earth’s surface. Then it would come crashing back towards earth. Each orbit, Beresheet would fire its rocket motor for a short time to make sure it completed its orbit and did not impact the earth. Each time this occurred, Beresheet would use the earth’s gravitational pull as a slingshot to send it further and further away from the earth. Eventually, Beresheet’s orbit took it so far away from the earth that it intersected the moon’s orbit. A few carefully placed pulses from its rocket motor nudged it out of the earth’s orbit and into the moon’s orbit[3].

It should be obvious that the earth’s gravitational pull is being used as a metaphor for the Rebbe’s marror. Beresheet did not fight the earth’s gravity. The opposite is true: Beresheet used the earth’s gravity to propel it further and further away from the earth. All it required was a clever use of trajectory planning along with a few short bursts of thrust. In a similar way, life’s obstacles are not objects to be “overcome”. They are not necessarily negative. To paraphrase Albert Einstein, “G-d may be slick, but He ain’t mean”. Negativity can be utilized – it must be utilized – to impart positive momentum, momentum that can take us to places that we could not otherwise reach.

Beresheet should also make us reconsider the meaning of the word “redemption”. We tend to think of redemption as a one-time action, like the exodus from Egypt or the future coming of the Messiah. Beresheet teaches us that redemption is a constantly recurring phenomenon. Each orbit around the earth took Beresheeet closer to the moon. Similarly, a redemption does not take us from ‘0’ to ‘1’. Redemption takes us incrementally higher than our starting point. Of course, there is an ultimate goal, an ultimate redemption, speedily in our days, but the road to the ultimate redemption is dotted with smaller “micro-Redemptions”, each with its own kind of marror. Our ability to experience positive momentum from that marror will be determined by our ability to perceive it for what it really is.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach v’Kasher,

Ari Sacher, Moreshet, 5779

Please daven for a Refu’a Shelema for Yechiel ben Shprintza and Tzvi ben Shoshana.

[1] The Torah commands us [Bemidbar 9:11] “[The Paschal Lamb] shall be eaten with matzo and marror”.

[2] The Rebbe’s words, as quoted here, have been adapted by Rabbi Chaim Miller in “The Kol Menachem Haggadah”.

[3] What happened afterwards is less pertinent to our lesson but important enough to mention: after orbiting the moon, Beresheet was commanded to perform a set of maneuvers that would drive it toward the surface of the moon. The main thruster would slow the lander down enough that its legs would crumple on lunar impact. Unfortunately, the main thruster did not fire as commanded, and when it did fire, it was too late, and Beresheet crashed. In the business of rocket science, we learned from failure, and Beresheet 2 is already in the works.

About the Author
Ari Sacher is a Rocket Scientist, and has worked in the design and development of missiles for over twenty years. He has briefed hundreds of US Congressmen on Israeli Missile Defense, including two briefings on Capitol Hill at the invitation of House Majority Leader. He speaks regularly for the Israeli Foreign Ministry. Ari is a highly requested speaker at AIPAC events, enabling even the layman to understand the "rocket science", and his speaking events are regularly sold-out. Ari has also been a scholar in residence in numerous synagogues in the USA and Canada. He is a riveting speaker, using his experience in the defense industry to explain the Torah in a way that is simultaneously enlightening and entertaining. Ari came on aliya from the USA in 1982. He studied at Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh, and then spent seven years studying at the Technion. Since 2001 he has published a weekly parasha shiur that is read around the world. Ari lives in Moreshet in the Western Galil along with his wife and eight children.
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