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The Systems of the Jewish Year

Reclaiming Our Freedom

By Rabbi Sender Haber


Do we need to read the Hagada and tell the story ourselves, or is ok if the head of the seder does it and we listen?

There are two components here. One is the Mitzvah of והגדת לבנך that we have to tell the story to our children. The second is the Mitzvah of סיפור יציאת מצרים which is to tell the story whether we have children or not.

For the Mitzvah of telling our children, we can appoint someone else as our Shaliach or agent. He or she can tell the story for us. If the Shaliach is a grandparent there is even a special Mitzvah “that you may tell your children and your grandchildren”.

As far as the Mitzvah of “Sippur”, things get a little more complicated. It seems clear from the Gemara’s description of the Seder and the description the Rambam gives that it was common for one leader to say the entire text while everyone listened. The Mishna Berurah seems to rule this way as well and encourages everyone to be sure to hear at least the part beginning with Rabban Gamliel, Pesach, Matzah, and Maror. This is in keeping with the concept of “Shomei’a K’oneh” – listening is like saying.

Some people have an issue with this. The Beis Halevi says (on a different topic) that listening only works for speech, not for action. For example a Kohein needs to bless the people loudly. A fellow Kohein could be ‘motzi’ him in the priestly blessing but not in saying it loudly.

Some point out that the seder is full of action. We need to say the story with Matzah and Maror in front of us and we need to say the story with great joy but also a feeling of awe. We need to feel as if we ourselves left Egypt. Based on this, some insist that everyone present should say the Hagada. This is more than just words and not something we can fulfill throught somebody else.

I would like to suggest that there is a difference between Birchas Kohanim and The Seder. Saying the blessing and saying it loud cannot be separated. But on Pesach there are two separate Mitzvos. We need to feel free and we need to tell the story. There is no problem with hearing someone else’s words, as long as they themselves are speaking from true joy as well. But in order to prepare ourselves to be Yotzei with such a joyous person, we need to experience that freedom as well. This is something that nobody can do for us.

I believe this reflected in the Mah Nishtana. The child looks around and sees all of us leaning, eating Maror, eating Matzah and dipping our food. He uses words like לנו and כלנו and he notes that we are celebrating. Once we have laid that groundwork, the leader of the Seder can go ahead and recite “the answer” and we can fulfill our obligation by listening to his words and having it counted as if we said them as well.

The following is based on the remarks of Rav Moshe Feinstein as recorded in Darash Moshe, Drush 8, Luban, 1923

גלתה יהודה מעוני – על שאכלו חמץ בפסח

The Medrash tells us that we were exiled from the Land of Israel because we ate Chametz on Pesach. Aside from the fact that the punishment seems rather harsh for the crime, it is also not the full story. We know that the Jews had sinned grievously in the areas Murder, Adultery, and Idolatry. This was more than just eating bagels at the seder.

Even the continuation of the Medrash that we were not treating those in need properly, seems to pale in comparison to some of the other things that were going on.

In order to understand the nature of our sins before we were exiled, we need to take a moment to think about why we were freed from Egypt and brought to Israel to begin with.

Egypt was a fine society. They were organized. They had a good economy and a fair system for taxation. They prosecuted murderers just like any civilized country. Better, in fact. Moshe was well connected. His stepmother was Pharaoh’s daughter. He grew up in the palace. But that didn’t stop Pharaoh from sentencing him to death.

Yet, that same Pharaoh somehow legislated the mass murder of every Jewish Boy born in Egypt.

We don’t have to be psychoanalysts to figure out why. Pharaoh was scared. He was afraid that we would become a fifth column, side with his enemies and expel him from the land.

We see people – politicians and otherwise - do this all the time. They are adamant about something until it doesn’t work out well for them.

In our terminology this is called “Kinah, Taavah, and Kavod” or “Jealousy, lust, and the need for respect”. These may seem somewhat trivial and not very far-reaching, but they are the root causes of the three cardinal sins of Giluy Arayos Shefichas Damim and Avodah Zarah. Pharaoh murdered because of his need for respect and his lust for power. He claimed he himself was a god because that was the only way he could bear to see himself.

We are no better. We aren’t immune to Jealousy. We have our lusts and our creature comforts. And we all demand some form of respect.

When we look at kids we understand this. Jealousy over a friend’s new toy makes it impossible for a child to be happy for a friend, lust over a rice crispy treat equips a child with blinder as he shoves and pushes his way into the Kiddush. The need for respect causes kids to interrupt and constantly assert themselves. They know they are being unreasonable but they can’t help themselves.

Adults suffer from this as well. When we wonder why someone has something that we don’t and we wish that he or she didn’t - that is jealousy. It doesn’t matter what it is or whether it is tangible or attainable. If we wish they didn’t have it - we are jealous.

When something we need is right within our reach but demands that we fudge the truth or turn the other way, that is desire. Sometimes it’s just our desire to relax and avoid confrontation that clouds our vision of what is important.

And honor is the toughest one. We all feel like we deserve recognition for something. And we are right. But how far wiil we go to get that recognition and how strange will we act when we don’t? Some of us lust for honor and when we see someone else get that honor, we experience jealousy. That is lust and honor all rolled up in one.

That is what happened to Pharaoh and it is what happened to every honorable society that has walked this earth.

We are not talking about power corrupting. We are talking about power becoming corrupt as a result of Jealousy, lust, and our need to be recognized.

Even in our amazing and beloved country, it is a fascinating anomaly called a Presidential pardon. If the president sees the words mercy in his alpha-bit cereal, he can save a life. If he doesn’t like a law passed by congress he can pardon everyone who breaks it. He does not need any further explanation. As a matter of fact a pardon is considered to be a proof of guilt. It is incongruous with our system of checks and balances, yet it is the law and has been used by every president since George Washington and in almost every civilized country in the world. Before it was called a Presidential pardon it was called a Royal Prerogative, just the thing that the United States was fighting against and yet this one piece of British Monarchy was something that the writers of the constitution just couldn’t get rid of.

There is no such thing as a pardon in the Torah. The closest we come is when Dovid Hamelech did not put Shim’i to death for cursing him. But even that was really just a postponement of his sentence and not a pardon. Shim’i was eventually put to death as well. The Talmud tells us: “Hamelech Dan; V’danim oso”. The King is a judge and at times he is judged. The role of the king is to facilitate the laws of the Torah. Not to write his own.

It is for this reason that Moshe was not allowed to become a king. Even though Moshe wasn’t a lawmaker, he is the source of our laws. It would not be proper for anyone to think that the king is a lawmaker. He asked and Hashem said אל תקרב הלום, don’t even think about it. King David, with all of his power and popularity said “If it wasn’t for Torah – I would have absolutely nothing”.

Personal biases have the ability to affect any society. So Hashem took us out of Mitzrayim to form a society that is based, not on our personal biases, but on the will of Hashem.

In a Torah based society, jealously, lust and need for power are no longer King. We become governed by Hashem’s rule.

Hashem gave us the tools to achieve this goal, but it is by no means easy. Every year we find ourselves back in Mitzrayim, motivated by jealousy, by what we think are our needs and by the respect we aren’t getting but think we deserve. We don’t use those words in our minds, but they are so much of what motivates us and – if left unchecked can motivate us to sanction even the worst of crimes.

On Pesach we go free. We allow our motivations to be dictated solely by the will of hashem.

What emerges is somewhat shocking. Our role as a nation – or even as a community - is not to be powerful or successful or noteworthy. We are pretty good at that, but it isn’t our primary goal. Many large and powerful and wealthy nations have left the world in shambles.

Our role as a nation is to be a people stripped of Kinah, Taavah and Kavod; a society that can concentrate on the will of Hashem. If in doing so we merit strength and wealth and power we won’t complain. In fact, it will help us accomplish more. But our basic goal is to be a society where what is right is more important than what we feel.

This is what every Galus and Geulah has been about. We go free to concentrate on what is important; we are exiled when we forget.

This brings us to Chametz and Matzah.

There is nothing more sensitive than flour and water mixing together. Done properly and with alacrity and constant work, it becomes a Matzah. Left to its own devices, it becomes Chametz.

We are a delicate mixture as well. G-d gave us a pure and holy soul but mixed it into a very physical body. Without work, we could become very selfish, lazy and calloused individuals. But with work we can be that amazing Torah driven nation G-d freed us from Egypt to become. We have the ability to remain as holy as the day we were born.

That is a true Ben Chorin. That is Pesach. We sit at the seder and remember not just how Hashem took us out, but why He took us out. And we remind ourselves that we are free to renew our role in this world. We get rid of all of our chametz from ourselves and our surroundings. We can start again and walk out of Egypt with a pledge that we will never stop working on ourselves and our character.

It is in that climate of freedom to do what is right and motivation to keep up the hard work that we can really show our children and ourselves what it was like to leave Egypt.

We can let someone else tell the story verbally, but we need to be the ones feeling free and removing the Chometz from within us.

And then, to echo the words of Rav Moshe, we can turn to Hashem and say, “we got it”. G’aleinu Na!’ Please redeem us. You sent us out because we had allowed too much Chametz to build up. We allowed the Jealousy lust and need for respect to become Idolatry, Adultery and Idol Worship, but we are clean now. We will ask and G-d will certainly come. He will wipe all of our tears and take us home.

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