Join Rabbi Haber's mailing list:
Home What's New Blogs Store Dedications Weekly Parshah About TorahLab Contact Us Links

Blogs

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Pesach: Are Miracles Good?

Introduction

In about a week, we will fulfill the Mitzvah to relive and retell the story of our Exodus from Egypt.

Actually, we are obligated to remember the Exodus every single day and every week. We mention Yetzias Mitzrayim in Shema and in Kiddush. On Pesach, Rav Chaim Soleveichik writes that there are three added components to the mitzvah that make up a large part of the seder: We need to have a Question and Answer Format, we need to start with the bad and end with praise, and we need to mention Pesach, Matzah and Maror. We do this by asking the Mah Nistana, by answering with the stories of our physical and spiritual emancipation, and by discussing the items on the Seder plate.

There is a fourth distinction as well. Throughout the year we mention our Exodus from Egypt but we do not necessarily mention that it happened through miracles and wonders. We left Egypt like a child leaves school or prisoner is freed from jail, or perhaps like our grandparents left Europe. It is something to be thankful for but not necessarily miraculous. It just happened with the help of G-d, and we are glad that it did.

On Pesach it is not enough to just mention that we were slaves and are now free, we mention the fact that it happened miraculously. We speak about the Plagues and clear involvement of G-d’s strong hand and outstretched arm in the miracles and amazing wonders that took place.

This is reflected in the wording of the Rambam and in the Seder itself. We need to mention the miracles.

Seder?

The Seder is all about order, as is much of Judaism. The story is told that when Rav Simcha Zissel Ziv, the Alter of Kelm, wanted to find how his son Rav Nochum Zev was doing, he made a surprise visit to his room in yeshiva to see how neat it was. If someone had seder – if they were organized – he assumed that they were progressing well in other areas of their life as well.

The Maharal writes that Seder is a sign of Chochma, of wisdom.

In Pirkei Avos we describe seven attributes of a Chocham.

שִׁבְעָה דְבָרִים בַּגֹּלֶם וְשִׁבְעָה בֶּחָכָם. חָכָם אֵינוֹ מְדַבֵּר בִּפְנֵי מִי שֶׁהוּא גָדוֹל מִמֶּנּוּ בְּחָכְמָה וּבְמִנְיָן, וְאֵינוֹ נִכְנָס לְתוֹךְ דִּבְרֵי חֲבֵרוֹ, וְאֵינוֹ נִבְהָל לְהָשִׁיב, שׁוֹאֵל כָּעִנְיָן וּמֵשִׁיב כַּהֲלָכָה, וְאוֹמֵר עַל רִאשׁוֹן רִאשׁוֹן וְעַל אַחֲרוֹן אַחֲרוֹן, וְעַל מַה שֶּׁלֹּא שָׁמַע, אוֹמֵר לֹא שָׁמַעְתִּי, וּמוֹדֶה עַל הָאֱמֶת. וְחִלּוּפֵיהֶן בַּגֹּלֶם:
Seven things are [found] in an unformed person and seven in a wise man. A wise man does not speak in front of someone who is greater than him; does not interrupt the words of his fellow; is not impulsive in answering; asks to the point and answers as is proper; speaks to the first [point] first and the last [point] last; and about that which he has not heard [anything], says, “I have not heard [anything]”; and he concedes to the truth. And their opposites [are the case] with an unformed person.

None of these have anything to do with knowledge. They are about Seder. They are about listening and clarifying.

The greatest Seder is the way Hashem runs the world. The words ‘Seder’ and ‘Teva’ – nature – are synonymous . G-d could run the world in any way he wants, but he chooses to run it with Seder, with the laws of nature. Jiffy Lube used to advertise – “If you want a well-oiled machine, bring it to the place that runs like one”. G-d’s universe is a well-oiled machine.

Thus Chochma, Nature, and Seder are all interrelated and they are all reflected in the seder of Pesach, which is perhaps the most organized and choreographed meal that we have all year. Yet Yetzias Mitzrayim is anything but Seder. When we left Egypt, G-d suspended all of the rules of nature. The river turned to blood, the sun stopped shining, and our enemies started to drop dead. Miracles are the antithesis of Seder.

Which do we want in our lives? On the one hand, we are not allowed to rely on miracles. We need to be of this world. At the same time, the whole idea of Pesach is about making the miracles real, seeing ourselves as if we left Egypt reminding ourselves that G-d can and does do anything to take care of us.

The Chocham

The Hagada did not invent the Chocham – the wise son. The Torah tells us in Ve’eschanan that we will have a son who will ask us:

כִּֽי־יִשְׁאָלְךָ֥ בִנְךָ֛ מָחָ֖ר לֵאמֹ֑ר מָ֣ה הָעֵדֹ֗ת וְהַֽחֻקִּים֙ וְהַמִּשְׁפָּטִ֔ים אֲשֶׁ֥ר צִוָּ֛ה ה אֱלֹק֖ינוּ אֶתְכֶֽם׃
(20) When thy son asks you in time to come, saying: ‘What mean the testimonies, and the statutes, and the ordinances, which the LORD our God has commanded you? 
The Torah suggests that we answer:
וְאָמַרְתָּ֣ לְבִנְךָ֔ עֲבָדִ֛ים הָיִ֥ינוּ לְפַרְעֹ֖ה בְּמִצְרָ֑יִם וַיּוֹצִיאֵ֧נוּ ה מִמִּצְרַ֖יִם בְּיָ֥ד חֲזָקָֽה׃ וַיִּתֵּ֣ן ה אוֹתֹ֣ת וּ֠מֹפְתִים גְּדֹלִ֨ים וְרָעִ֧ים ׀ בְּמִצְרַ֛יִם בְּפַרְעֹ֥ה וּבְכָל־בֵּית֖וֹ לְעֵינֵֽינוּ׃ וְאוֹתָ֖נוּ הוֹצִ֣יא מִשָּׁ֑ם לְמַ֙עַן֙ הָבִ֣יא אֹתָ֔נוּ לָ֤תֶת לָ֙נוּ֙ אֶת־הָאָ֔רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֥ר נִשְׁבַּ֖ע לַאֲבֹתֵֽינוּ׃ וַיְצַוֵּ֣נוּ ה לַעֲשׂוֹת֙ אֶת־כָּל־הַחֻקִּ֣ים הָאֵ֔לֶּה לְיִרְאָ֖ה אֶת־ה אֱלֹק֑ינוּ לְט֥וֹב לָ֙נוּ֙ כָּל־הַיָּמִ֔ים לְחַיֹּתֵ֖נוּ כְּהַיּ֥וֹם הַזֶּֽה׃ וּצְדָקָ֖ה תִּֽהְיֶה־לָּ֑נוּ כִּֽי־נִשְׁמֹ֨ר לַעֲשׂ֜וֹת אֶת־כָּל־הַמִּצְוָ֣ה הַזֹּ֗את לִפְנֵ֛י ה אֱלֹק֖ינוּ כַּאֲשֶׁ֥ר צִוָּֽנוּ׃
(21) then thou shalt say unto thy son: ‘We were Pharaoh’s bondmen in Egypt; and the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. (22) And the LORD showed signs and wonders, great and sore, upon Egypt, upon Pharaoh, and upon all his house, before our eyes. (23) And He brought us out from thence, that He might bring us in, to give us the land which He swore unto our fathers. (24) And the LORD commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the LORD our God, for our good always, that He might preserve us alive, as it is at this day. (25) And it shall be righteousness unto us, if we observe to do all this commandment before the LORD our God, as He hath commanded us.’
The Hagada also quotes the question of the Chocham, but quotes a little bit of a different answer.
וְאַף אַתָּה אֱמוֹר לוֹ כְּהִלְכוֹת הַפֶּסַח: אֵין מַפְטִירִין אַחַר הַפֶּסַח אֲפִיקוֹמָן:
And accordingly you will say to him, as per the laws of the Pesach sacrifice, “We may not eat an afikoman after the Pesach sacrifice.”

The Nature of Miracles

Jews do not celebrate miracles. We thank Hashem for miracles but we do not have holidays to mark the Manna, Miriam’s well, or the sun standing still for Yehoshua.

We also don’t celebrate miracle workers. Even if a person would levitate six feet off the ground while predicting the future, his words would have no religious significance. If he tried to erase even one word of the Torah he would be excommunicated and possibly sentenced to death.

As Jews we celebrate milestones in our history as a people and we celebrate people who have exhibited strong faith in Hashem, love of Torah, and love of fellow Jews. Much of Christianity parted ways with Judaism when they began putting more emphasis on miracle workers and became less interested in the will of Hashem.

The Yaaros Devash writes that G-d’s ability to perform miracles is far less impressive than His ability to make the world work within the laws of nature, which can be defined as a constant and consistent miracle. The fact that G-d’s presence can be felt and manifest itself in this physical world is a much greater theological feat than a simple miracle.

Seeing the Chochma of G-d in the Seder and Teva of this world is far more impressive than a miracle. The Maharal writes that this is why we don’t spend a lot of time discussing the Merkava and the Creation . It’s not just that they are hard to understand, they are actually below Hashem’s dignity.

This idea is reflected in Jewish Law. There are two events that took place on the tenth of Nissan. One was the preparation of the Pesach lamb which was on the Shabbos before Pesach. The second was the splitting of the Yardein, which was on a weekday. The Taz writes that we mark the Shabbos before Pesach rather than the tenth of Nissa, to make clear that we are celebrating the Koban Pesach and not the splitting of the Yarden.

The splitting of the Yarden was a momentous event. Not only was it a miracle and our ticket into Israel, it also served to ‘melt the hearts’ of all of our enemies making (most of) them fearful of us and much easier to conquer. Still, Rav Moshe Feinstein explains that we aren’t proud that Hashem did a miracle for us. It would have been better if we could have accomplished all that within the regular rules of nature.

When we hear about someone ill getting better, that is a ‘big simcha’, when someone is just plain healthy, that is ‘simcha’. We prefer regular Simchos to big Simchos and we prefer natural lives to miraculous ones.

The Gemara in Shabbos tells a story about a man who had no money and was able to feed his children through a miracle. Abayei exclaimed, “How disgusting is this person for whom a miracle was performed”.

There have been people who constantly live above nature, the most notable being Rav Chanina ben Dosa, but those are exceptions. For those people miracles are their nature. And even Rav Chanina ben Dosa prayed to have a miraculous gift taken back because he knew that it was of the next world and should remain there.

There is an expression in the Gemara that “Chacham adif Minavi” . The Maharal explains that it refers to this very concept. A person who is wise and organized in the ways of this world is better than a person who is capable of prophecy. All prophets were both but their Chochma was more important than their Nevuah.

The Mesillas Yesharim writes that we were put into this world, specifically in the midst of some very ung-dly things, to fight our battles and become completed and developed human beings. We clearly were not created to escape this world and live supernaturally. For that we did not need to be born.

Back to The Seder

The Chocham in our Hagada presumably has the seven attributes of a Chocham. Unlike the other three sons, he was probably listening the first time his father explained the reason for the Seder. After witnessing and watching all of the Eidos, Chukim, and Mishpatim, he asks an intelligent question. His does not ask what we are doing or why, that was already answered. His question is why everything is reduced to laws and instructions. Why can’t we just live supernaturally like we did when Hashem took us out of Egypt?

We answer by reinforcing the laws. We explain that the miracles were necessary then for the shock and awe that we experienced. The miracles woke us up, got us out of there, and reminded us of G-d’s existence.

But life is not about miracles. It is about Eidos, Chukim, Umishpatim. About living in this world. About doing Hashem will when we don’t understand it and understanding His will when we can. It is about finishing every single week of work by testifying to the world and to Hashem and to ourselves that this is G-d’s world and that we were put here to sanctify it and to develop as human beings.

The son of the Chofetz Chaim was once asked to describe some miracles that his father had performed. He said, my father didn’t tell G-d what to do. G-d told him what to do . And that is how we need to live our lives.

Conclusion

Our unique obligation on Pesach is to speak about the miracles of our exodus. This obligation is reflected in the verses, in the Mishna and Hagada, in the Rambam, and in the Maharal and Reb Moshe.

But the miracles that we discuss are not in the context of something we can expect or even hope to experience every day. Jewish people are only here because of miracles, but our day to day existence is through the constant miracles of nature, the rules which we are not supposed to break. We need to live our lives with a blend of Bitachon and Hishtadlus and serve Hashem in this world.

When we look for inspiring people and inspiration in general, we can’t look for miracles and people who have found ways to overcome this world. We need to look for ways that people have mastered the art of living this world in a G-dly way with all of its up and downs and twists and turns. If we look through history, the Tzadikim were not usually the ones who had miraculous, pain free lives. They did not ever get everything they wanted or prayed for. But they were immensely satisfied in their own lives and they were perfect examples of how Hashem wants us to develop ourselves in this world.

There was an editorial written by two Nobel Prize winners in 1996. It was called Heart Attacks: Gone with the Century. And it was supposed to be true. There was a sharp decline in the risk of heart disease throughout much of the ‘70s and ‘80s and into the ‘90s. That was because doctors were able to pinpoint the causes of Heart disease and develop medication to reduce cholesterol and procedures to fix broken and congested hearts. One miracle after another.

And then something scary happened. Despite the miraculous advances in medicine, heart disease stopped going down. It stabilized and now it’s just not going down anymore. It’s actually going up. That is because people – as a whole - stopped developing good habits. Americans don’t exercise and we eat the wrong foods. As a nation, the miraculous medicine got us nowhere because we couldn’t change our habits.

This is the danger of miracles. They are lifesaving, we need them, and we thank Hashem for them every day, but ultimately we need to be working on ourselves. On our own hearts and our own souls.

We are taught that we were redeemed in Nissan and that our future redemption will be in Nissan. Let’s hope that this Nissan will once again be a year of miracles as we truly relive Yetzias Mitzrayim at the Seder.

But let’s also hope that we can make those miracles an inspiration to live a miracle free life of Seder and Chochama throughout the year.

Chag Kasher Vesameiach.

Uploads on the Hagada:

Hagada Companion (56 pages)

Hilchos Haseder (43 pages)

Sugyos Haseder (Part I, 22 pages)

More posts on Pesach:

http://www.torahlab.org/calendar/C123/

Posted on 04/20 at 05:34 AM • Permalink
(0) Comments
Page 1 of 1 pages

Subscribe to this blog

RSS Feed

Meet Rabbi Sender Haber

Rabbi Sender Haber is the Rabbi of the B'nai Israel Congregation in Norfolk, VA. He is well known throughout Hampton Roads, having arrived over twelve years ago as one of the original four members of the Norfolk Area Community Kollel. In that capacity, Rabbi Haber was involved in community wide programming, teaching, and outreach. He has inspired many Jews to expand their Jewish identity and increase their love of Torah and commitment to its observance. Everyone who knows Rabbi Haber is touched by his breadth of Torah knowledge and his ability to convey the wisdom of the ages in such a way as to make those esoteric writings accessible to persons of all levels of experience and a variety of backgrounds.

Rabbi Haber has served in a number of capacities during his years in Norfolk. Since 2003 Rabbi Haber has been a teacher of Jewish Studies at Toras Chaim Day School in Portsmouth, teaching boys and girls of all ages, with a focus on Gemara, Halacha, and Chumash. He has also taught at Yeshivas Aish Kodesh and Bina High School in Norfolk, and served as Assistant Rabbi of B’nai Israel for 6 years. He also serves as the Rabbi of the “Lost Tribe,” Tidewater’s Jewish Motorcycle group! While handling all of these responsibilities, he has continued to participate in numerous Chavrusos (one-on-one learning partnerships) covering a wide range of topics and writings.

Rabbi Haber and his wife Chamie have been married for thirteen years. They have four children, Minna (9), Moshe (6), Ely (4), and Akiva Meir, born in August of 2012. They both come from rabbinic families steeped in Torah, Kiruv and Chesed. Rabbi Haber received his Rabbinic Ordination (Yoreh Yoreh) from Rabbi Sender Rosenbloom and Rabbi Mordechai Freidlander of the Jerusalem Beth Din. He was awarded a Teaching Certificate by Torah Umesorah Association for Jewish Day Schools in 2004 and again in 2009. In addition, Rabbi Haber has spent over a decade studying Talmud, Jewish Law, and ethics in some of the world’s most prestigious Yeshivos including Beth Medrash Gavoha in Lakewood, NJ and Yeshivas Mir in Jerusalem.

Rabbi Haber can be contacted through the Synagogue office at 757-627-7358, or through e-mail at senderhaber@gmail.com