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Pesach: Tradition: Where Our Past, Present & Future Meet

BS”D

I dedicate this Pesach chiddush l’ilui nishmas Rebbetzin Miriam (Friedman) bas Ita Menucha of righteous memory.

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This Pesach, I would like to share with you a few thoughts based on a Pesach sicha (talk) given by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, R’ Menachem Mendel Schneerson of righteous memory.  Please be aware that as we near the end, I divert more from the Rebbe’s sicha and elaborate with a few other connections and reflections.

It is interesting to note, that the Chabad version of the Four Questions, otherwise known as the “Mah Nishtana,” differs from the rest of the Jewish world’s.  Let’s compare:

NON-CHABAD VERSION OF THE MAH NISHTANA:

Ma nishtana halailah hazeh mikol haleilot? (Why is this night different​ from all other nights?)

1.)  Shebechol haleilot anu ochlin chametz umatzah; halailah hazeh kulo matzah? (On all other nights, we eat either leavened or unleavene​​d bread; why, on this night, do we eat only unleavene​​d bread?)

2.)  Shebechol haleilot anu ochlin she’ar yerakot; halailah hazeh maror? (On all other nights, we eat all kinds of herbs; why, on this night, do we eat especiall​y bitter herbs?)

3.)  Shebechol haleilot ein anu matbilin afilu pa’am echat; halailah hazeh, shetei pe’amim? (On all other nights, we do not dip herbs even once; why, on this night, do we dip them twice [in salt water and cḥaroset]​?)

4.)  Shebechol haleilot anu ochlin bein yoshvin u’vein mesubin; halailah hazeh kulanu mesubin? (On all other nights we may eat both sitting and reclining​​; why, on this night, are we all reclining​​?)

CHABAD VERSION OF THE MAH NISHTANA:

Mah nishtanah halaila hazeh mikol halaylot? (What makes this night different from all [other] nights?)

1.) She’bechol halaylot ain anu matbilin afilu pa’am echat, halaila hazeh shtei pe’amim? (On all nights we need not dip even once, on this night we do so twice?)

2.) She’bechol halaylot anu ochlim chametz umatza, halaila hazeh kulo maztah? (On all nights we eat chametz or matzah, and on this night only matzah?)

3.) She’bechol halaylot anu ochlim she’ar yerakot, halaila hazeh maror? (On all nights we eat any kind of vegetables, and on this night maror?)

4.) She’bechol halaylot anu ochlim bain yoshvin bain mesubin, halaila hazeh kulanu mesubin? (On all nights we eat sitting upright or reclining, and on this night we all recline?)

To summarize the differing orders:  Non-Chabad communities inquire first about the matzah, second regarding the maror, third about the dipping, and fourth concerning reclining.  In Chabad, we ask in the order of dipping, matzah, maror and reclining.

Why does Nusach Chabad follow this order?  It’s neither in accordance with a.) the different components’ significance, nor b.) the sequence in which a child witnesses the steps of the Seder.

The mitzvah of matzah is de’Oraita (sourced in the Torah); maror is mideh’Rabannan (decreed by the Sages); “mesubin – reclining” is an expression of “cheirus – freedom,” which is a primary theme of the festival; and lastly, “matbilin – dipping” is merely a custom.  One might very well argue that this (perspective a.) is how the questions should be enumerated.  Indeed, why does Chabad give the minhag (custom) of matbilin the esteem of being fixed as the first question, when it seems to bear the least clout?

We see here that there are obligations to carry out; matzah and maror are both mitzvos, and mesubin is a necessary performance to demonstrate the essence of the evening’s celebration.  They demand adherence and stringency.  But what of the customs, such as matbilin?  Are we required to be stringent with them?

The times we live in today are especially serious ones to educate our children in the Torah path, and ingrain them with its values and eternal wisdom.  Sometimes it’s a great challenge, requiring mesiras-nefesh (self-sacrifice) to accomplish.  Isn’t it enough, we may ask, to instruct our youth in our unequivocal obligations and liabilities as Jews?  Must we really sacrifice further to emphasize mere minhagim?  Perhaps we can be more casual regarding customary matters; after all, they aren’t of the same gravity as explicit mitzvos!  Is it wise that we should divert our focus from transmitting the ikarim (main principles) to our children, alternatively channeling it towards minhagim?

It isn’t as black-and-white as we think.  It is within this secret that the lesson of Chabad’s rendition of the classic queries lies.

The first thing a child takes note of and asks about, is that which makes an impression on him.  But what is it exactly that touches his young mind and heart so?  A child’s sense is not yet captivated by the ikarim and Halachos of the Torah and of the Rabbis, but rather the Minhagei Yisrael…  Sometimes they’re a little different, a little unusual, but quite often delightfully intimate and personal.

A person can be raised and live his life in scrupulous adherence to Halacha, maintaining timeliness with davening, fixed times for Torah study, and so forth.  However, even then, he may not appear distinctively Jewish from the outside.  He may not even feel different within, enriched by and sensitive of the holiness of his Torah and mitzvos, as his fulfillment of them has grown mechanical.  Now his personal environment is susceptible to becoming identical to that of a Gentile’s; this person is now at risk of losing his unique identity as a Jew.  If his Avodas Hashem (service of G-d) lacked joy, meaning and wonder, what was giving him a strong anchor to keep him near anyway?

Our minhagim and traditions are the solution to this lack.  The remedy to the malady of apathy.  Some of the most powerful cables to draw us nearer to one another and Hashem.  The anchor to keep us steady and strong in the crushing chaos and distractions – or, simply, disinterest in our heritage – that are so prevalent in society and the world today.

We must never forget Kedushas haTorah or Kedushas haMitzvos, the soul and foundation of all our minhagim.  There is even a famous statement in the Gemara, “Minhag Yisrael Torah Hee – The custom of Israel is Torah.”  Indeed, both our customs and our laws are essentially united, all rooted in Hashem’s wisdom, all serving to distinguish us from the rest of the nations of the world.  The minhagim remind us of the holiness of Torah and mitzvos.  They are invested with a unique energy that can accomplish something wondrous – work their way into a young and inquisitive soul – that even conventional Torah can’t.

Chiyuvim can be performed by rote if we do not take care.  A Jewish child must be taught that he/she is different from others, and inspired to feel it in a positive way, with awareness and pride.  This is what the minhagim accomplish.

If only we educate our children properly by imparting even minhagim with the importance of Torah law – for it isn’t up to us to weigh which we think is more valued, and we can’t neglect or exclude one thing! –  and show our children we must sacrifice to perform them as well, minhagim also provide a stepping stone to greater devotion to Torah and mitzvos.  This is in addition to immersing the children in an environment of warmth, love, commitment to a higher purpose, and awareness of Hashem in even “the little things.”

Hence, a great deal of the Seder revolves around children, and many of its rituals we perform were designed with the intent to pique children’s’ interest and prompt them to question.  No one is “too old” to ask.  We all have an inner child – well, actually, we have a spark of each of the four children (the chocham/wise one, the rasha/wicked one, the tam/simple one, the she’eino yodeiya lishol/one who doesn’t know how to ask) within.  We have also been taught about a “fifth child.”  Let us aggressively seek out the Fifth Son, wherever or whoever she or he might be. Every lost Jew we bring back into the family may be compared to the discovery of a lost treasure of incalculable value.  It is not enough to just set an extra place at the seder table. Not any more. We must fill the extra place with a warm body. We can then fill that warm body with the warmth that is Judaism.  {Based on a call issued by the Lubavitcher Rebbe shortly before Passover of 1957.  Sourced from Chabad.org.)  They are all waiting to be nourished and individually spoken with, each connected to in their own way, in the midst of the atmosphere bred by the miracles and magic of the Pesach Seder minhagim.

“Ki yishalcha bincha – If your child asks you {Devarim 6:20}…” If any of the children ask you anything, ensure that it is inviting and safe for him/her to question; after all, this is their hour!  “V’higad’to l’vincha bayom hahu laymor ‘Ba’avur zeh asah Hashem li b’tzaysi miMitzrayim’ – And you shall tell your son on that day, saying, ‘Because of this, the Lord did this for me when I went out of Egypt.'” {Devarim 13:8}

When a parent or guardian raises a child, they are obligated with basic requirements for the youth’s care, such as sustenance, shelter, clothing – education, too!  Then there are ‘extras’ that enhance the relationship, perhaps quality/bonding time, a gift, or cooking their favorite meal for them.  It is likewise between Avinu Shebashamayim (our Father in Heaven) and us:  He sustains us with basic Torah and mitzvos with which to live our lives, but He gives us an extra display of His affection through the Minhagei Yisrael.  Through them, He is telling us that even the youngest, even the most seemingly distant, and the child within every one of us, have a profound place in His heart, and are meant to be drawn near through this love and excitement.

Indeed, we are blessed to have a close bond with G-d.  Sometimes we are compared to His child, and other times we are compared to His bride.  Hashem employed four expressions of redemption when describing to Moshe how He would redeem His nation-to-be.  The final expression, “‘V’lakachti es’chem Li l’am v’hayisi lachem lay’Elokim – And I will take you to Me as a people, and I will be a G-d to you {Shemos 6:7},'” captures the climax of Yetzias Mitrayim, and touches upon the ultimate purpose of our exodus: to arrive at Har Sinai, to receive the Torah after a journey of growth and refinement in the wilderness, and to be wed to Hashem in an unbreakable union.  It was then that we devoted ourselves to a vision and mission, to bring the whole world to recognize the truth of Hashem, and fuse heaven and earth together once more.  We are given the strength, tools and platform to make this a reality, for Torah is constantly being bestowed upon us; our ancient heritage is constantly reinvigorated with passion and hope.  It is from the Mesorah (tradition) that reaches back to our wedding day as a tenacious vine from which has blossomed various minhagim, customs, throughout our timeline, that we are nourished to persist in passing on the torch of Torah to our children, and for all generations to come.

This is why the minhag of matbilin is honored as the first question in Chabad, for it is the minhagim that most remind our children of their past, the minhagim that give spice to and celebrate their identity and the present, and the minhagim that create the warm and loving Torah environment to set the course of and sculpt their future as Jews and Lamplighters.  The minhagim captivate the child’s interest, and fuse him as a link in the chain of young questioners stretching back through the ages.

The power of tradition… the hallmark of a Torah – or, really, almost any Jewish home.

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Wishing you all, my dear readers, a Kosher and joyous Pesach!  May you all find more meaning and depth in this year’s retelling of our story than ever before.  May all your questions be answered.  May you find the beauty in tradition, both time-tested ones and your own originals.  May you be blessed by Hashem with strength and success to break out of your own personal Egypt.  I pray that we may sing together just like the Bnei Yisroel right on into the Geulah Sheleima (Ultimate Redemption), may it be now!

 

The Messenger Bird

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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