This week's class (March 16th) hinges on a primary concept that comes up more than once in the Hagaddah. Consider the following two paragraphs:
In every generation a person is obligated to regard himself as if he had come out of Egypt, as it as said, "You shall tell your child on that day, it is because of this that the L-rd did for me when I left Egypt." The Holy One, blessed be He, redeemed not only our fathers from Egypt, but He redeemed also us with them, as it is said, "It was us that He brought out from there, so that He might bring us to give us the land that he swore to our fathers."
We were slaves to Pharoah in Egypt, and the L-rd, our G-d, took us out from where with a strong hand and with an outstretched arm. If the Holy One, blessed be He, had not taken our fathers out of Egypt, then we, our children, and our children's children would have remained enslaved to Pharoah in Egypt. Even if all of us were wise, all of us understanding, all of us knowing the Torah, we will still be obligated to discuss the exodus from Egypt; and everyone who discusses the exodus from Egypt at length is praiseworthy.
[I was late so I missed this beginning part, but it looks into the Shema which closes with a reminder that:
"I am the L-rd you G-d, who brought out of the land of Egypt to be your G-d."
So wer're going to discuss an interpretation from RAMBAM, from the Guide to the Perplexed, which was written in a great philosophical lanaguage that made it seem like the RAMBAM was going away from tradition, and some quarters didn't accept the works for hundreds of years. But before we get to his ideas, let's build a foundation.
In the Torah, the first four books is the story of the Jews becoming a people. The 5th book was written by Moses during the last 30 years of his life, and it's effectively Moses' commentary on the first four, but there's a lot of (seemingly) new information there. But it must have been there already, because the entire book is repetition. So the Shema must have been there, since Moses brings it in, but it first shows up in Deuteronomy.
Where it gets interesting is the 10 commandments, Moses changes things. And his changes become legal minefields. For instance, in the original 10, the command is "Remember the Sabbath" and when Moses repeats them he says, "Protect the Shabbat."
Slightly different as it changes from a proactive obligation to a prohibitive, "protect it." The Rabbis in their writing on their prayers comment, "Shamor v'zakchor b'dibor echod" - meaning the two words were said together, but you can't separate it since it was said simultaneously. And maybe if that were the only change, it could stand like that; but that wasn't the only difference.
"Do not bear false witness" (say a lie) and then the repetition is "do say irrelevancies to confuse the issue" it's not a lie, it's just irrelevant, it confuses the issue, but that hurts people.
Why we have to observe Shabbat? The explanation is right with the commandment. "Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. Work six days and rest on the seventh because for 6 days the L-rd made the heavens and earth and on the 7th day, He rested." Therefore we should mimic G-d and rest on the seventh.
In the repetition there's an explanation also, "Keep the Sabbath, six days, labour and do all your work and seventh day you should rest." And why? "Because you should remember that you were a slave in Egypt and the L-rd brought you out."
And this illustrates two important points: The cosmic reality of Shabbat is G-d as creator and then there is the covenant that the G-d has with us as a people by taking us out. It's not a cosmic reality, it's a personal reality.
One language shows G-d as the cosmic reality of the universe, the creator. The other is a covenant with a group of people. You need to find both of these truths in Shabbat. You need to accept G-d as the creator, but also as a personal saviour, in a covenant with an individual group of people.
So let's look at another of the 10 commandments that has a reason given for observing it, the first one and the most sacred, one of the ones G-d said personally, "I am the L-rd, your G-d who brought you out of Egypt from the house of slavery." When this command is repeated, the language is identical. Moses changes nothing.
If there's a cosmic and a covenant truth about Shabbos, how much more so about this commandment? Shouldn't he be focusing on the cosmic reality? Shouldn't it be more important to mention the cosmic truth of G-d as creator of the universe? There is a G-d and creator, and shouldn't it say here that he created the universe?
When G-d gives reason for why you have to do it, like Shabbat, he finds it necessary to give the double language. But when it comes to the first commandment which also has a reason, "because I took you out" there is no greater truth than this one.
So RAMBAM provides a deeper insight to these two truths in Shabbat. Using his logic, we'll go back to the first commandment. RAMBAM is an interpretation for why there is a whole belief in Judaism that everything hangs on Exodus? The Shema ends with the Exodus. The whole story, the fundamental truths of Judaism depend on the Exodus from Egypt.
G-d said you should remember that you were in Egypt. There's an interesting thing about what you're obligated to remember and the Rabbi's prepared a list that appears in most prayer books of the six things than you should remember each day. Of the "Six Remembrances," the first on the list is you came from Egypt. And the others are: Remove jealousy from your heart. Remember what Amalek did to you. Remember how G-d helped in the desert. Remember the Exodus. Remember Miriam's story....
Now because we're obligated to remember these things they have incorporated these six things into a daily prayer. So why do we have to tie in Shabbat and Shema to this one remembrance, and none of the others. But with the remembrance of Egypt some of the most fundamental prayers focus on that, and incorporate it. It's not enough to remember it once a day in this little prayer.
For Shabbat there are two commandments given based on two effects. These two causes are correct. The effect by the first commandments is trying to establish that Shabbat is holy and exalted: sacred. So we mention G-d as creator because he's attached to what he creates and it make it holy. And it should be a holy sacred day because G-d has a relationship with it as creator of the universe, therefore it's sacred and it's holy and exalted. If you know who the author is, you'll exalt it. If you know the author's relationship to the day, you'll find it holy and sacred.
And this is the effect of stating the cosmic truth.
However, with the law to "Respect" the Sabbath day because we were slaves of Egypt. When you get into the details of Shabbat that it should be based on idea of slavery in Egypt, where we did not work according to our free choice and where we did not have the power to refrain from working. This time, G-d speaks to us that he had a choice and he chose us from among the nations and because I chose you, you must be a free people with a right to choose and by not working on Shabbat it shows that you exercise that choice; that you do not have an obligation to perform.
The religion beings choice and freedom, unbound to external forces. Unbound to the laws of nature, which imposes upon you a sense of slavery. [Because you have to work in order to sustain yourself] This idea allows us to mimic G-d with choice. He wants us to choose. He brought us from Egypt to choose. In order to be able to be a religion, we must be free. We must be able to choose.
The Rabbis in prayer also had this related thought from the holiday, "You have chosen us from among all the nations; You have...and you made us holy through your commandments." From a state of chosen-ness, you sanctified us. The Shabbat makes a person holy through G-d the creator, and G-d makes as person free through the G-d as choser of the nation. It's not just simply about that you were becoming a holy people, in Shabbat is the idea that G-d chose and we chose. G-d chose us and G-d wants us to be a free people to be a Jewish nation and the only way we can be free is to be free which begins by going out of Egypt. And this concept of the Jew as a free people begins with going out of Egypt.
So, back to the first commandments in the Torah. The first set of commandments brings out holiness, and the second set brings out choice. A person lives a holier life because G-d is holy. G-d does not want us to be bound by any external truths . What we do shouldn't come from any ulterior motives. And the simplest expression of that is in the Shabbat. Unattach yourself to how your driven the whole life is. Show that you're not bound, that your work doesn't own you.
So the first commandment states basically, "I am your G-d, 'cause I chose you." not because I'm going to make you holy. So when Moses repeats it, he uses the exact the same word. G-d as the center of Jewish life and the reason why we're Jewish isn't about holiness, it's about choice, and Moses leaves it that. And with all that theology of how we should be holy, that['s not at the core essence of why G-d is the G-d of the Jews, it's because of the choice, G-d chose the Jews, and he wants them to be free to choose in turn.
But what does it mean G-d offers to the other nations. It means G-d chose us. He had options. Even though he had this covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, He really chose up because he had a choice.
The comfort G-d has with our forefathers, which allowed it to go into a relationship with the children and even establish a religion based on that, would not have affected the true deeper relationship that G-d has with us. Take the case of two children, a child that behaves comfortably with his parents and a child that is uncomfortable with his parents. Which reflects the greater truth? The child that has zero connection to his parents, but at the end of the day, the parent says: this is my child. There's a connection that transcends likes and interests. The child who is like the parent is likeable and so you like him because it's so similar it's a pleasure to be around him and near him. It doesn't show a great parent/child bond, we just have a lot in common. When you get a parent and child who have nothing in common and at the end of the day, they still acknowledge and respect this relationship, that's a greater truth.
The idea of G-d's Torah as a continuation of his comfort with the forefathers doesn't bring out a deeper relationship. The deeper relationship comes only when you have options and you choose that relationship. And in that choice, there was a debate, and there was thought, and there was a choice, Yes and NO, and I decided to say Yes, And that's essential to being Jewish. And therefore Moses doesn't bring the idea, "you like to be holy, I'm holy, attach yourself to me and we can be holy together." That we can do with Shabbat, where we can choose it by choice and because we want to be holy like G-d. But when it comes to the fundamental truth about G-d and that we're Jewish, at the core essence of Judaism is choice, and you chose, every moment, to be Jewish. And you should be thinking every day and with every decision, about this element of choice. The Talmud is 60 volumes of self-criticism, choosing right or wrong at every moment and not being embarrassed to say "G-d you're wrong." That's choice. That's called thinking and saying to yourself I'm not bound by anything and therefore I chose G-d at every moment and that can't be tampered with.
So in the story Exodus, Moses shows up at the end of the first parsha. And at the end of the Parsha, Moses asks why are you doing this?
So Moses had spoken to the Jews, and tells them G-d will take them back. The Torah says that they didn't listen to Moses because they were in horrible slavery. And G-d says "go to Pharoah" and Moses says even the Jews won't listen to me, why would Pharoah? (Exodus 6:13) And G-d spoke to Moses and Aaron and obligates them about Bnai Israel, and to go to Pharoah to take the Jewish people out of Egypt.
He asked him to speak to Jews and he did. He asked him to go to Pharoah and he says he doesn't want to, and then this obligation is laid on him. What is he obligated to speak about? It says what he speaks to Pharoah about, but what about the Jews at this point? The verse doesn't say what he should tell them.
So you might think, G-d should just command him to go to Pharoah, but instead he obliged him to the Jewish people with no mention of the what should be said or done. So Rashi says the instructions were to lead them calmly and to be patient with them.
So G-d is responding to both issues. The first issue is that Moses didn't succeed with the Jews. And to that G-d says, off the record, you want know why you didn't succeed with them, you weren't a mench. You need to be calm and patient with them and listen to their issues. You spoke over their head. And as for the rest, you're going to Pharoah whether you want to or not. So be patient and sensitive, and you're going to speak to Pharoah.
From the Jerusalem Talmud, "in respect to what did he command them" he commanded them about the obligation to not have slaves. I'm going to take you out of Egypt and therefore you should not have slaves. Rav Shmuel says the first commandment that the Jews got from G-d in Egypt, in the first sentence after they didn't want to listen to Moses, G-d teaches them not to have slaves. At the core essence of who we are, you cannot take away choice from people.
Before the plagues, before Pharoah has even been approached, G-d is teaching them to see for themselves how fundamentally wrong it is to take away choice from someone. This is G-d saying to a people that physical restraint of choice should not take away mental choice. You should not allow yourself mentally to be slaves. How under all circumstances, irrelevant of what we're bound to, throughout history, from this point on, external factors never took away the sense of being a free people and that any limitations on us are external and not conquering the essence of who we are. We are still a free people, at our core.
Before I start bringing you out of Egypt, let me teach you this one thought, mental freedom. The truth about being a Jew is that you never lose your choice. You never lose your right to be a free people and don't allow physical circumstances to change that mental reality. And you have to learn to be a free people despite all the things that will happen, because you were born into freedom and you should never lose that. This is how the rabbis view the concept of freedom. You should never take a slave. Never violate a person's rights. If you understand that, you understand how to survive this slavery because on a mental level, they can't take that freedom away from you.
As a boy in the Chassic world, Rabbi Buket grew up with a Chassdic story about the Frierdiker Rebbe who was imprisoned in Siberia and suffered through communism. And when he finally came to America in 1941, he was a physically broken man. But one of the stories that came from his trial, that when he was being grilled on the stands about how many schools and how many people were running schools, and synagogues, and doing circumcisions were being performed, and they couldn't figure out how to bring down this underground Jewish network. And he wasn't giving them any names and he answered in riddles and he would answer in Halacha.
So one of the court guards walked up to him and said, "I am holding a gun to your head with a bullet in it. One squeeze and you're not here."
And the Frierdiker Rebbe responded, "For a person who has many gods in one world this is scary, but for a person who has one G-d but many worlds, this one is really not that important."
There was a mental space that they couldn't take away from him and in that space he was free. In essence, he was saying, I'm not bound by your limitations of this world. You're not controlling me. In my relationship with G-d there's more than this world and there are more places where I exist with G-d.
You must allow a mental space in your existence where you have that freedom that people can't take away from you. Because in every generation we don't see ourselves as a bound people, irrelevent of the circumstances. we see ourselves, each as a free person, having choice and having a relationship with God. And in every generation a person is obligated to see himself as going out of Egypt and in every generation we are obligated to see ourselves as a people with a choice, as an unbound people. So when we tell the story, we can tell it historically, that's our forefathers, but when you want to understand it on theological level that says that I'm your G-d because I chose you, it's this idea of a person having a choice and a right to choose because G-d chose us.
Passover and Shavuot - The unified Holiday (March 30th class)
Passover and Shavuot – the unified holiday
This is our 5th class, the penultimate class. And today we're going to address something that is a deep running thought in Judaism, the concept of free will. What does it mean to choose in Judaism?
Where G-d says to you, you have the right to choose and I hope you choose the right thing. And he wanted us to know that he chose us and therefore we chose him.
So how does this issue of choice differ from the idea that we're his children? That's a natural relationship. There's no element of choice. To have a relationship with your isn't a choice, it's a natural relationship we have.
So lets explore this idea a little deeper. If we look into the Hagaddah we have paragraph that begins "Baruch HaMakom". In general terms, the Haggadah is a legal piece of writing. Everything in the Hagadaah is backed by sources from scripture. Each piece has history, and therefore there are very few times that the Hagadic author speaks poetically or introduces a new idea with his own language. And it's with the lines that you don't find within existing sources, you sense that he is trying to introduce something and he uses poetic license to introduce that something.
So this paragraph lends itself to a multifaceted interpretation.
So we're introducing a part of the story of going out of Egypt, and G-d speaking to the four different categories of people leaving Egypt. Why is this introduced by the idea of G-d giving the Torah, which happens historically after the instructions to tell your children? And what about this wording, "Kneged arbra bonim"? G-d spoke to everyone, but why is it being called out as if G-d spoke only to four children? That we were like children when we left Egypt seems to be the implication. That G-d spoke to us as if we ourselves were the four children.
So translating from the Hebrew, we can translate this paragraph as:
Blessed are you are G-d who gave me the Torah and by contrast (in justaposition) G-d spoke to four children.
So where else do we find the concept of kneged. About Adam and Eve, Eve is described as "ezer knegdo " to Adam - a "helpmate against". This is commonly understood as meaning when he does well, she will be a support, and when he does not, she will oppose him.
The author of the Haggadah can be saying that G-d gave the Torah to enhance the understanding of the four children. (azer, rather than kneged)
In the Lithuanian world, which is bound by legalities, they struggle with this interpretation and they want to understand that this is a Mitzvah. The Mitzvah we do is to tell the story of going out. The storytelling is a Mitzvah in its own right, so why don't we make a blessing over the telling of the story. There should be a blessing like "magid yetsiayat mitrayim" or "mitzvat hagaddah" and so they decide that this paragraph is the blessing. So then you have the question, why is this a concealed blessing? And this is the blessing of telling the story.
The giving of the Torah:
What are the festivals? Rosh Hashana/Yom Kippur are not festivals, they're solemn days, not festivals.
The festivals are Passover, Sukkot, and Shavuot
Passover - is the exodus
Shavuot - receiving the Torah – But here's the funny thing, when Shavuot is mentioned in the Torah, the giving of the Torah isn't mentioned. The Rabbis have come up with that reason. They include it in the Talmud and the prayer book, but it doesn't exist in the Torah.
There are three times it's mentioned in Torah :
1. With the sacrifices of the holiday,
2. After the building the Temple, Moses repeats how to do holiday sacrifices in Pinchas,
3. When Moses repeats the laws of the holidays in Deuteronomy Parshat Re'eh.
Shavuot - the way it's written - is the back end of Passover, the completion of Passover. Passover begins, the omer begins and then Shavuot completes that, 50 days later, as part of a 50 day period of celebration, where the first fruits are brought.
The festival of Sukkot is mentioned separately. It's independent from Passover, Shavuot is not independent. It's written as the end of Passover and in a way, the culmination of Passover. You start something on Passover and complete it on Shavuot. It's the completion of what happened on Passover. It's not independent of going out of Egypt, it doesn't stand on its own. The Torah never mentions the giving of the Torah in connection with Shavuot. It so happens that the Torah was given at the completion of this festival.
So why do the Rabbis change this for posterity?
Because they are not bound to the land anymore, there are no first fruits to complete the cycle, so Shavuot needs more reasons to stand on it's own unbound from the harvest.
Sukkot has a reason of it's own to celebrate, the booths that we lived in. It has a labor independent of Passover. Shavuot, the festival of weeks, even the name implies the continuation. And the reason you're doing this is so that you remember that you were slaves in Egypt (Deut 16:12). Shavuot is a continuation of Passover.
In Sefer Ha'Chinuk – which is a book that takes the law from the Torah language and restates it as law – it says, in a section entitled "The prohibition of doing work on Shavuot": you shall continue Passover, count for 50 days and bring it to completion.
This is a whole different way of presentation than the way we celebrate today. In Torah language, it was a completion of Passover. What was G-d's infinite wisdom of starting something on Passover and positioning people to grow into it on Shavuot?
So we'll get there, but lets start from a different position. Let's look a conversation and the Midrash on the conversation.
We struggle, as Americans, when we fight a war and people die that have nothing to do with it. We're so sensitive to avoid the language of genetic cleansing. What does it mean when people lose their lives for a collective truth? In Jewish literature, we speak about the nation of Amalek as a collective, why do we look at the nation, why not the individuals, maybe they are good people?
So looking into Shemot (Exodus) 25:13
Moses says to G-d : when I go to the Jewish people and tell them you sent me, they will ask me your name. What do I tell them?
Aheyeh asher Aheyeh - I will be who I will be.
So what does this mean? The commentaries explain it as, "I am now in the time of desperation, the same that I will be in the time of redemption. I don't change. I am what I am. I am now in bad times as I will be in good times. Therefore don't lose heart because of the circumstances of the now."
The Midrash explains it, "I will be to those that want me to be."
There's a story about Mendel Kotske, a Chassidic leader, who approached his Chassidim once and asked, "Where's G-d" and they were confused, but he told them, "where you let him in." G-d is where you let him in.
For the indivudals, only. But the masses don't have a choice.
The individual can choose to allow Him in, and G-d will be, but the collective, the masses, they don't have a choice.
Reb Yochanan is quoted in the Midrash as saying "I am to individuals that want me to be. But as to masses I will rule over them against their desires and will, even if I they break their teeth." as it is said, "surely with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm,...Ezek 20:33)
And an individual has a right to make a choice, but [G-d says] I want to tell you something, the Jews are going out of Egypt. Collectively, the group has to move. Individuals in the group can opt out, but I must bring Judaism to a different phase and I can't allow it to continue down this road of being subsumed by Egypt. Collectively, we must move the people. Individually, they can opt out. A person, in this relationship with G-d in Egypt had a choice to opt out.
In Jewish law today, a Jew cannot say I am not a Jew. What changed? Before, He acknowledges that individuals have a right to opt out. If you don't choose the relationship, you just walk away. But now, after the giving of the Torah, you can stand on your head! So you're not behaving like Jew, so what? You're still a Jew. A Jew is a Jew even when he's sinning. The Talmud says, you're still Jewish. What makes me Jewish? The fact that I [G-d] had to take the Jews out of Egypt. That's what I had to do. I'll take you by force if I must, but the individual can walk away.
Shemot (Exodus) 6:1 Rashi comments on this line "watch what I'm going to do Pharoah, for through a strong hand I will send them out, and with a strong hand, I will drive them out."
So you could read that the strong hand is against Pharoah, that he will be punished.
But Rashi doesn't read it that way, with a strong hand, means against the will of the Jews. The strong hand is on the Jews. Rashi is drawing from the Midrash, that in this relationship, on a collective level, there might be tension. It might not be comfortable, because it's not totally by their free will. But the individuals could walk out. Ultimately 4/5th of the Jewish community didn't leave. 1/5th left. There was a group of people who left, but at the same time individuals, and a lot of individuals stayed behind. But we had an individual right to not be part of it.
So there are two languages around the Exodus of Egypt.
Right in the beginning of Exodus (4:21/22), G-d uses clear language of what he sees and what he wants to accomplish. This is the language he uses, "all the wonders will I put in your hand perform them before Pharoah, but will harden his heart and he will not spend the people out. But I want you to say to Pharoah, my firstborn child is Israel." Convince him of this argument: they are my children. I have a relationship with them.
But we also have this language (Exodus 3:12) "For I shall be with you and this is the sign I have sent you, when you take the people out of Egypt, they will serve me..."
What happened to children? Are we children or slaves?
The reason for the relationship is that they are my children, but ultimately, it's going to be avodah, to serve me. Children -vs- servants.
So we start the story, as send them out, they are children, but by the time you reach this mountain, you're servants. Start the story as a child and end the story in service. There's no ambiguity. The whole story starts, they're my children, the culmination, the ending of it, is they're going to serve me.
It couldn't be more direct.
What does it mean to have a child/parent relationship and what's a relationship that goes beyond it?
A child/parent relationship is a natural relationship. It's gratifying. It says that who you are continues. The Talmud says it's an extension of the parent's arm. You love yourself through your children and you can express your love and it's an expression of you. You love the child because the child is part of you. So it's not as if it's an abundance of love where you love something that isn't a part of you, this is a continuation of loving yourself.
Different is a marriage. Where it's a whole different type of love. It's not an extension of yourself, because the person is different. The person isn't an extension or a glorification of you, it's where you open yourself up to something that's not you. And the more that it's not you, the greater the marriage. You have a whole different set of ideas and perspectives.
Which love is the greater love? Love of a child/parent or marriage. The love of a marriage is fierce, passionate. There's an act of love which is an expression of the feeling –vs- the child/parent where there's no act that represents the emotion. There's no greater love than two opposites connecting: one flesh from people who are the opposite. It's a bonding and a union and a devotion which a parent/child can't reach, despite being a more natural love.
People can decide to have children, and they're not interested in the marriage, and they're not interested in that complex relationship where two opposites have to connect because that's a tremendous dance with a life altering method, where someone will challenge you. But they want that natural love to continue who they are and have that natural bond - children outside of a marriage. It's a different type of a love. The problem with the natural love is it's limited. It's who you are continued. And therefore in that limitation, it doesn't have the broad spectrum of a love that goes beyond the naturalness. It doesn't have that. You don't widen your horizons when you have a child. When you marry you bring new ways and ideas to the table. All of the sudden you are being dragged to things you never do. Men, left to their own devices, would figure out how to watch NFL with automatic pizza and beer delivery. With marriage comes a whole different set of issues.
So G-d says to the Jewish people, I started with a natural love for you through your forefathers, and we have a natural bond and in that natural bond, there's an openness ,and I feel comfortable taking you out of Egypt. What happens when a child says to the parent, I'm not interested in you. The relationship breaks. It's over. And in that overness, that child can walk out. Children do that. They can walk out. They don't like that devotion of the parent. I'm not interested in you: money, time, attention, whatever, leave me alone. And this is one of the most heart-wrenching realities in families. It's the one-dimensional quality of the love that ends up being the end of the relationship, because the parent has this idea that the child should be doing whatever the parent wants, and the parent is overprotective, over-plans the child life etc.
This is where to a certain degree because it's such a one-dimensional love, the child as a continuation of who you are, how can the child be independent of you?
As a child, I used to watch my parents treat my sister-in-law and brother-in-laws as children and my parents never differentiated. They were part of the family. They were extras. And the parents were able to say that they are the same. They didn't overprotect the child to separate them from the spouse. They stepped away and accepted the children as independent and different from the parent, but that's not a natural progression. That's something you have to work on, it's something beyond the natural love because you see the child as separate.
What is the responsibility of the parent to a child that wants to be separate, estranged? One of the ways you see it is in mourning. Because there is no relationship, you're not obligated to mourning because you've not lost the relationship. You have the right, by contrast, to sit shiva over a friend, because if you felt that close, that it's the relationship that you had that you're losing, mourn. The bond of the parent/child is in the relationship, in the bond. If there's no bond, there's no relationship.
And in the original relationship, G-d wants to take us out as his children in this natural relationship. And if the children say, "goodbye," that's it. G-d has to accept that. But after the giving of the Torah, they have been chosen as a people. It's a different relationship. Now you're going to serve me. There's a bond, a whole different relationship, based on choice. So what does it mean to choose? If you give me a cup of water and a cup of antifreeze, and give me a choice to drink, is that a choice? If you put in front of me my child, and a stranger and say you choose who lives, how is that a choice? Of course you pick your child. But now when G-d makes the choice, he chooses between us and other people.
Disregarding the natural relationship, G-d says, I am now entering a relationship with you that goes beyond the fact of a natural relationship.
So onto the last idea - in Devraim (Deuteronomy) in the laws of mourning. "You are children to Hashem, your G-d, You shall not cut yourselves or made a bald spot between your eyes for a dead person" I know you lost someone you love, and you think it's over, but you're still not cut off from me, you're still my child, so don't do permanent things to your body that reflect your loss. "For you are a holy people to Hashem your G-d, and G-d has chosen you for himself as a treasured nation."
You're a holy people and you were chosen.
Rashi explains : That you are a holy people - from your fathers. It's a legacy. An inherited love.
And (he goes on to say) in addition - G-d chose you. And therefore while you may feel you have the right to do what you're doing, because you're a holy people and you're mourning a loss and you sense a breaking, a permanent breaking in how you see life and therefore in that natural relationship become vulnerable; your relationship with G-d can also be vulnerable, but don't forget that there's something beyond that, also I choose and because I chose you, you can't do what you're going to do.
You face an unmovable obstacle and God acknowledges that expression and says, you know what, our relationship goes beyond that. It's not out of natural tendencies. Culturally, intellectually, emotionally, we're on the same page, therefore I love you; that can be broken. That can be broken! What happened here goes beyond that, I'm not simply doing it out of the natural comfortable relationship, it's because it's who I am, and who I am is one with you and in that oneness, it transcends the oneness. It's something that doesn't come from external motives, it comes from the internal need. If there's an external motive, it's not much of a choice.
And this is what happened. G-d made a seven week period where this transition took place. They left Egypt as children, and it's not just simply out of a comfortable love. It's not a love that's an extension of ideals. It has to come from the depth of who I am as G-d and who you are. It has to grow to this culmination.
G-d says I need to move the relationship from "this is my first born" to "these are my servants who chose me", and the relationship is beyond simply child/parent, and therefore the Torah writes it up as how it starts and how it ends.
It starts as a parent/child and ends as a marriage, moving from a natural relationship to a choice relationship. When you marry because you like an element of the person, it's because deep in the essence of your soul, that person is one with you. But as long as your core essence is still one with that person, other factors make no difference: money, beauty, tragedy, your bond transcends these things. At a different level, where there's a soulmate; a connection, It's a core essence of who we are. It's one thing that can never be broken. A soulmate doesn't speak about sharing things in common, a soul mate is at the essence of who you are. It isn't that natural thing, like maybe we both like to golf that we share that makes us soul mates, it's deeper, and that the level that G-d wants to take us too.
We start with the basic premise that we like each other because we have history, but it moves to a deeper level, when we move out of Egypt, I want to move to a soulful relationship, an essential relationship. If we can move to that relationship, that's where the story ends and that's why the Torah writes it up that way. And that's how the Hagaddah writes it up, Blessed are you who gives us the Torah, rather than speaking to us only as four children. Blessed are you that you've chosen us in a non-breakable way, beyond the boundaries of this natural relationship. It doesn't have to do with shared experience. Go and tell Pharoah, you're not my child, and if we're not sharing as a family and we don't like each other, it isn't going to work, and people can walk away, but once it's a soulful relationship at the core essence, it can't be broken. The oneness is persistent and that's why you're Jewish if you're Jewish, because the relationship doesn't stop just because you don't share the same things anymore it lives as the core essence of your being.
April 6, 2008 –
The last class of this year. Maybe as a closure, instead of staying on one idea, I’ll give people little short thoughts they can use at the Seder including different pieces. So we’ll use the Hagaddah as source material and present short concise ideas and, in addition, allow ideas to speak at the Seder
How does the Seder begin?
So dominating history in the religious world the last 250 years were two major theologies: Lithuanian (Litvak) Judaism and Chassidus. And there was real tension between the two theologies and had there not be a holocaust and terrible tragedies, it might still be a major reality in Judaism. You don’t see the tension that much anymore, although in Israel, you still see them below the surface.
Putting aside the political struggle, at the core essence of the struggle between Litvak and Chassidim was a simple idea:
Lithuanian Jewry felt that the way to approach G-d was first to come clean then establish yourself as who you are, (Lithuanian) “Go away from bad and go to good” so a person is continually in a state of rebuke to remove themselves from bad.
Chassidus felt the way to approach G-d was to create the relationship in a sense of happiness and the bad will fall away or reverse itself in consequence. Think about the joy in worshipping G-d and the bad will resolve itself.
So Chassidus takes the position that the Hagaddah begins with the 15 symbols (chapters) of the Hagaddah. Take the first two: Kaddish and Urchatz. First you become holy, then you wash yourself, remove the negative, This is a core ethical belief, that first you go to holiness and then you cleanse yourself.
The Lithuanian position begins that you start a page earlier with getting rid of the Chometz, evil, ego, the bad in your life, and then you can sanctify your life with the Matza, being humble, holy. Etc.
Tonight is a night where you start being holy, and then later you wash and do your sanctification. And that’s I was raised. And now, as an adult, I’m learning about the other approaches, where you start in a different place, with the work, before the sanctification.
Joseph: moving beyond dreams
Another major theme, not mentioned directly in the Seder, is a character who doesn’t appear in the Hagaddah, but his presence is essential: Joseph. The commentaries bring him in indirectly, and although the Hagaddah doesn’t directly mention him, the Rabbis write about him and continually try to introduce him. Two of the ways they bring him are the language “Ha lachma Anya” the poor man’s bread. Joseph, when speaks of feeding the Egyptians, “this is the bread that you’ll have in exchange for the bartering…” The Hagaddah is hinting at the Torah language he uses to bring him in.
One of the four questions centers around dipping twice. And this symbolically links to another place where there are two dippings. The exile begins with the dipping of Joseph’s coat in blood to bring to his father, and it ends with the dipping of the blood on the doorposts on the night of the machat b’chorot. And that’s what the Hagaddah is hinting at, as a way of bringing Joseph back into the story line.
What is it about Joseph that the rabbis find it important to inject him into the storyline, by hook or by crook, they’re going to bring him in. So the bigger picture, you don’t need it, and it’s the story of how the Jews left Egypt. But in the story in the Bible, you hear about how they keep wanting to return to Egypt, repeatedly. The whole Chumash is like an AA class. How to get the Jews out of Egypt and rehabilitate them to stop thinking like a slave. Eventually G-d gives up, he can’t get the people to leave Egypt mentally. He ends up waiting for the next generation. So how do we move out of our exile, we’ve been in it 2,000 years. We like it. We don’t even realize it’s a limitation. We’re happy. And we say “Next year in Jerusalem”, but how many people believe it? They’ll be in the King David hotel and go home afterwards. We may be the same as the people in Egypt, we like what we’re comfortable with. We’re comfortable. We’ve moved in. We’ve bought furniture. So the Rabbis want to bring in Joseph. So if we were to write a book, about dysfunctional families, it would be about Joseph. He’s born to a mother who is insecure about her relationship with her husband because she has fewer children. And then Joseph is the favorite from day 1, which creates jealousy and friction and ultimately at 17 was sold as a slave by his own brothers; no less, no more. His own siblings sell this kid into slaveries. And in those days, being a slave was a permanent state. You had no rights. Imagine the scars on this guy’s psyche to know that his own brothers stole his freedom at of jealousy. So to a certain degree, he starts crawling out of the mess. Doesn’t take him too long and he’s in favor with the boss. He’s half a man and then the wife of the boss decides she wants a relationship and suddenly he’s embroiled in this deceitful business because the lady of the house lost focus. And he gets thrown into prison, which is basically a death sentence – all before 20! There’s no democracy here, you get into prison, and you’re done. So imagine Joseph in prison, it might almost have been a relief. But maybe not, he had a decent life. How much relief can you find when there’s no way out of the dungeon? And he meets up with two other people who have the same problem: the butler and the baker. Both ended up in prison. And they talk and he asks why they’re sad? Why wouldn’t you be sad? And he drags it out of the them and gives hope to one of them that in the midst of this chaos, there’s light at the end of the tunnel. I promise that there’s hope, and your hope might end up being my hope. One conversation, help one person change the way he thinks, and because of that, the whole equation changed. That guy got out of prison. The Pharoah let him go on his birthday. Years later, the butler remembers a kid that was nice to him in prison gave him hope. Probably he didn’t even believe it, but was happy to see the kid wanted to give him hope in darkness and not to just cave into the circumstances. Joseph may have been first prison chaplain and psychologist. And he understood that in the darkest moments, don’t give in. Don’t throw in the towel. That’s a personality that didn’t become bound, addicted to the circumstances. He didn’t lose his focus, and that’s why the Rabbis want to bring him in to the Seder.
Logotherapy author Victor Frankle was a therapist and psychologist before being thrown into the concentration camps during WWII and he observed people in the midst of “who ever thought we’d get out of this.” The people who had hope came out on top. And that’s the personality that the Rabbis want to have the Seder. And these people who came out, every time they struggled, any problem they had, they wanted to go back. Joseph never saw himself as a slave, even under the worst circumstances and that’s why they want to bring him in. Because he was never bound by those circumstances.
Speaking the Story
Another running theme, we talk about it. The Seder is about talking. You can’t become meditative. Don’t sit there and decide to have a different form of experience. You can’t do that. The whole reality is around speech. This is an interesting way of going about the celebration. Other festivals, like Sukkot, you have to talk about it? Sit in the Sukkah, have tea and cake, relax. No mitzvah to do any talking. Rosh Hashahna, it’s prayer, you want to meditate, meditate. Yom Kippur, definitely you need to meditate. Come Pesach and suddenly there’s speech, conversation, dialog. So it’s interesting to observe this. I was reading the Vilna Gaon and in his writings he says in the formation of a word you use five things:
Eating takes only four, you don’t need your lips. Drinking requires lips, but you don’t need your teeth…etc. When it comes to the plagues, there’s a dialogue as to whether each plague was four elements, or five. And this is what it’s about. It’s all tied into speech. From the Zohar which says “When the Jews went into Egypt, speech went into exile” The words that G-d should be obvious in creation went into exile. Others explain it that the one thing a slave loses is his freedom of speech. Everyone works, even people who are not slaves, you have to produce in order to survive, so labour doesn’t make the difference, the difference is that a slave doesn’t have a right to speak up, to say: this I want, this I don’t, this I desire, this I don’t. And therefore part of the reality is that this is the first time the Jews face this type of challenge, freedom of speech. So if you want to show that you’re free, speak. This will identify you as free. And this allows you to use all five elements. Each plague is then either five like speech, or four like drinking or eating.
The Seder as a lifecycle
So I was reading another great commentary worth bringing up, The Barchiver Rav’s grandson has an idea: (Rabbi Solelvisioner ?) There are 15 chapters in the Hagaddah. The first is Kaddish, be holy. The last is Nirtzah, fulfillment; we survived, it was okay, it’s the ending. There’s a state of holiness before a person comes into the his world, Kaddish. After this world, Nirtzvah, he survived, he made it. That’s the first and the end. Life is made up of the 13 in the middle.
There’s a famous 13 in the Chumah – the attributes of Hashem. The thirteen attributes of G-d’s mercy. And we say it repeatedly on Yom Kippur, requesting mercy. And we do what Moses did, at the most critical moment in Jewish history. It’s the intersection of where life isn’t that good and we need to get back on track. We’re not perfect people and we make mistakes. The 13 in the middle is made up of complications and lots of attribution and the 13 attributes of G-d that we need on a daily basis.
There’s a famous 13 in Rabbinic thought – 13 principles of law. With 13 principles of Law the entire Torah is established. If we took that interpretation out of the equation, it would be a much simpler religion, and you wouldn’t recognize Judaism. 99% of Judaism is how those attributes became the reality of how Judaism is presented. And therefore it’s those 13 that we live by.
There’s a famous 13 song – Echod Mi Yodesh – 13 ideas, fundamental truths in Judaism that has guided Judaism. And that song, those 13 ideas, you begin to understand the history and richness of Judaism, wrapped into that song of 13. And this is why there are 15. There’s a soul before it comes down, and after it goes up, and the 13 principles that a person lives by in his life.
Why is this question different?
The Vilna Gaon was a brilliant man with tremendous insights, and he presents a couple of different ideas about The Ma Nishtana (four questions).
Halachic (legal) mindwork – He says “Why is this night different than all the nights of the rest of the year” This is not an introduction, it’s a question on its own. And then there’s the four questions. But it’s not an intro, it’s a question. This is the question. What’s the question about?
The majority of Judaism is wrapped in a day experience, day bound. When you light the candles, you do before it’s dark. Most of the prayers are during the day. Most of the experience and ritual of Judaism is during the day. This night is different because the whole mitzvah is bound to the night. And you’re not allowed to do it during the day, come daybreak you’re done. Why not start in the afternoon? But we don’t. So that’s part of the question.
He quotes from the Midrash, the four questions are for the four sons, as are the wines, and the Midrash works it all out for the language. The whole story is told over the second cup. The story of the Hagaddah is over the second cup and after the meal, the story is over and you’re saying the Hallel. The story is over the second cup, the Evil son’s cup. It’s not about the wise son tonight, it’s about communicating, interacting with people, irrelevant of their level, background, circumstances, this is what they’re doing. A totally non-elitist or superior view of Judaism. Dialoging and spending the majority of the night not making people feel inferior.
What’s strange about dipping food?
Going back for a second to Karpas, and the four questions. What’s so strange about dipping? A child has seen dipping. It’s not the most shocking thing ever to dip food in something, apples in honey, challah in salt, etc. We don’t ask about dipping apples in honey, for instance. All of the sudden, it’s an issue. Is it that it’s two dipping but on Rosh Hashanah, you do two as well, dip apples in honey and challah. What happens here tonight that’s so different. So a beautiful Chassidic idea: All year around, the challah and salt are two different things. You connect them, but they don’t lose their individuality. Honey and bread, honey and apples, don’t lose their identity. Tonight we’re dipping solid into liquid. The liquid loses itself. It’s totally different. In mysticism, the most we expect of a person is to a certain degree subjugation, allowing something else inside you. You don’t lose yourself. You still want to be in control and as I control things, I allow something else to be part of my life (solid + solid) so I’m allowing the salt only my bread, and that’s enough of a struggle to allow someone else’s interest to be part of my life. Except when you dip something in water where one thing is completely absorbed into the other. It’s not two separate things; they’ve become one thing. I can make space for G-d, but when I made space for him, it’s obvious, that I’ve done it. I’m not that comfortable maybe, it wasn’t easy maybe , and I went out of my way to do it, and tell everyone that I did it. Can you come to a point where you’re not making space, that you’re one with the idea and you don’t have to make space, it’s completely a part of you?
Rabbi Levine the Rabbi of Israel (1940s/50s) was one with his wife to such an extent that when he went to describe a problem as “our foot hurts” which one of you, “our foot” and he pointed to his wife’s foot. They’d become one to such an extent that there was no differentiation. That’s what we strive for, and that’s what’s so unique about the dipping on Passover that children remark on it.
From bondage to freedom
And what do we dip? Something sweet with something bitter (carpas sweet vegetable with bitter salt water) and then later, something bitter into something sweet (maror with charoset). So you start with something sweet losing itself in something bitter (losing themselves in slavery) and you end with something bitter losing itself to something sweet (slavery gives way to freedom). In the act of dipping is a reversal of the entire story : a dramatic reenactment. In the beginning we discuss slavery and we can get lost in that, but as we conclude the story, the slavery gives way to celebration and freedom.
The middle matza
Three Matzahs and we break the middle matzah, and the entire story is told over the broken matzah. You’re supposed to tell the story over matzah and maror. Why the middle one? Break the top one! Why do you have to go for the middle one. The top one represents the right side. The bottom one is the left side. So Chassidus explains, this corresponds to the Sfriot which also correspond to the forefathers: The top one is Abraham, kindness. The bottom one is Isaac, severity, strength, he stayed in Israel. The middle one is Jacob, the beautiful merger of those two ideas and his matzah is the middle on. The grandson ends up in the middle. And the grandson gets split. Pulled in two directions.
So Abraham and Isaac only had one active name. Jacob had two names, he got a second name in the middle of his life and it’s these two names that get split from each other: Jacob and Israel. So Jacob’s first name is not the most glorious name, it means “heel.” He was holding on to the heel of his brother as he came out. He didn’t let his brother go out. And when G-d names him Israel, it’s head. The reality is that in one person, there’s a dueling truth. On a certain level we’re just hanging on, and not to something great, just to the heel. And on other hand, we sense a high integrity we’re “le rosh” we’re the head, and we have a higher purpose. This is the dichotomy of the night. On the one hand, it’s a dominated story about slavery, we’re hanging on. 250 years, we didn’t really come out of properly, and at the same time, we’re talking about being a free people, unattached, a high level of integrity and focus; unbound. That’s the split in the matzah and the split of the grandson, Jacob.
He wasn’t the first born, or the only child. Isaac was an only child (half sibs notwithstanding). Abraham was the only child of his father to embrace Judaism, so he was a spiritual only. Jacob isn’t the only. He’s one of two, and he’s the second. And on some level his brother grew and expanded beyond him. Esav married the daughter of the head of the country, while Jacob was being a shepherd. So on the one hand he’s hanging on and on the other hand, he’s got a high destiny of his own to be a leader to carry the responsibility of being the Jewish people. On a personal level and as a community, we have this duality as well, can we survive what the world is throwing at us, but continually we have to be leaders and walk with our heads held high and have a vision.
Spring into Passover
There’s another major theme which is alluded to, but not explicitly mentioned. In the beginning our forefathers were slaves and G-d took us out of Egypt. In Temple times we said that once a year, when did we say it? Not Passover. That’s a piece that’s recited on Shavuot when the first fruits were bought. This is what you say, And the offering of the first fruits is saying thank you to G-d for this. How does this end up in the Seder? Well it ends up in the Seder for the same reason we dip a vegetable in salt. Why do we dip a vegetable in salt? Why a vegetable? Because it’s Passover: The festival of the season. Spring. There’s an agricultural reality to this holiday, it’s first holiday of spring. And therefore the first fruits are mentioned and the vegetable to acknowledge this element of the holiday. So why is it so important? The first mitzvah that G-d gave to the Jews, in recorded history, is the mitzvah is the lunar calendar. The first Rashi asks, why does G-d start with creation, he should have started with the law of the lunar calendar. It’s important enough that he commands the Jews in Egypt to count from the lunar calendar. The Egyptians used a solar calendar, they worshipped the sun. Therefore in slavery, they’re using the lunar calendar for the first time. What’s the significant difference between the lunar and solar calendar? The sun doesn’t change. The sun doesn’t grow or diminish. It always looks the same. A lunar calendar is based on the moon which lessens and grows in a constant cycle. There’s a concept of growth, regression, and renewal. G-d wanted these truths in Judaism. The festival of Passover is the 15th of Nissan, the peak of growth. And that’s why most Jewish holidays are the 15th of the month because it’s at the peak of growth. But in additional to that lunar reality, you’re not going to be like the Chinese or Moslems where the lunar calendar is constantly moving, G-d attaches the calendar to the solar calendar as well, following the seasons. Passover is in the spring, that’s based on the sun, something which never changes. Although the human being is given to peaks and valleys, “I, G-d, never change” from proverbs. The absolute reality of G-d never changes, even though our relationship with G-d goes up and down, back and forth. G-d wants those two things as a fixture in our lives. And on the Seder, we sit down on the 15th on the lunar calendar, but we’re paying homage with the vegetable and the blessing to the solar calendar and the appropriate season. And that sets up the unique relationship with G-d.