Pesach II תשפא

As we approach Pesach 2021, it is impossible not to think about Pesach 2020. Covid 19 was very new, a cure or vaccine was nowhere in sight, and families and friends were forced to celebrate the holiday alone. Gone were the 30 and 40 person seders that we knew, and in came the two or three person seders that most of us had never experienced. We all did the best that we could under the circumstances, but an integral part of Passover was missing. As far back as anyone can remember, Pesach was celebrated with friends and family. What is the source of this custom of large family gatherings? Does it have a basis in the Torah?

Starting from the first seder, on the first night of the very first Pesach in Egypt, the 15th of Nissan, 2448, (we are now in 5781) the highpoint of the Passover seder came at the very end, when the participants  ate the small piece,(a כזית) about an ounce, of the Pascal lamb offering. As you can imagine, eating the meat of the Pascal lamb for the first time on the cusp of liberation from Egypt must have been a very emotional experience. That small piece of meat epitomized how far the Jewish nation had come; from being slaves to the Egyptians and worshipping their Ram god, to slaughtering that god, roasting it for everyone to smell, and eating it with relish. Through the miraculous ten plagues, the Jews were now Hashem’s special nation, and He was taking them out of Egypt to the Land of Israel where they would establish the Kingdom of Hashem. Their mission would be to serve as teachers and role models to the world on how to live a holy and G-dly life; a light unto the nations.

Hashem instructed Moshe (Exodus 12:3-5).

(ג) דַּבְּרוּ אֶל כָּל עֲדַת יִשְׂרָאֵל לֵאמֹר בֶּעָשׂר לַחֹדֶשׁ הַזֶּה וְיִקְחוּ לָהֶם אִישׁ שֶׂה לְבֵית אָבֹת שֶׂה לַבָּיִת:

(ד) וְאִם יִמְעַט הַבַּיִת מִהְיוֹת מִשֶּׂה וְלָקַח הוּא וּשְׁכֵנוֹ הַקָּרֹב אֶל בֵּיתוֹ בְּמִכְסַת נְפָשֹׁת אִישׁ לְפִי אָכְלוֹ תָּכֹסּוּ עַל הַשֶּׂה:

(ה) שֶׂה תָמִים זָכָר בֶּן שָׁנָה יִהְיֶה לָכֶם מִן הַכְּבָשִׂים וּמִן הָעִזִּים תִּקָּחוּ

  1. Speak to the entire assembly of Israel, saying: On the tenth of this month they shall take for themselves – each man – a lamb or kid for each father’s house, a lamb or kid for the household. 4. But if the household will be too small for a lamb or kid, then he and his neighbor who is near his house, shall take according to the number of people: everyone according to what he eats shall be counted for the lamb or kid. 5. An unblemished lamb or kid, a male, within its first year shall it be for you, from the sheep or goats shall you take it.

Verse 4 requires some explanation. In what way would a household be too small for a lamb or kid, and how would his neighbor remedy the problem? What does it mean to be counted for the lamb or kid?

The Torah is telling us a few of the important laws of how the Pascal lamb must be prepared and eaten. The Torah rules that the Pascal lamb must be completely consumed by mid-night. It was eaten as dessert rather than as the main course. Because by then everyone was almost full, each person ate only about an ounce of meat. A lamb in its first year weighs between 12 and 66 pounds depending on its age, yielding a considerable amount of meat to be consumed in such small quantities. Before slaughtering the lamb, one evaluated how many people would be required to consume the entire animal, and would invite family and neighbors to his home for the Pesach seder to guarantee that the animal would be completely consumed by the deadline. Additionally, each person needed to be “counted on the lamb,” which means that to fulfill his obligation to eat the Pascal lamb, he had to be counted as a member of that חבורה – “party” and eat his morsel of the lamb, only with that party.  Not only did one need to know with whom he was eating his Pascal lamb at the seder, right from the onset, the lamb had to be slaughtered with each member of the “group” in mind. Not only that, they had to all be gathered in one place to eat it together.

It would seem that in the weeks before Pesach, people would be busy trying to figure out who would buy a lamb, and who would participate with whom. Families would surely congregate in the home of the family “elder” who would purchase a lamb to accommodate the size of his family, but someone with a small family would either have to invite many others to partake of his lamb, or seek out another family that needed extra people to help them consume their lamb. In any case, the Jewish nation was abuzz with discussions and negotiations centered around how they were going to group together and enjoy celebrating the Pesach holiday together. This process surely fostered much unity and love between friends and family before and during Pesach, as people invited others to join them for their seder and celebrated together. There were also surely people who made seders for those who had no relatives or friends with whom to join. Since every man and woman needed to eat of the Pascal offering, they needed to be counted on a lamb.

In the very beginning of the Haggadah in the section “ הא לחמא עניא” “This is the poor bread … “ we say: כל דצריך ייתי ויפסח – “Who ever needs to eat the Pascal offering, should come and join me!”

Our Sages teach us that this proclamation was made on the eve of Pesach before the animal was slaughtered, while it was still possible to join a “group.” We see that it was common practice to go about seeking people who had not yet completed their Pesach plans, or whose plans fell through and found themselves without a “group” with whom to share the Pesach offering.

This was the source of why on Pesach it is a custom for families and friends to get together to celebrate. It started this way and the tradition continued even after the Holy Temple’s destruction when the Pascal offering was no longer sacrificed.

Why, we ask, did Hashem establish the Pascal offering this way? Although when it comes together and every Jew is taken care of, it is a beautiful thing, why create all the difficulty and complications?

The Midrash tells us:

תנא דבי אליהו רבה – פרק כג

וכשהיו ישראל במצרים נתקבצו כולם וישבו יחד משום שהיו כלם באגודה אחת וכרתו ברית יחד שיעשו ג”ח זה עם זה

When the Jewish people were in Egypt, the gathered as one unit, and created a pact with each other to bestow kindness and help to each other.   

Under the difficult and back breaking conditions in Egypt, the Jewish people realized that there was no person that can survive the hardships alone. Each person needed help and support from his fellow Jew. They didn’t just agree that they would help each other, they created a treaty with each other, a hard and fast commitment. This unity and interdependence that was created between the Jews in Egypt was essential to the identity of the Jewish nation. Hashem, who is “One” can only have a relationship with a nation that is also “one.” Before Hashem could give the Torah, his people had to be a unit of one. This was accomplished in Egypt, and constituted one of Hashem’s reasons for putting them through it.

Mrs. Freedman, a holocaust survivor and a victim of the evil and malicious Dr. Mengele יש”ו   in Auschwitz, once met with Sarah Rigler. Mrs. Rigler had meditated in a Hindu Ashram for 17 years before she found out about Judaism, and became religious.  Each woman related her life experiences to the other, this one about the camps, and the other about the Ashram. At the end of the conversation Mrs. Freedman commented to Mrs. Rigler. “The Ashram was a bad place, the camps were a good place.” Mrs. Rigler was flabbergasted at Mrs. Freedman’s statement, and was sure that she had just gotten mixed up. How could the Ashram be a bad place? It was so calm and serene! The camps with all the suffering and pain was the bad place! But, Mrs. Freedman explained. “In the Ashram, all you did was think about yourself. ‘How am I going to reach my next spiritual high.’ That is selfish and evil. In the camps, despite our personal suffering, we thought about each other, and how we could alleviate the pain and suffering of a fellow inmate! All we thought about was the other person! That was a good place. There we learned how to get out of our selfish self-serving mode, and help others.”

This is what happened in Egypt too, and this was the secret to their freedom. When Hashem felt that they had sufficiently liberated themselves from the shackles of their own selfishness, and that they had jelled into a unit of one, He took them out of their physical slavery.

The Pascal offering eaten in a חבורה “group” creates the need for unity and kindness among the Jewish people. This is why we got out in the first place, and we want to keep that going as long and as strong as possible. This is also the necessary ingredient for the future redemption of the Jewish people.

Our Sages teach us that the second Holy Temple was destroyed because of baseless hatred between Jews. Our Sages teach us that any generation in which the Holy Temple was not rebuilt, is guilty of the same crime, otherwise Hashem would rebuild it. It is not coincidental that the first night of Pesach and Tisha B’Av, the 9th of Av, the anniversary of the destructions of both Holy Temples, always fall on the same day of the week. This teaches us that if we learn the lesson of Pesach well, we will not have to go through another Tisha B’Av. These two events are connected.

In the מה נשתנה (Ma Nishtana) we ask: Why on all other nights of the year do we not dip even one time, and tonight we dip twice?

The Ben Ish Chai explains that the two dippings at the Seder, correspond to the two dippings mentioned in the Torah.

The first important dipping we read about in the Torah is the dipping of Yosef’s special cloak, given to him by his father, in the goat’s blood. After selling Yosef to a caravan of Ishmaelites , the brothers had to create an explanation as to why he disappeared. They dipped his coat in blood to create the impression that he was devoured by a ferocious animal.

This “dipping” resulted in the Jewish people becoming slaves in Egypt because the dipping resulted from disunity and hatred among the Jewish people. Whenever we are disunified, Hashem must put into a situation to force us to help each other and restore the unity between us.

The second dipping mentioned in the Torah (Exodus 12:22) is when the Jewish people in Egypt dipped the bundle of hyssop in the blood of the Pascal lamb, and put the blood on the doorposts and lintel of their homes.

ספר שמות פרק יב

(כב) וּלְקַחְתֶּם אֲגֻדַּת אֵזוֹב וּטְבַלְתֶּם בַּדָּם אֲשֶׁר בַּסַּף

22) You shall take a bundle of hyssop and dip it into the blood that is in the basin.

This dipping is done with a bundle, a group, of hyssop banches, indicating that the Jewish people are a bundle, a unified group, and worthy of leaving Egypt.

As we approach Pesach 2021, Baruch Hashem, things are different than they were last year. Although we must still take precautions, and act responsibly, some families and friends will be able to celebrate the holiday of our unity together. Perhaps that is one of the lessons that we learned last year; how important family and friends are to us. Let us embrace that lesson and commit ourselves to doing kindness and provide help to other Jews as did the Jews in Egypt. If we do it properly, we can expect to welcome the Mashiach who will redeem us from this exile, very soon.

Have a great Passover!

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