Women  learning Torah
Women learning TorahFlash 90

Adapted by Channie Koplowitz Stein

When both the beginning and the end of a work refer to the same idea, we can be assured that this will be a recurring theme throughout the work being studied or performed. The example most often cited is that the Torah itself begins and ends with an act of chesed. Almost at the very beginning of the Torah, Hashem provides Adam and Chavah with special clothing and dresses them, and the Torah ends with an act of chesed, with Hashem "personally" burying Moshe Rabbenu. Thus, a major theme of the entire Torah must be to teach us that we must emulate Hakodosh Boruch Hu and make chesed a mainstay of our own lives.

This model holds true for the Seder as well, but the idea is a different one. We begin the Seder with "Ha lachma anya/ This is the bread of affliction," a paragraph that concludes with "Next Year in the Land of Israel," and we conclude the Seder with "Next year in Yerushalayim." We will try to trace this theme as it appears throughout the Haggadah.

Although authorship of the formalized, liturgical Haggadah is variously attributed to Rav Yehudah Hanassi, Rav Saadia Gaon, and others, the mitzvah of retelling the events of the exodus are Torah mandated, and the original source for our currently accepted general outline dates back to Eliyahu Hanavi himself.

In Maggid Harakiya, Rabbi Glatstein develops this idea, by citing Targum Yonasan on Exodus 4:13. Hashem has been persistent in asking Moshe to take Bnei Yisroel out of Egypt. Moshe's final deferral asks Hashem, "Please send the one you will send." Targum Yonasan suggests that Moshe wants Hashem to send Pinchas, later identified as Eliyahu, who is destined to be the harbinger of the final redemption. Pinchas/Eliyahu is thereby connected to our first redemption from Egypt as well as to our final redemption at the end of days, the entire span of which is covered in the Haggadah.

All the wonders and miracles that Hashem performed in Mitzrayim had a dual purpose, to punish Mitzrayim while at the same time healing Yisroel. This same dual purpose continues throughout the generations, writes Rabbi Baum in Lailah Kayom Yair.

Egypt is the paradigm for all our diasporas. The Torah alludes to all these diasporas when it recounts the names of all that be'im/come to Mitzrayim. "Come" to Egypt is an unusual word. The Torah usually writes "descended" to Egypt. However BE'IM is an acronym for the four diasporas our nation has suffered and continues to suffer, Babylon, Edom/Rome, (I)Yavan/Greece and Medea/Persia. Our history is a continuation of the Mitzrayim story, and therefore, as we keep retelling it, we grow the seed planted in Egypt to create energy for the future redemption. Therefore, all who increase their involvement in retelling and re-experiencing the story of the Exodus are praiseworthy, for, by so doing, they are hastening the future redemption and actualizing this hidden potential.

Rabbi Baum is amazed at the liturgy's multiple numerical calculations describing how many plagues the Egyptians suffered, each great Sage increasing the number. Rabbi Baum then deduces that when adding all the numbers together, one arrives at a total of 613, indicating that just as the 613 mitzvoth of the Torah are eternal, so too are these plagues to be visited on our enemies at the end of time.

Rabbi Glatstein cites the Ramban in reminding us that a physical action or material entity is often used to concretize an esoteric message. Along these lines, all the symbols of the Seder are meant to symbolize past redemptions and actualize our future redemption. In this vein, the Seder itself is divided into two halves, the first half focusing on our redemption from Egypt, while the second half focuses on our future redemption. When we display and use these symbols of the past during out Seder, we are simultaneously creating energy to destroy our future enemies and hasten the redemption.

We know that the Haggadah is meant to reinforce our faith in Hashem, in the One God, that it was He alone Who took us out of Egypt. To that end, Moshe's name does not appear in the Haggadah except one time, that Bnei Yisroel believed in Hashem and that Moshe was Hashem's servant. The Klausenberger Rebbe clarifies this point. The Torah tells us that Hashem heard the cries of Bnei Yisroel and God "knew." Where was Moshe when Hashem chose to act? He was not in Egypt at all. Moshe was in Midyan shepherding the flocks of his father-in-law Yisro. As such, Moshe was not even leading Bnei Yisroel in the prayers that Hashem heard.

Today we may feel isolated, without proper leadership, but we still have the ability to storm the heavens with our prayers. Hashem hears. And on the night of the Seder, the Night of Watching, our prayers are extremely powerful.

The Seder itself constitutes an actual prayer, writes Rabbi Schorr in Halekach Vehalebuv. If we go through the Haggadah and count the number of blessings we recite in the course of the Seder, we will note that we recite eighteen blessings, the same number as in each of the three major daily prayers. We continue to pray, for we know that we can rely on no earthly leader. Only Hakodosh Boruch Hu will always be our Rock and Support.

When we do our Passover cleaning, we must rid ourselves not just of the unacceptable and forbidden chametz that surrounds us in our home, but also of the unacceptable materialism that inhabits our hearts. Our Sages tell us that while Moshiach can come at any time, the most likely time is in the month of Nisan, for then our prayers are extremely powerful.

Rabbi Mattisyahu Salomon notes that a major theme interwoven with the past and future redemptions is the theme of emunah/faith. As is written in the prophecy of Hosea, Hashem says, "I have betrothed thee to me with faith." We were and will be redeemed through our faith. While it is hard to believe in that which one has not experienced, we have our history as proof that Hashem keeps His promises to us. We have survived Purim, we have survived the Holocaust, and we study the Exodus from Egypt.

The miracles of the future redemption will be even greater than those Hashem promised our forefather Avraham, that He would judge the nations that oppress us. History has proven that Hashem is constantly involved in our lives. Do we anticipate and long for that redemption? Do we notice the sometimes subtle signs of Hashem's presence and providence? The very first of the Ten Utterances at Sinai was the command to believe in the God Who took us out of Egypt. When I retell the story of the Exodus, I must have faith that Hashem will redeem us soon, and I must prepare for that redemption. Every year, the negative energy ebbs and the positive energy grows stronger.

We are told that in the merit of righteous women Bnei Yisroel were redeemed from Mitzrayim. From where did the women of the generation of enslavement derive righteousness, their ability to withstand the licentiousness of Egyptian culture? From our Matriarchs. As the Shelah Hakodesh points out, the four cups of wine represent our four matriarchs.

According to the Yerushalmi, the four cups also represent the four poisonous cups of retribution Hashem will foist upon our enemies. Within the recitation of the various interpretations of the Ten Plagues, we recite the symbolic manifestations of these plagues, as found in Joel; "Blood, and Fire, and Clouds of Smoke." As we say each of these phrases, we remove a drop of red wine from our cup, for each represents the calamities that will befall our enemies in the future. Just as we remove a drop of wine with the recitation of each of the plagues of Egypt, here, too, we limit our rejoicing at the fall of our enemies who are also God's creatures.

Rabbi Dovid Altshuler, the Metsudos Dovid, who lived in the mid 1700's gave a chillingly prescient interpretation to these phrases: Dam/Blood refers to the blood that will be spilled in battles on land; Aish/Fire from the sky; Timrot (Tamar) Ashan/Clouds shaped like palm trees [mushroom clouds].

As we pick up our cups and cover the matzoh to recite the paragraph of "Vehi Sheomdah/That which has sustained us...," we refocus on the promise Hashem made to our forefather. Although every generation has brought those who would annihilate us, the promise Hashem made to Avraham, to redeem his progeny, remains in place for every generation, for each subsequent exile is but a branch of the tree of our first exile in Egypt, writes Rabbi Bernstein.

Rabbi Frand builds on this idea. Starting with the Baal Haturim and continuing to the Reisher Rav, Rabbi Frand traces the connection between the only four verses that begin with, "Atem.../You..." These four verses show Hashem's involvement in our protection throughout history, From Pharaoh's telling us, "You [Bnei Yisroel] get for yourselves straw...," continuing to the plagues, "You saw," leading to the purpose of the redemption, "You are standing today before God," to recognizing Hashem's hidden providence, "You are My witnesses," the four verses present a progression that brings us to the cup of Elijah and to the final, fourth cup, the cup of our future redemption.

As we conclude the first half of the Seder and recite the blessing over the second cup of wine, we pray that Hashem will bring us to "holidays and festivals haboim likrateinu/that come toward us in peace." Rabbi Bernstein questions this unusual turn of phrase. He suggests that this terminology refers to the two different ways the final redemption will come; Either it will come at its predesignated time, or, through our righteousness, we will merit its coming earlier. If our deeds bring that time closer, it will come in peace. Otherwise, the times will be traumatic. We believe in that ultimate redemption, and we pour a cup for Eliyahu who wrote the Haggadah and who will announce and herald that time.

We continue with liturgical poems that recount all the historical events that took place on this Seder night, and we pray that the day will come that will transform night into day. Among the miracles of this night are two that refer to Lot. The first was when Avraham Avinu rescued him in the war of the four kings against the five, and the second was when he and his daughters were saved from the destruction of Sodom. As we anticipate the final redemption, we recall the miracles that saved Lot, the ancestor through his daughters, of King David and Moshiach, writes Rabbi Kluger.

Ruth herself, great-grandmother of David, is alluded to in a symbol of the Seder, continues Rabbi Kluger. The charoset is an anagram of chas Rut/Ruth had compassion, whileOrpah, who turned her back of Naomi and the Jewish people, is an anagram of Pharaoh. The bitterness of Orpah, grandmother of Goliath, will be defeated by David, who will sing sweet songs to Hashem, and balance out the bitterness and negativity of the world, as the blood-red of wine is sweetened by the charoset.

While the redemption took place in just one day, in an instant, we are commanded to remember it all the days of our life. The seeds of every salvation in our history were planted on that day, we get glimpses of it from time to time, and by re-enacting those events at the Seder, we are reinforcing our faith in a leil shimurim/night of watchfulness [ours and Hashem's] and hastening the arrival of Moshiach Tzidkeinu.