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Opinion & Comment
Pesach

by HaRav Moshe Feinstein, zt"l

The Reason for Shabbos Hagodol

Two miracles occurred on the tenth day of Nisan. There was the miracle of the selection and purchase of the [animal for the] Korbon Pesach, as is brought down in the Tur (Orach Chaim 430) and, [years later,] the miracle of the crossing of the Jordan River (Yehoshua 4:19). Upon deeper thought, one is puzzled to realize that, while we have an ongoing yearly commemoration of the nes Korbon Pesach, for the miracle of the crossing of the Jordan River we have no commemoration at all.

The Taz (ibid.) further explains in the name of Rav Moshe Chorif that our annual commemoration of the nes Korbon Pesach was designated for a Shabbos, and not on the tenth day of Nisan which is the calendar date when the miracle actually took place. The reason for this is to clearly indicate that our commemoration is only of the nes Korbon Pesach, and not of the nes of the crossing of the Jordan River, which also took place on that date.

The nes Korbon Pesach actually took place on Shabbos. The nes of the crossing of the Jordan River did not take place on Shabbos. Therefore, by designating Shabbos as the annual commemoration day, it is made clear that we are commemorating the nes of the Korbon Pesach, and not the nes of the crossing of the Jordan.

Yet what would be so terrible if one were to mistake the commemoration of the nes Korbon Pesach for the commemoration of the crossing of the Jordan? Does this warrant that the miracle's commemoration be designated for Shabbos rather than the calendar date of the tenth of Nisan which is when it actually took place?

Additionally, it would seem that the miracle of the Jordan River crossing was far, far greater than that of the Korbon Pesach. The former caused all the nations of the world to melt and their hearts to be filled with fear, as is brought down in Yehoshua.

We are taught with this not to mistakenly assume that our joy in Yetzias Mitzrayim is for the physical aspects of it. That is why we do not celebrate the day of our entrance into Eretz Yisroel. On the day we entered our Land, we became kings; every man sat under his grapevine and under his fig tree in utter security. Yet, we do not consider this transformation to be worthy of an established, joyous commemoration.

In contrast, we celebrate the day we were freed of our bondage to men, and show the world that our only gratitude is for this freedom. Royalty, monarchy, wealth, and materialism, even if we receive them, are not causes for permanent celebration.

That is why the Taz explains that we should not mistakenly think that our zecher lenness is that of crossing the Jordan River and entering Eretz Yisroel. That was an occasion of materialistic joy. Therefore, Chazal designated the commemoration for Shabbos, demonstrating that the celebration is for the miracle of the Pesach alone, since it was the beginning of our leaving Mitzrayim and the downfall of idol worship, and that is what we call Shabbos Hagodol.

*

A She'eilas Chochom: What are the Testimonies and the Laws?

A great question arises: Why did Hakodosh Boruch Hu command us to celebrate Pesach annually in commemoration of Yetzias Mitzrayim, even once we had already settled in Eretz Yisroel? All the more so, once we have been exiled for generations due to our many sins -- why rejoice and celebrate that which was once a great simcha, yet today, the outcome of this memorable chain of events can hardly be recognized?

And if the simchah is because we found out from these events that material life is just hevel, then we see that from other miraculous changes in the order of things, and even from chas vesholom changes that are for bad.

This, in essence, is the question of the Wise Son, a believer in Hashem and His Torah: "What is the purpose of these Testimonies and Laws? Should we rejoice upon the long-gone Redemption, whose after-effects can hardly be felt today?"

This question can be taken further, asking a she'eilas chochom [which is part of the answer] regarding Klal Yisroel's existence throughout the long and bitter golus without assimilating. What is the power of the Jewish Nation that is greater than all the nations that have been lost in history, no trace remaining? We have been dispersed among the present nations, who rule the earth just as their predecessors did in their day. Yet Am Yisroel still continues to exist, forever merely guests in the lands of our exile, always yearning to return to our Land.

It seems almost to be without a reason. There is no great simchah in the mitzvos and it does not bring to deep despair about the materialism of today. Perhaps for many, the situation in their lands of exile is even pretty good. Yet, we do not succumb to our favorable stance in golus.

Therefore, what great koach lies in the Testimonies and Laws, which empowers Am Yisroel not to be assimilated amongst the nations? What gives us the resistance, even during good times, not to be swayed by the gentiles around us? What gives us the restlessness of being constant wayfarers, continually on the road?

*

The Four Questions of Mah Nishtanoh Correspond to the Four Sons

One can, bederech derush, attribute each of the four questions of the Mah Nishtanoh to one of the Four Sons.

The First Question, "Why tonight do we eat only matzoh?" is the Wise Son's question. Why do we continually stand throughout this long Exile, always on the road, constantly hurrying as if we cannot take the time to prepare our bread properly. We have time only to bake matzoh. We do not give ourselves a chance to become assimilated and to get comfortable in the golus, even during good times (as explained in the previous section).

The Second Question, "Why tonight do we eat only bitter herbs?" is the Son Who Knows Not How to Ask. When he feels bitterness he wants no part of it, and chooses to go where his heart brings him. Yet, he does not convince others to go with him.

The Third Question, "Why tonight do we dip twice?" is the question of the Simple Son. The root of his question all the time is that, when confronted with any nisoyon, he right away raises doubts. Days come to pass when his livelihood does not come in smoothly, and the Simple Son can only make a living if he dips his hands into "salty waters." This means that he leaves the ways of the Torah and mitzvos and plunges into the evil waters of ta'avoh, which the salty waters allude to. If he abides by Torah ways, his parnossoh would be bitter, and he cannot withstand that nisoyon. He allows himself to be swayed by the temptations of the Evil Son, asks his Question, and strays from the Path of Torah.

The Fourth Question, "Why tonight do we all recline?" is the Question of the Evil Son. He complains that even in Exile, we behave as kings and queens, dining and reclining in majesty, and persist in being a Kingdom of Cohanim and a Holy Nation. Why don't we just nullify ourselves to the nations of the world?

During the times of the Bais Hamikdosh, when the Fourth Question was "Why tonight do we eat everything roasted?", the Wicked Son's Question can be interpreted as follows: Klal Yisroel symbolizes, by partaking of roasted (tzeli) meats on Pesach night, that Hashem miraculously rescued us from fires (mutzal mei'eish) of the Plagues (as I explained on Shabbos Hagodol 5627), and led us out of Mitzrayim. Yet, the Wicked Son questions this, arguing stubbornly and attempting to convince others that it was the strength and the power of our own hands which led us out of our Egyptian Exile.

*

The Three Concepts of Rabbon Gamliel

Rabbon Gamliel said that the main thing is to say and know the things: Pesach, Matzoh, Morror.

Pesach means to know that Hashem leads and watches over everything and even in our exile He saves us, and everything is from Him. Matzoh is to know that Hakodosh Boruch Hu can save suddenly, in the blink of an eye. Morror is to know that evil and lust (ta'avoh) is without limit, like the Egyptians embittered our lives and like in every generation some stand against us to destroy us.

After we know these three things, we can be redeemed even now, in that we escape enslavement to our bodies and remain only the slaves of Hashem. And in this way and because of this, one must in every generation see himself as if he came out of Mitzrayim.

That is why we tell the Chochom not to eat after the Afikoman: some of the taste of the Matzoh and Pesach must remain with him (in his mouth) so that he will remember forever and have this redemption forever and in every place. This way we also strengthen the Simple Son, so that he will not be so intimidated by nisyonos, and also the Son Who Knows Not How to Ask who should not fear bitterness of following Torah but he should know that if he gives in to his lusts it will be even more bitter.

The above selections are excerpts from Reb Moshe's Shabbos Hagodol drosho of the year 5689 (1929). They appear in the special seventy-page section on Reb Moshe zt"l (p. 44) in the just-published Nisan edition of the bi-annual Kol Hatorah journal, Gateshead NE8 4NE.


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