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Opinion & Comment
Understanding Leil HaSeder

by by HaRav Shimshon Pincus, zt"l

Introduction

The Leil HaSeder is a very special night. There is a saying of tzaddikim that the Leil HaSeder gives a seder for the entire year. If we experience the Leil HaSeder properly, it's a wonderful experience. It can make a revolution within us and in our attachment to Hashem.

The first part of this lecture was printed in our Pesach edition 5762, last year. HaRav Pincus explained that Pesach was and is the birth of the Jewish people, every year. There are three partners in man: the father who gives the "white" (bones) parts of the body, the mother who gives the "red" (blood and meat), and Hakodosh Boruch Hu Who gives the soul. On Pesach the matzoh, which gives basic emunoh, is the white part. The arba cosos of red wine give the excitement (hislahavus) about Hashem, and the sippur yetzias Mitzrayim is the soul added by Hashem. On Pesach, Hashem also opens for us a supernatural way to understand concepts above our heads, like the chipozone in Egypt.

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There is another interesting aspect of the Leil HaSeder that at first appears to be just a side dish. On Leil HaSeder we eat carpas, vegetables. This looks inappropriate for a yom tov table. We have bread, which happens to be very special bread, we have meat, we have wine, and all of a sudden we have carpas, a piece of celery or a potato.

Today it is very fashionable to have vegetables on the table, but really it is not an achiloh chashuvoh. In the Beis Hamikdosh for instance there is no mention of vegetables. There is only bread or wine or meat. Vegetables are an expression of katnus, of simplicity. The gemora explains that the carpas is "kedei sheyish'alu hatinokos" -- so the children should ask: Why are we eating vegetables? We haven't even eaten the matzoh yet.

There are two levels of appreciation of Hashem: katnus and gadlus. Katnus refers to the basics of the appreciation of Hashem that are so obvious and simple that every child can understand them.

A child understands, in his simplicity, that a table was made by a carpenter, that a car was made by an engineer, that an airplane has a pilot who runs it. It is all very obvious. Today there is a certain darkness in the world that mixes us all up. But still, with a basic, simple perception, even a child can recognize in the world its plan and purpose and beauty that bespeak a Creator. For example a machine that they call an "eye," a camera with 40 billion parts that is so complicated and so beautiful with such color and such focus and such life, can only come from a Creator. Any child that has some degree of sechel can recognize that there is a Hashem in this word, and this simple recognition of the metzius of Hashem is katnus.

Gadlus refers to a deeper understanding that is above the sechel, and beyond the simple understanding of a child. For instance, we talk about the principle of yichud Hashem, ein od milevado -- that everything comes from Hashem. A child can understand that his father will give him bread, his mother gives him butter, and that they go out to work and Hashem gives them parnossoh. But that he is completely dependent upon Hashem and that everyone else makes no difference -- "Ovi ve'imi azovuni, vaHashem ya'asfeini"(Tehillim 27:10) This means that if your father and mother throw you out into the street, you won't be lacking anything, because if Hashem wants you to have it you'll have it anyway, and if Hashem doesn't want you to have it, you won't have it. This is an understanding that is very deep and very contradictory to everything you see in the world all the time.

When you start thinking about the greatness of Hashem -- how Hashem is connected to us, how Hashem loves us, and Hashem wants us and cares about us and is in pain when we are in pain -- all these things are way above the comprehension of humanity and thus are concepts of gadlus.

Therefore, when we are building the Odom and the intellectual capacity which attaches him to Hashem, we need to involve both the katnus and the gadlus. The katnus is expressed through eating vegetables and involving the children in the seder, which includes not only the children around the table, but also the katnus within each of us, the basic simple understanding that we have through our eyes and ears and our simple minds. The gadlus is the deep understandings which make us a great people. The gadlus is represented by the matzos that instill emunah. This is not just the simple yedi'a of carpas, but also a complete trust in Hashem that comes from a deeper understanding of Hashem. All this is in addition to the excitement of the Arba Cosos and the sippur yetzias Mitzrayim.

Now we note that the carpas seems to be out of place. The normal way to build a personality is to start off with the basics and then go on to the greatness. So really the carpas should be before the Kiddush which is one of the Arba Cosos and an expression of the greatness -- "Asher bochar bonu mikol om, veromemonu mikol loshon."

This paradox is the explanation in Kabbalistic writings of the question asked at the seder: "Mah nishtanoh halayloh hazeh, mikol haleilos." There is something unusual about this night, and it is that the carpas comes after the Kiddush.

The answer to the question is: "Avodim hoyinu lePar'oh beMitzrayim" -- we were slaves to Pharaoh. We were not just visitors or workers, but we were actually slaves of Pharaoh. He actually owned us which means we were in a sense part of the household of Pharaoh in Mitzrayim. Thus there was a terrible danger that we might get lost in Mitzrayim and become detached completely from Hashem.

It was because of this danger that Hashem took us out bechipozone -- hastily and out of order. If Hashem had built us in the proper order, starting with the fundamentals and then on to the greatness, we would have been lost. So Hashem acted bechipozone which gave this night its special character both spiritually and physically.

Chazal tell us that the night then was mei'ir keshemesh batzohorayim -- the night was like midday. There was a gilui Shechinah and HaKodosh Boruch Hu bestowed upon the Jewish people an understanding, way above their capacities. After that night came Sefiras HaOmer which was the building up of the Jewish people step-by-step in an orderly fashion starting at the beginning.

Since yetzias Mitzrayim was bechipozone, in our Pesach Seder we also go bechipozone, which is why we eat carpas only after the first Cos. However we don't wait for the carpas until after the entire seder. Once we drink the first Cos and there is an explosion in our minds and we start seeing the real beauty, that is already enough and it is important to eat the carpas right away, that is, to firmly fix in our minds with simple clarity the belief in the reality of Hashem, of Ma'amad Har Sinai, and of yetzias Mitzrayim.

This is a useful lesson for those just starting out. Some people say, "Let me first get the basics." That's not always the way to do it. You often have to go bechipozone. You have to first jump in and start doing all the mitzvos as if you understand everything. Only then -- albeit without delay - - insert the basic, simple knowledge of Hashem, and how honest and how correct everything about Yiddishkeit is.

So therefore we start by drinking the first Cos and then right away we eat the carpas.

The Centrality of the Morror

Another very important step in the seder is the morror.

The ke'oroh, the seder plate, is a set of ten items: the three matzos on top and then two triangles and the plate itself.

The first triangle is made up of the zero'a (representing Korbon Pesach), the beitzoh (representing the Korbon Chagigah), and then in the middle is the morror. The second triangle has the charoses on the right, the carpas on the left, and in the middle the second morror. The tenth item is the ke'oroh itself which embraces all of them and makes them all into a single unit.

The concepts of right and left and middle are really very great ideas. Right is chesed, which is the strength and the power in our world corresponding to Avrohom. If you add up the good parts of the world and the bad parts of the world -- how much a person is well, how much a person is sick, how much a person is full of enjoyment, how much a person is full of sorrow - - even though you may not otherwise notice, you will find that the enjoyment of this world is trillions of times more than the pain of this world. The left is the ideas of restriction and definition, corresponding to Yitzchok, and the middle represents the beauty, the middoh of emes, of Torah -- and of Yaakov among the three Ovos.

Why is the morror at the center of the ke'oroh and why does it appear twice, at the center of both the top and bottom triangles?

The answer is based on the fact that the morror of the seder is not like the morror of Tisha B'Av. The morror of Tisha B'Av is a morror of din, of punishment. The morror of the seder really represents the beauty of the morror.

The gematria of morror is the same as of movess, of death. Chazal explain the posuk (Bereishis 1:31): "Vayar Elokim es kol asher osoh, vehinei tov me'od" -- "tov," zu mal'ach tov; "me'od"-- zu mal'ach hamoves. "Tov" -- yetzer hatov; "me'od" -- yetzer hora. Hashem saw all that He had done and behold it is very good. "Good" is the good angel; "very" is the angel of death. "Good" is the yetzer hatov; "very" is the yetzer hora.

Since we defined the essence of humanity as its connection to Hashem, then the most important ingredient in our life is movess, death. If there were no death, then we would live in a world that is completely detached from Hashem, for there would be no reason to attach ourselves to Him. If I find my enjoyment in this world, and I am basically a good person and I do good things, and Hashem sends me good agents to give me happiness and enjoyment, then I don't really need to connect to Hashem.

If it were not for death, our Torah learning would be very weak: "Why should I learn masechta Yevomos now, if I can just as well learn it 100 million years from now? What's the rush? I might as well enjoy myself and someday I'll learn."

But now that there's death, I'm in a hurry. I have to connect to Hashem. Time is short, and everything we all do is with the knowledge of the final moment of reconnection of our neshomoh with Hashem at the time of movess.

So really the beauty of the world is movess in its two forms: the movess which is death, and the movess which is pain.

That is why there are two types of morror on the ke'oroh. The top morror is called simply morror, the most bitter, since it refers to the most bitter moment of death (mar hamovess). The bottom morror is called chazeres, something that burns.

Pain also attaches us to Hashem. If there were no pain in this world, we would long ago have forgotten Hashem. As Shlomoh Hamelech states (Mishlei 30:9), "Pen esba," Lest I become full and satisfied, "vekichashti," I deny, "ve'omarti mi Hashem," and I say: Who is Hashem?

The moment that we're in pain, we run to Hashem, because He is the Source of all happiness and of all good feelings and enjoyment.

So the two morrors are the center of the seder. But we have a problem with this, because morror and death sting even if they are beautiful, and we don't want to die, we want to live. So we take the morror and we dip it into charoses, which is made up of two words, "chas" and "rus." "Chas" has the gematria of chaim (68).

The gemora says we dip the morror into charoses because the morror has capo, which means acid. The morror burns and the charoses sweetens the morror. We dip the morror into chaim so that it should be only a remembrance of the real morror -- zichron yom hamovess -- and it should be sweetened and it should be chaim.

There is also another word, "Rus." I think the reason is because the gemora states she was called "Rus" because her descendant was Dovid Hamelech who sated HaKodosh Boruch Hu with shiros and tishbochos. What makes this a beautiful world, a world of chaim, is singing to Hashem.

The reason why the remembrance of the morror of Mitzrayim is so central to the seder is that if we had been happy and felt good in Mitzrayim, we would still be there. The reason we went out of Mitzrayim is because of the morror: "Vayei'onchu venei Yisroel min ho'avodoh" (Shemos 2:23). It was most important that in Mitzrayim there was a shibud, that we were in pain in Mitzrayim. As a result, we called to Hashem and Hashem answered us and took us out, and brought us to this closeness.

So too in our humanity that we are building this evening -- this wonderful Leil HaSeder -- the morror is the center of everything. Therefore we place the morror on the ke'oroh at the center. And we dip it into charoses, so that we remember that even in the hard moments we should be full of life, be full of shiroh, and full of "Rus." And we remember Rus herself who went through so many hardships in her life. She was a king's daughter and she gave away everything and lost her husband and became poor and gathered grains in the field like a pauper. But she didn't complain and kept singing shiroh to Hashem and thus found the real happiness of life.

End of Part II


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