Monday, March 30, 2009

Rabbi Todros Miller on Pesach: The Poor Man, Hallel and Yetzias Mitzrayim

Yesterday I attended a shiur given by Rabbi Todros Miller, Vice Principal of Gateshead Seminary, in which he spoke about some ideas relating to Pesach and specifically relating to the Seder. The following are not exact notes (I did not bring a laptop) but rather, my summation of the shiur (I'm writing the words as though he spoke them.)


Now, when it comes to the Seder night, we all know of the mitzvah of reclining on the Seder night. And interestingly, even an ani she'b'Yisrael [a poor person who is a member of Bnei Yisrael] shouldn't eat unless he reclines! Tosfos asks: Well, isn't a poor person a Jew? This is obvious; of course he should recline! It's a mitzvah. But actually no, it's a chiddush [innovative idea.] Why? Because I'd have thought that reclining is an expression of freedom, and would have thought there was something hollow in a poor person's reclining while eating.

So let's inquire: Why should an ani recline? There is an amazing Rashi in Shoftim [the book of Judges] when it is discussing the scenario of Gideon in Judges 6:13.
    יב וַיֵּרָא אֵלָיו, מַלְאַךְ יְהוָה; וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו, יְהוָה עִמְּךָ גִּבּוֹר הֶחָיִל.

    12 And the angel of the LORD appeared unto him, and said unto him: 'The LORD is with thee, thou mighty man of valour.'

    יג וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו גִּדְעוֹן, בִּי אֲדֹנִי, וְיֵשׁ יְהוָה עִמָּנוּ, וְלָמָּה מְצָאַתְנוּ כָּל-זֹאת; וְאַיֵּה כָל-נִפְלְאֹתָיו אֲשֶׁר סִפְּרוּ-לָנוּ אֲבוֹתֵינוּ לֵאמֹר, הֲלֹא מִמִּצְרַיִם הֶעֱלָנוּ יְהוָה, וְעַתָּה נְטָשָׁנוּ יְהוָה, וַיִּתְּנֵנוּ בְּכַף-מִדְיָן.

    13 And Gideon said unto him: 'Oh, my lord, if the LORD be with us, why then is all this befallen us? and where are all His wondrous works which our fathers told us of, saying: Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt? but now the LORD hath cast us off, and delivered us into the hand of Midian.'
"Hashem imcha? [God is with you?]" asks Gideon. "Ayeh?" Where are all these miracles? And answers Rashi, God answers Gideon, "That's the spirit with which you will save Bnei Yisrael. You come with that argument of ayeh [where] on behalf of the people of Israel and you'll win! With that you will save kelal Yisrael."

Rashi states there that in fact, in that verse, Gideon is referring to last night because last night was the Seder; it was Pesach at that time, and last night Gideon's father had told over the Haggada and sang Hallel with him and now Gideon is questioning: where are these miracles that we discussed last night?

Now we have a question: Why would Gideon choose to reference Hallel as opposed to Maggid? And what if it had not been Seder night but a different night; would Gideon not still have been justified in asking where God's miracles were? And yet, the way it seems to be phrased, Gideon is saying something to the effect of, "Last night was Seder night and my father said Hallel, therefore I can say to You, where are all those miracles?!"

Now we must venture into a halakhic point; there is a fine halakhic point concerning the din of saying Hallel. It says Takanas Haneviim al kol perek v'perek v'kol tzarah v'tzarah. So there is a takana of the prophets that we say Hallel al kol perek v'perek and also kol tzarah v'tzarah.

R' Hai Gaon in the Ram clarifies that there are two situations where we would say Hallel:

1. Perek u'perek: Fixed dates. These are particular times of the year where it is fixed that we shall be saying Hallel.

2. Tzarah v'tzarah: If the Jews suffer a tzarah and experience a yeshua [they are saved], they must then say Hallel.

Now, these two Hallels are categorically different. The chiluk between the two is the din by perek v'perek is to read Hallel whereas tzarah v'tzarah is to be m'hallel, not to say Hallel! It's the difference between reading the defined entity we call Hallel (keria) and praising God! And to clarify that point, let's ask a question: Suppose you are reading Hallel, the defined entity, are you yotzei if you don't understand all the words? Yes! You've till read Hallel. But if the yesod ha'din is to be m'hallel not simply kerias Hallel, then if you don't know what you're saying you've not been m'hallel!

Another difference: do you make a bracha/ blessing? If it's keriah, then you make a blessing l'kro es ha'Hallel. If it is just that you are being m'hallel, and you are not saying a defined entity, it's very specific that you don't make a bracha. A bracha is a hillul so you don't make a bracha on a bracha.

Also, can you be mafsik [pause/ stop] in the middle? By kerias ha'Megillah, for instance, you cannot be (that's keriah) but if it's not a specific mitzvah of keriah, then it's not a problem.

So these distinctions we've been making are nafkaminos.

Let us now turn our attention to Hallel on the Seder night. Which one is it? On Seder night we are mesaper sipur Yetzias Mitzrayim. R' Chaim Brisker asks: Mah nishtana ha'layla ha'zeh? Every night we mention Yetzias Mitzrayim; what's the difference on this night?

Ah, but there is a categorical difference!

There is a Rambam which the achronim grapple with; there is a mitzvah to be mesaper on Yetzias Mitzrayim "K'Moshe ne'emar zachor es yom ha'Shabbos l'kadsho" (Like Moshe said, Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.) Now, normally "zachor"- remember- is speaking of the past. Remember something that happened in the past. But zachor es yom ha'Shabbos l'kadsho is remember that now, today, it is Shabbos.

Similarly, on Seder night, you are not remembering Yetzias Mitzrayim once upon a time but you went out of Egypt now; we're going out of Mitzrayim today! You should have the experience of being redeemed right now; you are not merely remembering something that happened once upon a time.

Well, but how do you do that? It's not just pretending; it means that this is actually happening in reality! There is no pretend as if something were to happen; that is a child's game, but you grow out of it.

Now where do you see the imperative to remember b'chol dor v'dor- now, where do you see that by Pesach? You see b'chol shana v'shana [every single year]. The reason is because we had b'chol dor v'dor in V'hi she'amdah...she'b'chol dor v'dor omdim aleinu l'chaloseinu- and God saves us from their hands.

When God took the Jews out of Egypt, he took them out for a cheirus olam - an eternal freedom! Yetzias Mitzrayim is a concept, a promise given to the Jews that no matter the situation we have a koach called Yetzias Mitzrayim given to us eternally. We are guaranteed by Yetzias Mitzrayim we have a cheirus olam. "Lo es avoseinu b'lvad," we say, "not our forefathers alone." Today we have to tell the story because we have experienced Yetzias Mitzrayim.

There is a famous essay of Mark Twain on the Jews:
    The Egyptian, the Babylonian, and the Persian rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded to dream-stuff and passed away; The Greek and the Roman followed, and made a vast noise, and they are gone; other
    peoples have sprung up and held their torch high for a time, but it burned out, and they sit in twilight now, or have vanished.

    The Jew saw them all, beat them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert and agressive mind.

    All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains.

    What is the secret of his immortality?

    ~Concerning the Jews in Harpers, 1899
"What is the secret of his immortality?" That's where Mark Twain finishes...and where the Seder night begins. We have Yetzias Mitzrayim l'olam- and we must face that reality.

R' Yaakov Emden in his siddur writes: People say that if only we were to see some miracles...chein (chay?) nafshi! That when I think about the survival o fthe Jews and how they survive with utter resilience and the ability to rebound, the very existence of the Jewish people is a greater miracle than Mitzrayim, and the longer it goes on it is even a greater miracle.

So let us return to our question: Hallel on Seder night. Which one is it? Tzarah b'tzarah! That is why there is no bracha on Seder night, we are mafsik (we have an entire meal); we even say in the Haggada "Lefichach anachnu chayavim l'hodos u'lhallel shira chadasha halleluyah." Shira Chadasha- a new Hallel!

Rashi explains that when Gideon was speaking to God, he was speaking about the fact that Midian was overwhelmingly more powerful than Bnei Yisrael and therefore they were lost. The Jews were miserable and indeed, they had a right to be miserable; they were impoverished; the Midianites stole from them...And so the prophet says "God is with you" and Gideon says, "God is with you?! Where are his miracles?"

And that is the spirit answers God, per Rashi- with that argument you can save kelal Yisrael. We see here the lomdus of Gideon. Last night, he explained, we said Hallel on this generation's miracles because Yetzias Mitzrayim is an ongoing event- so where's the b'chol dor v'dor? You gave us the right to remember and claim Yetzias Mitzrayim so there has to be a Yetzias Mitzrayim in this generation! Then I can argue/ make a claim/ a taina that God owes it to us, as it were.

So God answers: "You come with your emunah in Yetzias Mitzrayim- then you can claim it has to be b'chol dor v'dor," and therefore God does create a yeshua for them.

So let's go back to the very beginning, where we stated, "Afilu ani she'b'yisrael- even a poor person in Israel has an obligation to recline because he still has cheirus." And we see now that he does, that he has God's promise to him of a communal, national yeshua with the koach of Yetzias Mitzrayim.

The world has made Seder night into a universal social event with the Bubbes and Zeides and Aunties and Uncles and the whole family, but we should raise ourselves above that and strengthen ourselves with the recognition that we have been granted a cheirus olam, an eternal freedom. It happens now as well! They don't want us around.

Utzu eitzah v'sufar...dabru davar v'lo yakum: They may try to plan for our destruction, but it does not succeed.

In the Gemara, it says musmach geulah l'tefilah- R' Yonah in Brachos explains: What gives us the ability to daven for anything? Yetzias Mitzrayim! There are the meitzarim (pains) of Mitzrayim, but also a Yetzias Mitzrayim.


Rebbetzin Fink then thanked R' Miller for speaking and mentioned that we had been his first stop off the plane (which is remarkable.) I went up to him later because I had a question; this was my question:

"This idea presupposes that Gideon has total emunah in God, to the point where he is making this claim that because God promised an eternal cheirus, He must fulfill his promise. Assuming that is true, and especially assuming that the true proof/ miracle which is greater than all other miracles, per R' Emden, is the very fact that we Jewish people are alive, why is it that Gideon would then go on to test God with all these seemingly little, paltry tests? Why the need for the dew on the fleece, for it to be dry on the fleece, for God to reassure him by letting him go down to the camp and hear the dream about the barley bread? Such tests suggest that Gideon's belief was not so great, for he needed it to be solidified with tests and proofs."

So R' Miller said "I hear," and then he addressed the point I made regarding R' Emden saying that the greatest miracle is the fact that we are alive, and said that in our time, that is the miracle that we see, but in Gideon's time, open miracles were still a way of life, and so Gideon was continuing the discussion with God by requesting the miracles; it was part of their dialogue. But to me this still doesn't make so much sense. If you want to look at the comparable story by Moses, which is in Exodus 4, Moshe declares that the Jews will not believe him and then God grants him signs- his leprous hand, the staff that turns to a snake- but God is the one giving him the signs; Moshe is not asking for them. So if it were really to be a continuation of the discussion, God ought to be the one offering signs (which works with the barley bread case), rather than Gideon testing God in an attempt to prove He's really there/ really going to help out.

Then again, the idea as a whole seems difficult to me, because after all, Gideon's father was an idol worshipper, with his Ba'al and Asheira; it seems odd that he of all people would be mehalel to praise God for an eternal cheirus (although not necessarily impossible, true, especially since later on Gideon saves his son by declaring that the Baal should fight his son/ fight his own battles.)

But the shiur as a beautiful idea that is taken out of context of the Gideon story/ is a derash reading of the Gideon story is something I very much appreciate. It's really very clever and I enjoyed it. Also, R' Miller is a very nice man who says "we should hear good tidings by you" after you speak to him, which is sweet.


Uri said...

I found this uplifting.
You know what I find interesting about you? The fact that even if you didn't bring your laptop along,you were still able to take fantastic notes. What a gift!

rashi said...

Chana is extremely talented!!!

Dara said...

I really enjoyed reading your rendition of R Miller's shiur. I look forward to meeting you, in person, sometime after Pesach.

Anonymous said...

Would a fair restatement of your final point be: the thought developed (cheirut olam) is true in and of itself, reading it into the drash of Gideon story is a nice touch even though it isn't fully supported by the context.

Whenever I read something like this I think of the uproar IIRC about R' Avi Weiss (or was it R' Berman) and downs syndrome.

Joel Rich

Baruch said...

So,Chana," "we should hear good tidings by you" .

Thanks for the informative post.

nmf #7 said...

Wow, loved this! Thanks.

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