The Sceptic Blog

Random thoughts of a random chappy

Seder Night

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We sometimes tell the children that on seder night we are celebrating being free.  That is not quite true.  In fact, we are commemorating three different things in three different ways: the fact that we were slaves, the process of becoming free and the fact that we became free.
The maror commemorates our slavery.  The matzoh commemorates the process of becoming free, leaving Mitzrayim too fast to stop to let the dough rise.  And the mitzvoh of haseivoh – leaning – commemorates being free.
As we say at the start of the seder (ho lachmoh anyo), although the slavery of mitzrayim is past, in each generation there are other things to which we become enslaved.  Sometimes it is a physical slavery forced on us, as Pharaoh did.  Sometimes it is a seductive culture to which we enslave ourselves, with even greater spiritual danger than the physical slavery (tze ul’mad – Pharaoh only threatened the males while Lovon threatened everybody).  We need to work out each year whether we are facing a Pharaoh-kind of slavery or a Lovon-kind of slavery: coercion from without or temptation from within.  As HaRav Lord Jakobovitz z’tzl used to put it, some generations have to learn to survive adversity, our generation’s principal challenge is to learn to survive relative prosperity.
Of these three mitzvos of the seder, the one which we perform most closely to the mitzvoh as performed in Pesach Mitzrayim, the mitzvoh which everybody agrees is mid’oraisoh bizman hazeh – Biblically required even when we do not have the Temple – is matzoh, which commemorates the process of becoming free.  It commemorates the fact that while we could have strolled leisurely away from Egypt, confident in God’s protection from our enemies, we rushed out without time for the dough to rise, desperate to leave behind a culture of greed and materialism and to put ourselves in a simplistic and trusting way (chesed n’urayich) under the protection of God in an environment of material difficulty but spiritual purity.  That is the essence of the seder, reminding ourselves that what the Jewish people have achieved once we can achieve again, and that we can free ourselves from all those influences and habits which are contrary to Torah values.
And all the time that we are making that commemoration, we have the message of the four/five cups confronting us on the table.  The Talmud records a dispute over whether we should drink four or five cups.  The long-accepted custom is to drink four but to acknowledge the other opinion by having a fifth cup, Elijah’s, on the table.  Why not ordain five cups, on the grounds that by drinking five cups we would certainly satisfy both opinions?  Because the cups commemorate the expressions of redemption used in the Torah: the fifth expression, “and I will bring you in” is a promise yet to be fulfilled, with the establishment of the third Temple.  When we have completed the process of becoming free from today’s slavery, and the third Temple is up and functioning, then we will be able to drink the fifth cup of redemption together and look back upon all kinds of spiritual and physical slavery as things of the past.
I wish everyone a happy and liberating yom tov.


Written by Daniel Greenberg

April 7, 2006 at 11:28 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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