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Keeping in mind the fertility challenged at the Seder Print E-mail
Tuesday, 27 March 2018

In memory of Beatrice Landsman z”l

When reading the Haggada, we come across the verse from Shmot 1:7 which describes the growth of the nation: “The children of Israel were fruitful (paru) and swarmed (va-yishretzu), multiplied (va-yirbu) and grew (va-yaatzmu) more and more (bimeod meod). The whole land was filled with them.”

Rashbam differentiates between each of the verbs:

Paru: “they were fruitful” in pregnencies; va-yishretzu: “they swarmed” with live births since tiny creatures are described as swarming on the ground; va-yirbu: “they increased” in size, the small grew bigger and did not die in infancy; va-yaatzmu: “they grew” and did not die but were numerous and became very powerful.

In Midrash Lekach Tov, Rabbi Hiyya teaches that the verse emphasizes the extraordinary nature of this population explosion: Every daughter of Israel would give birth to six corresponding to the six terms: Paru, va-yishretzu, va-yirbu, va-yaatzmu, bimeod meod.

The seder is set up as a family oriented ritual focused on the concept of “you shall teach your children” with the Ma Nishtana (Four Questions) recited by the youngest child, the discussion of the Four Children, the different activities which keep the children interested culminating with the search for the Afikoman etc. It can be challenging for couples who are suffering from infertility to feel part of this.

In the Haggada, there is also the aspect of hope for the fertility challenged. B’nai Yisrael multiplied despite Pharaoh’s decrees, the midwives saved the baby boys, Pharaoh’s daughter adopted Moshe and raised him as her own.

While enjoying our own seders, when we recite the verse from Shmot 1:7, let’s keep in mind those who are fertility challenged and let’s pray that their wishes come true, that their fertility issues will be resolved and that they be blessed with healthy children as the Israelites were in Egypt.


 
Is coffee permissible on Pesach? Print E-mail
Tuesday, 27 March 2018

In the 17th century when coffee was introduced in Western Europe, Rabbi Yaakov Reischer was asked if coffee can be used on Pesach or if it is considered kitniot (a category of legumes that are not permissible on Pesach for Ashkenasic Jews). After doing some research and seeing that the coffee “bean” grows on a tree in a manner similar to a fruit or berry and is in fact not a bean at all, he permitted it. Rabbi Reischler added that even if coffee were kitniot, the fact that it is roasted and burned before the holiday makes it unfit to be considered food and therefore permits it.

Rabbi Yosef ben David of Breslaum on the other hand forbade coffee on Pesach and said that it was in the category of kitniot.

The HIDA, Rabbi Haim David Yosef Azulai explains that coffee indeed comes from the fruit of a tree and therefore rabbis who thought that it was kitniot were mistaken as it was unclear to them exactly how it was grown.

In the 19th century, Rabbi Chaim Moshe Mordechai Margaliot wrote in his commentary, Shaarei Tshuva that there are some foods that were almost considered to be kitniot but in the end they were permitted. One example is coffee which they were afraid may have gotten mixed with grains or beans. According to Rabbi Margaliot, coffee is allowed but it is best to roast the beans before Pesach so that there are no concerns. Today the coffee is processed before the holiday, so it should not be an issue.

In the early 20th century, many new immigrants from Eastern Europe arrived in America and assumed that coffee “beans” were kitniot. To rectify the situation, Joseph Jacobs from a New York advertising agency checked with rabbinic authorities to see if coffee is considered kitniot. The rabbis ruled that coffee is not kitniot and certified Maxwell House coffee for Passover. Maxwell House took out ads in the Yiddish Forward starting in 1923 and in 1932 they began to print the Maxwell House Haggada which was distributed free in supermarkets throughout the United States. Maxwell House coffee became associated with Pesach and the question of whether coffee was kosher for Pesach never came up again.

 
Is Moshe mentioned in the Hagada? Print E-mail
Friday, 07 April 2017

There is an opinion that Moshe is left out of the Hagada so that one would not make a mistake and confuse him with God or try to turn him into a deity (it is for this reason that we do not know his exact burial place as well).

However, if you check your Hagada, you will find that Moshe is in fact mentioned right before Dayenu in a quote from Rabbi Yossi HaGlili about the multiplication of the ten plagues: (Shmot 14:31) “B’nai Yisrael saw the great hand which God wielded against Egypt. The people feared God and believed in God and that Moshe was his servant.”

How do we reconcile these two opinions?

In the Mechilta D’Rabbi Yishmael where this quote from Rabbi Yossi HaGlili comes from, only half of Shmot 14:31 is quoted: “B’nai Yisrael saw the great hand” and the part about Moshe is left out. It is also left out in the Mechilta of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, Midrash HaGadol, Seder Rav Amram, Siddur Rav Sadia Gaon and from the Hagadot of Yemen as well as earlier Hagadot.

According to Shmuel and Zev Safrai, Moshe’s name is not officially considered to be in the Hagada as it was added later.

Although he is not specifically mentioned in the Hagada, in the discussions that go beyond the text that take place at most seders, especially when children are involved, Moshe is included as an integral part of the story of the Exodus.

According to the Rambam (Maimonides) in Hilchot Chametz uMatza 7:2, “It is a mitzvah to tell the children about the Exodus even if they do not ask…If the children are mature and wise, tell them all that happened to us in Egypt and all the miracles that God did for us by means of Moshe…”

Many seders today add in songs that help the children understand the story better. Many of these songs in both Hebrew and English mention Moshe including “Where is Baby Moses” and “Moshe baTeva” as well as the famous “Let My People Go.”

As long as those attending the seder are aware that God was the redeemer and that Moshe, Aharon and Miriam were there to help Him carry out the redemption there is no problem mentioning them and telling their story actually enhances the seder.

As it says in the Hagada “The more and longer one expands and embellishes the story, the more commendable.”

 
All who are hungry come and eat Print E-mail
Friday, 15 April 2016

In Memory of Nehama Leibowiz on her Yahrzeit

We begin the Magid section of the Hagada with the words: “Ha Lachma Anya…”, “This is the poor bread that our fathers ate in the land of Egypt. Anyone who is hungry, come and eat! Anyone who needs, come make Pesach! This year we are still here; next year in the Land of Israel. This year we are still slaves; next year, free people!

 

Why do we invite guests after declaring that the matza is poor bread?

 

If our invitation is sincere, why are we only inviting them now?

 

This statement was introduced during the Geonic period of the Babylonian exile. Rav Matityahu Gaon  (9th century) states that the minhag originally was to leave the door open so that all of the poor people would feel free to enter and join the meal. Later it became unsafe in many communities to leave the door unlocked so the guests would be invited in advance.

 

The reason that it is still included today is to raise awareness about giving tzedaka to the poor and inviting those who would otherwise not have a place to spend the seder.

 

The reason that we invite the poor right after we look at this poor (made with only flour and water) broken matza is because at that moment we remember how poor we were in Egypt and how we now want to make sure to include the poor in our happiness.

 

The path to the redemption begins with righteousness as it says in Yishayahu 1:27 “The city of righteousness, a faithful city Zion will be redeemed with judgment and those that return to her with righteousness.”

 

How does this manifest itself today?

 

Many families invite guests to their seder or donate money to help provide food so that those in need can conduct their own dignified seders.

 

I heard about a beautiful initiative while listening to an interview on a Jerusalem radio station: A young couple takes over an entire school in downtown Jerusalem and makes a seder for 500 people who would otherwise not have a place to spend the first night of Pesach. Participants include the elderly, Holocaust survivors, lone soldiers and anyone else who doesn’t want to be alone or cannot afford to conduct their own seder.

 

Initiatives like these will help bring us closer to the true redemption. May we spend next Pesach in Yerushalayim HaBnuya, the rebuilt Jerusalem.

  

 
The Four Generations Print E-mail
Friday, 15 April 2011

The Four Generations

 

According to Rabbi Yitzchak Nisenbaum, The “Arba Banim”, literally “ The Four Sons” at the Passover Seder can be looked at as “The Four Generations”: parent, child, grandchild and great grandchild.

 

The “Chacham”, the wise child, symbolizes the old generation, the grandfather whose entire lifestyle and outlook testify to his being Jewish.

 

The “Rasha”, the wicked child, symbolizes the second generation. He is the son of the “Chacham”. In his father’s home he was educated in Torah but he became a rebel and began to annoy the older generation with his inquisitive questions.

 

The “Tam”, the simple child, symbolizes the third generation. He is the son of the “Rasha” and grandchild of the “Chacham”. When he went to his grandfather’s house, he saw the tradition being followed and he would ask: Why is my grandfather observant? Why is my father not observant?

 

The “SheEino Yodea Lishol”, “One Who Doesn’t Even Know How to Ask” symbolizes the fourth generation. When the great grandchild was born, the great grandfather was no longer alive. He never saw Jewish tradition in his father’s or grandfather’s home so he doesn’t even know what to ask about.

 

The Hagada tells us to start the conversation with the “ShEino Yodea Lishol”. This generation that does not know tradition at all can start from scratch and has the opportunity of returning to their roots.

 

There is a comic by Michel Kichka Called “Four Daughters, Four Generations” which depicts a grandmother wearing a dress with her hair covered reading Tehilim (Psalms), the second generation is her daughter who is smoking and reading a book by Amos Oz (Modern Secular Israeli literature), the third generation is the granddaughter who is reading the Hebrew newspaper and the fourth generation is the baby who is sitting under the table reading a book upside down.

 

We see this very clearly in Israel today. The new generation that grew up without the tradition is searching for their roots and for spirituality. If the observant population can serve as inclusive and welcoming role models then there will be more incentive for the new generation to want to return to their roots and to their tradition.

 

 

 
The Fifth Child at the Passover Seder Print E-mail
Thursday, 25 March 2010

We all know about the “four children” at the Seder, the wise, the wicked, the simple and the one who doesn’t know how to ask. But who is the fifth child?

 

Just as we have four cups of wine with a fifth cup set aside for Eliyahu HaNavi, so too there is a “fifth child” who should have a place at the Seder, yet unfortunately that child may not be joining us this year.

 

The fifth child could be the person who is so far removed from Judaism that he has no interest in coming to the Seder at all.

 

I spoke about this “fifth child” at our Seder at our home in Jerusalem a few years ago. Among our guests were new immigrants from the local absorption center. One of the women in attendance who had just made aliya from Russia surprised me by saying: “That fifth son that you are talking about is my son- he is back at the absorption center reading a book and watching TV. He wasn’t interested in coming tonight”. I had no idea and I felt terrible, but her statement definitely proves my point.

 

The fifth child could be someone who would like to attend a Seder but may not be able to afford it or wouldn’t even have an idea of where to go or who could be too embarrassed to ask for an invitation. At the beginning of the Seder we say: “Ha Lachma Anya…”, “This is the bread of poverty…Let all who are hungry come and eat. Let all who are in need come and share the Pesach meal...,” Just as we open the door for Eliyahu later in the Seder, we are actually supposed to open the door at this point to see if there is anyone who needs a place at the Seder. Unfortunately, by that time it may be too late. Whoever has not yet been invited to a Seder is most probably not looking for one at that time. We must take the initiative to find out where those people are and invite them before the holiday.

 

Unfortunately, the fifth child could be someone who would like to come to the Seder but doesn’t have the freedom to do so. Gilad Shalit’s mother is asking everyone to leave an empty chair for Gilad at their Seder as we are unfortunately coming up on Gilad’s fourth Seder in captivity.

 

As Peasch approaches, lets do what we can to fill those empty places with all of the “fifth children”, those who are far removed from Judaism, those who can’t afford or wouldn’t know how to make their own Seder and may those in captivity be brought home.

 
How Did B'nai Yisrael Excel in Egypt? Print E-mail
Wednesday, 16 April 2008

At the Pesach Seder we recite the following words “Arami oved avi…”, “The Aramite (Lavan, Yaakov’s father-in-law) attempted to destroy my forefather (Yaakov). Then Yaakov descended to Egypt and lived there in a tiny community. There his descendents became a great people, powerful and numerous”.

Although Lavan and Pharaoh tried to destroy B’nai Yisrael, Yaakov’s children, even under harsh circumstances were not destroyed. Against all odds, they became a “goy gaadol”, a great people.

The Hagaddah says that B’nai Yisrael excelled in Egypt (Mitzuyanim).

In what ways were they mitzuyanim?

In Shir HaShirim Raba, Rav Huna says in the name of Bar Kafra: The Jews were redeemed from Egypt for the following four reasons:

  1. They did not give up their Jewish names
  2. They did not give up their language
  3. They did not gossip
  4. They did not have relations with the Egyptians

 Sefer HAggada adds a fifth reason:

  1. They performed acts of loving kindness

 
How can we today help bring about the final redemption which is referred to at the end of the seder?  I believe that it is by ensuring Jewish continuity; giving our children Jewish names, making Hebrew language a priority, taking care not to speak lashon hara, dating within the Jewish community and performing acts of chesed.

 As we look toward the final redemption “L’Shana HaBaah B’Yerushalayim HaBenuyah”, “Next year in the rebuilt Jerusalem” let’s take it upon ourselves to be mitzuyanim, let’s excel as B’nai Yisrael did in the observance of these mitzvoth.

 
Is Matzah the Bread of Affliction or the Bread of Redemption? Print E-mail
Thursday, 29 March 2007
Before the Mah Nishtana is recited, we lift up the matzahs and recite the words “Ha Lachma Anya…”, “This is the bread of affliction that our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt; let all those that are hungry enter and eat thereof; and all who are in distress, come and celebrate the Passover. At present we celebrate it here, but next year we hope to celebrate in the land of Israel. This year we are servants here, but next year we hope to be free people in the land of Israel.”

According to the Maharsha, matzah was the food that the slaves ate in Egypt. We eat the matzah at the seder to remind us of the slavery.

The next section of the seder which deals with Matzah originates from a Mishna in Pesachim 10:5, “Rabban Gamliel haya omer…Matzah zu sheanu ochlim al shum…”, “Rabban Gamliel taught…This matzah which we now eat, what does it mean? It is eaten because the dough of our ancestors had no time to become leavened before God revealed Himself to them and redeemed them; as it is said (Shmot 12:39) ‘They baked unleavened cakes of the dough which they had brought forth out of Egypt, ugot matzot, for it was not leavened, because they were thrust out of Egypt and could not tarry, neither had they made any provision for themselves’.”

Rabban Gamliel’s view is that the matzah is the bread of redemption, the food that B’nai Yisrael ate after they were already redeemed.

In Devarim 16:3 it is taught concerning the holiday of Peasach and the Korban Pesach, Passover sacrifice, “Do not eat chametz (leavened bread) on it; seven days you shall eat matzot, lechem oni (bread of affliction) since in haste you left the land of Egypt, so that you remember the day of your exodus from the land of Egypt all the days of your life”.

Rashi comments that this “lechem oni”, bread of affliction memorializes the anguish that B’nai Yisrael suffered in Egypt. Avravanel points to the haste in the second part of the pasuk to signify that the matzah reminds us of the redemption.

How do we reconcile the matzah being both bread of affliction and bread of redemption? During the first part of the seder we conduct ourselves as slaves while during the second part of the seder we conduct ourselves as free people.

Part of the Ha Lachma Anya section has already been fulfilled. Many Jewish people (including myself!) will be celebrating Pesach as free people in Israel. However, there are many Jews around the world who would like to come to Israel yet have still not had the opportunity. Even in Israel, there are unfortunately those who are not free including Gilad Shalit, Eldad Regev and Udi Goldwasser, Israeli soldiers who are still missing in action.

As we eat our matzah, let’s be thankful that we have the State of Israel and that we are in the beginning stages of the redemption. However, let’s keep in mind as well those who are not free. Let’s pray that by next year all Jews will be free in the land of Israel!

 
Kulanu Misubin? Are Women Obligated to Recline at the Passover Seder? Print E-mail
Tuesday, 11 April 2006

According to the Mishna Brurah, women are obligated in observing all of the mitzvoth of the Passover Seder such as drinking the four cups of wine, reading the Haggada, eating matzah and eating maror(bitter herbs). The Gemara in Sotah 11b explains why women are obligated in these mitzvoth even though they are time-related. The women were the ones who took an active role in the redemption of the Jewish people from Egypt. The women continued to have vision that the redemption would occur and continued to have children despite the reluctance of their husbands. Miriam the prophetess insisted that her parents continue having children and the result was that her mother gave birth to Moshe. The midwives, Shifra and Pua continued saving the babies despite Pharaoh's decree to kill the newborns.

What about the custom of bringing a pillow to the table and reclining at the seder? Are women obligated in observing this custom? Are they even permitted?

According to the Gemara in Pesachim 108a, a woman who is with her husband is not obligated to recline, but if she is an important woman, she is obligated to recline. The Rama (16th century) who quotes the Mordechai (13th century) states "In our community all the women are important". According to the Vilna Gaon (18th century) "An important woman is wealthy enough that she doesn't need to busy herself with the needs of the household and the preparation of food." Does that mean that those of us who have just spent the last week cooking and cleaning should not recline?

According to Sylvia Barack Fishman, noted author in her book "A Breath of Life", "The vast majority of American Jewish women have levels of secular and Jewish education unthinkable in earlier periods of history. They occupy positions of importance and prestige in the professional and business worlds. They most certainly are free persons". Following this approach coupled with the approaches of the Mordechai and Rama, it makes sense that women should recline at the Passover Seder even if they were the ones doing many of the preparations. In fact if they did most of the preparations, they certainly should recline on the night where we talk about moving from slavery to freedom!

To all the women out there, take out your pillows, and follow the words of the Ma Nishtana: "kulanu misubin", WE ALL RECLINE!