The end of this week’s Parsha was one of the highest points in the spiritual history of the Jewish nation. The Jewish people were almost ready to leave Egypt. They had suffered enough, they were caring for one another, and they had very strong Jewish identities.
G-d gave us Mitzvos. On the first of Nissan, we were given the Mitzvah of Rosh Chodesh. Shortly afterward, on the tenth of Nissan, the Jewish people were commanded to select a lamb for the Korban Pesach. Technically, they didn’t need goats until the 14th – 4 days later- but G-d wanted us to be engrossed in Mitzvos.
With pride, excitement, and enthusiasm the Jewish people performed these Mitzvos. They gathered the sheep, tied them to their bedposts and prepared for the seder. As Pesach approached Moshe and Aharon circumcised all of the Jewish males. Finally, on the fifteenth of Nissan, all of the Jewish people were seated in their homes enjoying the first Pesach Seder. At exactly midnight a wave of death passed through the country and killed all of the Egyptian first-borns. Not one of the Jewish homes suffered a loss. They were protected by the Korban Pesach. They heard death all around them while they sat safely and securely in their homes. The Talmud tells us that the Pesach seder is “אתכא דרחמנא” – G-d is our host and we are sitting at His table. The Jewish people were closer to G-d than they had ever been before.
As this was taking place Pharaoh made his way frantically to the Jewish quarter, tracked down Moshe and Aharon, and begged them to leave Egypt. They hadn’t packed and they had no time to prepare food for the way but they went unquestioningly following Moshe and, by extension G-d, into the desert. Many years later G-d would ‘reminisce’: “I remember the days when you were just a young Kallah – a young bride – you followed me out to the desert into a land that was totally desolate”.
Before all of this occurred, Moshe addressed the Jewish people. He went over all of the last minute laws and prepared them for what would happen. He said to them “You are leaving Egypt and you are going to arrive in the land that G-d has created for you. Be sure to continue to keep the holiday of Pesach and the seder with all of its halachos. Be sure to tell your children about this day.” He continued “And when your child asks מה העבודה הזאת לכם? – What is the big deal? Why are you doing all this hard work? ואמרתם אליו – You should say to him: This is my Korban Pesach for G-d. When we were in Egypt we were not that different from the Egyptians. We had no mitzvos. But when we did these mitzvos G-d punished all of the Egyptians and spared us and our homes”.
The Hagada tells us that the Torah spoke of Four Sons: the Wise son, The Wicked son, The Simple son, and the son who does not know how to ask questions. The Hagada goes on to quote verses in this week’s parsha (mostly) and tells us which pertain to each of the sons.
The question that we just quoted, when Moshe told the Jewish people “You will have a son who will ask מה העבודה הזאת לכם? – Why are you doing all this hard work?”, he was describing the Wicked son. Presumably, The Torah should continue with the answer given to the wicked son in the Haggadah: knock out his teeth and tell him בעבור זה עשה ה’ לי G-d did this for me when I was in Egypt – for me and not for you. If you were there you would not have been saved. Strangely, Moshe departed from the script did not recommend this answer at all, he said: ואמרתם אליו – You should say to him: This is my Korban Pesach for G-d. We did this and G-d punished all of the Egyptians but spared us and our homes.
Why did Moshe use ask the question of the wicked son, but give an unrelated answer?
Perhaps we can explain, based on the Kli Yakar, Moshe’s answer was not directed at the wicked son (that will come later) it was directed at the rest of the Jewish people and at the parents.
Moshe said to the Jewish people: Right now you are on a high, you have never been closer to G-d and the purpose of the mitzvos are clear to you. You think that the rest of your existence as Jews will be the same way. You think that you and all future generations will be able to maintain this constant connection to holiness. Let me tell you about reality. One day, you are going to have a son and he will have no idea what you are doing. He will ask “ מה העבודה הזאת לכם? – What is the big deal? Why are you doing all this hard work?” G-d will not always be as obvious as He is right now.”
What can we do about this? Moshe told the Jewish people: “stop for a moment and appreciate the feelings and emotions of what you are experiencing. Define it, bottle and put it somewhere safe. One day when you are challenged you will be able to pull that memory out of your pocket and say “I remember that moment when I did the Mitzvah of Pesach. I felt closer to G-d than you can ever imagine”.
We often experience spiritual highs. We need to save souvenirs, memories or commitments, from these highs to give us support at the times when we are low.
May we be merit to have only high points in our observance of mitzvos.
The Mosaica Haggadah by Rabbi Sender Haber
Unique features include:
- Real questions and insightful comments geared toward bright young students
- Fascinating and meaningful short explanations by a world-class educator
- Yocheved Nadell’s delightful contemporary illustrations
- Laminated pages to allow for easy use at the Seder table for many years
Order online at https://mosaicapress.com/product/mosaica-haggadah/ or directly from the author. Bulk rates are available.