The Four Cups:  A Foundation of Jewish Thought, By Rabbi Dr. Chaim E. Schertz

The Mishna tells us that even an impoverished Jew on the night of the Seder should eat in a reclining manner, as do free and independent people, on a couch as a demonstration of freedom.  In addition, the poorest of the poor, one who only receives one meal a day from communal funds, must strive with all his might to acquire wine, including selling his garments, for four cups during the Seder, if the community does not provide it for him.  This is all done to express the concept freedom. Pesachim 99b.

It is interesting that the same effort is not required for the acquisition of Matzah even though eating Matzah is a Torah requirement while the requirement of the four cups of wine is purely Rabbinic.  Indeed, the Torah makes no mention whatsoever of the four cups of wine.

The source of this requirement is brought down in the Midrash.  “Rav Huna in the name of Rav Benaya said, ‘This (the four cups) is an allusion to the four terms of redemption that are stated prior to the Exodus from Egypt. (God says, I will remove, I will save, I will redeem, and I will take. Shemot, 6, 6-7. )’”  Bereisheet Rabba, 88:5.

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The Fragility of Faith, by Rabbi Elchanan Adler

In  describing  the  great  anxiety  experienced  by B’nei Yisrael prior to the miracle of kerias yam suf, the Torah highlights two contradictory responses: first, an expression of heartfelt prayer; second, a critique of Moshe for having brought them out of Egypt to perish in the wilderness. The Ramban explains that the Torah refers to different groups of people. Those with a deep sense of faith cried out genuinely for divine salvation, while the less noble of spirit lashed out at Moshe in bitter condemnation. (See there for additional explanations as well.) However, the ba’alei musar suggest an approach which provides a penetrating insight into the human condition. According to their interpretation, the same people who were initially inspired by sincere faith to cry out to Hashem in prayer quickly lost faith and succumbed to doubt and frustration.

As explained by R. Chaim Shmuelevitz (Sichas Mussar 5732 #7), Man is a complex creature filled with competing and conflicting impulses, good and bad, which co-exist side by side locked in constant struggle. At times the nobler parts emerge; at other times the darker side dominates. This is why we all have the capacity both of being empathetic and callous, forgiving and vindictive, altruistic and self-centered. Few people are completely saints or demons.

Nowhere are the two faces of man more strikingly apparent than in the realm of faith. On the one hand, Man has an innate need to believe in G-d. In the recesses of his heart he knows that G-d exists, and he experiences His love, concern and guiding hand. At the same time, Man resents submitting to a higher authority and is tempted to flee from G-d and assert personal autonomy. Consequently, Man may oscillate between deep faith awareness on the one hand and intense religious skepticism on the other, yearning one moment for communion with the Creator and, in the next, doubting His very existence.

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Passover: Why Did the Israelites go to Egypt to Begin With? By Rabbi Elchanan Poupko

Nothing is more central to Jewish identity as much as the Exodus from Egypt. Every Shabbat, Holiday—and even every day—we mention the exodus from Egypt. On Passover, we zoom in exclusively on leaving Egypt. All of this begs for the obvious question: why were we in Egypt to begin with? Why did Hashem place us there to begin with? Furthermore, how should we view the time before the Exodus—yetziat Mitzrayim? Were we “serving time” being punished in Egypt, or were we accomplishing something there?

While there are varying opinions in the Talmud as to why the Jewish people ended up in Egypt, all agree that this needs explanation.

“Rabbi Avahu said in the name of rabbi Elazar: why was Avraham Avinue punished and his sons became slaves in Egypt for two hundred and ten years? Because he made [mundane] use of Torah scholars….Shmuel says: it is because he questioned God’s ways when asking “how can I know I will inherit the land” [1] Rabbi Yochanan says it was because he prevented some people from coming into the divine faith (when he conceded to the king of Sedom and allowed him to take back his people to Sedom”.[2]

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Married to Matzah, by Rabbi Avraham Shmidman

“One who eats Matzah on Erev Pesach is as though he cohabited with his betrothed in his father in law’s home”. [Talmud Yerushalmi (Pesachim 10:1)]. While not cited by the Bavli, this quote is cited, or closely paraphrased, by many early halachic authorities (See for example Tur Orach Chaim 471). Indeed over the centuries this ambiguous ruling has been the subject of extensive discussion and debate.

In this brief essay I seek to address but two of the many obvious issues raised by this shocking statement. Firstly, why is one who eats matzah on Erev Pesach likened to an individual who is intimate with his affianced in the home of his father in law? Ordinarily, halachic rulings are presented in standard formulaic fashion. We are instructed in straightforward form about matters declared either prohibited (assur) or permitted (muttar), etc. What is meant by this evocative simile?  Secondly, what kind of matzah is the Gemara referring to in this vague ruling? Is all matzah outlawed on the eve of Pesach? Or, is this restriction limited perhaps to only the variety necessary for seder consumption, i.e. shmura matzah?

With regards the second question there exists a dispute. Some (including The Meiri and Tosfos Rid in their respective commentaries to Pesachim 99b, amongst others) insist that only matzah suitable to fulfill the mitzvah on the night of Pesach may not be eaten on Erev Pesach. The Tashbetz (3:260) and Maharam Challavah (to Pesachim 49a) are part of a group who expand the ruling of the Yerushalmi and apply it even to matzah not classified as shmura.

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Chametz on Pesach: Making the Jewish People Late Again, by Rabbi Elchanan Poupko

“Sometimes we stare so long at a door that is closing that we see too late the one that is open”-Alexander Graham Bell

After years of eating Matzah on Pesach, I am starting to have second thoughts. No, not second thoughts about fulfilling this mitzvah of eating matzah- but second thoughts about the commonly known reason for eating matzah.

We are told in the Haggadah, that the reason we eat matzah is because the Jewish people did not have time to wait for the bread to rise[i]. If indeed this is really the reason, why is it that the Jewish people ate matzah on the first Passover night ever? After all, the Jewish people had been commanded to eat matzah on the fifteenth of Nisan-the night before the Exodus- even before the reason of “leaving in haste” has ever become applicable.

Furthermore, if indeed the reason for eating matzah on the first night of Pesach is to remember the haste in which the Jewish people left Egypt, one can only wonder why we are commanded to eat matzah Pesach night. Why not eat matzah when haste was in place, on the fifteenth of Nisan-the morning of Pesach?

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Thoughts on Pesach from Rabbi Dr. Chaim E. Schertz

The Mystery of the Matzah

When describing why the Jews ate Matzah when they were leaving Egypt, the Torah states: “They baked the dough which they had taken out of Egypt, for it had not become leavened. For they were driven out of Egypt and were not able to tarry and had not prepared provisions for the journey.” Exodus 12:39.

From the preceding verse, it clearly appears that eating matzah during the Exodus was a matter of duress and not choice. The Jews were compelled to eat Matzah because the Egyptians in their frenzy to drive them out of Egypt would not wait until the dough of the Hebrews became leavened. If that is correct, then the Matzah appears to be a symbol of degradation. The helpless condition of the Jews allowed them to be driven out and forced them to eat the poorest of all breads; that which was unleavened. It was the food of slaves.

Nevertheless, the Torah established the Matzah as one of the bases of the celebration of Pesach:

Seven days you shall eat Matzah as you eliminate all leavening from your homes. . . Anyone eating leavening (Chametz), his soul will be cut off, from the first day to the seventh day. Exodus 12: 14-15;

In addition it states, “You are to watch over the Matzot for in the midst of that day (of the Exodus) I (God) took your multitudes out of the Land of Egypt.” Exodus 12: 17. In his commentary on this verse, Rashi makes no mention of the Matzah, but he does comment on the Maror. “They were commanded to eat Maror as a memory (of the verse) ‘and they (The Egyptians) embittered their (The Jews’) lives.’”

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A Note on G-d’s Kingship in the Exodus Story, by Rabbi Shalom Carmy

Pharaoh pleaded with Moshe to remove the frogs. Moshe agrees to pray for their removal at a time to be determined by Pharaoh. An interlocutor asks whether Moshe’s response is politically savvy. Would it not be more effective if he had told Pharaoh that the frogs would disappear after the Jews left Egypt? By agreeing to intercede before his demands were met, Moshe enables Pharaoh to renege once relief is obtained.

The question presupposes that Moshe is acting on his own, and not on divine instruction. This premise does not, in itself, disqualify the question. The Torah does not explicitly state that Moshe’s response was dictated by G-d, and some commentators, notably Abarbanel, hold that Moshe acted on his own initiative when he promised to pray. Moreover, if he was obeying G-d’s command, this would merely shift the question from Moshe to G-d: It would be G-d who would forego His advantage by letting Pharaoh off the hook.

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