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"In each and every generation, a person must show himself as if he left Egypt." We are obliged to renew the excitement, experience the feeling, and personally sense the night of yessi'at Missrayim. In some communities, the head of the family stands up and walks around the room carrying the massot on his shoulder and declaring, "This is how we left Egypt." In other communities, one of those attending the seder appears before the others with a staff in hand - all in order to relive the event and express gratitude to Hashem with song and praise: "The song shall be for you like the night when the festival was sanctified" (Yeshayahu 30:29). This year, the calendar helps us: Shabbat Hagadol falls on the tenth of Nissan, just as it did then, three thousand, three hundred and fourteen years ago. On this Shabbat, Benei Yisrael purchased sheep from the Egyptians to be slaughtered as the korban pesah that Wednesday and roasted that evening, the night of the seder. On Thursday - the morning of the fifteenth of Nissan - they left Egypt proudly and triumphantly!
Why were Benei Yisrael commanded to prepare the sheep four days in advance?
The Hid"a zs"l (in the Haggadah, "Peninei Ha'Hid"a, no. 143) answers based on Hazal's comment (in the Mechilta, Bo) that as Benei Yisrael had no misvot in whose merit they could be redeemed, the Al-mighty gave them two misvot: milah and korban pesah. The Maharal of Prague, in his work, "Gur Aryeh," asks, why did Hashem give us specifically these two misvot? He answers that risking one's life for the sake of G-d's will renders one worthy of miracles (Berachot 20a). Benei Yisrael prepared to slaughter the sheep, which the Egyptians worshipped as a deity, and they circumcised themselves in order to be allowed to partake of the sacrificial meat. If the Egyptians would come to kill them for humiliating their deity, Benei Yisrael would not have had the physical strength to resist and defend themselves - just as the entire city of Shechem had no power to fight against Shimon and Levi three days after their circumcision. This devotion for the misvah rendered Benei Yisrael worthy of their miraculous redemption from Egypt.
The Hid"a adds that the Alshich Hakadosh zs"l showed how each misvah purifies a given limb of the human body. The arm tefillin, for example, purifies the arm; the head tefillin, the head, and so on. But "mesirut nefesh," preparing to give one's life, sanctifies one's entire being. Benei Yisrael were submerged in the "forty-nine gates of impurity" in Egypt; their entire bodies were contaminated by the spiritual impurity. The "mesirut nefesh" involved in taking the Egyptian deity for slaughter and circumcising themselves such that they had no possibility of self- defense sanctified their bodies and rendered them worthy of redemption.
As beautiful this explanation is of and in itself, it has an equally beautiful supplement. In "Haggadat Maharil Diskin" (no. 10), it says that after the six days of the plague of darkness, during three of which people could not see one another and during the other three of which people could not even move or change positions (see Rashi, Shemot 9:22), Pharaoh called Moshe and bargained with him. He did not agree to let the slaves go with their sheep for sacrificing, and right there and then Moshe received the prophecy regarding the plague of the firstborn (Rashi, Shemot 10:4): "So says Hashem: 'At around midnight I will go out through Egypt; and every firstborn in the land of Egypt will die." The Gemara (Berachot 4a) explains that this prophecy was conveyed at midnight on the night of the fourteenth, the night of Erev Pesah, and Hashem told Moshe that at that moment the following night, the plague of the firstborn will occur.
Let us now do the calculation: if the plague of darkness ended on the night of the fourteenth, then the three days during which the Egyptians could not move from their places - the final three days of the plague - were Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, the 11th-13th of Nissan. It thus turns out that Benei Yisrael purchased the sheep for the korban when the Egyptians could not see but could still move about. Even throngs of blind people assembled in a zealous rage are dangerous; indeed, even this marked a degree of "mesirut nefesh" on Benei Yisrael's part. Not to mention the fact that Benei Yisrael circumcised themselves, thus surrendering their possibility of self-defense. In truth, however, those who circumcised themselves and thought that they risked their lives in so doing, actually never faced any danger whatsoever. Hashem saw to it that their enemies would be paralyzed. Meanwhile, any who feared performing the circumcision and forewent on the milah and korban pesah so as to avoid this alleged danger - Hashem killed them in a plague during the three days of darkness.
What a powerful lesson this is for us!
There are those who fear closing their businesses on Shabbat, lest their livelihood be hurt. Some people feel they must work on Hol Hamoed. Others fear sending their children to Torah educational systems. Some have trouble detaching themselves from the secular media. Each person has his concerns and does his own "mesirut nefesh." In the end, however, it will become clear that one who fulfills Hashem's will suffers no harm - and one who violates His will makes no profit as a result!
Rabbi Efrayim Hakohen zs"l
Rav Efrayim Hakohen zs"l, a descendant of the prophet Yehezkel, was the leading Kabbalist in the Porat Yosef yeshivah in the previous generation, and had met Rav Yosef Hayim zs"l. At first he applied himself to Torah learning privately and in secret, and he saw the fulfillment of Hazal's dictum: "Whoever occupies himself with Torah inside - his Torah announces him externally." When his reputation for greatness spread, Rabbenu Yosef Hayim zs"l sent for him to learn more about him. Finding him filled with Torah knowledge, piety, sanctity and purity, he brought him close to him and invited him to come visit him whenever he wished.
Due to financial straits, his parents prepared to emigrate to a different city. Rabbi Efrayim faced a difficult dilemma - he was dependent on them for his sustenance; if they left, what would he eat? On the other hand, he did not want to join them, because Baghdad was a city full of Torah scholars while the city to where the family relocated had no yeshivah or scholars. What did he do? He did whatever any Jew does when he encounters a problem and needs advice: he consults with a Torah authority. And so, he came to Rav Yosef Hayim zs"l. The rabbi said to him, "Do not leave with them, and Hashem will help you!" He obeyed the sage's command and continued his diligent study of Torah. The few coins he received from the yeshivah were enough for but minimal quantities of bread, and he suffered a very difficult year of poverty and hunger. He did not tell anyone of his dire situation, and in the meantime Rav Yosef Hayim passed away. His heart full of emotion, he burst out in tears and exclaimed, "Our rabbi, Rav Yosef Hayim, his honor instructed me to follow this path and I obeyed.
Please, look down from your sacred abode, from the heavens, and see my dire situation! You know that I cannot go and pray at your gravesite because I am a kohen. I therefore ask that you pray on my behalf before the Heavenly Throne!"
The next day, when he returned home from the yeshivah, he received a telegram from his parents informing him of their decision to return to Baghdad, and that they will be coming that day. He was overjoyed at their return, and he once again had his means of support.
A Treasury of Halachot and Customs of the Festivals of Yisrael, Based on the Rulings of Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit"a
By Rav David Yossef shlit"a
The Halachot of Bedikat Hamess
The Berachah Over the Search
Before beginning the search for hamess one recites the berachah, "Baruch Atah Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha'olam asher kideshanu b'missvotav v'ssivanu al bi'ur hamess." The reason why we mention "bi'ur hamess" (the destruction of hamess) rather than "bedikat hamess" (the search for hamess) is because the ultimate purpose of the search is to eventually destroy the hamess that one finds. We do not recite "sheheheyanu" over the bedikah since this berachah is recited only on events involving joy and enjoyment, while the destruction of hamess involves the loss of one's property. Additionally, the berachah of "sheheheyanu" recited on Pesah night covers all misvot affiliated with the festival. Nevertheless, since some authorities require the recitation of "sheheheyanu" over bedikat hamess, as a measure of piety one should try to take a new fruit and place it before him when reciting "al bi'ur hamess." Shortly after beginning the search, one should recite "sheheheyanu" over the fruit and have in mind to fulfill the possible requirement with regard to the bedikah, as well. Then, after the search, he recites the appropriate berachah over the fruit and eats it. One should not, however, recite "sheheheyanu" immediately after reciting the berachah of "al bi'ur hamess."
One may not speak from the time he recites the berachah of "al bi'ur hamess" until the search. If one spoke during this period of matters unrelated to the bedikah he must recite a new berachah. During the bedikah, one may speak about anything related to the search, such as to ask his family members what they put where, if a given item contains hamess, etc. One should not, however, speak about matters unrelated to the search until the bedikah is completed.
Nevertheless, if one did speak about matters unrelated to the search after he began the search, he does not recite a new berachah.
Someone who has several homes recites a single berachah over the bedikah of all of them. Even if the residences are situated far apart from one another, the travel from one location to the other does not constitute a "hefsek" (interruption). One should try to keep his mind focused on the bedikah as he travels from one residence to the other. If, however, his mind was distracted, he need not recite a new berachah.
How to Conduct the Bedikah
One must search for hamess in the holes and cracks and all corners of the house, including terraces, stairwells, and gardens. One must pay especially careful attention to the kitchen cabinets, refrigerator and all areas where hamess is stored during the year. Thus, all rooms in the home require checking, even those rooms where food is not normally eaten, as we are concerned that one may have brought hamess there on occasion. In a house with small children, one must search underneath the furniture and beds. One need not check one's pockets, even those of young children, as he may rely on the cleaning that was done in advance of the night of the bedikah. Some, however, are stringent in this regard.
One must search for hamess in his private car and store. Companies must also search for hamess in their buses and other public areas. Gabba'im of Batei Kenesset and Batei Midrash must search for hamess in those institutions. Nevertheless, those in these situations should not recite an additional berachah, but should rather rely on the berachah they recite when conducting the search in their homes.
Four Cups of Wine
Already in Sefer Shoftim the vine claims that its wine "makes G-d and men rejoice." Indeed, there is no festive event in Jewish life - such as a berit milah, wedding, pidyon haben, Shabbat, festival; especially Pesah - where a cup - or cups - of wine does not contribute to the traditional berachah. The vine differs in appearance and form from other trees. Fruit trees in general are blessed with beauty, height and shape. The vine, however, is often considered more a bush than a tree. Nevertheless, when it comes to its fruit - few fruit trees can compare to it. How is wine produced from grapes? This is an ancient industry, and in modern times it has taken on new, modern forms though the basic principles have not changed since ancient times. The grapes are crushed into large containers - presses - into which the juice is extracted. The sprouts of the grapes develop in the juice and cause fermentation, as a result of which the sugars in the grapes turn to alcohol and carbon dioxide. After the fermentation process is completed, it "sits quietly" until it is ready to be drunk. The longer it sits and ages, the better its taste.
Many types of wine exist. The amount of sugar left in the wine after fermentation determines whether the wine will be sweet or sour, red or "white." It also determines the alcoholic content, whether the wine will be "light" (up to 14% alcohol) or "hard." Famous wines are referred to by the names of the locations where they are produced - such as "Malaga" from Spain, or "Borgodani" from France.
The pasuk says in Shir Hashirim, "For your love is more delightful than wine." Hazal comment, why is Torah compared to wine? Just as wine improves in quality the longer it is stored in the dark confines of its bottle, so do the words of Torah protect the individual as he grows older. Moreover, just as wine brings joy, so do the words of Torah bring joy to those who study them. Furthermore, just as wine cannot be properly contained in golden or silver vessels, but must rather be stored in plain, earthenware flasks, so may the words of Torah be contained only within the humble.
Three Pieces of Advice (3)
Flashback: A Jew left home in order to earn some money doing whatever odd jobs he could find. He wanted to save money to repay his loans and marry off his daughters. After he managed to save ninety rubles, he began making his way home. Along the way he went to visit the great sadik, Reb Levi Yis'hak of Berditchev zs"l, to receive his blessing. The sadik told him that he was currently involved in the misvah of "pidyon shevuyim" (redeeming Jewish captives) and needed a large sum of money for the operation. He said he had three pieces of advice that he is willing to give for thirty rubles a piece. The man gave thirty rubles and the sadik told him Hazal's adage: "All turns that you turn - turn only to the right." The second piece of advice was the common saying that an elderly man who marries a young woman brings troubles on himself. For these two pieces of advice he spent sixty rubles - the money for which he worked so hard for so long!
The man went back and forth trying to decide what to do now. Should he thank the sadik for the first two pieces of advice, receive the sadik's blessing and leave with his final thirty rubles, or should he give even them to the sadik and be left with nothing? He would hear a third piece of advice and then go home. Then, when the door opens and his wife comes to greet him, he will tell her: "Hello, my wife. I have returned from my wanderings, and with me I brought three pieces of advice. With one we will pay our debts to the landlord, with the second we will marry off all our daughters, and with the third we will live happily ever after...
But all these thoughts faded when he saw the radiant face of the sadik, his aura of sanctity and eyes that exude brilliance; when he remembered his impassioned tefilah, the intensity of his berachot and sanctity of his recitation of berachot. His hand then stretched out almost automatically, handing the sadik the pouch with all his remaining savings. The sadik took the pouch and counted the rubles one by one. He counted thirty rubles and returned the small leftover change to the pouch. He handed the pouch to the man and said, "Now, listen to my words, engrave them upon your heart: do not believe any rumor until you have seen with your own eyes that it is true. Now return home, and may Hashem be with you!"
As if from a dream, the man arose and left the sadik's house. Heavyhearted and with trembling knees, he went along his way. His pockets were empty, in his bag he carried but three pieces of advice.
He went to the street and thought, what should he do now? Should he start all over again, finding work and collecting money from scratch? Just as he was about to decide to do so, he remembered the sadik's final words: "Now return home..." He therefore decided to follow the sadik's orders and go home. The thought of returning to his family aroused within him strong feelings of longing mixed with feelings of anxiety. Who knows how they have lived in his absence? Who knows if they still have the liquor store, or if the landlord had banished them? His legs took him to the coach station. He asked to rent a coach to return home, when he suddenly realized that he had with him but small change, not enough even to make it home. He shrugged his shoulders and turned around. He left the city, crossed the meadows, and went into the woods. A wide path, laden with pines and dirty leaves, led the way for him. He walked with his head lowered submissively, slowly and pensively, wondering what he would tell his family. Suddenly, he heard the sound of chariot wheels and the galloping of horses. He quickly turned to the side of the path to move out of the way. But the horseman pulled the reins and slowed the horses' trot.
To be continued
As these comments are written, and even by the time they are published, we do not know for sure how we will celebrate this Pesah. It is very possible that the Mashiah will come from the time that these lines are written and the time they are circulated; it is also possible that he will come just before the holiday. We will then gather together in Yerushalayim. Our brethren, the entire House of Israel, will fill the holy city, they will ascend to Zion with joy. We will offer the korban pesah, and, as the Gemara testifies, the sound of hallel will burst through the rooftops. Joy, exuberance, fervent praise of Hashem - a Pesah like this we have never experienced - fortunate is the one who yearns for it to come!
But if we will not merit the arrival of Mashiah - our situation is analogous to the unconscious patient described as a "vegetable." We long for his cure, but as the months and years pass, we pay less and less attention. We hope that he will soon awaken, but we don't know when. But there is one critically important difference between the two. In our situation, we are promised that the redemption will come. The prophet informed us of G-d's word - which will always come true. Additionally, when the patient sighs or sweats, or when his eyelids flutter, everyone knows that the long-awaited reversal is imminent.
Here, the nation has "sighed," and how! All the signals of redemption have surfaced before our very eyes. But, like the case of the comatose patient, we all, like his relatives, go on with our daily routine. If we merit the redemption before the sacred night of Pesah, how wondrous it would be: "In Nissan they were redeemed, in Nissan we will, in the future, be redeemed." In a moment we will go from darkness to brilliant light, Hashem will show us miracles like the day when we left Egypt.
But if not, then at least we will have a small consolation - we will celebrate the seder at home. What great consolation is this? The Gemara (Berachot 6b) says that one who designates a place for his tefilah earns the assistance of the G-d of Avraham; meaning, his prayer is more readily accepted. Why? The "Siyun L'nefesh Hayah" zs"l explained that when a person prays in a specifically designated location, that location becomes sanctified. When he prays there a second time, the sanctity of the location helps him concentrate more fully on his prayer, as the Shechinah resides there. Now that the location has been doubly sanctified over the course of two prayers, the third prayer is even more readily accepted, and so on.
The Rambam writes that this point forms the basis of the selection of the site of the altar on the Temple Mount. It was here where Adam brought his offering, where Hevel and Noah brought their sacrifices, where Avraham Avinu brought Yis'hak for the "akeidah" and where Shelomoh Hamelech brought one thousand burnt offerings. At this spot hundreds of thousands of Jews sacrificed over the course of the generations with broken hearts and genuine feelings of repentance. Millions of pesah offerings were brought there over the years - can we even imagine the sanctity of this location?
This is undoubtedly one of the reasons why Hazal posit that one's prayer is heard only in the Bet Kenesset (Berachot 6a) - the place specifically designated for prayer, where so many people have prayed over the years. Such a place has certainly acquired a level of sanctity that assists those who come through its gates.
This is the slight consolation for us should the redemption be delayed yet another week. We will observe the seder in our homes - do we have any concept of how much sanctity is added to our homes on the night of the seder, as a result of the four cups, the misvot of masah and marror, the "korech" and the afikomen, the recitation of the Haggadah, the questions of "Mah Nishtanah," the joy of redemption? In the house in which the seder is conducted properly, with an aura of sanctity, in such a house the Shechinah resides. This house is a home of kedushah that earns divine assistance. Every prayer recited in it, every request, is granted lovingly, for goodness and blessing, joy and happiness, salvation and consolation, life, prosperity, and peace, and so much more.
Shabbat Shalom, Hag Sameiah,
A Summary of the Shiur Delivered on Mossa'ei Shabbat by Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit"a
Halachot of Pesah
Hazal were very stringent with regard to the prohibition of hamess on Pesah, to the point where it is never "nullified" in a mixture, no matter how small a percentage of the mixture the hamess constitutes. This stringent attitude is due to the fact that the consumption of hamess on Pesah is punishable by karet, and that the Torah forbade even the possession of hamess on Pesah - two qualities unique to this prohibition. Therefore, if someone finds wheat in his food on Pesah, then if the wheat is cracked, we must assume that it is hamess, and the entire pot of food is forbidden. The utensils also become forbidden until they undergo "koshering" after twenty-four hours of non-use. If the wheat is not cracked, then according to the ruling of the Shulhan Aruch, the wheat is assumed not to have become hamess; it should thus be burned and the rest of the food may be eaten. The Ashkenazim, however, follow the Rema's ruling to forbid the food even in such a case.
Sefaradim may eat rice and legumes ("kitniyot") on Pesah, but they must check the rice well three times before Pesah to ensure that it contains no wheat. The Ashkenazim forbid the consumption of rice on Pesah. Rav Yaakov Emden writes that his father, the Hacham Sevi, would lament over this stringency of the Ashkenazim. He would say that if he had the power he would obliterate this custom.
One must exercise great care with regard to the kashrut of foods on Pesah. It is inconceivable that mouths that speak matters of Torah and tefilah would have food that might be forbidden enter into it. Whenever any question arises concerning the certification of a given item or an issue with one's utensils, one must consult with a competent authority of halachah. One must also ensure that all food and drinks he purchases has the kashrut certification of a reliable rabbi or agency. One who ensures to eat only permissible foods earns a "ru'ah taharah" (spirit of purity) that purifies his soul and enables him to serve Hashem sincerely and with a complete heart.
Gamliel Ben Nizha and Yosef Ben Hanom
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