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Passover is perhaps the most perplexing of holidays: More families gather for the Passover seder than for any other Jewish holiday. Passover has wonderful traditions and songs, and the food with which we have a love-hate relationship - matza, maror (bitter herbs). Passover is the holiday of spring, of our freedom, our redemption, of our emergence from slavery into a nation. The history of the Jewish people begins with Passover.
Passover also brings with it cleaning and paranoia about bread crumbs and, let's face it, the extra expense because Passover food just costs more. In some ways, Passover is the most restrictive of holidays, requiring more preparation, more effort and toil and after eight days of matza, oy!
But we can look at Passover another way. Let's call Passover a palimpsest. In case you've forgotten what a palimpsest is, here's a standard definition: a manuscript, typically of papyrus or parchment, that has been written on more than once, with the earlier writing incompletely erased and often legible.
In other words, a palimpsest retains traces of its history. There's the current story, and in between the spaces an earlier story, and in between those spaces a still earlier story, and so on. But the material on which the generational stories are written, the parchment, remains.
Although technically a palimpsest is a piece of parchment with writing, the meaning has been extended to include anything that reflects the layers of its history.
So matza is a palimpsest. The bitter herbs are a palimpsest. Even the Hagada is a palimpsest.
Because the basic material, the object itself, remains the same generation after generation. Moses, Aaron and Miriam, and their generation ate matza. King David and his generation ate matza. Mordechai and Esther and their generation ate matza. Rabbi Akiva and Rachel and their generation ate matza. The Maharal and Pearl and their generation ate matza. And bitter herbs. And read the Hagada to retell the story.
Only its never quite the same story. In every generation we must perceive the world, and our situation, as if we ourselves have left - have just left - Egypt. We should see things thus not just on Passover, but every day - as if we are just now leaving Egypt.
That is the parchment, the material we write our stories on.
But in each generation, the story is slightly different, because the Egypt is different. The oppression and enslavement is different. True, the themes remain the same - physical persecution from without, emotional doubt and intellectual confusion from within. But the specific form, the details of the story, they differ.
The challenges of our generation are the same, but different, as the challenges of previous generations. We too must wrestle with ourselves to observe and learn, we must struggle against those who rise up to destroy us, from without and from within.
Fifty ago there was no internet. A hundred years ago there was no television or radio. And the events of the twentieth century have created new challenges to our living proudly as Jews who observe mitzvot (commandments).
But on Passover we remind ourselves that we too must leave Egypt, we too must retell the story, relive the Exodus and the Redemption. We must in a sense rewrite, no, not just rewrite, we must write it over, between the spaces and over all the other stories, connecting them, generation to generation.
Our seders are a palimpsest, taking us through the history of ourselves. And so, on the same surface, with the same materials, we tell the story of Redemp-tion, writing and rewriting it until the final telling - the coming of Moshiach and the complete Redemption.
On the tenth day of the Hebrew month of Nissan the Jews in Egypt were commanded to take a lamb into their homes and to guard it until the 14th of the month, when it was to be slaughtered as the Passover offering.
When their Egyptian neighbors became curious, the Jews explained that the sacrifice was preparatory to the tenth and final plague G-d would visit on the Egyptians - the slaying of the firstborn.
Hearing this, the firstborn sons panicked. They stormed Pharaoh's palace, demanding that he free the Jews. When he refused, civil war broke out in Egypt. Sons fought against fathers and many died, as it states in Psalms, "To Him Who smote Egypt through their firstborn" - the Egyptian firstborn themselves were the instrument of Egypt's destruction.
This miracle is commemorated each year on "Shabbat Hagadol," the Shabbat immediately preceding Passover, as the miracle itself took place on Shabbat that year.
Yet ever since then, Shabbat Hagadol does not necessarily fall on the 10th of Nissan; the deciding factor in commemorating the miracle is that it be on Shabbat.
This commemoration differs from all other celebrations on the Jewish calendar, which are generally determined according to the day of the month. What is so special about Shabbat Hagadol that it follows a different pattern?
An essential difference exists between the days of the week and of the month. The seven days of the week are determined by the sun, according to the natural order G-d put into motion during the seven days of Creation. The days of the (Jewish) month, however, are determined by the phases of the moon, whose movements are not subject to nature in the same way.
These two ways of determining the passage of time, solar and lunar, reflect the two ways G-d oversees the world - within and outside of nature - the seemingly natural occurrence and the miracle.
In fact, the Hebrew word for "month" - "chodesh" - expresses this concept, for it is related to the word "chadash" ("new"), signifying that the lunar phases are subject to change.
For this reason, Jewish holidays are celebrated according to the day of the month, as they commemorate G-d's supernatural intervention with the laws of nature.
The miracle of Shabbat Hagadol, however, was not supernatural, but of an entirely different sort, one in which evil itself fought to eradicate its own existence. Fearing for their own lives, Egyptian fought against Egyptian, waging war in order to free the Jewish slaves.
A miracle such as this, occurring within nature, is therefore connected to the day of the week and not the day of the month.
This concept will be better understood when Moshiach comes, speedily in our day, for the G-dliness that exists within nature will then be openly revealed and not seen as a separate entity.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot of the Rebbe, Vol. 27
Passover in Ho Chi Minh City
by Bentzi Sudak
A young Lubavitcher couple married a little over a year makes a Seder in Ho Chi Minh City under the auspices of Chabad-Lubavitch.
Monday, April 18, 2005
We arrive in this foreign land with no language skills and almost no Passover provisions, due to strict baggage allowances.
In time for the first Seder Saturday night (actually, before Shabbat begins Friday eve), Rochie and I must set up a kosher-for-Passover kitchen and prepare a festive meal for 75 people. We need to find a venue and we need to make sure that our matza and wine arrive from Hong Kong.
Our first stop is the hotel where we have rented a suite of rooms. We put our bags down and call Naomi Lee, a Jewish woman whose number was given to us by Rabbi Mordechai Avtzon of Chabad of Hong Kong. She takes us to Coop Mart. We practically buy out the store - pots, pans, utensils, wine glasses, tea cups and more. We fill up seven wagons at the store.
Back in our hotel room, we start working the phones to call our contacts about the Seder.
Seder invitations had been sent out earlier and now people are responding, mostly by email. Meanwhile, we go to the electronics store to buy food processors, blenders, ovens, etc. We try valiantly to find a luxurious venue for our Seder but are not successful, so we call housekeeping at the hotel to arrange tables in our apartment to seat 50. "Only residents are allowed here" housekeeping tells us. "We will not give you extra tables."
Suddenly, the internet isn't working. We need it to accept reservations. We call the front desk. They say that no one in the hotel has internet access now. We wait a few hours and call again. Now they tell us that the internet hub in Singapore is down, so there is no internet in the whole city. Go figure.
Back to Coop Mart. Now we need 75 place settings of dinnerware and flatware. We buy serving bowls, oven trays, aluminum foil, air tight containers, pitchers, and the list goes on.
We return to the apartment with this huge shipment. The housekeeping crew's eyes are popping. Housekeeping calls to remind us that we can't have a party. No, we assure them, this will not be a party. We are having dinner with friends.
Back to the electronics store to buy a freezer, gas oven and stove. Yes, they'll deliver. We go back to the apartment, drop everything off and then rush to the produce market. We buy so many fruits and vegetables that we are asked if we are opening a hotel. They will deliver in the morning. We go back to the apartment and collapse, exhausted, at 8:00 p.m. Aaahhh... the calm before the storm.
Soon, the quiet is interrupted by the telephone. "Mr. Sudak. We don't allow gas ranges in the hotel."
They won't let the equipment come into the apartment. All this equipment is on the truck! We negotiate with the hotel to store it in the truck, parked outside, for one night.
Thursday morning, 5 a.m.
I wake up sweating, having dreamed that the veggie order was refused. What will they think when a truck of produce comes for two tourists?
I tell the sleepy guy at the front desk that I am expecting a lot of food, because I have to cook a week's worth of food for my Passover holiday. "Cook? With what Mr, Sudak? No gas ranges! But no problem. I will send the produce to your room."
I breathe a sigh of relief. Wait, how did the night shift guy know about the gas range and my name?
The produce arrives and we put it in one of the bedrooms with the air conditioner on at full blast... a makeshift cold storage room. The helpers start arriving. Naomi Lee's maid and her friends, as well as the waiters from the hotel bar, all want to work for us. "When do we start?" they ask. They know we will pay them like kings... one U.S. dollar per hour!
At 8:30 a.m. we meet with the hotel supervisor and explain to her: We are planning a dinner and many of your important clients will be there. The U.S. Consul General is coming. And the Chilean Consul General. Are you suggesting we turn these people away?
She tells me, "Use the party room." Great idea! She continues, "But don't use a gas range." Okay, I guess we'll have to improvise.
Back at the apartment, preparations are in full swing. Rochie has a crew of maids busy cutting commercial size salads, and squeezing oranges and lemons. Six maids almost faint when I grate the marror. Rochie is running a marathon to cook all this food. Every spoon, fork, plate, you name it, has a label that takes a night of soaking to remove. Every vegetable, too, has to soak in anti-bacterial soap and then be rinsed with mineral water. Rochie is becoming expert at non-verbal communication. All instructions are given through hand motions, hastily drawn illustrations, and mostly, just by example.
The salmon arrives. The lady at the fish store found the last new filleting knife, still in the wrapper. Rochie had convinced someone from the store to fillet the fish in our kitchen for kosher reasons.
I go back to Coop Mart. The people there think that I like to shop. I ask for ten tablecloths. I repeat this ten times until they finally understand. Whew! A minute later they come back with ten table clocks.
Two hours to Shabbat
The Israeli embassy in Hanoi refers Sam to us. Sam has been living in Vietnam for ten years. He is Jewish, married to a Vietnamese woman and raising their children in that culture. He is willing to come to our Seder but he wants to make sure it will be roomy, that it will run on schedule and end early! I assure him of all three things and pray that I am right.
We receive an email from distraught American parents whose son, John, lives in Vietnam. They write us, "Our son is not interested in coming, could you email him? He doesn't speak to us; we have nothing to do with him." I try to reach John many times, no response. But at the last minute, we get a visit from John. He will come to the Seder, he says.
It's an hour to Shabbat. The salmon smells fantastic. Rochie got it together against all odds.
Rochie opens the evening by welcoming everyone and inviting the women to light candles for the holiday while their families stand around them.
The party room is "L" shaped, with a large double door in-between. I decide to seat the guests separately, Americans and those who know English in one room and Israelis who know Hebrew in the other. I stand in the doorway, and keep both rooms in sync. We sing the songs in two languages.
Seder is over! And it was huge success. We can't move from the exhaustion and the relief. It was unbelievable. We seated exactly 75 guests including a group that came with the U.S. consul in Ho Chi Minh City who has become a very close friend. How Rochie managed it all, a gourmet meal under these circumstances, is beyond human comprehension. It is a miracle of hard work, ingenuity, and Divine help.
A postscript about John. For most of the Seder, he kept to himself and didn't participate. But by the end of the Seder, his face was flushed. With tears in his eyes, he said, "Of all the things my parents did to me my whole life, sending me to this Seder was the best thing."
Hectic as it was, this was one of the happiest weeks of our lives!
Adapted from an article in the N'Shei Chabad Newsletter
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Continued from last weeks L'Chaim:
In the letter before Passover in 5744 - 1984, the Rebbe focused on the way in which the Redemption was at midnight and the Exodus at midday, explaining how day and night represent the service of the Mitzvos, our fulfillment of the commandments and of R'shus, the more mundane aspects of our lives.
Especially in the area of R'shus, the permitted, such as eating and drinking and the like, because they can involve powerful, natural drives, special vigilance is required in order to insure that it be l'Shem-Shomayim, "for the sake of Heaven." Even in the realm of Mitzvos there is the possibility of "performance by rote," where routine practice could not only pose a hindrance to the principle of "Ma'alin b'Kodesh" (in holy matters we should always be striving higher), but even to the proper observance of the Mitzvos themselves. How much more easily could this happen in "secular" matters, where over exposure can cause, G-d forbid, a person to fall very far, even to opposite of l'Shem-Shomayim, e.g. gluttony, drunkenness, and the like. Hence, a special vigilance and a special effort is required to infuse in this area of everyday life an ever greater measure of l'Shem-Shomayim, a growing measure of light, finally achieving a "full moon"; though even then it is still only "l'Shem Shomayim," for the sake of Heaven, only later will it become actual "Heavenly"-matters (Torah and Mitzvos). In the meantime it is still "night," the realm of R'shus - the mundane.
This is one of the lessons implied in the emphasis on the deliverance having taken place at midnight, alluding, as mentioned, to matters of mundane, which, in relation to Torah and Mitzvos, are like "night" to "day," meaning that even in the most materialistic aspects of secular matters one can, and must, completely free one's self from "Galus Mitzrayim" (exile - subservience to materialism and its limitations).
Similarly also in matters which are alluded to in midday, namely, matters of Ner Mitzvah veTorah Or, when one has reached the height of one's strength and brightness - there is a need of "Yetzias Mitzrayim," (going out of Egypt) of breaking through and elevating oneself above all limitations and standards, including those of the realm of holiness - to break out of one's complacency with one's self and with one's level of achievement. On the contrary, the higher one rises, the more one must strive for still higher standards. Our aim must be, as we declare in our daily prayers, both in the day and at night: To love G-d with all one's might, meaning with complete self-sacrifice, totally surrendering one's will and desires to G-d.
This is the intent of the verse, "They shall proceed "from strength to strength." The starting point is not flawed, it is a G-d given place of attainment and strength. But the same G-d commands that his goal, to serve G-d as one should, is not to remain on the same level, however high it may be. Rather even after he has achieved, with the help of G-d, a level of strength, he will not rest and will continue to advance from one level of strength to an even higher level.
The above will provide a deeper insight into the obligation to remember Yetzias Mitzrayim every day, and both by day and by night. At first glance, having already remembered and experienced Yetzias Mitzrayim yesterday, both in matters symbolized by "day" (Torah and Mitzvos) as well as those symbolized by "night," what is left to accomplish by remembering Yetzias Mitzrayim again today?
The answer is that, inasmuch as a new day has come, yesterday's level, however satisfactory it was yesterday, must now be considered "Mitzrayim" - limited - in relation to the new level which one can attain on this new day; and also from this category of "Mitzrayim" one should, and must, free oneself, and in a manner of an "uplifted arm."
May G-d grant that since we still find ourselves in the "night" of the Exile, and, moreover, "darkness covers the earth," in the period immediately prior to the imminent coming of Moshiach,
We should all very soon merit to see the true Redemption, to be celebrated as the Redemption from Egypt was celebrated while still in Egypt, in the middle of the night, and with such a measure of enthusiasm and joy as to "raise the roof," as a preparation and prelude to Yetzias Mitzrayim in the literal sense, which took place with an uplifted arm, in the very middle of the day;
And merit it we will, through strengthened trust in G-d, the deliverer of our people Israel, and heightened desire and "hope for Your liberation every day," hoping and praying every day and the whole day, and every minute of the day, for the Divine liberation through our righteous Moshiach.
And this will hasten still more the fulfillment of the prophetic words referring to our true and complete Redemption: "Your light shall shine forth in the darkness, and your profound darkness shall be as the noonday,"
In accordance with the prophecy that the coming Redemption will be wonderous even in comparison to the miracles and wonders of the Exodus from Egypt: At that time it took hours from "midnight" to "noonday," whereas the forthcoming Redemption will come immediately, from profound bleakness to the brightness of high noon.
With esteem and with blessing for a Kosher and Joyous Passover
What are some of the significance of the three matzas and four cups of wine at the Passover Seder?
The three matzas represent the three categories of Jews: the priests, the Levites and the Israelites. They also represent the three Patriarch: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The four cups of wine represent the four expressions of Redemption of the Jewish people (see "From the Director"). They also represent the four Matriarchs: Sara, Rebecca, Rachel and Lea.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This coming Saturday night, April 19, the holiday of Passover begins and we celebrate the first Passover seder. Among the many customs and laws that surround the seder is the obligation to drink four cups of wine, to recall the four expressions of redemption written in the Torah.
When G-d told Moses that He would free the Jewish people from Egyptian enslavement, He used four different terms:
- "V'hotzeiti - I will take you out,"
- "V'hitzalti - I will save you,"
- "V'ga'alti - I will redeem you,"
- "V'lakachti - I will take you."
These four expressions correspond to the four decrees that Pharaoh issued against the Jews: the decree of hard labor, the decree that the midwives should kill all male children, the decree that all baby boys should be drowned in the Nile, and the decree to withhold from the Jews the straw necessary to make bricks, even though the quota of bricks to be filled wasn't decreased. For each additional act of cruelty, G-d promised to free His people.
However, if we continue reading the Torah, we come across yet a fifth expression of redemption, "V'heiveiti - I will bring," meaning that not only will G-d take the Jews out of their misery, but He will continue to take them out until they have reached the land that He has promised to them. This is considered the last term of redemption, the one that will be fulfilled with the coming of Moshiach. This fifth term is also symbolized by a cup of wine at the seder, Elijah's cup.
The Rebbe notes that the custom of Elijah's cup is not mentioned in the Talmud or in any of the earlier texts regarding Jewish law. Its earliest source is in the writings of the sixteenth century. This is attributed to the fact that pouring a cup for Elijah is an expression of our faith in the coming of Moshiach, and with each passing year the feeling of anticipation grows stronger and more widespread.
This year, may we see the fulfillment of our anticipation as we conclude the seder with the words, "Next year in Jerusalem," when G-d will fulfill His fifth and final promise with the revelation of Moshiach and the Redemption.
The Hebrew word "seder" means order or arrangement, alluding to the fact that everything that has ever happened to the Jewish people, from the Exodus until today, has unfolded according to Divine plan. Nothing occurs by accident, even if we don't always understand why an event must take place. (The Maharal)
The seder plate: the roasted egg
In addition to being a reminder of the Passover offering, the roasted egg is a symbol of the Jewish people. The longer other foods are cooked, the softer and more tender they become, but the longer an egg is boiled, the harder it gets. Similarly, the more painful and severe the hardships of the exile, the stronger and more resilient the Jewish people emerges.
And here, the child asks (from the Hagada)
Said Rabbi Aaron of Karlin, in the name of his father, Rabbi Asher of Stolin: "Here," on the night of the seder, every Jewish child may request of his Father in Heaven anything he wishes, and he will receive extra strength and vitality for all of his needs.
The wicked son says: What is this service to you? ...You may tell him: If he had been there, he would not have been redeemed
What purpose does it serve to tell the wicked son that had he lived in those days he would not have been worthy of Redemption? The answer: Although it is true that the wicked son would not have been redeemed from Egypt, he will be redeemed with Moshiach in the Final Redemption! Unlike all other historical redemptions, every single Jew will go out of our present exile. This is the implicit message of the Hagada on the seder night.
It was in the weeks preceding Passover that one of the disciples of the Baal Shem Tov was overcome with a burning desire to see Elijah the Prophet. The disciple knew that it would require much purity of mind and soul and that generally the Baal Shem Tov discouraged such endeavors. However, the longing to have the great Prophet reveal himself was so intense that he couldn't distract his mind from the thought. After much deliberation and soul-searching, he decided to ask the Baal Shem Tov for his holy advice.
To the chasid's surprise, the Baal Shem Tov agreed to help him prepare himself for this life-transforming undertaking. The Baal Shem Tov gave the chasid an extensive list of preparations. Upon completing the list, the chasid reported back to the Baal Shem Tov whereupon he was told to load a wagon with food, wine and matzas, and to travel to a a nearby village where he was to spend the first two days of Passover with a certain family in the village. There, surely Elijah the Prophet would be revealed.
The chasid travelled to the village with mixed feelings of joy and trepidation. Would he truly merit to see the prophet? A little while later, the chasid arrived at the village and found the dilapidated hut of the impoverished family with whom he was meant to celebrate the two Seders and fulfill his heart's desire of seeing Elijah the Prophet.
"Shalom Aleichem - Peace to you" he announced to the man who answered the door. "I am a chasid of the Baal Shem Tov, and he sent me here to spend the two Seder nights of Passover with you. I've brought everything we will need for the holiday with me, enough food for your entire family and even new clothing for your children."
The man stood at the door dumb-founded. His wife came to the door and she, too, could not believe her eyes as she looked out at the overloaded wagon. The couple soon composed themselves and invited the traveler in.
The Seder night was unforgettable. The woman, her husband and their five children had never been in the presence of one of the Baal Shem Tov's holy pupils. They had never heard such rich Torah thoughts said in such clear and simple words that they could all easily understand. They had also never had such a royal feast at their Seder.
The chasid, for his part, did not forget even for one moment why he had come. At every stage of the Seder that first night, the chasid waited with eager anticipation for the Elijah the Prophet to appear.
They drank the four cups of wine, ate the traditional foods, explained each sentence of the Hagada with joy, sang the traditional holiday songs and even danced until the wee hours of the night. But Elijah did not reveal himself to the chasid.
At the second Seder, the same wondrous scene repeated itself for the family and their guest. The Torah insights, the joy, the food, the singing, the dancing. But this night, too, Elijah the Prophet did not appear to the chasid.
When three stars appeared in the sky the following evening, and the chasid had not merited to see Elijah the Prophet, he was heartbroken. He thanked the family for their hospitality and returned to the Baal Shem Tov.
During the journey back, the chasid wondered what had happened. Surely the Baal Shem Tov was not wrong when he had told the chasid that Elijah would reveal himself in that village family's home on Passover. Elijah must have been there and the chasid had somehow not merited to see him. Perhaps he had dozed off for an instant at the Seder without even realizing it and had missed seeing the Prophet.
When the chasid arrived at the Baal Shem Tov's court, he poured out his heart to his master. He repeated every detail of the past few days, waiting expectantly to hear how or why he had missed Elijah the Prophet.
The Baal Shem Tov thought for a moment and answered, "Go back to the village. Let your horse graze by the window of the house. There you will find your answer."
Without hesitation the chasid travelled back to the village. As he brought his horse to graze by the window of the home, he overheard a conversation between the husband and wife:
"What did you think of our guest?" the wife said to the husband.
"What do I think?" he replied "I think we should thank G-d and the holy Baal Shem Tov for sending us his chasid! The words of Torah, the beautiful explanations, the bountiful food. It was amazing!"
"That was no chasid," she interjected emphatically. "That was Elijah the prophet! I am absolutely sure that was Elijah the prophet."
Now the chasid understood. If we want Elijah the Prophet to appear, we have to be Elijah the Prophet.
Adapted from Ohrtmimim.org
The eighth day of Passover is traditionally associated with our hope for Moshiach. For this reason, the Haftorah read on that day - from the prophet Isaiah - contains many prophecies which refer to the Era of the Redemption. Among the best-known of these: "The wolf will dwell with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with a young goat." About 250 years ago, as the time for Moshiach drew closer, the Baal Shem Tov instituted a custom which underlines the connection between the Redemption and the eighth day of Passover: on that day he would partake of Moshiach's Seuda, the festive meal of Moshiach.
(Likutei Sichot, vol 7)