As we all know too well, there is often a gap between the ideal and reality. In trying to implement our goals, we all too often fall prey to conflict, apathy, inertia and reality. The Jewish people faced this same problem as they approached the sea. Behind them was the advancing Egyptian army with its mighty chariots; in front of them was a foreboding sea. Yet their miraculous escape from the most powerful country on earth seemed to have finally convinced them that G-d surely would protect them.
Much ink has been spilled and much discussion ensued trying to analyze the difference between the question of the chacham and the rasha. There appears, on the basis of the question alone, little reason to identify one as wicked and the other as wise.
“Chanoch lena’ar al pi darcho, train each child according to their way” (Mishlei).
It is at the Seder that we analyze the questions of the “four children”, but their message is relevant all year round. One approach does not fit all, nor is any approach suitable at all times. While the Torah records four discussions between parent and child (hence the four children), a comparison of the text used by the Hagadah and that found in the Torah reveals some major discrepancies.
"Therefore, in every generation, one must see themselves as if they have left Egypt”. All too often, we can only fully appreciate what we have when it is missing. Freedom is so much sweeter for those who have experienced slavery. And on seder night, we are to experience both.
“And it was at the end of four hundred and thirty years, in the middle of that very day, that the legions of G-d went out from the land of Egypt” (Shemot 12:41). After 430 years, does it really matter what day and what time of the day we left Egypt?
I write these words just days before Pesach, the holiday that, more than any other, focuses on children. We are mandated to ensure that every child—the wise and the wicked, the simple and the ignoramus—be given an education, each according to his or her needs and abilities. The authors of the Hagaddah understood that it is the asking of questions that is the springboard to learning and commitment.
Rare is the person who has the opportunity to knowingly shape the course of Jewish history. Most are happy to be relieved of that responsibility. From Moshe to Yonah, Yirmiyahu to Esther, few are willing to carry such awesome responsibility on their shoulders. And even—or, shall we say, especially—when taken on willingly, the burden can be too much to handle. How can one be confident in a decision made today, the impact of which will reverberate for hundreds or even thousands of years?
"Two verses that contradict each other, until a third verse is found and reconciles between them". This 13th and last of the interpretive principles of Rabbi Yishmael highlights the many contradictions inherent in the Torah. Torah mirrors life, and recognizing the complexity of both is so important that our rabbis placed this message into the daily siddur.
"To tell of Your loving-kindness in the morning and Your faithfulness at night" (Tehilim 92:3). Night and day, from a Jewish perspective, are much more than astronomical phenomena. Morning represents hope, confidence, and song. Night represents fear, uncertainty, and loneliness. It is not by chance that Abraham, who ushered in a new way of thinking, is credited with the establishment ofshacharit, the morning prayer; whereas Yaakov, who is identified with exile, instituted ma'ariv, the evening prayer.
The holiday of Shavuot is, outside of the observant Jewish community, a much-neglected holiday. It lasts only one day (two in the Diaspora), comes just as the summer is arriving and, unlike our other holidays, has no rituals associated with it--no shofar, matzah, or sukkah. The Torah itself makes no mention of any historical event associated with the holiday. Rather, it describes how, seven weeks after Pesach, "you may present a new grain as a meal offering to G-d" (Vayikra 23:15).