Pesach / Chol Hamoed
Dedicated Leilui Nishmat Abraham Ben Mazal, Albert (Bero) Chehebar A’h by His Wife and Family
We have completed the Seder nights and we are now approaching the second half of Pesach. During the Seder we praised Hashem as we sang the lively song Dayenu, which begins with the words “Kama maalot tovot leMakom alenu—How grateful we must be to Hashem for all the different acts of kindness He has done for us!” We must appreciate everything we are able to do every second of the day, from the time we open our eyes and wake up to when we close them as we lie down to sleep. We must never take for granted the things the old or ill may not be able to do like we can.
Dayenu recalls all the trials and tribulations that our ancestors went through when they left Egypt. Singing this, we realize how much we must appreciate and praise Hashem for everything He did for us every step of the way. The middle of the song focuses on the miracle of B’nei Yisrael’s Exodus from Egypt and the crossing of the Red Sea.
“If Hashem had brought us out of Egypt, but not meted out judgments against [the Egyptians], Dayenu—it would have been sufficient for us! If He had split the sea for us but had not led us through it on dry land, Dayenu—it would have been sufficient for us! If He had led us through the sea on dry land, but not submerged our enemies in it, Dayenu—it would have been sufficient for us! If He had submerged our enemies in it, but not supplied our needs in the desert for forty years, Dayenu—it would have been sufficient for us!”
And so on, up until the arrival at the Land of Israel and the building of the Bet Hamikdash.
What is the significance of this part of Dayenu? Would it actually have been sufficient if the Egyptians weren’t submerged? Tosafot explains this concept in Masechet Erchin 15a. He says B’nei Yisrael were not convinced at first that they were saved by this miracle. They were worried that just as they emerged on the other side of the sea safely, the Egyptians could have also emerged safely on the opposite side.
The commentary says, it would have been sufficient “if the Egyptians had come out on the other side. B’nei Yisrael would still have been safe because they would have been separated from the Egyptians by the entire breadth of the sea.” Tosafot concludes that the Israelites did not walk across the dry seabed of the Red Sea, rather, they entered on one side, traveled in a semi-circle, and emerged safely further down the coast on the same side they entered. So, the whole purpose of entering the sea was to lure the Egyptian army into the sea so they could drown there. Hashem, in His incredible kindness, punished those who wronged the Jewish Nation, even though it would have been sufficient if B’nei Yisrael would have just escaped. Dayenu!
Another miracle of Kriyat Yam Suf was that the sea split in twelve sections to accommodate the twelve separate tribes, each taking their own lane. Since they were moving in a semi-circle, logic dictates that the inner lane would cover less ground than the outer lanes, therefore the Egyptians chasing them could have easily caught up with them.
When discussing the splitting of the sea, the Torah states that “Hashem removed the wheel of the chariots.” Hashem performed yet another miracle by making one of the Egyptian’s chariot wheels fall off, thereby impeding their riding ability. Consequently, B’nei Yisrael were able to proceed normally, while the Egyptians were detained until the last Israelite set foot ashore. At this point the waters returned and drowned the entire Egyptian army, whose chariots were stuck in the muddy seabed. The Tur adds that if both wheels had been removed, the chariot could have still been pulled along partially by the horses, but with only one wheel removed, the chariot would tip over and become impossible for the horses to maneuver.
According to Ibn Ezra, when the waters of the sea began to close in on the Egyptians at one end, the waters opened for B’nei Yisrael on the other side. In our evening Arbit prayers we say, “He gave passage to His children between the pieces of the Red Sea; He drowned their pursuers and their enemies in the depths of the sea.” In the morning Shachrit prayers, we say, “You split the Red Sea; You drowned the evil ones; You gave passage to the beloved ones.” Why is the order reversed in the prayers? Either the Egyptians perished first or B’nei Yisrael crossed first, but both can't be true. The Etz Yosef answers that the splitting of the Red Sea was a miracle within a miracle, within a miracle. Both events happened simultaneously; the Egyptians began to drown after some of the Israelites had crossed, but before the entire nation had crossed, so the sea partially closed.
One of the many lessons we learn, through the singing of this fun and lively song of Dayenu, is that we were saved for just one simple reason, and that is to serve Hashem through the study of Torah. The song also teaches us to have a sincere hakarat hatov for all that Hashem does for us. There are many studies that show being appreciative and having gratitude increases a person’s happiness. As we learn on this holiday of Pesach, we must appreciate all that Hashem gives us and try to emulate Him, as we learn from the actions of Avraham Avinu.
Peninim on the Torah described a thought about gratitude. Recently, we learned all about korbanot—sacrifices. The midrash comments that during the time of Mashiach, korbanot will be eliminated, besides for the korban todah—thanksgiving offering. The commentary continues, asking, shouldn’t the korban todah be the first sacrifice eliminated? During the time of Mashiach, there will be no struggles, trauma, hunger, illness, or sorrow be’ezrat Hashem! What specific events will we be grateful for if everything is good?
Rav Chaim Zaitchik explained, there may not be any present miracles, but we will have a reason to offer a korban todah for past experiences. At the End of Days, we will see with unimpeded clarity how past circumstances, although painful or sad at the time, were ultimately beneficial. For now, it is important to put our trust into Hashem and be grateful, because His perspective is far better than ours.
Pesach and the Number 4
Throughout Pesach, there is a recurring theme of the number four. Pesach has four names: Chag HaPesach—Holiday of Passover, Chag HaMatzot—Holiday of Unleavened Bread, Chag HaAviv—Holiday of Spring, and Zman Cherutenu—Time of Freedom. Hashem used four terms of redemption which were said in Parashat Va’era: Vehotzeti—I will take you out, Vehitzalti—I will rescue you, Vegaalti—I will redeem you, and Velakachti—I will take you, which are represented by the four cups of wine.
The youngest asks the four questions, we learn of the four sons. There are three matzot on the Seder table. But one is broken into two parts, which makes four! Additionally, though there are 14 parts to the Seder, it can also be split into four sections: The introduction, the story of the Exodus, the seuda—meal, and the conclusion.
There are other instances during the year where the number four is significant. A year is not complete without four seasons. There are four cardinal directions and four corners of the earth. There are four components in the world: water, wind, earth, and fire.
Birkat Hagomel—The blessing of Thanksgiving is a blessing that someone says after facing one of these four experiences: travelling the ocean, crossing the desert, being released from prison, or recovering from a serious illness. After Hashem redeemed the Jewish Nation, they experienced all four of these difficulties. Hashem released them from their enslavement, helped them cross the ocean and desert, and later cleansed them and healed them from their sicknesses at Har Sinai. The number four represents the very essence of Passover. It reminds us of our gratitude for our miraculous redemption.
The number four also represents completeness and fullness. At the Seder, we are seeking to instill in our children the realization that they are not mere individuals but rather part of a people, members of an incredible, complete nation, who only became a nation after receiving the Torah at Har Sinai.
Never Give Up Hope
The very essence of Pesach is hope. Some years, the Hebrew calendar goes so far to add an extra month so Pesach will always occur on the cusp of Spring, when new greenery pushes through a previously snowy ground. After a long winter, Pesach reminds us that even as B’nei Yisrael went through 210 years of backbreaking work, they had constant hope and emunah in Hashem that they would be freed. Charlie Harary said, “Pesach reminds us to keep our heads high and be hopeful because Hashem loves us, and miracles do happen. Our whole history is proof of that.”
Rabbi Ashear told a story in Living Emunah 5 about never giving up hope. A couple from Bayit V’gan was married 32 years without having children. Baruch Hashem, at the age of 52, the wife gave birth to a healthy baby boy. At the Brit Milah, in front of an overflowing crowd, a guest who came all the way from Switzerland for the occasion got up to speak, and this is what he said.
“I used to live near the father of the baby when he lived in Switzerland. We prayed in the same Shul, and I watched how every day he would cry and beg Hashem for a baby. The years went by and nothing changed.
One day, when he had been married close to 12 years, I approached him with genuine sympathy. I told him, ‘I hate to see you so broken; I hate to see you hoping for something that doesn’t seem to be a possibility anymore. The doctors say it can’t happen. I really feel you would be much happier if you accept that you’re not going to have children. It’s time to start a new chapter in your life so you could live on with happiness.’
After I finished, he stared at me for an entire minute, and said, ‘Be’ezrat Hashem, I will have children. It might be soon, it might be later, but I am going to break through the gates of heaven and see a salvation. I will never stop hoping and praying until it happens.’
I came home that day and told my wife about the incident. She was very upset with me. She said, ‘That’s how you talk to a broken-hearted man? You take away his hope? I can’t believe you said that!’
I told her, ‘They’re living with false hope. It’s not a healthy way to live. I’m trying to help them.’ To prove that I believed so strongly that they should try to move on, I made a vow to her that if they ever had a baby, I would sell my business, we would make aliyah and I would learn all day. That was my wife’s dream, but I would never consider doing it. Shortly after my conversation with him, my friend and his wife moved to Israel and we lost contact.
20 years passed. Last week, I received a phone call from my long-lost friend. He reminded me about that conversation we had two decades earlier about giving up hope. Now, amid sobs, he told me he was holding his own baby boy, and the Brit Milah will be the following week. I am not an emotional person, but hearing him say those words, with tears of joy, made me cry as well. There’s always hope— Hashem is amazing!!
Then I remembered my vow. There was no way I could possibly fulfill it! My business was doing well. I wasn’t about to pick up and change my entire life. I wanted to make Hatarat Nedarim to be released from the promise, but I would first have to fly to Israel to consult with Rav Chaim Kanievsky. At the same time, I’d be able to attend the Milah.
As I told the Rav the story, he told me I had to keep the neder. I told him I’d be willing to do anything, even support two students in kollel to take my place. The Rabbi said, ‘Hashem changed nature partly because of your vow, and now you want to renege? Some of the zechut from this miracle is yours! Do not break this promise.’
We learn from this story that placing emunah in Hashem can do wonders. Anything can happen, and we aren’t bound by nature. B’nei Yisrael were in the depths of darkness, but they had the hope and emunah that Hashem would take them out of Mitzrayim. And not only did Hashem bend nature, He completely turned it over, performing miracles upon miracles for the Jewish people, which He continues to do until this very day!
May we all appreciate everything that Hashem does for us all throughout our lives because everything we have is a gift from Hashem. May we truly live the words of the praises we sing in Dayenu and have the tremendous gratitude to Hashem for saving us from the Egyptians. May we always have hope and emunah, and never give up. May we always strive to make Hashem proud, and live, learn, and teach the Torah to our children and grandchildren for generations to come! Amen!
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach!!
Rabbi Amram Sananes, written by Jack Rahmey
Do we make a conscious effort to be grateful to Hashem for both the huge and quiet miracles?
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