Larchmont Temple Chevra Torah

Questioning faith in the parsha

Shabbat Pesach

April 23, 2011/19 Nissan 5771
Modern Author: Allegra Goodman “The four questions

KOSHI: WHAT is it we must remember?HOW does the rite/ritual of seder enable us to “remember” and “explain”?

V.3             Remember this day, on which you went free from Egypt

RASHI… This teaches us that the Exodus from Egypt must be remembered every day.

IBN EZRA… “this day”…about which he spoke when He said “and in that night I will go throughout the Land of Egypt and smite all the firstborn…” [EX.12:12]   “This day” is the 15th of Nisan—the festival of Passover.  God was not commanding that they observe Passover in Egypt, and certainly not in the wilderness, where they had manna instead of bread.  God meant that they should observe “this day” ever afterward, making it a memorial for all generations.

RALBAG… “Remembering” something means to mention it out loud so it can be heard.

ETZ HAYIM…The Hebrew stem “ZaCHoR” connotes much more that merely the remembrance of things past.  It means “to be mindful; to pay heed,” and signifies a sharp focusing of attention on someone of something.  It embraces concern and involvement, and always leads to action.  [Chaim Potok]

V.4-5          You go free on this day—in the month of Aviv, so when the Lord has brought you into the Land…he swore to your fathers to give to you…

IBN EZRA… In the month of Aviv””— Aviv comes from Av—father, indicating “first growth.”  You must observe this festival every year just at this time, when the “first growth” of barley appears in the Land of Israel…If Pesach is held at the “first growth” of barley, Shavu’ot will always be at the beginning of the wheat harvest, and Sukkot will occur at the time of the “ingathering.”

S’FORNO…Torah stresses the word “hayom—this day,” to indicate the importance of Pesach coinciding with the season of “ripe ears.” The previous verse says “Remember this day” while the verse in Deut [16:1] states: “Shamor—Observe the month of Aviv”  That is, guard it.  Since ours is a lunar calendar, [11 days shorter than the solar year] it necessitates adjustment by inserting an additional month [Adar Sheni]…By so doing, our remembering is preserved at the appointed time.

RASHBAM As is written in Ex 12:14, “This day shall be to you one of remembrance…”  For the Festival of Pesach

was dependent upon their entrance into the land.  The generation of the wilderness was not commanded to yet observe the festivals.

FOX…The language here is unmistakably reminiscent of Deuteronomy [“It shall be, when YHVH brings you into the land of the Canaanite…”]  This has led some scholars to point to a relatively late date for the material, supporting the idea that Israel in its sixth century B.C.E. exile in Babylonia looked back and recast the past in its own image.  At any rate, memory is clearly important here, with two passages stressing the continuity of commemoration through the generations.

V.6-7          Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, and on the 7th day there shall be a festival to the Lord…No leaven shall be found with you and no leaven shall be found in your territory. 

SARNA…Denying oneself all benefit from anything containing leaven during Passover is one means by which the command “to remember” is fulfilled.

L.HOFFMAN… By the start of the 20th century, I suspect that most American Jews operated on the assumption that a family seder ought to continue…What they would have had at first was any old Haggadah either brought from Europe or published cheaply by some entrepreneur—the venerable Maxwell House Haggadah, for example.  Eventually, we devised alternatives, perhaps recognizing, at least unconsciously, that the Haggadah provides  the best annual account of what a Jew is and a moral/historical rationale for choosing to remain one.  It was the seder, after all, that children were most likely to remember….We should be careful not to miss the forest for the trees.  Saying this or that prayer, using English rather than Hebrew, even the specific Haggadah edition we use—these are just trees in a larger forest of meaning.  The bedrock issue, rarely discussed or recognized, is what we think we are saying when we declare ourselves Jewish…Much as we go about our business internally as a people, we require some additional self-identity that others understand.  As the need for alternative models of “who we are” became stronger, it was inevitable that the nature of the Haggadah—the “telling” of who we are—would change…What makes the current moment so fascinating is the extent to which identity is up for grabs.  Part of the simple fact is that baby-boomers are ceding authority to their children…Here then are the trends to throw into question the way we observe our seders:

1. Growth among non-Jews & converts  2.  Polarization of response to Mitzvah   3. The demise of ethnicity   4.  The search for spiritual meaning   5.  The desire to take an active role in religion

V.8             And you shall explain to your child on that day: “It is because of what the Lord did for me when I went free from Egypt.”

HAGADDAH“what the Lord did for me…” In every generation one must look upon himself as if he were personally delivered from Egypt, thus is it written “ba-avur zeh—because of this that the Lord did for me.”

 MUNK“Ba’avur Zeh—It is because of this…” According to RAMBAN, the father is saying to his child, “It is because God took me out of Egypt that I perform this religious ritual…”  However, RASHI and IBN EZRA give the opposite interpretation—God took me out Ba-avur zeh—in order to perform His mitzvoth.


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