Recorded live on a Zoom conference at TCS, The Conservative Synagogue of Westport Connecticut, an exploration of what the biblical provision for celebrating a second Passover (Pesach Sheni) teaches us about celebrating Passover under extenuating circumstances.
(2) Let the Israelite people offer the passover sacrifice at its set time: (3) you shall offer it on the fourteenth day of this month, at twilight, at its set time; you shall offer it in accordance with all its rules and rites. (4) Moses instructed the Israelites to offer the passover sacrifice; (5) and they offered the passover sacrifice in the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month, at twilight, in the wilderness of Sinai. Just as the LORD had commanded Moses, so the Israelites did. (6) But there were some men who were unclean by reason of a corpse and could not offer the passover sacrifice on that day. Appearing that same day before Moses and Aaron, (7) those men said to them, “Unclean though we are by reason of a corpse, why must we be deprived [diminished, restrained, withdrawn, hindered, let down] from presenting the LORD’s offering at its set time with the rest of the Israelites?” (8) Moses said to them, “Stand by, and let me hear what instructions the LORD gives about you.” (9) And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: (10) Speak to the Israelite people, saying: When any of you or of your posterity who are defiled by a corpse or are on a long journey would offer a passover sacrifice to the LORD, (11) they shall offer it in the second month, on the fourteenth day of the month, at twilight. They shall eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs, (12) and they shall not leave any of it over until morning. They shall not break a bone of it. They shall offer it in strict accord with the law of the passover sacrifice. (13) But if a man who is clean and not on a journey refrains from offering the passover sacrifice, that person shall be cut off from his kin, for he did not present the LORD’s offering at its set time; that man shall bear his guilt.
In each and every generation, a person is obligated to see himself as if he left Egypt, as it is stated (Exodus 13:8); “And you shall explain to your son on that day: For the sake of this, did the Lord do [this] for me in my going out of Egypt.” Not only our ancestors did the Holy One, blessed be He, redeem, but rather also us [together] with them did He redeem, as it is stated (Deuteronomy 6:23); “And He took us out from there, in order to bring us in, to give us the land which He swore unto our fathers.”
Despite being forcibly converted to Christianity in 1497 many of the Jews of Portugal continued to practice Judaism in secret. Today, residents of the village of Belmonte practice an amalgam of Christian and Jewish rituals.
The day of the Lord – the Day of the Great Forgiveness – (O Dia do Senhor) and the Holy Feast – the Easter – (A santa Festa) are the great holy days that remain; some still light the Sabbath lamp. Passover, the most important and most elegant holiday about a month after its actual date in the Jewish calendar, a memory of the Inquisition. The box of unleavened bread is the main ritual, which is performed in secret, at home. We see him here for the first time. Dressed in white, the participants sanctify the piece by throwing water and purging prayers of purification. They invoke God’s protection from various evils, don’t torture. During the Holy Feast they consume no meat or coffee and eat no bread other than unleavened bread. Then the Marrranes leave the city, in groups, and will pick bitter herbs (maror in The Jewish tradition); men and women whip the river with plants abseiling from the Red Sea crossing by Moses during the Egyptian Exodus. These ceremonies are preserved thanks to the photographs of Frederic Brenner for the first and perhaps the last time.
For once these Marranos of Belmonte expose themselves, a historic moment and a turning point in their becoming; they overexpose themselves to the camera. They make of their secret an archived invisible visibility. They are the only ones, in this series of photograms, to keep the secret that they exhibit and to sign their belonging without belonging. More than for all the others, I ask myself “who” they are and what they are thinking, in their for intérieur, as we say in French—that is, in their “heart of hearts.” (What is their for intérieur? What do they ﬁnally know of their secret, of the secret that keeps them before they keep it?) What do they think of what is happening to them, including the forgiveness asked by Mário Soares (“In the name of Portugal, I ask forgiveness of the Jews for the persecutions they suffered in our country”)? The ﬁlm The Last Marranos bears witness to the fact that those named in the title are undergoing the loss of their secret. They are forgetting it, paradoxically, in the very movement and moment in which they are reappropriating their memory in an “authentic,” assumed, “normal” Judaism: another “normalization” on the agenda, after the avowal, or rather let us say the confession, and then, ﬁnally, the repentance of the guilty ones.
— JACQUES DERRIDA Diaspora: Homelands in Exile (2 Volume Set) Hardcover – September 30, 2003
by Frederic Brenner Vol 2 Voices, p65
Please see Video: The Last Marranos on YouTube here and here at point where they describe previous practice of Pesach Sheni.
they were unnamed people who were engaged in tending to a corpse whose burial is a mitzva, i.e., which has no one else available to bury it, and their seventh day of impurity occurred precisely on the eve of Passover, as it is stated: “And they could not observe the Pesaḥ on that day” (Numbers 9:6). The Gemara infers: On that day they could not observe it; on the next day they could observe it. Although they would be purified at nightfall and would then be eligible to partake of the Paschal lamb, at the time of the slaughter and the sprinkling of the blood they were not yet pure. They asked whether the Paschal lamb could be slaughtered on their behalf. Apparently, they were obligated to perform the mitzva of burial of the corpse although it prevented them from fulfilling the mitzva of sacrificing the Paschal lamb, which is a stringent mitzva.
(2) What is “a far-off journey”?From Modi’im and beyond, and the same distance on all sides [of Jerusalem], the words of Rabbi Akiva. Rabbi Eliezer says: from the threshold of the Temple court and beyond. Rabbi Yose said to him: for that reason the heh has a dot on it in order to say, not because it is really far-off, but [even when one is] from the threshold of the Temple court and beyond.
And all three of them expounded the same verse to derive their opinions: “But the man who is ritually pure, and is not on a journey, and refrains from offering the Paschal lamb, that soul shall be cut off from his people; because [ki] he did not bring the offering of the Lord in its appointed season, that man shall bear his sin” (Numbers 9:13). Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi holds that the verse should be understood as follows: The phrase: “And refrains from offering the Paschal lamb, that soul shall be cut off,” means that he did not participate in the offering on the firstPesaḥ. In the continuation of the verse, Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi understands the word ki to mean: If, as the word ki has various meanings, one of which is: If. Therefore, the verse can be interpreted in the following manner: If he also “did not bring the offering of the Lord in its appointed season,” with regard to the secondPesaḥ, “that man shall bear his sin.”
פסחים צ״ג א:י״ב
ושלשתן מקרא אחד דרשו והאיש אשר הוא טהור ובדרך לא היה רבי סבר וחדל לעשות הפסח ונכרתה דלא עבד בראשון אי נמי קרבן ה׳ לא הקריב במועדו בשני
Deprived: From the fact that they nevertheless did demand, “Why should we be deprived” we learn a wonderful lesson. When a Jew feels that he is missing something in Torah and mitzvos, some aspect of fear of Heaven, he relies on no one — not on Moshe Rabbeinu and not even on G‑d (so to speak). Instead, he cries out and demands, “Why should we be deprived!”
ליל שמרים הוא לה’ להוציאם מארץ מצרים הוא־הלילה הזה לה’שמרים לכל־בני ישראל לדרתם
That was for the LORD a night of watchings (Shemarim) to bring them out of the land of Egypt; that same night is the LORD’s, one of watchings for all the children of Israel throughout the ages.
‘R. Joshua says, In Nisan they were delivered, [and] in Nisan they will be delivered in the time to come’. Whence do we know this? — Scripture calls [the Passover] ‘a night of watchings’, [twice – which means], a night which has been continuously watched for from the six days of the creation. (Rosh HaShana 11b) [i]
2. The Four Cups – The Four stages of Redemption
1. I will bring you out from the suffering of Egypt
Pour your wrath upon the nations that did not know You and upon the kingdoms that did not call upon Your Name! Since they have consumed Ya’akov and laid waste his habitation (Psalms 79:6-7). Pour out Your fury upon them and the fierceness of Your anger shall reach them (Psalms 69:25)! You shall pursue them with anger and eradicate them from under the skies of the Lord (Lamentations 3:66).
First found in Mchzor Vitry compiled by a pupil of Rashi in the 11th century.
4. Pour Out Your Love – Alternative reading
Pour out Your love on the nations that know You
And on the kingdoms that call upon Your Name
For the loving-kindness that they perform with Jacob
“Chayyim Bloch (1881-1973) reported that he found an unusual version of this prayer in a manuscript haggadah that had been compiled in 1521. He states that this manuscript, which included other poems that are not found in standard haggadot and differing versions of the text, had disappeared during the Holocaust without a trace. Fortunately, he claims, he retained some notes with this prayer… …. Chayyim Bloch has a reputation for presenting new texts as ancient documents.” The JPS Commentary on the Haggadah, Joseph Tabory, 2008 Jewish Publication Society p55
6. Two views of Redemption – inner/outer – personal/national
“The considerations I would like to set forth in what follows concern the special tensions in the Messianic idea and their understanding in rabbinic Judaism. These tensions manifest themselves within a fixed tradition which we shall try to understand. But even where it is not stated explicitly, we shall often enough find as well a polemical side-glance, or an allusion, albeit concealed, to the claims of Christian Messianism.
Judaism, in all of its forms and manifestations, has always maintained a concept of redemption as an event which takes place publicly, on the stage of history and within the community. It is an occurrence which takes place in the visible world and which cannot be conceived apart from such a visible appearance.
Christianity conceives of redemption as an event in the spiritual and unseen realm, an event which is reflected in the soul, in the private world of each individual, and which effects an inner transformation which need not correspond to anything outside.
But it remains peculiar that this question concerning the inner aspect of the redemption should emerge so late in Judaism—though it finally does emerge with great vehemence.”[iii]
7. The leaven in the bread – The original Passover Purge
Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread; on the very first day you shall remove leaven from your houses, for whoever eats leavened bread from the first day to the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel. Exodus 12: 15
“Sovereign of the Universe, it is well known to You that it is our will to do Your will. Who prevents us from doing so? The leavening agent in the dough (the evil inclination within us) and our subservience to the nations. May it be Your will to save us from these so that we can return to fulfilling Your commandments wholeheartedly.” Prayer of Rabbi Alexandrai
May it be Your will, Lord, our G-d and G-d of our fathers, that just as I remove the chametz from my house and from my possession, so shall You remove all the extraneous forces. Remove the spirit of impurity from the earth, remove our evil inclination from us, and grant us a heart of flesh to serve You in truth. Make all the sitra achara (evil inclination), all the kelipot (barriers), and all wickedness be consumed in smoke, and remove the dominion of evil from the earth. Remove with a spirit of destruction and a spirit of judgment all that distress the Shechina, just as You destroyed Egypt and its idols in those days, at this time. Amen, Selah. (kabalistic kavanah recited before the bedikat HaChametz (searching for the Leaven).
Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened [bread] of sincerity and truth. [Corinthians 5:8]
“the leaven of the Pharisees,” which is “hypocrisy” (Luke 12:1; d. Mark 8:15).
8. You’re both right
Jewish history speaks to our generation in the voice of two biblical commands to remember. The first voice commands us to remember that we were strangers in the land of Egypt, and the message of that command is: “Don’t be brutal.” The second voice commands us to remember how the tribe of Amalek attacked us without provocation while we were wandering in the desert, and the message of that command is: “Don’t be naive.”
The first command is the voice of Passover, of liberation; the second is the voice of Purim, commemorating our victory over the genocidal threat of Haman, a descendant of Amalek.
“Passover Jews” are motivated by empathy with the oppressed; “Purim Jews” are motivated by alertness to threat.
Both are essential; one without the other creates an unbalanced Jewish personality, a distortion of Jewish history and values.
Yossi Klein Halevi, CJN, March 11, 2013
[i] See also Megillah 6b: Where Rabbi Gamaliel argues that in a leap year, Purim is celebrated on the 2nd Adar: “R. Simon b. Gamaliel again reasoned: Just as in most years [we think of] Adar as adjoining Nisan, so here [we keep the precepts] in the Adar which adjoins Nisan. …. The reason of R. Simon b. Gamaliel is that more weight is to be attached to bringing one period of redemption close to another.” Purim and Passover are times of future redemption.
See also: “It is customary not to close the door at all in the house in which we are sitting … and when we go to greet Elijah we do so without any (closed door) obstructing our way.
בספר “מעשה רוקח” מובא: “מצאתי במגילת סתרים, ראיתי מרבנא אלוף אבא – לא היה סוגר דלתי הבית אשר אנו יושבין בו כלל. מעידנא ועד עתה כך מנהגנו, ודלתות הבית פתוחות, וכשיבוא אליהו נצא לקראתו במהרה בלא עיכוב. ואמרינן: בפסח עתידין ליגאל, שנאמר: ליל שימורים הוא לה’ – ליל המשומר ובא מששת ימי בראשית”
Born in Mainz, Germany. An important scholar of his time. As a paytan he composed yozerot, kerovot, selihot, hymns, and rashuyyot le-hatanim. It is probable that he sang his piyutim himself. His piyutim bare traces of the language found in early piyutim, and they are marked by the pain of the persecutions of the Jews in Bar-Isaacs’ lifetime. Birth: after circa 970 Mainz, Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany Death: 1020
[iii] Scholem not only distinguishes between an inner and outer, personal and nationistic view of messinaism, but also distinguishes between catastrophic and utopian trends in messianism: “I spoke of the catastrophic nature of redemption as a decisive characteristic of every such apocalypticism, which is then complemented by the utopian view of the content of realized redemption. Apocalyptic thinking always contains the elements of dread and consolation intertwined. The dread and peril of the End form an element of shock and of the shocking which induces extravagance. The terrors of the real historical experiences of the Jewish people are joined with images drawn from the heritage of myth or mythical fantasy.
The apocalyptists have always cherished a pessimistic view of the world. Their optimism, their hope, is not directed to what history will bring forth, but to that which will arise in its ruin, free at last and undisguised.
This catastrophic character of the redemption, which is essential to the apocalyptic conception, is pictured in all of these texts and traditions in glaring images. It finds manifold expression: in world wars and revolutions, in epidemics, famine, and economic catastrophe; but to an equal degree in apostasy and the desecration of God’s name, in forgetting of the Torah and the upsetting of all moral order to the point of dissolving the laws of nature.
Little wonder that in one such context the Talmud cites the bald statement of three famous teachers of the third and fourth centuries: “May he come, but I do not want to see him.”
This utopianism seizes upon all the restorative hopes turned toward the past and describes an arc from the re-establishment of Israel and of the Davidic kingdom as a kingdom of God on earth to the re-establishment of the condition of Paradise as it is foreseen by many old Midrashim, but above all by the thought of Jewish mystics, for whom the analogy of First Days and Last Days possess living reality. But it does more than that. For already in the Messianic utopianism of Isaiah we find the Last Days conceived immeasurably more richly than any beginning. The condition of the world, wherein the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea (Isa. 11:9), does not repeat anything that has ever been, but presents something new. The world of tikkun , the re-establishment of the harmonious condition of the world, which in the Lurianic Kabbalah is the Messianic world, still contains a strictly utopian impulse.
But it always retains that fascinating vitality to which no historical reality can do justice and which in times of darkness and persecution counterpoises the fulfilled image of wholeness to the piecemeal, wretched reality which was available to the Jew. Thus the images of the New Jerusalem that float before the eyes of the apocalyptists always contain more than was ever present in the old one, and the renewal of the world is simply more than its restoration.”
This past week I was assaulted twice by attacks on Jewish Utopianism. I am not blameless. I choose to expose myself to briefings and podcasts that run the gamut of Jewish and political thought, but I was nonetheless taken aback by a similar message from disparate sources all on the same day.
Daniel Gordis, during an AIPAC briefing and latter in a Jerusalem Post Op-Ed [i] argued that the problem with Europe, the EU, The Left, our college youth and/or Conservative and Reform Rabbinic students (pick any or all of the above) is that they have missed or forgotten the core message of Judaism, Zionism and the State of Israel. Gordis is actually coming out with a book in August; The Promise of Israel (I have not read but see pre-publication review here). According to Gordis, these misguided leftists believe in a utopian universalism best optimized by John Lennon in his anthem “Imagine”.
Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion, too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace
I have also heard Michael Oren make this argument and Lennon reference. The water at the Shalem Center might be a tad bitter. [ii]
Gordis sets up a false dilemma by arguing that the opposite of Universalism is Nationalism. He and those making the argument are either ignorant or disingenuous in suggesting that Judaism and Zionism, at their core are Nationalistic to the exclusion of Universalistic.
In a wonderful example of reduction ad absurdum, Gordis argues that any movement, political or cultural uprising which rejects any form of universalism (such as the EU, the UN, NATO etc.) is a de facto vote for Israel. Ergo…. the vote for Brexit and the popularity of Trump …. is good for the Jews.
An understandable reaction to Gordis’s remarks would be to sit our college kids down, pull our Rabbinic students out of class and explain (with pained sensitivity) that their problem is that they are too idealistic. Given the holocaust and continued enmity faced by our people, not to mention, a careful re-reading of Judaism and Zionism, Gordis would have us instruct our youth to spend more time defending the nation-state and less time imagining.
After listening to Gordis I drove home only to listen to the next podcast in my que from the Tikvah Fund: Norman Podhoretz on Jerusalem and Jewish Particularity . Podhoretz, the editor of Commentary Magazine discusses what he calls the “scandal” of Jewish particularity. Podhoretz argues that the Western Liberal world is scandalized by the Jewish idea of particularism. One would be excused if one left this interview believing that the Jews introduced the world to excessive paternalism, tribal pride and nationalism.
Hasn’t Podhoretz seen My Favorite Greek Wedding I and II? The truth as Gordis and Podhotetz well know and as is easily demonstrated by the exploits of the Egyptian, Babylonian, Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Crusader, Muslim, Nazi and Soviet empires… nationalism was alive and well before and without the Jews. To the contrary…. with their eschatology and non-cyclical concept of history the Jews may have actually introduced Utopianism and Universalism to the world (for better or worse…. mostly worse).
That the Hebrew Bible talks about a nation state, boundaries, military conquest and defense is hardly exceptional…. That it talks about a day when man will learn war no more, where boundaries and languages will disappear and all mankind will worship one God in peace… that was a novel idea. And yes… where in addition to a physical Jerusalem there was and will be an ideal Jerusalem and an idealized temple (see Ezekiel 40 – 44 especially 43:11) and where the commandments of the Lord will be written not on tablets but on the heart of all man… That all predated Christianity and came from the Hebrew Bible and that was the scandal of Judaism . [iii]
I am not a big fan of eschatology and messianism but I am not guilty of the intellectual dishonesty required to proclaim that these utopian and universalistic ideas did not originate and grow in Judaism.
As to Zionism, for anyone to argue, as does Gordis, that for the majority of the secular Zionists (and the overwhelming majority of Zionist thinkers were secular if not downright anti-religious) the Jewish State was not some version of a utopia… is crazy. [iv]
Gordis and anyone who argues for Jewish particularism over Jewish universalism are misreading the real innovation of Judaism and setting up a false binary and a straw dummy.
The opposite of universalism is not nationalism. Nationalism is only the flip side of the coin… the opposite of both of these isms is realism, rationalism, compromise, nuance, common sense, critical thinking and in all other ways an appreciation of the crooked timber of humanity. The opposite of Universalism is liberalism.
This middle way had no better spokesman than Isaiah Berlin who argued in the “steadfast defense of liberal values against their rivals both on the Left and on the Right.” Illiberals like Podhoretz critique Berlin’s Liberalism for authenticating relativism [v] and who am I to defend Berlin, but I do believe that if Nationalism can be critiqued for being tribal and Universalism can be critiqued for being naïve then Liberalism should have a place at the table. If we are to see a brighter future and connect with our youth (and the youth within us) then surely more focus and critical thinking need be brought to bear on Liberalism… with all its potential detours and warts.
I would prefer to engage our college age youth and young rabbinic students with respect for their idealism and to challenge them to subject their universalistic aspirations to the rubber of reality. To follow Berlin in recognizing nationalism “with the insight that belonging, and the sense of self-expression that membership bestows, are basic human needs” and as Jews we/they more than anyone should appreciate these needs by our own people and by others. [vi]
There is a ten-year-old institute in Israel The Jewish Statesmanship Center which is systematically revising Jewish and Zionist thought in line with the Nationalism and particularism reflected in Gordis and Podhoretz… and successfully educating a new generation of leaders. Those of us who have a more nuanced understanding of Jewish and Zionist thought need to support those who wish to establish a similar institute to educate and spread the best of liberal thought where universalism and nationalism, chauvinism and multiculturalism, heaven and earth שָּׁמַיִם עַל-הָאָרֶץ are given equal weight and permitted, nay encouraged to dialectically advanced as the Jewish State prospers. (stay tuned).
One of the lectures that institute might offer could be on the utopian vision in Judaism and Zionism of a world without religion too… The lecturer might review the majority of Zionist thinkers who thought that religion was an archaic tool, the outgrowth of an unnatural life of a people deprived of country and language to be tossed once we have our state. She might guide us through Talmudic texts that claim in the end-of-days there will be no mitzot (religion).
The commandments will be abolished in the future world (Babylonian Talmud Niddah 61b)
מצוות בטלות לעתיד לבוא – במסכת נדה דף ס”א ע”ב
We might even learn that the reason a pig is called a Hazir is because in the utopia of the future it will again be permitted (hozer) to the Jewish people….
“למה נקרא שמו חזיר שעתיד הקב”ה להחזירו לישראל” [vii]
Ahh … but I digress…
All I know is that on Shabbat I sing of Shabbat being a little taste of Imagine…
Like the World to Come, the restful day of Shabbat (Mah Yedidut, Shabbat Zemirot)
מֵעֵין עוֹלָם הַבָּא, יוֹם שַׁבָּת מְנוּחָה,
And let myself indulge momentarily in an Imagine day that never ends…
May it be Your will that we merit a day when it is always a restful Shabbat – (Birkat Hamazon, Shabbat)
הרחמן הוא ינחילנו יום שכולו שבת ומנוחה – ברכת המזון של שבת
And that I would feel very comfortable singing Imagine at my Shalosh Suedot…
Getting back to my week in podcasts…. Fortunately, the next podcast in my que was from Machon Hadar on a prayer that even Daniel Gordis says every Shabbat and at the apex of his celebration of our particular national deliverance from Egypt during the seder. [viii]
Nishmat Kol Chai, The breath of every living thing …. A prayer that while leaning universal, nonetheless seamlessly integrates the particularism of the Jewish people into a utopian and universal vision of the future….
The soul of every living being shall bless Your Name, Lord our God, the spirit of all flesh shall always glorify and exalt Your remembrance, our King. From this world to the World to Come, You are God, and other than You we have no king, redeemer, or savior. He who liberates, rescues and sustains, answers and is merciful in every time of distress and anguish, we have no king, helper or supporter but You!
God of the first and the last, God of all creatures, Master of all Generations, Who is extolled through a multitude of praises, Who guides His world with kindness and His creatures with mercy. Hashem is truth; He neither slumbers nor sleeps. He Who rouses the sleepers and awakens the slumberers. Who raises the dead and heals the sick, causes the blind to see and straightens the bent. Who makes the mute speak and reveals what is hidden. To You alone we give thanks!
Were our mouth as full of song as the sea, and our tongue as full of joyous song as its multitude of waves, and our lips as full of praise as the breadth of the heavens, and our eyes as brilliant as the sun and the moon, and our hands as outspread as the eagles of the sky and our feet as swift as hinds — we still could not thank You sufficiently, Lord our God and God of our forefathers, and to bless Your Name for even one of the thousand thousand, thousands of thousands and myriad myriads of favors, miracles and wonders that you performed for our ancestors and for us. At first You redeemed us from Egypt, Hashem our God, and liberated us from the house of bondage. In famine You nourished us, and in plenty you sustained us. From sword you saved us; from plague you let us escape; and from severe and enduring diseases you spared us. Until now Your mercy has helped us, and Your kindness has not forsaken us. Do not abandon us, Lord our God, forever. Therefore the organs that you set within us and the spirit and soul that you breathed into our nostrils, and the tongue that you placed in our mouth – all of them shall thank and bless and praise and glorify, exalt and revere, be devoted, sanctify and declare the sovereignty of Your Name, our King. For every mouth shall offer thanks to You; every tongue shall vow allegiance to You; every knee shall bend to You; every erect spine shall prostrate itself before You; all hearts shall fear You; and all innermost feelings and thoughts shall sing praises to Your name, as it is written: “All my bones shall say, Hashem who is like You? You save the poor man from one who is stronger than he, the poor and destitute from the one who would rob him.”
The outcry of the poor You hear, the screams of the destitute You listen to, and You save. And it is written: “Sing joyfully, O righteous, before Hashem; for the upright praise is fitting.”
By the mouth of the upright You shall be exalted;
By the lips of the righteous shall You be blessed;
By the tongue of the devout shall You be sanctified;
And amid the holy shall You be lauded.
And in the assemblies of the myriads of Your people, the House of Israel, it is the duty of all creatures, before you O Hashem, our God and God of our forefathers to thank, laud, praise, glorify, exalt, adore, render triumphant, bless, raise high, and sing praises – even beyond all expressions of the songs and praises of David, the son of Jesse, Your servant, Your anointed.
And thus may Your name be praised forever- our King, the God, the Great and holy King – in heaven and on earth. Because for you it is fitting – O Hashem our God and God of our forefathers – song and praise, lauding and hymns, power and dominion, triumph, greatness and strength, praise and splendor, holiness and sovereignty, blessings and thanksgivings to Your Great and Holy Name; from this world to the World to Come You are God. Blessed are You Lord, God, King exalted through praises, God of thanksgivings, Master of Wonders, Creator of all souls, Master of all deeds, Who chooses the musical songs of praise – King, Unique One, God, Life-Giver of the world [universe הָעוֹלָמִים ed].
[ii] especially when drunk by 60-something expat American immigrants to Israel… for more on this see Alan Argush’s fine analysis here.
[iii] And it shall come to pass in the end of days, that the mountain of the LORD’S house shall be established as the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. And many peoples shall go and say: ‘Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. And He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. Isaiah 2: 2-4
Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah; not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; forasmuch as they broke My covenant, although I was a lord over them, saith the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the LORD, I will put My law in their inward parts, and in their heart will I write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people; and they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying: ‘Know the LORD’; for they shall all know Me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin will I remember no more. (Jerimiah 31: 30-33)
[iv] Gordis, in a verbal response to my point that most of the Zionist thinkers were socialists was that he had said universalists and not socialists which is mute… all of these political movements called for a disruption in the existing capitalist and political structures in order to herald in a new age based on communal ownership and governance. According to Gordis the only universalist Zionists were Buber, Einstein and the early Ahad HaAm (??)
The problem with proofs is that they convince only the believer. The upside, is that proofs can provide an innovative out-of-the-box way of thinking. I will get to Yehuda Halevi’s proof for the authenticity of the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai…. But first my favorite example of an unconvincing proof which gave birth to innovative, nay, paradigm-shifting thought.
Agreed that God is a being of which nothing is greater. So …. since to exist is profoundly greater than not to exist…. [Think 1 million imaginary dollars as compared to 1 million real dollars] … It follows that … God must exist.
Not convinced? Want to construct a similar argument for unicorns or based on a crazy person’s imagination? It’s all in St. Anselm’s mind, you say? Well, according to the history of ideas, there’s a direct link between St. Anselm’s proof and the birth of the modern Cartesian philosophy of René Descartes who famously opined “I think therefore I am” …. All we can know is that we know….. Which gave birth to Phenomenology and Existentialism where all we can intelligently talk about is not any “real” world, but only experiences and phenomena as we perceive them, and on a higher level, patterns, perceived conflicts within the structure of our own thought. Ontological thinking gave birth to Emanuel Kant’s Categorical Imperative and to logical positivism where the only thing that is necessarily true, moral or intelligible is what our minds can conjure up themselves as not dependent on experience or can articulate in a language the mind can produce.
St. Anselm – Not bad for a Medieval Saint!
So, here is Yehudah Halevi’s (1075 – 1141) paradigm shifting proof (also referred to as The Kuzari Principle[i]):
The proof that the Torah was given at Sinai and that Judaism is superior to all other Abrahamic faiths is that you can’t bullshit 1.5 million people. [ii]
That’s it. If 600,000 men plus an equal number of women plus some precocious kids don’t disagree with a text which says they heard thunder and saw lightning from the Mt. and received the Torah, then it must be true. If the Torah, which these million-plus parents are willing to pass down to the next generation, contains prohibitions which make life difficult and opinions which are not popular, all the more reason not to question the veracity of the event that occurred at Sinai and the authenticity of the text in question. [iii]
Halevi is convinced and his literary or actual King of the Khazars is convinced as well. The public nature of the event at Sinai witnessed by a multitude is contrasted to the establishment myths concerning Jesus and Mohamed which were experienced, witnessed and documented by a select few.
Similar to Saint Anselm’s proof this proof is problematic and wouldn’t convert any non-believer. We live in a world where conspiracy theories arise simultaneously with historic events, even if witnessed by billions of humans…. Think of the moon landing, or better yet, 911. Humanity witnessed these events together, but there are millions of us who claim the events never happened, happened differently than meets the eye or that they were entirely fabricated.
Parents don’t pass on to children difficult or destructive character traits, beliefs or practices you say? Try that on any abuser, child of an abuser or anyone caught up in the cycle of generation’s old ethnic conflict perpetuated by hate and bias feeding on hate and bias.
So what’s the Paradigm shift hidden in Halevi’s argument? It is nothing less than a radical new understanding of “tradition” מסורה
If from Anselm we intuit that the individual and his interior mental perceptions are all that we can really know, from Halevy we are lead to conclude that as a social entity, a community, as a people, maybe even as a species, all we really know is our narrative of history, our story, our Tradition (מסורה). As social animals all we really know is what has been passed down to us and which we pass on to our children…. not that it is true mind you… but that it is ours. “we transmit therefore we are”. The activist corollary is that while we cannot create change by changing the “facts” we can own and create change by changing our interaction to those “facts” and to our history. Ultimately, receiving the Torah (קבלת התורה) means taking ownership of what, how and to whom our narrative is transferred. By truly accepting the that which was given at Sinai we become בעל מסורה Masters of Tradition.
The most forceful modern-day thinker to articulate this conception of Jewish faith as reaction and action triggered by communal experience is Emil Fackenheim who wrote God’s Presence in History: Jewish Affirmations and Philosophical Reflections 1970. Fackenheim is most famously known for his 614th commandment which exhorts us to continue Jewish life and deny Hitler a posthumous victory. But what lies behind this one-liner is a complex and multidimensional philosophy of God as or in History מסורה
For Descartes and Kant, the surest belief is not what we experience or perceive but that we experience. If for the phenomenologists and existentialists the only certain process that we can discern is the dialectical processes of the mind as filtered through the categories of our mind. For Fackenheim the faith that constitutes and energizes us as social beings is not based on any historical event per se, but rather on the reaction to that event in the past, present and future and the action caused by that reaction.[iv]
Fackenhiem bases his thesis on a Mekilta de-Rabbi Ishmael on Exodus 15:2 “this is my God, and I will glorify Him” זֶה אֵלִי וְאַנְוֵהוּ
In a well—known Midrash it is asserted that what Ezekiel once saw in heaven was far less than what all of Israel once saw on earth. Ezekiel, and indeed all the other prophets, did not see God but only visions and similes of God; they were like men who perceive a king of flesh and blood surrounded by servants of flesh and blood, and who are forced to ask, “which one is the king?” In the sharpest possible contrast, the Israelites at the Red Sea had no need to ask which one was the King: “As soon as they saw Him, they recognized Him, and they all opened their mouths and said, “This is my God, and I will glorify Him’ “
Fackenheim coins a term he calls a root experience which he attributes to Martin Buber. For the Jewish people, root experiences include the Exodus from Egypt, the giving of the Torah at Sinai and the holocaust.
What is decisive with respect to the inner history of Mankind . . . is that the children of Israel understood this as an act of their God, as a “miracle”; which does not mean that they interpreted it as a miracle, but that they experienced it as such, that as such they perceived ” it.. . .
The concept of miracle which is permissible from the historical approach can be defined at its starting point as an abiding astonishment. The . . . religious person . . . abides in that wonder; no knowledge, no cognition, can weaken his astonishment. Any causal explanation only deepens the wonder for him. The great turning-points in religious history are based on the fact that again and ever again an individual and a group attached to him wonder and keep on wondering; at a natural phenomenon, at an historical event, or at both together; always at something which intervenes fatefully in the life of this individual and this group. They sense and experience it as a wonder. This, to be sure, is only the starting—point of the historical concept of wonder, but it cannot be explained away. Miracle is not something “supernatural” or “super historical,” but an incident, an event which can be fully included in the objective, scientific nexus of nature and history; the vital meaning of which, however, for the person to whom it occurs, destroys the security of the whole nexus of knowledge for him, and explodes the fixity of the fields of experience named “Nature” and “History.” . . . [Highlighting here and throughout by ed]
The divine Presence thus far considered is a saving Presence. Salvation is not here, however, what it might be in a different religious context. It occurs within history, not in an Eternity beyond it, nor for a soul divorced from it, nor as an apocalyptic or Messianic event which consummates history. … At the same time, the divine presence requires the self and its freedom in the very moment of its presence. There is no abiding astonishment unless we exist who can be astonished; moreover, the divine Presence – saving as well as commanding – remains incomplete unless human astonishment terminates in action.
Like Halevi (who surprisingly along with Saadia Gaon is never cited) Fackenheim requires the public nature of a root experience. He writes:
At the Red Sea, however, the whole people saw, the lowly maidservants included, and what occurred before their eyes was not an opening of heaven but a transformation of earth – an historical event affecting decisively all future generations. … Moreover, as regards private, authoritative experiences, no Jewish believer could ever stake much on these. Ezekiel’s vision may have been an experience of this kind. What happened at the Red Sea and Sinai, in contrast, were public events, accessible even to the maidservants to the extent they were accessible to all. (pp 10 and 42)
Where Fankenheim goes beyond The Kuzari Principle is with regard to authentication and validation. Fackenheim and Buber imply an open invitation for nondoctrinaire and heterodox reactions to the root experience. For Fackenheim the root experience implies a challenge to participate and includes a risk of commitment. Fackenheim compares the multiplicity of reactions to the root event to the multiplicity of reasons a hypothetical Jew might participate in a Passover Seder:
… whereas as a historian he may and must suspend judgment, he cannot do likewise as a man and Jew, if only because every Passover Seder constitutes a challenge to participation. How can he participate? No longer in a religious immediacy which has never thought of stepping outside the Midrashic framework. Not at all in a stance of critical reflection which stands outside only and merely looks on. Nothing is possible except an immediacy after reflection which is and remains self-exposed to the possibility of a total dissipation of every divine Presence, and yet confronts this possibility with a forever reenacted risk of commitment.
Fackenheim’s essay is primarily focused on the Holocaust and the possibility or impossibility of God in history after that root event… hopefully my extensive quotations of his poetic and profound writing will entice you to read the original. But the final element that Fackenheim introduces to Halevy’s “proof” paradigm is the fragmentary nature of any root experience, least of which being the experience at Sinai.
For Halevy the proof of Sinai is in the fact that everyone at Sinai not only shared an experience, but that they shared the same experience. For Fackenheim the greatest threat to the root experience is reflective philosophical thought which would have us believe that the experience is uniform; general, unchanging and abstractable from history. (p16). In contrast God’s presence in History requires Midrashic thinking which reflects upon root experiences but (i) is not confined to their immediate reenactment, (ii) becomes aware of the contradictions in these experiences, (iii) refuse to destroy the immediacy of these experiences even as it stands outside and reflects upon them, (iv) is conscious of the contradictions and fragmentary nature of these experiences and (iv) these experiences can only be expressed in story, parable and metaphor. For Fackenheim we must retell the old Midrash – or create a new. (pp 20-21).
A contemporary scholar at Machon Hadar; Rabbi Jason Rubenstein has recorded a wonderful 3-part lecture on Revelation with the third and final part titled: Between “Mosaic Authorship” and “mosaic composition”: Hearing Conflict in Revelation and Revelation in Conflict (see here). What Rubenstein argues, quite compellingly is that while in prior generations, the concept of truth and value was inherently connected to the concept of uniformity, consistency and harmony. With the emergence of science and the internet of ideas, our concept of truth and value is rather associated with dissonance, multiplicity and a cacophony of ideas, images and sounds. When describing what could be described as Yehudah Halevi’s concept of 1 million plus people all hearing the same message a Sinai, one of Rubentstein’s students exclaimed… if it were so “it would become flat, it would become dull ”
The truth is that pre Internet-of-ideas, this same confluence of passionately argued and differing opinions and visions was always present in the Midrash and Talmud and I would argue…. also at Sinai.
When all is said and done, our reading of Halevi through the lens of Fackenheim produces a radical new conception of what happened at Sinai (Mesorah) and for that matter our concept of God… which it turns out is God in, through, and by, human history.
“ ‘Ye are My witnesses, saith the Lord, and I am God’ (Isa. 43:12). וְאַתֶּם עֵדַי נְאֻם-ה’, וַאֲנִי-א-ֵל That is, when ye are My witnesses, I am God, and when ye are not My witnesses, I am, as it were, not God?“ (p23)
The concept of God in and as history is ultimately that we need to live a life… as individuals but more so as a society… where we are and become the Proof itself. What lies implicit in the giving of the Torah is an imperative on the part of the recipient to receive and transfer. Implicit in the giving of the commandments is the underlying command to become the proof of the giving and transmission itself. … to prove it….
The Doctor: Is not our Book full of the stories of Moses and the Children of Israel? No one can deny what He did to Pharaoh, how He divided the sea, saved those who enjoyed His favour, but drowned those who had aroused His wrath. Then came the manna and the quails during forty years, His speaking to Moses on the mount, making the sun stand still for Joshua, and assisting him against the mighty. [Add to this] what happened previously, viz. the Flood, the destruction of the people of Lot; is this not so well known that no suspicion of deceit and imagination is possible?
Al Khazari: Indeed, I see myself compelled to ask the Jews, because they are the relic of the Children of Israel. For I see that they constitute in themselves the evidence for the divine law on earth.
The Rabbi replied: I believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, who led the children of Israel out of Egypt with signs and miracles; who fed them in the desert and gave them the land, after having made them traverse the sea and the Jordan in a miraculous way; who sent Moses with His law, and subsequently thousands of prophets, who confirmed His law by promises to the observant. and threats to the disobedient. Our belief is comprised in the Torah — a very large domain.
The Rabbi: Surely the beginning of my speech was just the proof, and so evident that it requires no other argument.
The Rabbi: In this way I answered thy first question. In the same strain spoke Moses to Pharaoh, when he told him:’The God of the Hebrews sent me to thee,’ viz. the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. For Abraham was well known to the nations, who also knew that the divine spirit was in contact with the patriarchs, cared for them, and performed miracles for them. He did not say: ‘The God of heaven and earth,’ nor ‘my Creator and thine sent me.’ In the same way God commenced His speech to the assembled people of Israel: ‘I am the God whom you worship, who has led you out of the land of Egypt,’ but He did not say: ‘I am the Creator of the world and your Creator. Now in the same style I spoke to thee, a Prince of the Khazars, when thou didst ask me about my creed. I answered thee as was fitting, and is fitting for the whole of Israel who knew these, things. first from personal experience, and afterwards through uninterrupted tradition, which is equal to the former.
The chronology was established through the medium of those sainted persons who were only single individuals, and not a crowd, until Jacob begat the Twelve Tribes, who were ail under this divine influence. Thus the divine element reached a multitude of persons who carried the records further. The chronology of those who lived before these has been handed down to us by Moses.
Al Khazari: An arrangement of this kind removes any suspicion of untruth or common plot. Not ten people could discuss such a thing without disagreeing, and disclosing their secret understanding; nor could they refute anyone who tried to establish the truth of a matter like this. How is it possible where such a mass of people is concerned? Finally, the period involved is not large enough to admit untruth and fiction.
Al Khazari: Let us now return to our subject, and explain to me how your belief grew, how it spread and became general, how opinions became united after having differed, and how long it took for the faith to lay its foundation, and to be built up into a strong and complete structure. The first element of religion appeared, no doubt, among single individuals, who supported one another in upholding the faith which it pleased God should be promulgated. Their number increases continually, they grow more powerful, or a king arises and assists them, also compels his subjects to adopt the same creed.
The Rabbi: In this way only rational religions, of human origin, can arise. When a man succeeds and attains an exalted position, it is said that he is supported by God, who inspired him, etc. A religion of divine origin arises suddenly. It is bidden to arise, and it is there, like the creation of the world.
…. they came to the desert, which was not sown, he sent them food which, with the exception of Sabbath, was crested daily for them, and they ate it for forty years.
Al Khazari: This also is irrefutable, viz. a thing which occurred to six hundred thousand people for forty years. Six days in the week the Manna came down, but on the Sabbath it stopped. This makes the observance of the Sabbath obligatory, since divine ordination is visible in it.
The Rabbi: I do not maintain that this is exactly how these things occurred; the problem is no doubt too deep for me to fathom. But the result was that everyone who was present at the time became convinced that the matter proceeded from God direct. It is to be compared to the first act of creation. The belief in the law connected with those scenes is as firmly established in the mind as the belief in the creation of the world, and that He created it in the same manner in which He–as is known–created the two tablets, the manna, and other things. Thus disappear from the soul of the believer the doubts of philosophers and materialists.
… The prerogative of Isaac descended on Jacob, whilst Esau was sent from the land which belonged to Jacob. The sons of the latter were all worthy of the divine influence, as well as of the country distinguished by the divine spirit. This is the first instance of the divine influence descending on a number of people, whereas it had previously only been vouchsafed to isolated individuals.
[iii] See: Saadia Gaon: The Book of Beliefs and Opinions Introduction, part VI pp 29-30. Both Yehuda Halevi and Saadia Gaon cite the Manna as a proof to the existence and requirement of observing the Shabbat… and as the best example of a miracle, viewed by many, occurring multiple times and over time whose acceptance by subsequent generations is proof to its veracity.
When, furthermore, He says: And ye are My witnesses (Isa. 44:8), [Fear ye not, neither be afraid; have I not announced unto thee of old, and declared it? And ye are My witnesses. – הֲלֹא מֵאָז הִשְׁמַעְתִּיךָ וְהִגַּדְתִּי, וְאַתֶּם עֵדָי ] He alludes to the marvelous signs and the manifest proofs witnessed by the [Jewish] people. These [were revealed] in many forms, such as the visitation of the ten plagues and the cleaving of the [Red] Sea and the assemblage at Sinai. Personally, however, I consider the case of the miracle of the manna as the most amazing of all miracles, because a phenomenon of an enduring nature excites greater wonderment than one of a passing character. Aye it is hard for the mind to conceive of a scheme whereby a people numbering something like two million souls could be nourished for forty years with nothing else than food produced for them in the air by the Creator. For had there been any possibility of thinking up a scheme for achieving something of this nature, the philosophers of old would have been the first to resort to it. They would have maintained their disciples therewith, taught them wisdom, and enabled them to dispense with working for a livelihood or asking for help.
Now it is not likely that the forbears of the children of Israel should have been in agreement upon this matter if they had considered it a lie. Such [proof] suffices, then, as the requisite of every authentic tradition. Besides, if they had told their children: “We lived in the wilderness for forty years eating naught except manna,” and there had been no basis for that in fact, their children would have answered them: “Now you are telling us a lie. Thou,
so and so, is not this thy field, and thou, so and so, is not this thy garden from which you have always derived your sustenance?” This is, then, something that the children would not have accepted by any manner of means.
According to Morgan, the early Fackenheim’s conception of the manner in which human agency is transformed into a religious response to revelation is reminiscent of the neo-Kantian conception of “self-fashioning.” It is within human consciousness that the contents of Jewish history, literature, folklore, and custom are elevated to the level of absolutely binding commandments. This transformation of the products of human inventiveness into the contents of revelation is also similar to what we might find in other mid-twentieth century hermeneutical theologians, especially Paul Tillich. But there is also a Barthian (or Rosenzweigian) element entailed in it, namely, when the condition of the possibility of any human response to revelation is seen as implicit in revelation itself. Without the “event” of revelation, no answer to revelation would be possible. Revelation remains initiated by God (though possibly eclipsed by the acute absence of God in the face of human suffering), which may be another way of saying that we are conditioned and embedded beings rather than absolute selves.
Ha – This is the bread of destitution that our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt.
We begin the Seder in the vernacular. Aramaic – the lingua Franca of the Middle East and the first international language. How fitting for a story that spans so many generations, crosses so many borders and has inspired liberation for so many that it starts in a language which is supra-national. But the story of liberation transcends even language. We actually begin the Haggadah with a sound, or to be more precise, a breath. Ha We begin the seder/Exodus with the sound of the letter Heh, a sound that according to our tradition and many other ancient traditions, requires no movement of the tongue and therefore has the same meaning in any tongue. According to our tradition God began creation with the sound of the letter Hey…
These are the generations of the heaven and of the earth w-he-n they were created, in the day that the LORD God made earth and heaven. (Genesis 2:4)
When they were created – BeHebaram – Rabbi Abahu in the name of Rabbi Yochanan said: BeHibaram, With [the letter] Hey He created. And what is this Hey? All the letters require the tongue and this [the Hey] does not require the tongue. Similarly, it was not with effort and not with toil that the Holy One created the world, rather, (Psalms 33:6) “By the word of the LORD were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of His mouth.” Bereshit Rabbah 12:10
בהבראם – ר’ אבהו בשם ר’ יוחנן אמר: בהבראם, בה’ בראם. ומה ה’ זה, כל האותיות תופסין את הלשון וזה אינו תופס את הלשון, כך לא בעמל ולא ביגיעה ברא הקדוש ברוך הוא את עולמו, אלא, (שם לג): בדבר ה’ וכבר שמים נעשו
Unlike Divine creation, human liberation requires a lot of preparation and work. God created the world and presumably redeemed us from Egypt without effort. One imagines God effortlessly passing over the homes of the Hebrews. Pesach – Passed Over – פסח
For the Hebrews, there was much pain, suffering, and physical and spiritual travail before the Exodus just as prior to a seder much physical and spiritual cleaning and other preparations are necessary. According to tradition, the Hebrews left Egypt with great effort… פִּסֵחַ limping… a different type of breath… maybe an in-breath.
But as the seder begins, maybe the aramaic text is inviting us to stop, gather our thoughts and center ourselves and exhale… before we begin our personal Exodus.
Blessed is God, Blessed is He; Blessed is the One who Gave the Torah to His people Israel, Blessed is He. Corresponding [lit. against or opposite] to four sons did the Torah speak; The wise, the evil one, one who is innocent and one who doesn’t know to ask. (see Sefaria )”
Contrary to popular opinion, the Four Children is not a popularity contest. The Wise Son is not meant to be a role model and the Wicked Son is not the big loser.
Against Four Sons against the Torah speaks כנגד ארבעה בנים דיברה תורה
Think of “against” כנגד as in opposition. Against – כנגד asks us to engage in discourse and debate these personality types; to confront, admonish, affront… Think of it as a pedagogic teaching-moment. Think of the friction and counter-balance in a healthy relationship. Think of the first relationship, of Eve with Adam:
And the Lord God said, “It is not good that man is alone; I shall make him a helpmate opposite him.” Genesis 2:18
Rashi: a helpmate opposite him:If he is worthy, she will be a helpmate. If he is not worthy, she will be against him, to fight him. — [from Gen. Rabbah 17:3, Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer , ch. 12. See also Yev. 63a] זכה עזר, לא זכה כנגדו להלחם עזר כנגדו
The type of relationship and conversation demanded by the Torah for the Four Children is the same type of interaction associated with a marriage… If the child is missing the point of the Seder, you need to speak up for both your sakes.
When you think of “against” you can also think of מתן תורה the Revelation at Sinai… This is after all how the haggadah introduces the Four Sons.
Blessed is He that gave the Torah to His People Israel ברוך שנתן תורה לעמו ישראל
The Torah uses the same word כנגד when talking about the Children of Israel in juxtaposition to Mt. Sinai.
They [the Children of Israel] journeyed from Rephidim, and they arrived in the desert of Sinai, and they encamped in the desert, and Israel encamped there opposite the mountain [Mt. Sinai]. Exodus 19:2
When the Torah confronts the four children think of a revelation, think of a life changing moment, an epiphany, an intervention.
Getting back to the Four Children, let’s begin by leveling the playing field. Each of these children desperately needs a wake-up call. A gentle caress for some, a jarring blow for others… but trust me, all are missing the point of the Exodus/Seder.
And lets keep to the facts. We know nothing about all of these types besides the one character trait which stands between them and an Exodus.
All we can say of the Wise son is that he is Wise. He might be a bore, a miser, a fornicator, a dead-beat, or an arrogant son of a bitch.
The Simple Child might be an artist or clairvoyant. The child who doesn’t know how to ask might be a survivor… Who are we to say?
And the Evil Child. The Evil child, besides the one character fault impugned, might be or appear for all intents and purposes, a tzadik (righteous man).. more about that in my next post…
The personality trait that requires an intervention is the only one to which the Torah and by extension, we, the participants in a Seder, are meant to address.
The character deficit we are meant to address lies exclusively in his question and our answer.
I will focus only on the Wise son (in this post) and the Evil son (in my next post) because …. They interest me (and my guess.. you) the most and because it is these two that the text of the Haggadah singles out.
It is only for these two that we are told “and even you” אף אתה should respond. “And even you” is not simply emphatic, it is reflective and reflexive. “And even you” is a tagline that we should recognize and that challenges us to venture a comparison.
Hama son of R. Hanina further said: What means the text: Ye shall walk after the Lord your God?( Deut. XIII, 5) Is it, then, possible for a human being to walk after the Shechinah; …But [the meaning is] to walk after the attributes of the Holy One, blessed be He. As He clothes the naked, … so do thou also clothe the naked. The Holy One, blessed be He, visited the sick, … so do thou also visit the sick. The Holy One, blessed be He, comforted mourners, … so do thou also comfort mourners. The Holy one, blessed be He, buried the dead, … so do thou also bury the dead. (Babylonian Talmud Sotah 14a)
להלך אחר מדותיו של הקב”ה מה הוא מלביש ערומים דכתיב ויעש ה’ א-להים לאדם ולאשתו כתנות עור וילבישם אף אתה הלבש ערומים הקב”ה ביקר חולים דכתיב ירא אליו ה’ באלוני ממרא אף אתה בקר חולים הקב”ה ניחם אבלים דכתיב ויהי אחרי מות אברהם ויברך א-להים את יצחק בנו אף אתה נחם אבלים הקב”ה קבר מתים דכתיב ויקבר אותו בגיא אף אתה קבור מתים
The expression אף אתה “Even You” is used to dare us… in the one case to dare us to try to imitate God and likewise, in the Haggadah’s case, to dare us to find the “wise” and “evil’ child in ourselves.
The Haggadah is telling us “grownups” that you need this medicine too אף אתה. You’re more similar to this child than you think אף אתה. You share the malady more than you might be willing to admit…. EVEN YOU.. need to speak this question and listen to the answer.
What does the wise [son] say? “‘What are these testimonies, statutes and judgments that the Lord our God commanded you?’ (Deuteronomy 6:20)” And accordingly [and even] you will say to him, as per the laws of the Pesach sacrifice, “We may not eat an afikoman [a dessert or other foods eaten after the meal] after [we are finished eating] the Pesach sacrifice.”
It seems to me that the Wise child has all the book knowledge and knows all the facts. But he’s missing something. He like the Wicked child distances himself from the participants by saying “you” and not “us”. In the answer we are to give, we get a sense of exactly what he is distancing himself from. We are to discuss the Passover Sacrifice – a historical artifact of a temple no-more and it’s replacement; the Afikomen replete with its folklore, superstition, and childish hide-and-go seek game to which it owes its brand identity…
We are to discuss with this Wise Guy son the cultural, emotional and historical baggage that our people, his people, carry. And we are to discuss with him the unwritten, undocumented and unquantifiable, sometimes child-like, sometimes humorous, sometimes superstitious and sometimes ahistorical parodies and cultural tics that enable us to survive. Most of all we confront him with two emotions not found in any text book. Compassion and wonder.
Here’s where I leave you to your own wise guy answers and imagine how some of my favorite thinkers and story tellers might have answered
Abraham Joshua Heschel
“ Indifference to the sublime wonder of living is the root of sin.”
“Our holy Rabbis teach us that the chacham, the clever boy, is very beautiful as long as you think that being clever is everything. The chacham is intellectual, he needs to be taught. How about stopping being only intellectual? How about tasting the Afikoman, tasting the depths of life, feeling deep emotion and serving god with it? The clever person isn’t far away from the wicked person. “
“The Koznitzer Maggid says about Yachatz [the broken Afikomen], “The world is so broken, but our children can make the world whole again. We break the matzah; the small piece we keep, and the big piece – the bigger brokenness – our children take away. Then they bring it back to us whole, to serve as the Afikomen at the end of the seder.” Our children they are the ones that are taking brokenness away from us.”