Tuesday, March 09, 2010

why is this night filled with so many questions?

The focus of the Pesach seder is questions. The child asks, “Mah nishtana;” Rabban Gamliel’s explanation of the mitzvos of the night begins with the question of “…Al shum mah?,” why do we eat matzah, maror, Pesach; the dunking of karpes was instituted to elicit curiosity. I don’t know if it is paradoxical to raise a question about all these questions, but I’ll do so anyway -- why not just review the history of yetziyas Mitzrayim and narrate explanations for the mitzvos without first questioning and only then coming to an explanation?

R’ Tzadok haKohen (Pri Tzadik Pesach 2) explains that it is not knowledge alone, not the reasons for the mitzvos or the history of yetziyas Mitzrayim, not saying over all the Vilna Gaons or Abarbanels, which we are trying to give over to our children (and ourselves) on the night of Pesach. What we are trying to engender is a feeling, an emotional experience, a sense of wonder. Imagine if you got woken up in the middle of the night by the phone ringing and some anonymous voice told you a million dollars had been deposited in your bank account. Before the call disconnects, wouldn’t you be shouting questions into the phone: Who is this? Why did I get the money? How did this happen? Pesach night is that wake up call, when we suddenly find our spiritual bank account infused with wealth beyond what we deserve. Our reaction should be one of contagious curiosity, awe, amazement -- this is not a time for dry discourse. “Afilu kulanu Chachamim… mitzvah l’sapeir.” R’ Tzadok writes that the mitzvah of sippur is incumbent even upon the wise not just because there is always more to learn, but because there is this additional layer to the kiyum of sippur that goes beyond the mere absorption of knowledge.

The lomdishe selections of the seforim stores have plenty on the chag, and everyone has a Brisker Haggadah these days, but we should be wary of missing the forest for the trees. Depending on the age of your kids you may be better off with the Artscroll Youth Haggadah than saying over R’ Chaim’s chiluk between zechirah and sippur. Then again, depending on your kids, they may already know the chiluk between zechira and sippur and expect even more! Whatever the case may be, it’s not just what you say over that is important, but it’s the hislahavus and excitement for learning that conveys the true meaning of cheirus and which is part and parcel of the mitzvah of sippur.


  1. nice

    Reb Reuvain Grozovsky used to play with his grandchildren with finger puppets at the seder

    pc :-)

  2. Daas Yochid12:53 AM

    How about a short summary of some of the "gedichte" hagodeh Torahs?

  3. Anonymous5:57 AM

    Beautiful thought. Thank you.

    I know many people who have attended Rav Avigdor Nevenzahl's seder over the years who were shocked at the simplicity of his sippur yetzias mitzrayim. The guests were expecting unbelievable chiddushim but Rav Nevenzahl was interested only in conveying the story and the experience to his grandchildren.

  4. Anonymous3:18 PM

    What is Rav Chaim's chiluk between zechirah and sippur?

  5. R' Chaim asks if there is a mitzvah of zechira every night of the year, mah nishtana leil haseder? There are a few nafka minos, but I can't recall offhand exactly which were from R' Chaim and which are from other people. 1) Rabban Gamliel's din: you have to explain the reasons for eating pesach, matzah, u'maror for sippur, but not for zechira; 2) Sippur must be done in question/answer format (and it must be verbal); zechira does not; 3) The Rambam seems to indicate that hallal is part of sippur; it is not part of zecher (I don't think R' Chaim said this one). I am missing at least one major thing from this list... brain freeze has set in and I don't have the sefer nearby. Maybe I should do a seperate post on this.

  6. Shkoach for the post.

    I think the third one is that there is a din that the sippur has to be said on the matzah (but I don't think Reb Chaim said that).

    Ah! maschil bignus umisayem b'shvach - that't it.

  7. >>>there is a din that the sippur has to be said on the matzah

    Who says that's a din in sippur -- maybe its part of the chiyuv achilas matzah? Discussion for another post!