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Simple meanings arise new each day

Every year we ask, “Why is this night different from all other nights”. But now the question is slightly altered. Why is this year, different from all other years? What can we learn from the Haggadah this year, that we might not have noticed in the past? How do current events in our world impact our holiday preparations and, perhaps, even our guest list as well as our holiday preparations and, perhaps, even our guest list? Rabbi Professor David Golinkin, President of the Schechter Institutes Inc., discusses this Passover, and draws connections from different sources and shares art from The Schechter Haggadah.

Watch the video and read the article:

Rabbi Shmuel ben Meir, the Rashbam, Rashi’s very talented grandson, wrote a commentary on the Torah that was first published in the 19th century. In his commentary to Genesis chapter 37, he talks about his discussions and even arguments with his grandfather. He says that his grandfather Rashi admitted to him that if he had time, he would need to make other commentaries on the Torah “לפי הפשטות המתחדשים בכל יום” according to the pshat, the simple meanings which arise anew every day. This is a difficult phrase– if it’s the pshat, the simple meaning, how can it arise anew every day? I take it to mean, not that the pshat of the text has changed, the text is the same text. But rather that each time we interpret the text, we interpret it according to our own circumstances and the circumstances of society around us at that time.

That is why I would like to relate what is happening in Ukraine during the past six weeks to a number of halachot of Pesah and to several passages in the Haggadah and the Torah.

The first idea is found at the very beginning of the magid section of the seder. After we make kiddush, the second sentence at the very beginning of magid is “כָּל דִכְפִין – יֵיתֵי וְיֵיכֹל, כָּל דִצְרִיךְ – יֵיתֵי וְיִפְסַח.” “Whoever is hungry let him come and eat, whoever is needy let him come and make Pesah with us.” This is based on a famous story in the Talmud (Taanit 20b) in which Rav Huna used to invite people to his table throughout the year every time he made a seudah or a feast. In other words, the very first thing we do at the seder before talking about Yetziat Mitzrayim and explaining it to our children, and all the other things, is we invite the poor to eat with us. This is the first value we can learn from the seder, which is related to what is going on now in Ukraine.

The second value which is very much related is found in the very first halakhah of the laws of Pesah. I am holding here one-sixth of the volumes of the Mishnah Berurah which is the Shulhan Arukh Orah Hayyim. In other words, one-sixth is devoted to the laws of Passover, and the very first paragraph of Rav Moshe Isserles states:

מנהג לקנות חיטים לחלקן לעניים לצורך פסח

It is the custom to buy wheat to give it out to the poor before Pesah,

וכל מי שדר בעיר י״ב חודש, צריך ליתן לזה

and anyone who lives in the city for twelve months, must contribute to this.

The source is Rabbi Yitzhak ben Moshe of Vienna in the thirteenth century. Once again, the very first thing in the laws of Passover, which are almost endless, is that we have to provide wheat to the poor so they can make matzot for Pesah.

These two passages teach us that Jews before and during Pesah worry about the poor and those in need. That is exactly what Midreshet Schechter and our partners, Masorti Olami, and many other important Jewish organizations have been doing during the past six weeks. We have been providing food, clothing, shelter, and transportation to tens of thousands of Ukrainian Jews, who have been displaced, helping them in Ukraine, in Europe, and to make Aliyah to the State of Israel.

The last point I want to make has to do with a passage we all know from the book of Exodus, chapter ten, there we are told that Pharoah says to Moshe and Aaron “Mi vami haholechim” “who are these people that are going to leave Egypt?” And Moshe replies “Bin’areinu uvizkeneinu nelech”, “we will all go, young and old, we will go with our sons and daughters, our flocks and herds. For we must observe the Lord’s festival”. Pharaoh only wants to release the men and Moshe says: no, we are going to go out of Egypt, the men, the women, the children, and the animals. We are all going to make the Exodus from Egypt.

This is beautifully illustrated in the Schechter Haggadah, in a Haggadah from the fifteenth century in Germany, which is called the second Nuremberg Haggadah. We see in this illustration that you have men, women and children in a father’s pouch or in a knapsack on his back, children walking, a mother holding a little baby in a crib on top of her head. In other words, this is an actual illustration from the fifteenth century of what Moshe Rabbeinu said to Pharaoh some 3200 years ago.

In summary, this year we have much to learn both from the laws of Pesah and from the Haggadah about the current situation in Ukraine. Number one, we must invite strangers to our house for the seder, especially if we can find Ukrainian Jews who have recently left Ukraine. Number two, we must provide food, not just Pesah food but food in general to all of the many thousands of refugees in Ukraine and who have left Ukraine. And three, we must leave no one behind. This is why just a few days ago Rabbi Irina Gritsevskaya, Executive Director of Midreshet Schechter, made a special trip to Romania to bring a sixteen-year-old orphan back to Israel with her.

Hopefully, this war will end soon, but in the meantime, we must live and practice these important values from the laws of Pesah and the Haggadah.

Shavua tov and Hag Sameah from Schechter!


David Golinkin is President of The Schechter Institutes, Inc. and President Emeritus of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies. For twenty years he served as Chair of the Va’ad Halakhah (Law Committee) of the Rabbinical Assembly which gives halakhic guidance to the Masorti Movement in Israel. He is the founder and director of the Institute of Applied Halakhah at Schechter and also directs the Center for Women in Jewish Law. Rabbi Professor Golinkin made aliyah in 1972, earning a BA in Jewish History and two teaching certificates from The Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He received an MA in Rabbinics and a PhD in Talmud from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America where he was also ordained as Rabbi. For a complete bio click here.

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