To understand how the Seder is supposed to facilitate our becoming a better “vessel” to receive the light of the Fifty Gates of Understanding, and to develop a more essential connection to Da’as Elokim, it is important to examine various aspects of the Seder itself, and the reasons for their inclusion.
After all, a mitzvah is like an envelope with a message inside; possessing the envelope is essential, but peering inside the envelope is the only way to fully understand the meaning of both, and how, as a unit, they pertain to spiritual perfection. This is the path that begins with pshat and ends with sod, and, as it says:
... One who does not look into the sodos (mysteries) of the mitzvos of the Torah, to understand how they are rooted in the esoteric World Above ... will not see how to rectify the various aspects of that World ... (Zohar, Parashas Terumah, 165b)What this means is, though, the most important thing to remember is how to correctly fulfill the technical mitzvah itself, knowing the sod of a mitzvah is to be able to “aim” the mitzvah to have its desired impact. This is why the Aramaic word for prayer is also the word for “arrow,” as if to say, there is a “target” for mitzvos, and it is far more effective to know what to aim for than to “blindly” send the “arrow” off in the direction one might happen to be facing at that time.
The same idea is true for the different sections of the Haggadah as well. However, since there is already a copious amount of material on all parts of the Haggadah, I am only going to briefly approach some of the concepts associated with the Seder, along the line of thought expressed within.
It is difficult to dispute the fact that the last 5700 years of history have been anything but Paradise. This has prompted many to ask over the millennia, “If God is so perfect, why is His world not?”
The answer is, it is perfect, that is, its perfection is its imperfection. We even bless God for this:
Blessed are You, Our God, King of the World, Who creates many living things with their defficiences ...This is an idea that is implicit in Bris Milah itself, which requires man to participate in the physical and spiritual completion of his own being. Man was purposely and purposefully made incomplete, so that he would have a forum within which to exercise free-will and earn his portion in The World-to-Come (Derech Hashem, Section One, Chapter Three). God made man and the world within which he lives, but it is man who must bring both to fulfillment (Leshem Shevo v’Achlamah, Dayah, 2:2:2:1).
This process of spiritual refinement and purification is synonomous with making a person and the world a better conduit for the light of God. The light of God is like water that presses against the wall of a dam; open the channel and the water forces its way through. The concept of bitul chometz (annihilation of chometz) is the idea of removing spiritual obstacles that keep the light of God out, and which hold back Da’as Elokim.
We burn the chometz (biur chometz) to indicate that the destruction of spiritual “bacteria” must be complete, and that it can only really be achieved through the da’as of Torah, which is likened to fire. Fire also indicates the idea of that which can continuously give to others, without lessening its own intensity; this is only possible with Torah. In fact, the very process of teaching Torah usually results in the teacher gaining as a result, as the Talmud confirms:
Rebi said: I learned a lot of Torah from my teachers; from my colleagues more than from them; and from my students, more than from all of them. (Makkos 10a)Bedikos chometz (searching for chometz), which is rabbinical in nature, indicates the necessity to throw oneself into the process of character refinement. In a very real sense, bedikos chometz represents the idea embodied in the 248 positive mitzvos, which is to use da’as as a motivator and source of inspiration to maximize our potential.
chometz, then, represents a kind of orlah—a kind of spiritual interposition. Even though the rest of the year (other than the week of Pesach) it is permissible to benefit from chometz, the truth is, we battle its effects constantly. Thus, the root of the word milchama, which means “war,” is the word lechem which means “bread.”
It is as if to say that the real “war” in life is not on the outer battlefield, but on the inner one, against the yetzer hara. This is because we need its drives to be effective in life; yet, unbridled, those very same drives can destroy individuals, nations, and the world. Reigning in the powers of the yetzer hara is the “tightrope” walk of life. This was also the message of the munn, which was also called, Lechem min haShamayim—bread from Heaven.
In a very real sense, removing chometz from our possession and replacing it with matzah has the effect of Bris Milah. It is the removal of the orlah, of all spiritual barriers that prevent us from channeling our drives in the direction of the service of God. Hence, this represents another reason why only those who have fulfilled the mitzvah of Bris Milah can eat from the Korban Pesach—the Passover Offering.
Matzah is the quintessential symbol of Pesach, and the word itself differs in spelling from the word chometz by one letter:
However, it is a variance that makes all the difference in the world, since it alludes to the deepest of ideas; for, the transition from the letter ches of chometz to the letter heh of matzah, symbolizes the actual process of creation, and of redemption from Egypt (Safra D’Tzniusa, Section One).
Matzah, which is the product of only flour and water alludes both the end of result of the refinement process, and the spiritual freedom that results. It is the symbol of Divine simplicity (Maharal, Haggadah shel Pesach), which is crucial for God being able to “relate” to us, in order to infuse us with His da’as, so-to-speak.
It is referred to as “poor man’s bread,” because it only uses flour and water. However, as the Talmud states:
Be careful with the poor, for it is from them that Torah will emanate. (Nedarim 81a)The reason for this is simple. Elsewhere, the Talmud reminds us that the more one is involved in the physical world, and in the pursuit of physical possessions, the more his mind will be occupied with the concerns of that world. However, the poor, because of their simple lifestyle, have little else to think about than spirituality.
Matzah is also called, “Lechem Oni” (bread of answers). It adorns the Seder table to make us think deeply, to make us re-examine where we have gone in the course of the previous year, and to measure how close or far we have become from the ideals of Torah. In so many ways, matzah symbolizes everything the Jew is supposed to strive to become, and it can therefore act as a spiritual thermometer.
This is why, more than we eat matzah because our fleeing ancestors lacked sufficient time for their dough to rise, our fleeing ancestors lacked sufficient time for their dough to rise so that Jews, around the world and throughout the generations, would confront their raison d’etre at least once-a-year at the Seder table.
The second verse of the Torah states:
The earth was null and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep, and the spirit of God hovered above the water. (Bereishis 1:3)Though God could have made a perfectly complete world from the start without passing it through a chaotic stage, Divine wisdom dictated otherwise. The result was a primordial “soup” called Tohu, or “Null.” The only question is why? Why did God introduce the concept of chaos into the world?
The answer to that question is the subject of the third verse,
God said, ‘Let there be Light!’ And there was Light.What this means is the following: the natural state of creation is chaos, and not order. Hence, the main battle of the Jew is to bring order to that chaos, just as God did by creating light on the very first day of creation. It is not a physical struggle, but an intellectual one. It is a battle that is manifested in the physical world, but one that is fought in the spiritual realm.
To forget this fundamental message is to doom creation to darkness and destruction, to allow mankind to become swallowed up by the inherent forces of null and void. And no one knows this better than the Jewish people—no one has experienced this more than the nation that was redeemed from Egyptian bondage to prevent this from happening.
This is one of the first and foremost messages of the Seder. When we remember this, and act upon it by bringing the light of Torah into the world, then we fulfill the mandate for which we were freed, and we become the “light unto nations” we were destined to become.
Why else would we make a sing-song out of the table of contents for the evening? Why else would we be so fastidious about the arrangement on the Seder Plate?
Though it is true that we start each Shabbos and Yom Tov meal with Kiddush, we do so for a very important reason, especially Seder Night.
Kiddush and Havdalah represent the same concept: separation between holy and profane. The Talmud (Brochos 33a) points out that Havdalah is a function of wisdom, for it is only after penetrating to the essence of ideas that we can truthfully see how they differ from one another. Then, and only then, can we properly evaluate the worthiness of a concept, and use it properly without abuse.
This why the distinctions raised in the “Four Questions” form the basis of the introduction to all that will follow the rest of the evening. Teaching children to notice subtle differences in life, to pay attention to nuances in learning, and to be “hungry” for questions is central to their intellectual and spiritual growth.
Furthermore, Kiddush and Havdalah are verbal, which means they epitomize all that man (and especially the Jew), aspires to achieve. It is the ultimate use of human intelligence and the power of speech, whereby we use our mouth as a vehicle to elevate our consciousness and transform the spiritual, and thereby, the physical reality. Kiddush and Havdalah embody the message that we were to have learned from the munn just prior to the attack from Amalek (see Section One, Chapter Three).
This is the source of Jewish holiness. The separation that leads to holiness is one that begins in the mind, one which grows out of being a receptacle for Da’as Elokim. Thus, it is appropriate that Kiddush acts as the threshold over which we cross into the world of the Fifty Gates of Understanding.
From Purim we learned about the intrinsic connection between wine and freedom. Wine, with the help of gematria, alludes to the sod of Torah and the basis of Jewish wisdom. Here the connection is quite literal, for we drink one cup of wine at the Seder for each of the four different words the Torah uses to refer to the redemption from Egypt:
Vehotzaisy—I will lead you out of Egypt; vehitzalty—I will save you from any type of servitude; vega’alty—I will redeem you; valakachty—I will take you as My people.The fifth cup we leave for Eliyahu, whose role in the redemption should be more obvious after having identified him with Pinchas (Chapter Six).
(Shemos Rabbah 6:5)
This also introduces the concept of the number of four into the picture, and its role in bringing about redemption.
Four is a number that is prominent in the Haggadah (four cups of wine, four sons), just as the Jewish people spent four hundred years in a “land not their own” prior to Yetzias Mitzrayim, and just as the Jewish people spent forty years in the desert before entering Eretz Yisroel.
There are many concepts embedded in the number four. To begin with, the number itself refers to the four directions over which God has dominion. It also alludes to the Hebrew letter dalet, which is related to the word, delet, which means door—a vehicle for freedom. There are four worlds, according to Kabbalah, and they represent the ascension from the lowest level up toward God.
The letter dalet has within it the word dal, which is a poor person. (Shabbos 104a) This is consistent with the theme of the evening as expressed through the matzah, which is Lechem Oni—poor man’s bread. As well, the gematria of the world dal is thirty-four, whose mispar katan is the number seven (34 = 3 + 4 = 7), the number of malchus (kingship). Hence, the humility inherent in the number four is what ultimately leads to Malchus, and the fulfillment of creation.
As such, the dalet also alludes to the ultimate unity: the unification of God’s Ineffable Name, and the time that God’s kingdom will be firmly established on earth:
On that day, God will be One and His Name will be One ...This is why, in a Sefer Torah, the dalet of the word “echad” in the Shema is larger.
The dalet, combined with the first two letters of the word “echad” allude to the complete unity of creation. For, the aleph and the ches in gematria total nine, to signify the unity of the first nine sefiros. The last of the ten sefiros is the Malchus, represented by the dalet itself. (Leshem Shevo v’Achlamah, Kadosh, 7:6:3)
Thus, in the word echad is an allusion to the days of Moshiach.
And how is that unity achieved? The first word of the Shema also has one letter larger than the rest.
The letter ayin, as we know from Purim, alludes to the perspective that looks beyond the natural, physical reality to reveal the hidden hand of God to the mind’s eye. Combined, the enlarged ayin and the enlarged dalet spell the word: aid (ayin, dalet), which means “witness.” Therefore, the Jew who says the Shema with the above intentions is bearing witness to the hidden kingship of God in this period of history, and to the revealed kingship in the Time-to-Come. This is called Emunas Yisroel—the Faith of the Jewish people.
Rebi Akiva asked: Why does the dalet turn its face toward the heh (in the Aleph-Bais, and which stands for God)? Because all who are poor in This World will be rich in The World-to-Come, like all of Israel who busy themselves with mitzvos. (Osios Rebi Akiva)
After all, it is from their mouths that Torah spews forth; it is the poor person who usually retains the level of sensitivity necessary to constantly do tshuva. After all, the world was created with the letter heh, which stands for tshuva (Menachos 29b) which, in turn, is related to the Fifty Gates of Understanding. (Section One, Chapter One)
Hah Lachmah ania is a strange way to start off the evening. Unless, of course, tzedakah is an identifying trait of the Jewish people.
After living among the Nations-of-the-World for millennia, we have picked up the appearances of our non-Jewish hosts, somewhat. As a result, God may have difficulty “recognizing” us. By giving tzedakah, we reveal our innermost self to God, thereby gaining His acceptance of us before He emanates His Great Light down. (Bais HaLevi, Haggadah shel Pesach)
Furthermore, as we learned from Purim and the mitzvah of Matanos L’Evyonim, every Jew is “a guarantor for his fellow Jew.” Situations in life may vary from person to person, but we all need each other in order to bring about the completion of God’s master plan; we all must rise to the level of k’ish echad b’leiv echad—the unity of a single being with a single drive to serve God.
Symbollically, washing our hands before eating wet vegetables is a throwback to Temple times, when the reality of spiritual purity was an issue. However, the Temple is another key symbol of da’as, and washing our hands is an external depiction of what we are supposed to achieve on the inside. It is the da’as of the Fifty Gates of Understanding that have the true “cleansing” power.
Having completed all that is in the Haggadah until this point, we can turn our attention to the story itself. This is the way the mind and body work; first we must create the proper atmosphere and catch our attention, and then it becomes possible to efficiently transmit the message. Mind and body must work together if they are to act as the conduit for the light from Above.
The breaking of the matzah has tremendous significance. First of all, it is this that transforms the matzah into Lechem Oni, since a poor person does not consume all his food at one time, being concerned that tomorrow he will have none. Breaking the matzah also symbolizes the breaking of the spirit, resulting in the kind of humility necessary to receive and maintain Torah.
However, the breaking of the middle matzah also results in the creation of the Afikomen, which is then hidden for the children to find, after for which they are rewarded. The message to all present (not just the children): a humble spirit is what inspires a person to go in search of truth, which result in the finding of it, and which will lead to eternal reward. This is the opposite of kotzer ruach and its effects, and the basis of the possuk:
If you want it as you do silver, and search after it like buried treasures, then you will understand fear of God—Da’as Elokim you will find. (Mishlei 2:4)
Like Kiddush, the telling of the story of Yetzias Mitzrayim represents the usage of our power of speech to speak D’var Hashem, the word of God. It is a central part of the evening, acting as an integral part of the process to “free” the mouth.
If this mitzvah is done properly, it should lead one’s consciousness to the realm above time, to the world beyond nature, to the reality and unity of the Shema. This is what happened to Rebi Eliezer, Rebi Yehoshua, Rebi Elazar ben Azaryah, Rebi Akiva, and Rebi Tarfon when they sat down to fulfill the mitzvah in B’nei Brak. One would never have known that these rabbis lived in the most terrifying and distracting of times, at the beginning of the Roman exile.
As we know from the midrashim, night symbolizes exile, and morning, redemption. Thus, when their students came and informed them that the time had come to recite the morning Shema, it was an allusion also to the redeeming power of the Haggadah to end bitter exile, and lead us to the day of which we will say: On that day, God will be One, and His Name will be One.
The process to this eternal freedom is the process of drush, of exegesis, the main intellectual “tool” of the Talmud. This is what Rebi Elazar is telling us (“I was like a man of seventy ...”), and this is what the midrash states:
The people who walk in darkness see the Great Light. (Yishiyahu 9:1): These are the masters of Talmud who see the ‘Great Light’ because The Holy One, Blessed is He, illuminates their eyes. (Tanchuma Noach, 9)This then leads to one of the central points of the entire evening: the Four Sons and the all-important concept of chinuch banim (education of children).
To begin with, the Talmud states:
The wise man is better than the prophet. (Babba Basra 12a)At first, this strikes us as strange. What could be better than a prophet, who is in direct communication with God? The answer to this question is, what the prophet understands through prophecy, the chacham is supposed to discern through wisdom.
It is the Chacham who represents the fulfillment of the concept of Tzelem-Elokim, the image of God in which man was created:
The term Elohim can be used to describe every intelligent force that is separated from matter (i.e., spiritual instead of physical) ... As such, it is eternal, and thus the term is used regarding God and His angels. It is also applied to judges because of their ability of reason [and power of discernment] ... (Sforno, Bereishis 1:16)This is why, even though he did not stand at Har Sinai and receive the Torah personally, he can still refer to the God of his fathers as his God too, for, through wisdom and discernment he can project outside of his reality. Hence, not only is it true that:
The wise man’s eyes are in his head ... (Koheles 2:14)But, a wise person is defined as:
... One who can see what will transpire. (Tamid 32a)In other words, the wise man is someone who creates a large enough mental picture that his perception of reality comes to mirror that of God’s. It is the difference between eating from the Aitz HaDa’as Tov v’Rah, and the Aitz Chaim, the Tree of Life, or, as we call it today, kol Torah kulo—Torah in its entirety. Whereas the Aitz HaDa’as represented the details of creation and how it functions, the knowledge of the Aitz Chaim was all encompassing, and provided the intellectual “framework” within which to place those details:
When one knows a number of things, and understands how they are categorized and systematically interrelated, then he has a great advantage over one who has the same knowledge without such distinction. It is very much like the difference between looking at a well-arranged garden, planted in rows and patterns, and seeing a wild thicket or forest growing in confusion. When an individual is confronted by many details (i.e., the knowledge of the Aitz HaDa’as) and does not know how they relate to one another or their true place in a general system (i.e., Aitz Chaim), then his inquisitive intellect is given nothing more than a difficult, unsatisfying burden. He may struggle with it, but he will tire and grow weary long before he attains any gratification. Each detail will arouse his curiosity, but not having access to the concept as a whole, he will become frustrated. The exact opposite is true when one knows something in relation to its context. Since he sees it within its framework, he can go on to grasp other concepts associated with it, and success will bring him pleasure and elation ... When one studies a subject, he must therefore be aware of the place of each element within the most general scheme. When one takes into account existence as a whole, including everything imaginable, whether detectable by our senses or conceivable by our minds, then he recognizes that things are not all in the same category and level. The categories are both varied and numerous, and as they vary, so do the rules and principles associated with them. In order to comprehend the true nature of each thing, one must also be able to recognize these distinctions. (Derech Hashem, Introduction)As such, he can even project outside of himself and his “slice” of time, without the help of prophecy. For this reason, we hold nothing back from him; we tell him the whole story, without leaving out a single detail. With such an outlook, and such an attitude, no knowledge can damage him, since he reaches for the Aitz Chaim.
... The mistake of Adam was that he didn’t wait for ... Shabbos. But doesn’t the verse explicitly state that the transgression was eating from the Aitz HaDa’as? Rather, it seems that anyone who merits to achieve the fiftieth gate in holiness can no longer be damaged by any further knowledge ... Shabbos is the Tree of Life, a tree planted in a place of life, which is understanding. (Shem m’Shmuel, Parshas Braishis, 5671)
Not so the rasha. The Rasha is very intelligent, but intellectually abusive. He is the result of what happens to the seichel when one eats from the Aitz HaDa’as Tov v’Rah, before eating from the Aitz Chaim. Knowledge that could have drawn him close to God and Absolute Truth instead pushes him away from God into his own subjective reality—just as it had by Adam HaRishon. He will use the very same information the Chacham used to find God, to hide God.
This is what Dovid HaMelech warned:
The beginning of wisdom is the fear of God ... (Tehillim 111:10)Fear of God can only be the result of the Aitz Chaim, and as we have quoted earlier:
The secrets of God to those who fear God. (Tehillim 25:14)Thus the Rasha’s question and exclusatory nature:
The evil son, what does he say? “What is the service to you?” (Shemos 12:26). To you, and not to him, and because he excludes himself from the rest, he is a denier of Torah ...The Rasha refers to the Korban Pesach. In Egypt, the Jewish people had been mired in idol worship, which included the worship of the lamb, an Egyptian god. In order to merit redemption, they had to make a spiritual break from the Egyptian way of life. For this reason, the midrash explains, the Jews were commanded to take a lamb and parade it through the streets with the expressed purpose of slaughtering it to God.
However, asks the evil son, who worships animals today?
What he is really asking is, “What use is there in continuing the service of sacrificing the Pesach-Offering anymore?”
It is a question that he will ask, and has asked throughout the ages, on many other mitzvos whose Divine reasoning is elusive. However, the Haggadah answers the evil son back in kind, and in no uncertain terms either: break his teeth!
The word shein (tooth) numerically is equal to 350, the gematria of the word seichel, or intellect. The response to the evil son is: abuse your intellect, and lose your intellect. It is one thing to plead ignorance, the Haggadah warns, but it is something altogether different to have intelligence and access to the truth, and yet overlook that truth in the name of human reason. That is not the basis of the idea Tzelem-Elokim.
Furthermore, finishes the Haggadah, it is not the basis of being Jewish either, and it denies the fundamental reason for which God turned history upside down to free our ancestors. Had you been there and had you thought like that, you would not have been redeemed. You would have died with the other four-fifths of the Jewish population that quietly perished in the plague of darkness, because they too had possessed such a “dark” perspective toward Torah and mitzvos.
This is why the Simple Son is paired with the Chacham, and the Aino Yodeah Lishoel—the one who does not know how to ask a question, is usually paired with the Rasha. At least with the simple son, there is humility, and that is a good starting point for learning.
However, very often people don’t bother to consider the possibility of questions because they believe that reality can only be the way they see it. That is not a humble opinion, and very often, it leaves one vulnerable to having to find out the hard way that there is a larger, more all-encompassing reality “out there,” one that supercedes our own. Therefore, like we do to the Rasha, we answer him and say,
“For the sake of this (zeh) God took me out of Egypt ...”That is, to achieve and maintain the level of intellectual clarity associated with zeh Keli v’Anveihu (see Section One, Chapter Seven. In Babba Basra (16b), the zeh of this possuk is used to prove that Eisav denied all of Torah), were we taken out of Egyptian bondage.
“You might have thought from Rosh Chodesh ...”First of all, as the Talmud states:
Anyone who blesses the new moon is like one who has received the Shechina, as it says, “HaChodesh HaZeh ...” (i.e., This month ... Shemos 12:2), and it says over there, “Zeh Ailie v’Anveihu ...” (Shemos 16:2) ... (Sanhedrin 42a)In other words, the Talmud is finding a conceptual connection between Kiddush HaChodesh and revelation, vis-a-vis the usage of the word zeh in both verses. In this sense, the concept of the new month represents the goal of all of Torah and the Jewish nation as a whole.
Why? To begin with, the fact that the mitzvah of sanctifying the New Moon was the first one given to the Jewish people as they prepared to leave Egypt is very significant. For, this informs every Jew throughout history that embodied in the mitzvah of Kiddush HaChodesh is the basic concept of the Jewish nation and the key to Yetzias Mitzrayim.
As the prophet Yishayah teaches, the Jewish nation left Egypt with a mission, a mission that would only begin by receiving the Torah at Mt. Sinai fifty days later. It is mission encapsulated by the time-honored phrase, “a light unto nations.”
What does this mission have to do with the moon?
One of main properties of the moon is that it does not create its own light; rather, it reflects the light of the sun. Even during the blackness of night when the sun can no longer be seen, the moon can still gather in hidden rays and reflect them earthward for mankind to find direction in the darkness of night.
The Jewish people are compared to the moon. Just as the moon waxes and wanes, so too has the Jewish nation cyclically grown and contracted. However, the most important comparison of the Jewish people to the moon is not in terms of its appearance, but rather, in terms of its mission.
Just as the moon reflects the light of the sun, so too are the Jewish people meant to reflect the “light” of God. The “Light unto the Nations” is really a “Reflector” of God’s. It is the Jewish nation’s role to bring the light of Torah to every last corner on earth. To not fulfill this function is to become “eclipsed,” which results in historical darkness, and worse, terrible anti-Semitism.
Hence, it is quite logical and very meaningful that the first mitzvah to be given to the Jewish people should be the sanctification of the new moon once-a-month. What better way is there to remind the Jewish people of the purpose for which they were freed from Mitzrayim? What better way is there to point out to the Jewish people monthly the mission for which they were hand-picked by God, than to have them focus their attention on the new sliver of moon that is fighting to bring light to the darkened sky?
It was the acceptance of this first mitzvah and mission that acted as the spiritual “threshold” across which each Jew in Egypt had to pass to “earn” his or her freedom. The Torah sanctions originality. However, the principles of Torah are fixed—they are axioms of creation, Divine wisdom beyond human reason.
Our job is not to create them, or even recreate them, but to reflect them. Our task is to become committed to understanding them as much as we can, and then perform them to the best of our ability. In this way, the light of Torah becomes increasingly more apparent, and like the moon, reaches a crescendo of light, which, we are promised, will eventually never wane again, as we say during Kiddush Levana:
May it be Your will ... to fill the flaw of the moon, that there be no diminution in it. May the light of the moon be like the light of the sun and like the light of the seven days of creation, as it was, before it was diminished ... (Kiddush Levana)
That the word hallel can also mean “light” is indication enough that Hallel should have a prominent place in the Haggadah and Seder Night. (Pesachim 2a) If anything is going to draw down light, it is going to be Hallel, and this is why it is a part of the tefillos on holidays and Rosh Chodesh.
However, Hallel incorporates another very central idea that is very much related to geulah, as we learn from Adam HaRishon:
He [God] said, “Who told you that you were unclothed? Did you eat from the from the tree that I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman you gave to be with me, she gave to me from the tree, and I ate.” (Bereishis 3:11)Hakores hatov—recognition of good—plays a major role in creation. It is more than just an issue of saying “Thank you” for good received; it is one of recognizing that all of life flows from God, every aspect of it. That’s why Dovid HaMelech was suited to be the primary author of Tehillim, being someone who was able to trace every aspect of his life back to his Creator, which he acknowledges in each tehillah.Here he denied the good—Rashi
Adam’s failure to see the creation of a wife as a “good” thing, one for which he ought to have been grateful regardless of her involvement in the chet, expedited his banishment from Gan Aiden. Had he not denied the good, he would have had no choice but to take the responsibility for what he had done, which would have resulted in the necessary tshuva to stay in the Garden.
Hence, Hallel is a verbalized perspective on life. It is born out of an attitude of serving God with joy, regardless of the existing set of circumstances. When said with the right understanding and intention, it is indicative of one’s connection to the Supernal Light of creation, and thus it is associated with the proclamation of miracles.
The message of Halle is the same as Gum zu l’tova—”This too is for the good,” a statement associated with Nachum Ish Gamzu, who always looked at life and its circumstances—the positive and the negatives ones—as flowing from God, for which he was always grateful. This is why miracles always happened for him, like the following one:
It once occurred that the Jews wanted to send gifts to Caesar’s house. They asked, “Who should go?” and said, “Let Nachum Ish Gum Zu go, since he is well-versed in miracles.” They sent with him a casket full of precious stones and pearls. When he arrived at his Inn for the night, thieves became aware of his treasure and removed all the valuables from the casket, refilling it with earth. In the morning, when Nacham saw what had happened, he said, “This is for the good.” Upon arriving at the Caesar’s palace, the casket was opened, and being found full of earth, the Emperor decided to destroy all the Jews, thinking, “The Jews are mocking me!” Eliyahu appeared disguised as one of the councilors and said, “Perhaps this is of the same earth which Avraham their father had possessed [It is referred to as “aphar (ayin, peh, raish) Avraham,” which shares the same root as the word Paroah, with the exception of the letter ayin coming before the letters peh and raish, as opposed to after them (just like with the word negah and oneg; see, Section One, Chapter Seven).]; when thrown it turned into swords, and the straw turned into arrows.” There was one land they [the Romans] were unable to overcome, so they tried it [the earth] against this land and were victorious. The earth was therefore stored in the treasury, and the casket was filled with precious stones and pearls. (Ta’anis 21a)The obvious question is, had not Nachum relied upon a miracle to save his life and the Jews, something that the Talmud (Shabbos 32a) forbids? The answer is no. For someone connected up to Da’as Elokim, to the da’as of the Fifty Gates of Understanding, nature is miracle and miracle is nature.
In other words, for Nachum, who saw the hand of God clearly in all that occurred, it was natural to invoke a miracle to fulfill the will of God. For anyone else, for whom Divine Providence is not so obvious, and for whom nature is all too real, a decision such as Nachum’s would constitute reliance on miracles.
It was the same for Chanina ben Dosa as well, for whom many miracles occurred as well. One of the most famous is the following:
One Shabbos night, Chanina noticed that his daughter was despondent. Upon asking her what was the matter, she answered, “I mistook the two canisters containing oil and vinegar, and poured the latter in the Shabbos lamp and kindled it.” “My daughter,” he said, “He who ordained that oil should burn can ordain that vinegar should also burn.” We are told that the vinegar in that lamp burned all night and all day, and was even used to light the Havdallah candle. (Ta’anis 25a)What had been bothering Rebi Chanina’s daughter? That she had mistakingly used vinegar for Shabbos candles, and therefore both wasted the vinegar and lost out on the mitzvah of ner shel Shabbos? The Talmud says that, not only had she successfully kindled the vinegar, but that it burned even longer than the oil would have!
Obviously, what had bothered Rebi Chanina’s daughter was that she had relied upon a miracle, and worried about the spiritual effects of doing so. (In fact, the previous account in the Talmud involving Rebi Chanina and his wife did involved such incident, after which Rebi Chanina gave the miracle “back” to avoid losing reward in The World-to-Come.)
If so, then how were her father’s words consolation for her? Rebi Chanina had comforted his daughter by telling her that the only difference between oil and vinegar is that oil ignites consistently, another way of saying, more naturally. But if you understand, said Rebi Chanina to his distraught daughter, that consistency is merely a way that God camouflages His hand, and that nature is merely a consistent miracles, then it will not interfere with your desire to fulfill the will of God, nor it will such miracles cost you in The World-to-Come.
After all, was this not the message of Chanukah, during which the complete Hallel is recited all eight days? [The difference between the complete Hallel, or Great Hallel, and the Half Hallel, is eleven possukim!] Was it any less of a miracle that one-day’s worth of oil burned for seven extra days, than it was that vinegar burned like oil? Interestingly enough, both Chanina and Chanukah share the same root: ches, noon. In fact, the Talmud states that:
Anyone who sees the names Chanina , Chananyah, or Yochanan in a dream is assured that many miracles will happen for him. (Brochos 57a)The root word of each being the word chayn.
Even in the name Nachum is the word chayn, in reverse. But then again, chayn in reverse spells noach, and it was because Noach found “chayn in the eyes of God” that he survived the Great Flood. In fact, chayn is the “mirror” image of the noach, which is what Noach saw when he looked at himself in the “eyes” of God:
which he used as a mirror to reflect his inner essence, his Neshama, his inner light—his hallel.
What a fitting way to end the Haggadah and the journey to freedom. In a real sense, the Hallel on Seder Night is the climax of week’s of preparation that began on Purim. It is the emanation of an Inner Light that began on High and was channeled through the Bar da’as—the Jew who fashioned himself into a conduit for Da’as Elokim, for the da’as of Nun Sha’arei Binah.
Hallel, like Shira, is the song of the soul. It is the result of the body being elevated the vision of the soul, to a revelation of God so pristine and breathtaking that it has not choice but to step back in awe, and with gaping mouth, give way to the symphony of a soul united with its Creator.
It is also a level associated with the unity of k’ish echad b’leiv echad that, as we have already established, flows from the Fifty Gates of Understanding. This is also alluded to in the Incense-Offering, a symbol of da’as, which teaches us that the unity of the Jewish nation is so central to the clarity of tshuva that even transgressors must be included in the prayer service on Public Fast Days. (Krisos 6b)
Hakores hatov, therefore, is an outer manifestation of such an inner level of steadfastness to truth, which, ultimately is the source of Malchus itself:
“Yehudah, your brothers will praise you ... ” (Bereishis 49:8)This was Dovid HaMelech’s ancestoral trait, which made him the perfect extension of God’s hand in This World and in the affairs of man and author of Hallel. For this reason, he may have been the “cornerstone that the builders rejected,” but he was God’s true anointed, and source of Moshiach—the king who will herald the final redemption for which we have waited until this very day.Because you admitted about what happened with Tamar, your brothers will concede to you. (Targum Yonason)