Climbing the Fifteen Steps of the Seder 1-3

The Fifteen Steps of the Pesach Seder serve as the framework for our fulfillment of the mitzvah to tell the story of our exodus from Egypt. They have been compared to the 15 Steps leading up to the Beis Hamikdash in that both sets of stairs are used to bring us to a greater level of unity with Hashem. The haggadah has been called the most commented upon work of liturgy. Commentary on the haggadah serves many purposes: it broadens our understanding of the mitzvos of the night; it brings greater appreciation for the miracles Hashem performed for us; and it makes the Seder night and all of Pesach more relevant to us. Join us as we climb the fifteen steps together by presenting a short vort/dvar torah by different bloggers/commenters. Commenters are invited to share their own vort on the particular steps being discussed in the comment thread of that post. Let’s Climb.

Step 1 Kadesh
The Making of Kiddush

To be mekadesh something is to sanctify it. More precisely to be mekadesh something is to set it aside for holiness. If someone were to be makdish something to the Beis Hamikdash, that means that they have set it aside solely for that holy purpose and nothing else. When we make Kiddush we sanctify the day and set it aside as something holy. The cup of wine used for Kiddush is the first of the four cups we are obligated to drink at the seder. It is well know that the four cups correspond to the four different expressions of redemption that Hashem uses. The first one, corresponding to the first cup-the cup of Kiddush-, is V’Hotzesee I will take you out. Hashem took us out from amongst the Egyptians “goy mi’kerev goy” a nation from the midst of another nation. Hashem separated the Bnei Yisrael out from the Mitzrim and set us aside as something holy. With this understanding, we can see how the cup of Kiddush is clearly related to the first expression of redemption.

Step 2 – U’Rechatz
The First Washing of the Hands.

It has always struck me as interesting that of all of the Fifteen Steps, U’Rechatz is the only one that is preceded by the letter vav, meaning “and”. It is as if the Hagaddah is telling us Make Kiddush ~and~ Wash! This indicates an imperative to hasten the washing as well as a connection between the Kiddush and the washing. That connection seems strange since we generally understand that the washing is connected to the Karpas-Dipping and Eating of the (Green) Vegetable- since it is necessary to wash one’s hands before handling a wet vegetable. How are the Kiddush and the washing connected?

We mentioned above that Kiddush sets aside the day as something holy and that it corresponds to Hashem’s setting the Jewish nation aside as something holy. Once we have made that declaration of Kiddush, we must quickly take our words and put them into action. As such, we take the immediate step of making a purifying washing of the hands. The desire to be holy is a very important level but it is not enough, we must also take steps to make ourselves holy. Our hands symbolize action, they are the conduit by which we translate our ~will~ to be holy into holy ~acts~. That is why it is important to link Kiddush directly to the washing.

Step 3 -Karpas
The Dipping and Eating of the (Green) Vegetable

We have just discussed the connection between two different steps of the seder: Kadesh and U’rechatz. Let’s take a look at the relationship between two other steps-the dipping of the karpas in Step Three and the dipping of the maror in the Ninth Step. These two dippings are mentioned together in the Four Questions when it states “on this night we dip two times.”

One of the literary techniques that chazal built into the hagaddah is the theme of “depths to heights.” That is, that in order to fully understand and appreciate the exodus and the spiritual heights that Hashem brought us to, we must first understand the depths from which we came. This theme is clearly exhibited in the haggadah when we state that our forefathers were originally idol worshippers.

The two dippings correlate in this regard as well. The first dipping is reminiscent of the dipping of Yosef’s coat into blood by his brothers in order to convince Yaakov, their father, that Yosef had been killed by an animal. In reality, the brothers had sold Yosef and he was eventually brought down to Egypt thereby beginning the story of our eventual enslavement. That is the depths.

The second dipping is reminiscent of the dipping of the grass bundle into the blood in order to paint the bloof upon the doorposts whereby we merited to be redeemed from Egypt. That is the heights.

This dichotomy of using the same act to indicate two seemingly opposite themes, freedom and slavery, parallels the symbolism of the matzah which represents both “the bread of affliction” and “the taste of freedom”.

3 comments on “Climbing the Fifteen Steps of the Seder 1-3

  1. One of the toughest lines to understand is the seemingly harsh rebuke given to the so-called “evil son.” Perhaps, we should understand that the “evil son”is so designated because he lives his life by himself away from the community and does not identify with its travails ( see Rambam Hilcos Teshuvah 3:11). This lack of identification with the community causes him to lose his portion in the World to Come.

    There is a minhag recorded by the Rema to review the Haggadah on Shabbos HaGadol. Yet, the Gra disaggreed because the Haggadah and Sipue Yetzias Mitzrayim can only be recited when the matzah and maror are physically present. Therefore, the Gra did not recite the Haggadah on Shabbos HaGadol.

    Rav and Shmuel seem to have a fundamental dispute over which element to emphasize in Magid. Therefore, we emphasize both the spiritual and the phsyical liberation from Egypt. We seem to parenthetically mention Esau and his destiny. That is because Chazal observed ( Megillah 6a) the destiny of Klal Yisrael and Esau are seemingly interdependent

    We then spend a lot of emphasis on explaining a Parsha that a farmer recited when he brought his bikurikm ( first fruits) to the Beis HaMikdash. First of all,one of the key elements of Torah Judaism is saying thank you. This parsha is completely deedicated to it and fits that element of Sipur Yitzias Mitzaryim that the Chinuch ( Mitzvah 21) identifies.

    It is interesting to note that Chazal use “Mlamed” and “kmo Shenammar”. These are two distinctly different kinds of interpretation. Mlamed means that we derive the meaning from the verse and context itself ( Vayagr Sham). Shennamar requires us to use Chazal’s means of interpretation to reveal the meaning.Here are a few cases in point:

    1)Klal Yisrael became a great and recognizable nation. They never discarded their language, clothing or means of identity. Greatness
    means distinct as in the case of R Chaim ZTL and his derech for learning or the Chafetz Chaim and his leadership. Despite the fact that they lived in a morally decadent country, they never sank to its depths. So why did HaShem place us in such a decadent country?

    Mitzrayim was the cultural and intellectual capital of the ancient world,as indicated in many verses in Tanach. It is symbolic of every locale of Galus in that Klal Yisrael was exiled to similarly gifted societies such as Spain and Germany. Yet, such societies showed their true ‘cultural and intellectual levels” in implementing anti Semitic decrees that still shock any reasonable student of these eras.

    It is inteesting to note the verse in Shmos 2:11. “And it was in those days that Moses grew and saw his brethrem and he saw and Egyptian man beating a Hebrew slave,one of his brothers. In Shmos 2:12, the verse reads ” And he turned here and here and he saw that there was no other man there and he smote the Eygptian and he hid him in the sand.” These verses require very careful inquiry. In the beginning, Moshe viewed the Egyptian as an “Egyptian man” . When he kills him, the same person is described as an Egyptian without the word “man.” We see that the verse is telling us that the “Egyptian man” was important, schooled in culture , etc yet, when Moshe watched his actions closely vis a vis the Jews, he saw a two legged monster. HaShem revealed to the Jewish People that such behavior is the province of a nation that never tasted the taste of Torah.

    There is a fundamental of Torah to be derived from this. We must know and believe that HaShem chose us from all of the nations of the world and gave us His Torah and separated us for our pwn good. If one opens the mouth of a Gentile ( obviously not a Ger Tzedek) one will not find anything, as opposed to even the simplest of Jews who have Shma Yisrael,a Mishnah in Avos or a statement of Chazal engraved on their heart. That is what it means to be a great nation-They wenty thru Egypt and the iron hot furnace and emerged there despite the persecutions as the Chosen People and a Kingdom of Priests.

    “Gadlus” means spiritualk greatness in terms of Torah , Tefillah and Chesed.

    As I stated above, I will be adding other posts on the Haggadah.

  2. It’s hard to believe it but we have less than two(2) weeks to go. Anyone from the Five Towns here? Your Brach’s store is awesome.

    Anyway, let me reverse from Tzafun back to Magid. As we all know the Haggadah is loaded with fundamentals of our emunah. The Baalei Chasidus point out that Pesach means “Pe sach” or that the mouth enunciates these fundamentals. I will post a number of ideas that I have seen and heard both in terms of halacha and hashkafa and which I hope make your Sedarim more fulfilling. Many of these ideas I have seen in the shiurim of RYBS that have been printed, in a sefer called Hareri Kedem by R M shurkin ( especially Vol. II, Chapter 103, pp 209-230), the newly published Festival of Freedom as well as some ideas from Mori uRabi RHS.

    One of the overriding principles is that the night of the Seder is to be spent in Talmud Torah using the educational format developed by Chazal.We employ Drsuh, Halacha, Medrash and visual demonstrations of the mitzvos.

    Almost at the very beginning, we encounter some of the Gdolei HaTannaim of our people learning. This shows us immediately that the night is supposed to be spent in Talmud Torah. We note that these Tannaim were learning all night long. RYBS pointed out that one can read this passage as indicating two different ideas-learning the halachos all night long which is a distinct idea from discussing the Exodus which is limited in duration until midnight.

    Moshe Rabbeinu is mentioned once in the sense of a verse brought as a proof-text. Otherwise, Moshe plays no role in the Seder. Think about it this way. Moshe’s primary roles are that of a shliach ( messenger) and as Rebbe ( our teacher). However, the redemption from Egypt was accomplished by HaShem.We cannot say Moshe Goalenu ( our redeemer) because that would bee blashepmy and usurpation of HaShem’s role, Chas VeShalom.Moshe’s role is reaerved for Shavuous as the transmitter of the Torah from HaShem, the eternal educational model for all of us.

    We announce that anyone who is hungry may join our meal.This reminds us of the special din of Txedaka that is the first chapter in Hilcos Pesach. Only a free person has the aility to invite others to a meal.We remember that it was better to offer and eat the Karban Pesach in a group setting than by ourselves

    We state that we were slaves-but only in the physical sense. We were never totally slaves to the moral cesspool of Egypt. Let’s assume that Pharoah had somehow freed us out of some humanitarian motive. If that had occurred, we would still be slaves because we would be grateful to him, as opposed to HaShem.

    All night long, we emphasize that we are obligated to recount the exodus from Egypt. Our texts do not say “al” ( about) or “es” . No!-We must use all of our might to explain every aspect as best as possible that we see ourselves leaving and that we internalize it as much as possible.

    Let’s return to the discussion between the Tannaim. We see that this discussion is not limited just to a family setting. Rather, it is a discussion designed to develope new insights for which there is no outer limit.

    Before we proceed any further, we remember that Torah study requires a Birchas HaTorah. Why do say HaMakom in this bracha? We say HaMakom to remind us that HaShem is present throughout and inhabits this world-even in Galus . We also underscore the fact that HaShem gave the Torah to Klal Yisrael as a unified entity, even and especially those of use who are on a very simple spiritual level.

    We discuss four sons, who represent four different educational models. The Chacham learns every halacha in Hilcos Pesach because we emphasize that Talmud Torah is the most important way of drawing close to HaShem.

    I will be adding some additional ideas as the week progresses.

  3. The Netziv points out that men wear a Kittel and that we go thru Karpas to remind us of the fact that Moshe Rabbeinu wore a white garment during the Seven Days of Miliuim and of many halachos that were practiced during the time of the Beis HaMikdash such as tummah and taharah with respect to food.

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