Beginners Guide to the Passover Seder

The purpose of this guide is to highlight the structure, Mitzvos and some insights to the Passover Seder. The halachos and measurements were mostly culled from the Kol Dodi Haggadah by Rabbi David Feinstein.

Mitzvos of the night
Biblical Mitzvos are mitzvos that are found in the Torah (five books of Moses)
Rabbinic Mitzvos are mitzvos that our Sages enacted. There is a Biblical Mitzvoh that the Rabbis can enact Rabbinic Mitzvos and we follow them just as if they were Biblical Mitzvos

In the times of the Talmud and before (before the year 500 C.E), there was a Sanhedrin composed of 70 of the leading Rabbis of the time. Every Rabbi had to be ordained by a Rabbi who had been previously ordained with the chain going back to Moses and the giving of the Torah by G-d at Mount Sinai. To be ordained, the Rabbi had to know all the laws of the Torah. After the period of the Talmud, this ordination process ended, mostly due to the dispersion and persecution of the Jewish People.

The Biblical Mitzvos on Passover are:
— Eating Matzah – “In the evening you shall eat unleavened bread”.
— Relating the Story of the Exodus from Egypt – “And you should relate to your son (the story of Pesach) on this day”.

The Rabbinic Mitzvos on Passover are:
— Drinking four cups of wine
— Eating Bitter Herbs
— Reciting the Hallel – Songs of Praise

Seder Plate
— Three Matzahs – two normally required for Yom Tov and Shabbos in remembrance of the two portions of Manna that fell before Yom Tovim and Shabbosim in the wilderness. The Middle Matzah is for the Biblical Commandment of Eating Matzah.
— Karpas – Dipping foods and the eating of greens before a meal was the sign of wealthy men in the past. Another reason we eat it tonight is that it is not a normal procedure and children will notice the difference and ask questions.
— Maror – Two types. Romaine Lettuce and Horseradish; Romaine Lettuce – bitter taste symbolizes our bondage in Egypt. The Romaine lettuce initially tastes sweet and then turns bitter like the life of our forefathers in Egypt who were first paid workers and then oppressed slaves. Horseradish – sharp taste symbolizes our bondage in Egypt. When we eat the Maror (by itself and in a sandwich) you can use either one.
— Charoses – symbolizes mortar used to make bricks. Also counteracts the taste of the Maror.
— Shankbone – recalls the Pesach Offering. The Pesach Offering was in remembrance of the lamb that was put aside and then eaten on the night of Passover. In the times of the Temples, a major part of the holiday was the eating of the Pesach Offering. Since the destruction of the Second Temple, we no longer bring offerings and the Shankbone represents the Pesach Offering but is not eaten at the Seder.
— Egg – recalls the Festival Offering. On all Festivals there would be a special offering. As mentioned above, since the destruction of the Second Temple we no longer make offerings so the egg represents the Festival Offering. The egg was chosen since it is a mourner’s food and symbolizes our mourning for the Temple and our inability to offer the Pesach and Festival Offerings.

Reclining
We are required to act as if we ourselves had just been freed from Egyptian Bondage. Therefore, when we dine on the night of Passover, we eat and drink while leaning – in the manner of free men and royalty. We lean when we drink the four cups, eat Karpas, and eat Matzah. Women don’t lean since it was not the practice for most women to lean while eating.
Four Cups of Wine
Symbolizes the 4 terms of redemption mentioned in Torah.
— 1st Cup – Kiddush -I will take you out from the burdens of Egypt.
— 2nd Cup – over the Story -I will save you from their servitude.
— 3rd Cup – over Grace after meals -I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments.
— 4th Cup – over Psalms of Praise -I will take you for Me for a people.
We drink at least 1.7 ounces while leaning to left (women don’t recline). Beverage preference; wine, wine with grape juice, wine with water, grape juice, grape juice with water, raisin wine. People should pour the cups for each other to feel like royalty. We drink it in less than 9 minutes, preferably within 2 minutes.

*The first cup of wine is poured.

1) Kaddesh – Sanctify the day with the recitation of Kiddush.
Leader of the Seder recites Brocha over Wine, Brocha over Kiddush and a Brocha thanking G-d for bringing us to this time.
Boruch Atoh Ado-noy Elo-haynu Melech Ho-olom Boray P’ri Ha-Gofen.
Blessed Are You Hashem, Our G-d, King of the Universe, who creates the fruit of the vine.
Kiddush Brocha – See the Hagaddah
Boruch Atoh Ado-noy Elo-haynu Melech Ho-olom Shehecheyonu V’kiymonu V’higi-onu Lazman Hazeh
Blessed Are You Hashem, Our G-d, King of the Universe, who has kept us alive, sustained us and brought us to this time (season).
* Everyone answers – Amen. Do not talk until you drink at least a half a cup.
* Everyone drinks first cup of wine; men lean to the left.
This is the cup of wine over the mitzvah of reciting Kiddush.

2) Urechatz, – Wash the hands before eating Karpas.
In the times of the Temple, when people were able to observe the laws of spiritual purity in full they washed before eating a vegetable dipped in a liquid that is still moist to wash away spiritual impurity. According to many opinions in our times, we don’t do this since we are unable to reach this level of purity. At the Seder, we wash because it reminds of the times of the Temple and it expresses the hope that we will soon be required to follow it again, with the coming of Mashiach. It also represents a royal custom in keeping with the special dignity with which we dine tonight. It also arouses the curiosity of the children so they should ask questions.
*Pour water over right hand twice and then over left hand twice. Do not make a Brocha. Dry your hands.

3) Karpas – Eat a vegetable dipped in salt water.
In olden days, banquets were started with such appetizers. The custom was preserved to make the children ask questions and to serve as a sign of freedom.
The dipping of the food is also a sign of comfort and indulgence.
The salt water represents the tears of the Jewish People in their suffering.
The vegetable is dipped in salt water and everyone takes a piece. (Don’t eat it yet.)
*The leader says the Brocha or you can make your own Brocha:
This Brocha is intended to also include the Maror that we will eat later and the person making the Brocha should have that in mind when making the Brocha.
Boruch Atoh Ado-noy Elo-haynu Melech Ho-olom Boray P’ri Ho-adomah
Blessed Are You Hashem, Our G-d, King of the Universe, who creates fruits of the earth.
*Everyone eats the green vegetable. Eat a small amount so that there is no requirement to say an after Brocha.

4) Yachatz. – Break the middle Matzah. Put away larger half for Afikoman.
We are about to recite the story of our Exodus and the Torah tells us to do this when Matzah is before us. The Matzah is often referred to as the bread of poverty and affliction and a poor man does not feast over a whole loaf since he is never sure he will have food for the next meal.
We hide the Afikoman to insure that it will not be mixed up with the other Matzahs and inadvertently eaten and not to shame it, so to speak, since it will not be eaten till the end of the meal.
Hiding it keeps the children awake by encouraging them to try and steal it.
The leader breaks the middle Matzah and puts away the larger half for the Afikoman.

5) Maggid – Tell the story of the Exodus from Egypt.
The central mitzvah of the night is telling about the Exodus from Egypt.
We are supposed to remember the Exodus from Egypt everyday, but at the Seder we must tell the full story from bondage to deliverance, in the form of question and answer with as much elaboration as possible.
Bread of Affliction – Draws attention to the bread of poverty over which the Hagadah is to be told.
This paragraph does not appear in the earliest sources but was composed after the destruction of the Second Temple. In exile, we can not fulfill the Torah commandments of Pesach and Maror so that Matzah is left as the preeminent obligation of the evening. But Matzah is special since it symbolizes both freedom and bondage, with the hasty departure of our forefathers from Egypt, it became a symbol of freedom. Originally, however it was their food when they were slaves and therefore it is a symbol of bondage. We stress the bondage aspect of the Matzah at this point so that it will trigger the recollection of the events in Egypt, and help us to project ourselves into the situation of our forefathers so that we can better feel the relief and joy of deliverance. This is the goal of the Seder, to fell like we personally were redeemed from Egypt.

*Second Cup of Wine is poured to stimulate the asking of questions.

*Four Questions are asked by youngest child, if there are no children an adult asks, if a person is alone he asks the questions to himself. Only someone who is bothered by a question is really interested in the answer. We are particularly eager to pass on the message of Pesach because the assurance of our national continuity lies within this passing on from one generation to the next.
There are four questions, two about Biblical commands (Matzah and Maror) and two about Rabbinic commands (dipping and reclining) to show the equal validity of both types of commands. Another reason for these four questions is to highlight the paradox of the evening in that it reflects both a sense of enslavement (Matzah, saltwater, Moror and Charoses) and freedom (beautiful table selling, while kittel. wine, reclining and dipping).

According to the Malbim the structure of the narrative portion of the Haggadah is based on the verse in the Torah from which the obligation to tell the story is derived:
And you shall relate to your child on that day, saying “It is because of this that Hashem acted for me when 1 came forth out of Egypt.”

This source verse is broken up into six parts corresponding to the six sections of the story in the Haggadah.
— And you shall relate to your child
— on that day
— saying
— It is because of this
— Hashem acted for me
— when I came forth out of Egypt.

And you shall relate to your child…The first eight paragraphs correspond to this verse and teach us about this obligation to tell the story
— “We were enslaved unto Pharaoh and G-d freed us”– tells us we should relate this to our children who would also still be enslaved had G-d not taken us out.
— “It once happened that Rabbi Eliezar..” –shows that our greatest sages told the story, since the main function is to recount it for our children.
— “Rabbi Elazar, son of Azaryah, said…” –shows the duty to do so at all times.
— “Praised be the Ever-Present, praised be He…” –shows how every type of child is to be instructed at the Seder.
— “What does the wise son say…” –shows how to teach the wise son
— “What does the wicked son say…” –shows how to teach the wicked son
— “What does the naive son say….” –shows how to teach the naive son
— “And regarding the one who does not know how to ask a question…” –shows how to teach the son who can’t ask a question

–“on that Day…” –The next paragraph tells us when the obligation to tell the story applies
— “One might think that the obligation to talk…” –explains when the special duty applies.

–“saying…” — The next paragraphs contain the actual saying of the story of the Exodus
— “In the beginning our fathers were worshippers of idols…” –shows the deeper roots of the exile and the Exodus as the way to spiritual redemption.
— “Blessed is he who keeps His promise…” –shows that G-d kept His promise to Abraham that we will be enslaved and redeemed
— “It has stood firm…in every generation there are those who rise against us..” –shows that G-d continually redeems us
— “Go and ascertain what Lavan the Aramite intended to do…” –describes the beginning of the Exodus when Jacob went down to Egypt
— “And he went down…And he sojourned there…With few people…And he became there a nation…” –Great, mighty…And formidable…describes how we became a great nation in Egypt
— “And the Egyptians made evil of us…” –And the tormented us…And laid hard labor upon us…describes how the Egyptians enslaved us
— “And we cried out unto G-d… And G-d heard us…And He saw our distress… And our travail… And our oppression…” — describes how G-d heard our pleas
— “And G-d took us out of Egypt…With a strong hand…And with and outstretched arm…And with great terror…And with signs…And with wonders…” –describes how G-d redeemed us
— “Blood, and fire and smoke…An alternative explanation…These are the ten plagues…Rabbi Yosi the Galiliean says…Rabbi Eliezer says…Rabbi Akiva says…” –describes the miracles and wonders G-d did for us during the redemption
— ‘How indebted are we…How multiple, then is our debt to G-d…” –describes additional accounts of G-d’s benevolence which were not yet mentioned

–“It is because of this…” –can be read this is because of…Rabban Gamliel reads it this way…this refers to Pesach, Matzah and Maror
— “Rabban Gamliel used to say…” –explains the concrete Mitzvos ordained for the Seder: Pesach, Matzah and Maror.
— Pesach… Matzah…Maror…explains the reason for these Mitzvos

–“Hashem acted for me…” –The next paragraphs describe how we should consider it as if Hashem took us out of Egypt
— “In every generation, one is obliged to regard himself…” –emphasizes that, in celebrating the Seder, we must see ourselves as having gone out from Egypt.

–“when 1 came forth out of Egypt.” — The next paragraphs are the introduction and recitation of Hallel songs of praise, similar to the songs of praise that were recited when we left Egypt.
–“Therefore it is our duty to thank, praise…” — since Hashem took us out from Egypt, we praise Hashem for his kindness ending the Haggadah with a Bracha.
–“Praise G-d…” — When Israel went out of Egypt…is the beginning of Hallel which describe the going out from Egypt

This is the first part of Hallel, which are Psalms of Praise, and declarations of our faith in Hashem.
We will say the second part of Hallel after the Seder. Hallel is not normally said at night. It is normally said in the Morning Prayer service on Yom Tovim and Rosh Chodeshim (the first of the Jewish Months). Daylight is normally the time when we see G-d’s kindness in action and sing His praises. Night usually stands for trepidation and calls for faith rather than jubilation. The night of Pesach is different from all other nights of the year. In the 132nd Psalm it says that on Pesach G-d ‘lit up the night like the day’ through his great self-revelation (with the last plague and our redemption) so it is appropriate that we should say Hallel at night
The first part of Hallel deals with the deliverance from Egypt and therefore belongs to the part of the Seder preceding the meal.
The second part looks ahead to the Days of the Messiah and our ultimate redemption, which is the theme of the Seder after the meal.
Also, by bracketing the Seder meal between hymns of praise of G-d, we mark it as a Divine service, rather than an ordinary supper.

*Leader of Seder recites blessing of Boray Pri Hagofen.
Boruch Atoh Ado-noy Elo-haynu Melech Ho-olom Boray P’ri Ha-Gofen.
*Everyone answers – Amen. Do not talk until you drink at least a half a cup.
*Everyone drinks the second cup of wine, men leaning to the left.
*This is the cup of wine over the mitzvah of telling over the Haggadah.

6) Rachtzah – Wash the hands prior to the meal.
Whenever we eat bread (or Matzah) at a meal we wash our hands.
*We wash by pouring twice over the right hand and then twice over the left hand.
*Before we dry our hands we say the Brocha, then we dry our hands.
Boruch Atoh Ado-noy Elo-haynu Melcch Ho-olom Asher Kidshonu B’mitzvosov V’tzivonu Al N’tilas Yodoyim.
Blessed Are You Hashem, Our G-d, King of the Universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments, and has commanded us concerning the washing of hands.
*We do not talk until we eat the Matzah.

7) Motzi – Recite the blessing, Who brings forth, over Matzah as a food.
Before we eat any food we say a Brocha, but before we eat bread (or Matzah) at a meal we say the Brocha ‘Hamotzi’ which covers all foods we will eat at the meal.
At meals on Shabbos and Yom Tovim (Holidays) we always use two loaves of bread (or Matzah) to commemorate the double portion of Mannah that fell before Shabbosim and Yom Tovim when the Jews were in the Wilderness.
The stringent amount of Matzah is a piece measuring about 6” by 7” (2/3rds of a round Matzah). The lenient measurement is 4” by 7”. Measure out the proper amounts for all participants at this point.
*The leader of the Seder says the Brocha while holding the two Matzahs and the broken Matzah between them.
Boruch Atoh Ado-noy Elo-haynu Melech Hamotzi Lechem Min Ho-oretz.
Blessed Are You Hashem, Our G-d, King of the Universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.
*Everyone answers – Amen. Do not talk until you finish eating the Matzah. Do not start eating until the Matzah brocha.

8) Matzah – Recite the blessing and Eat the Matzah.
The Matzah represents both our bondage (bread of poverty) and our freedom (hasty departure from Egypt). We say an additional Brocha over the Mitzvoh on this night to eat Matzah.
*The leader of the Seder says the Brocha while holding the upper Matzah and the broken Matzah.
Boruch Atoh Ado-noy Elo-haynu Melech Ho-olom Asher Kidshonu B’mitzvosov Vtzivonu Al Achilas Matzah.
Blessed Are You Hashem, Our G-d, King of the Universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments, and has commanded us concerning the eating of Matzah.
*Everyone answers – Amen. Do not talk until you finish eating the Matzah.
Everyone eats the required amount of Matzah, men lean to the left. Take a piece from the upper two Matzahs.

9) Maror – The Maror is dipped in Charoscs and eaten.
The Maror represents the bitterness of our enslavement. The charoses represents the mortar with which we built bricks. The Maror is dipped in charoses but the majority is shaken off so as not to mask the taste of the Maror.
The amount of Romaine Lettuce required for this eating is an 8” by 10” piece if you are eating the full leaf and 3” by 5” if only eating the stalks. If using Horseradish, the amount is 1 ounce of a grated Horseradish, equal to a full plastic shot glass.
*The leader says the Brocha or you can make your own Brocha:
This Brocha is intended to include the Maror that we will eat in a sandwich.
Boruch Atoh Ado-noy Elo-haynu Melech Ho-olom Asher Kidshonu B’mitzvosov Vtzivonu Al Achilas Maror.
Blessed Are You Hashem, Our G-d, King of the Universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments, and has commanded us concerning the eating of Maror.
* Everyone eats the Maror dipped in Charoses. Do not lean for this Mitzvah since the Maror symbolizes bondage and not freedom

10) Korech – Eat the sandwich of Matzah and Maror.
The reason we eat the sandwich is because the great sage Hillel (Who said: ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’) took the view that the Pesach offering, Matzah and Maror must be eaten in a sandwich rather than separately. The rest of the Sages ruled otherwise but the Talmud, which was written after the destruction of the Temple, does not rule on who we follow. This is because after the destruction of the Temple, the Pesach Offering was no longer made and the Maror is now a Rabbinic command instead of a Biblical command. Matzah is still a Biblical command. To preserve a reminder of Hillel’s practice during Temple times we eat Matzah and Maror together even though we already ate them separately.
The amount of Matzah for this eating is a piece measuring about 4” by 7”. The amount of Romaine Lettuce required for this eating is an 8” by 10” piece if you are eating the full leaf and 3” by 5” if only eating the stalks. If using Horseradish, the amount is 1 ounce of a grated Horseradish, equal to a full plastic shot glass. Measure out the amounts and include a piece from the bottom Matzah
We will use part of the bottom Matzah for this Mitzvah. The Maror is dipped in charoses but the majority is shaken off.
*The leader (or everyone) recites the paragraph- In remembrance of the Temple…
*Everyone eats the sandwich of Matzah and Maror; men lean to the left.

11) Shulchan Orech – The Festival meal is served.
*Everyone eats the Festival Meal.
It is a custom to start with a hard boiled egg because it is a symbol of mourning. It has no opening or mouth, just as a mourner is struck silent by his fate; at the same time it offers encouragement: it signifies the turning of the wheel of destiny which hopefully will bring joy instead of sadness. The absence of the Pesach Offering evokes a sense of mourning for the destroyed Temple, which hopefully will be rebuilt in our time. Roasted meat is not served, since the Pesach Offering was roasted.
The meal must end by Halachic Midnight in time for the Afikoman. One should not overeat. We must have some appetite leftover for the Afikoman.

12) Tzafun – Eat the Afikoman which had been hidden all during the Seder.
There are two opinions about the Afikoman. One is that it is a memorial to the Pesach Offering which was eaten at the end of the meal. The other view is that the Afikoman represents the Matzah that was eaten with the Pesach offering and it is this Matzah which represents the actual Mitzvah of eating Matzah.
The eating of the Afikoman completes the eating of the Middle Matzah which represents the “Bread of Affliction” and therefore symbolizes our ultimate redemption from all affliction and oppression. This in effect introduces the second part of the Seder which is dedicated to the redemption to come, that of Mashiach.
The stringent amount of Matzah for this Mitzvah is a piece measuring about 6” by 7” (2/3rds of a round Matzah). The lenient measurement is 4” by 7”. Measure out the proper amounts for all participants at this point.
*Everyone eats the Afikoman; men lean to the left.
We don’t eat after the Afikoman except for water, tea, or the like.

*Third Cup of Wine is poured.

13) Barech – Recite Birchas Hamazon, the blessings after the meal.
It is a Biblical commandment to give thanks to G-d after we eat a meal. There are several blessings, the first is thanks to G-d for giving food to all and was composed by Moses; the second is for the gift of land and was composed by Joshua; the third is to Jerusalem and Israel which gives the land special goodness and was composed by Kings David and Solomon. The text of the third was changed after the destruction of the Temple. The Sages added a fourth blessing when the Romans permitted the burial of the victims of the Bar Kochba rebellion in the third century. It teaches us to be grateful, even in bitter times and for favors that might not evoke rejoicing.
*Everyone should read the Blessings out loud in a low voice.
*Leader of Seder recites blessing of Boray Pri Hagofen.
Boruch Atoh Ado-noy Elo-haynu Melech Ho-olom Boray P’ri Ha-Gofen.
*Everyone answers – Amen.
Do not talk until you drink at least a half a cup.
*Everyone drinks third cup of wine; men lean to the left. This is the cup of wine over the Birchas Hamazon.

*Fourth Cup of Wine is poured. The extra cup for Elijah is poured.

14) Hallel – Recite the Hallel – Psalms of praise and declarations of our faith in Hashem
As mentioned above (at the end of Maggid) we now recite the second part of Hallel. This part of Hallel deals with our ultimate redemption with the coming of Moshiach.
*Everyone recites Hallel out loud. At the part “Thank Hashem for He is good” we recite it responsively. At the part of “Hashem save Us”… we recite it responsively.
*Leader of Seder recites blessing of Boray Pri Hagofen. Boruch Atoh Ado-noy Elo-haynu Melech Ho-olom Boray P’ri Ha-Gofen.
*Everyone answers – Amen. Do not talk until you drink at least a half a cup.
*Everyone drinks fourth cup of wine; men lean to the left.
This is the cup of wine over the Hallel.

15) Nirtzah – Pray that G-d Accept our observance and speedily send the Messiah.
We ask G-d, that just as we were worthy to perform the Pesach service this year so may we be worthy to perform it in the future.

Sing the songs of the Seder.

Gebroks or Non-Gebroks…That is the Question

Being kosher seemed like a good way to be a true Jew, so I called the local Chabad House, and a nice man came and did the job. He finished, turned to go, and I asked him what I was allowed to eat. He sketched out the basic symbols and wrote “cholev yisroel” and “pas yisroel” on the bottom. I had no clue what they meant, but na’asai v’nishma: knowing nothing, I was machmir to only buy products listing those words.

Then Pesach approached. I called the same friendly man who told me to only buy things that said “non-gebroks.” End of conversation.

Thus began my Pesach minhag.

Although less naive about minhagim, my husband’s approach is always, when in doubt, you can’t go wrong by following the strictest guidelines.

Living in Monsey, it’s no problem being cholev yisroel. But gebroks gets us down year after year after year.

Pesach is the most resonant Yom Tov for most of us. I grew up gleefully eating on Yom Kippur, oblivious to Shabbos, but with a strangely nostalgic attitude about Pesach. We always had some facsimile of a seder. In speedy English and occasional bouts of broken Yiddish, my father attempted to imitate his father’s seder, while the kids snuck more and more Manishewitz. I didn’t really “chup” the point of this strange ritual. What lasted and lasted in my memory was the matzoh meal pancakes.

What an utter disappointment to make teshuva and resurrect Passover, and then find that the totem of my memory was taboo on the Yom Tov itself!

The concept of minhagim is an uncomfortable one for a BT. We all have them, but they were buried in the generation(s) of assimilation. Who knew what would be lost back when my great-grandfathers davened next to the FFBs’ great-grandfathers in the shtetl shul? Who knew that I would be only one out of dozens of my ancestors’ progeny who would regret history, and devote her life to piecing back together the broken line?

What of our history is “kosher”? Yes, I grew up eating gebroks, but I also grew up eating BLTs and dating non-Jews, practices that I am most definitely not going to pass down to my children.

How can BTs sort out our legitimate fossils? Knowing that my grandparents emigrated from there, is it okay to research Lithuanian Jewry and then adopt the customs of those frum Jews? How much has survived in my DNA? Is it because I’m a “yekkie” that I’m on time, or because I grew up inculcated with the Protestant Work Ethic?

Does aping the actions of mentors or emulating the habits of sages create a meaningful tradition? What about when there are several legitimate practices? Why do I have to tough out the “minor” fast days–my FFB female friends eat or only fast half the day, just like their mothers did. Must we also shun garlic on Pesach because two centuries ago it was transported alongside grain, and so it became some families’ practice not to use it? At what age should I put away the bobby socks and hold my pre-schooler up to the tznius standards of the big girls? How do we answer with conviction when our kids ask which way our family holds?

It’s kind of scary: at what point does twisting open the soda bottles on Shabbos morph from a habit to a tradition to an immovably holy practice that will be passed down from generation to generation?

Originally Published in April 2006

Pesach and The Essence of The Three Festivals

Rav Itamar Shwarz, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh

Download a number of Drashos on Pesacb

Terms For Yom Tov

There are three festivals – Pesach, Shavuos, and Sukkos. We find different terms used by our Chazal (holy Sages) in describing the festivals. Our festivals are called zmanim, chagim, moadim, and regalim.

They are called zmanim and moadim, since they are established as certain times of the year. They are called chagim from the word machog, which means to “cycle”, because the cycle of the festivals repeats itself each year.

They are also called moadim from the word vaad, which means “meetings.” Three times a year we would trek to the Beis HaMikdash and bring a korbon; we would all gather together and ascend upon the mountain of Hashem, the site of the Beis HaMikdash. But this was not just a “vaad” in the sense that we were all gathered together. It was our meeting with Hashem – we would appear “in front of Hashem”. It was a vaad in that we were all gathered together, and it was a vaad because we were all meeting with Hashem.

Another term to describe the three festivals is “regalim.” The simple meaning of this is “feet” that we would all walk by foot to travel to Jerusalem for Yom Tov. For example, the Gemara[1] deduces from the word regalim that a person is only obligated in the mitzvah if he has normal feet to walk with, but if he limps, he is exempt from the mitzvah.

Regel\Walking – Going From One Place To Another

Let us reflect on the regalim aspect of the Yom Tov.

Chazal say that the world stands on three pillars – Torah, Avodah, and Chessed; these are like three “feet” which the word stands upon. The world stands on three pillars, and so does time. Time stands on the three festivals of Pesach, Shavuos and Sukkos, which are like the three pillars that uphold time.

The word regel, besides for its simple meaning of “foot”, can also mean “because of”, like when Yaakov told Lavan, “And Hashem blessed you, because of me.” It is also written, “The feet of His pious ones are protected [because they are pious].”

In other words, the three festivals are not a purpose unto themselves; they exist “because” of a greater goal. The festivals take us and lead us to a certain point.

If a person is unaware that the Yomim Tovim serve a greater goal that they lead to, then he does not experience Yom Tov through his soul; he only experiences it through his body. The festivals are given to us so we can use them to reach a higher place than we were at until now. A festival moves us from one point to the next point.

We have so far mentioned two aspects of Yom Tov. One aspect of Yom Tov, we mentioned, is that it upholds a person. The second aspect of Yom Tov is that it leads us to a higher point. Thus, meeting with Hashem for three times a year was not just to travel there with our feet. The purpose of Yom Tov was that we should ascend to a higher point. That is the deeper implication of regalim.

Yom Tov is a time to ascend spiritually. Just as we ascended onto a certain place in the world on Yom Tov – the site of the Beis HaMikdash – so must we ascend, in our very soul, to a higher place than the one we are at now.

Holy Habits

How do we ascend in our souls through Yom Tov?

The answer lies in the following: there is another meaning of the word regel. It can also mean to “search”, as we find in the word meraglim, “visitors” of the land, who really come to search out the land. This hints to us that the way we ascend through Yom Tov\the regalim is by “searching” for something. The first regel is Pesach, which we begin by searching for any chometz.

Yom Tov is a regel, and this implies that we need to search for something on Yom Tov.

Chazal say that it is better had man not been born; now that we have been born, we need to examine our deeds. We need to search inside ourselves. What is it that we need to search for?

The word regel can also come from the word hergel, which means “habit.” We ask of Hashem, “Shetargileinu B’Torasecha”, that “we should become accustomed in Your Torah” – we want to develop a habit for the words of Torah. Doing things out of habit is usually not a good thing [this is called melumadah, doing things by rote]. But there are times in which we find that doing things out of habit is a good thing [and then hergel is being used for holiness]. On Yom Tov, we need to search inside ourselves and see which of our habits are good, and which are not good.

We count 50 days of the Omer until we get to the giving of the Torah, in which we have hopefully become accustomed to the Torah by then, when we have hopefully reached our aspiration of “And we should become accustomed in Your Torah.” At first we search ourselves out on the night before Pesach, and this is the beginning aspect of the regel. In between Pesach and Shavuos, we have hopefully become more accustomed to going to the Beis Midrash, that our feet are naturally taking us to towards the Beis Midrash [as Dovid HaMelech describes in Tehillim]. On Shavuos, we ideally reach the apex of getting used to holiness, which is the purpose.

This is the first aspect of the three regalim, which begins with Pesach – at first we search inside ourselves to see what our habits are, if they are holy or unholy. If we find habits in ourselves that are not for holiness, we need to destroy it, just as we destroy the chometz we find in any nooks and crannies. Along with this, we need to gain good kinds of habits – to become used to learning Torah, which is how we use the power of hergel\habit, for holiness. “Shetargileinu B’Torasecha.”

The First Step In Growing From Tom Tov: Inner Order To Our Soul

When we search inside ourselves to discover what our habits are, we must proceed in steps. It is written of the Jewish people when they would travel to Jerusalem, “How beautiful are your steps.” When we would travel to Jerusalem by foot, it was with “steps” – in other words, our avodah needs to be practiced in steps. We must give ourselves some inner order to our soul. As the Mesillas Yesharim says, we cannot acquire the various levels of piety all at once. Spiritual growth is a gradual, step-by-step process.

So when we search ourselves inside, we must do this in steps. It must be done with carefully planned thought; “Sof maaseh b’machshavah techilah” – “The end of actions if first with thought.”

Thus, we need to gain a clear perception of what our soul’s abilities are. As one of the Sages said, “You see a clear world.” We should be clear in what our soul abilities are, from the lowest point to the highest point, and be aware of the many parts in our soul. Then we should search our entire soul, in an orderly fashion [beginning from our lowest point of the soul, all the way to the highest point of our soul] and discover what our habits are leading towards. We need to mark down all our habits that are holy, and all our habits that are unholy, so that we can be ready to the holiest habit of all – to become accustomed to learning the Torah.

This is the first step of how we grow from Yom Tov.

The Second Step In Growing From Yom Tov: To See Where We Are Going

There is a more inner avodah we have on Yom Tov as well. This is contained in another term for the word regel – the term “aragah”, which means “thirsty.” We find this in the possuk, “Just as a deer thirsts over the banks of water, so does my soul thirst for You, G-d.” The feet of a person leads him toward something he wants and longs for. Yom Tov, which is called regel, leads a person to what he is thirsty for, to what he has “aragah” (thirst) for. Yom Tov reveals to a person what his aspirations are. It shows what we really want, what we are really getting pleasure from in life.

So the first part of our avodah is that we need to search inside ourselves and discover what our habits are, and after that, we need to discover where we are actually heading towards. If we discover in ourselves that we are heading towards habits that are bad, we need to destroy them.

When we left Egypt, we were “redeemed from a house of slaves”; we were not just redeemed in the physical sense from Egypt, but we were redeemed in our souls. There were “seventy souls” who went down to Egypt, connoting that the exile in Egypt was taking place in our souls as well. The redemption from Egypt was essentially an inner redemption, a redemption from the exile upon our very souls. Hashem took us out from there and instead “brought us closer into His service.” We became close to Hashem because we gained inner clarity within our souls. The redemption showed us what we really wanted and enjoyed and longed for.

Defining The Joy of Yom Tov

The unique mitzvah of all three festivals is that we have a mitzvah to rejoice on Yom Tov. Chazal state that the mitzvah of Simchas Yom Tov (joy on the festival) is fulfilled through meat and wine.[2]

Yom Tov is a revelation of our happiness, and it also shows us what makes us happy. The meat and wine only satisfies our nefesh habehaimis, the lower and animalistic part of our souls, but this is not the entire simcha of Yom Tov. It is only needed so that we can give something to our nefesh habehaimis to satisfy it, because if we don’t satisfy it, our nefesh habehaimis will rebel and get in the way of our true, inner happiness.

Therefore, if a person thinks that Simchas Yom Tov is all about dining on meat and wine, he only satisfies his nefesh habehaimis, and he only knows of an external and superficial Simchas Yom Tov. Woe is to such a person!

What is the real happiness of Yom Tov? The possuk says, “And you shall rejoice in your festival.” Our true happiness on Yom Tov is the happiness we have in Yom Tov itself. It is to rejoice with Hashem, Whom our soul is thirsty for. It is from this that we derive the depth of our happiness, on Yom Tov.

“The righteous rejoice in Hashem.” When a person lives a life of truth, when he lives a very internal kind of life, his entire happiness is “in Hashem.” He is happy
“in” his feeling of closeness with Hashem and with His Torah – the place where true happiness is derived.

So Yom Tov, the time to rejoice, is the time in which we discover the happiness we are used to. It is a time to discover if our main happiness is coming from externalities such as meat and wine (for the men) jewelry and clothing (for the women) and candy (for the children) – or if our happiness is coming from an inner place. It is only inner happiness which satisfies our spiritual needs – our Nefesh HaElokus (G-dly soul).

Yom Tov is thus not just the time in which we rejoice, but it is a time in which we clarify to ourselves what our soul is really rejoicing in. On Yom Tov, we do not just attempt to ‘connect’ ourselves to happiness, as if happiness is somewhere on the outside of ourselves. The festivals are called regalim, which implies that we reveal from within ourselves where we are habitually drawn towards, where we really are.

When a person never makes this internal clarification – when he never bothers to search himself outside, and he never discovers what truly makes him happy – he is like a dove who cannot find any rest. Yom Tov to him will feel like a time of confusion; he is like the dove who could not find any rest from the mabul (the flood), which is from the word bilbul, confusion.

A person should cleanse himself off from the desires for this world’s pleasures and instead reveal his thirst for the true happiness.

Make This Assessment

When Yom Tov arrives, the first thing we need to clarify with ourselves is: If Yom Tov really makes us happy.

You should know that most people are not really happy on Yom Tov – not even for one second do they really experience Simchas Yom Tov! [This is not just because the Vilna Gaon says that the hardest mitzvah to keep is Simchas Yom Tov, due to the fact that it is for a 24-hour period lasting for seven days. We are referring to a much more simpler and basic level, which most people do not even reach].

Most people enjoy some moments of relaxation on Yom Tov, but they never reach one moment of true simcha. If someone experiences even one moment of Simchas Yom Tov, he has begun to touch the spiritual light of Yom Tov.

In order to reach true simcha on Yom Tov, we need to remove the various bad habits we have towards the various ambitions we have that are not about holiness. We must remove any “thirsts” we may have for things that are not truthful sources of pleasure. When we begin to feel our souls’ thirst for its source – Hashem – we will find our source of happiness there.

A person needs to discover: “What makes me happy?” If someone’s entire happiness on Yom Tov comes from meat and wine, then according to Halacha he has fulfilled Simchas Yom Tov; he has made his nefesh hebehaimis happy. But he did not reach the goal of Yom Tov; he did not reach “And you shall rejoice in your festival.” He hasn’t even touched upon the real happiness of Yom Tov.

The three festivals are called the regalim. They have the power to awaken us to spiritual growth, and to know what is making us happy. From knowing that, we are able to continue that very same happiness and extend it into the rest of the year.

[1] Chagigah 4a

[2] Pesachim 109a

The Five Minute Seder

Some people want to have a very fast seder. This guide is for them.

A few years ago a non-observant friend asked if I could put together a five minute seder. I pared down the Beyond BT Guide to the Seder and produced the instructions below. Pass it on to anyone for whom it might be helpful.

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1) Kaddesh – Sanctify the day with the recitation of Kiddush
*Leader says Boruch Atoh Ado-noy Elo-haynu Melech Ho-olom Boray P’ri Ha-Gofen and 2 other blessings whose text can be found in the Hagadah
*Drink the 1st cup of wine. Lean to your left while drinking.

2) Urechatz, – *Wash your hands before eating Karpas.

3) Karpas – *Eat a vegetable dipped in salt water.
*Leader says Boruch Atoh Ado-noy Elo-haynu Melech Ho-olom Boray P’ri Ho-adomah –
*Everybody eats the vegetable Lean to your left while eating.

4) Yachatz. -* Break the middle Matzah. Hide the larger half for Afikoman.

5) Maggid – *Tell the story of the Exodus from Egypt
Here is a summary of the story. (Alternatively go around the room reading in English from a translated Haggadah.)

The main mitzvah of the night is telling about the Exodus from Egypt.
*Pour the 2nd Cup of Wine
*Four Questions are asked

*The answer to the four questions is given.

It’s broken up into 6 parts based on the verse in the Torah which describes the mitzvah of telling the story at the Seder:
“And you shall relate to your child on that day saying: it is because of this Hashem acted for me when I came forth out of Egypt.”

a)– And you shall relate to your child – four types of chidren/people with different belief levels

b)– on that day – explains when we should tell the story (the answer is on Passover night)

c)– saying – the actual story:
Our ancestors were idol worshippers;—– through Abraham;—– Egyptian Enslavement;—– We cry out;—– G-d hears our cries
G-d saves us with the 10 plagues;—– We express our thanks for G-d saving us
Dip your finger in the wine for the 10 plagues
1) Water, which turned to blood and killed all fish and other aquatic life
2) Frogs
3) Lice
4) Wild animals
5) Disease on livestock
6) Incurable boils
7) Hail and thunder
8) Locusts
9) Darkness
10) Death of the first-born of all Egyptian humans and animals. To be saved, the Israelites had to place the blood of a lamb on the front door of their houses.

d) — It is because of this — “Rabban Gamliel explains why use the Passover offering, Matzah and Maror.
The Passover lamb, represented in our times by the roasted bone, recalls the blood on the doorposts and the terror and anticipation of the night of the plague of the first born.

Matzah is what we ate in the morning when Israel was rushed out of Egypt with no time to let their dough rise.

Maror captures the bitterness of the enslavement.

e) — Hashem acted for me…” – “In every generation, we should see ourselves as having gone out from Egypt.

f) – when I came forth out of Egypt.” –We recite 2 songs of praise to G-d similar to the songs recited when we left Egypt.

*Leader of Seder recites Boruch Atoh Ado-noy Elo-haynu Melech Ho-olom Boray P’ri Ha-Gofen.
*Drink the 2nd cup of wine. Lean to your left while drinking.

6) Rachtzah – *Wash the hands prior to eating Matzah and the meal.
*After washing and before drying say
*Say Boruch Atoh Ado-noy Elo-haynu Melcch Ho-olom Asher Kidshonu B’mitzvosov V’tzivonu Al N’tilas Yodoyim.

7) Motzi – *Recite the Hamotzi blessing over eating Matzah before a Meal
*Say Boruch Atoh Ado-noy Elo-haynu Melech Hamotzi Lechem Min Ho-oretz.

8) Matzah – *Recite the blessing over eating Matzah
*Say Boruch Atoh Ado-noy Elo-haynu Melech Ho-olom Asher Kidshonu B’mitzvosov Vtzivonu Al Achilas Matzah.

*Eat the Matzah. Lean to your left while eating.

9) Maror – *The Maror is dipped in Charoscs
*Say Boruch Atoh Ado-noy Elo-haynu Melech Ho-olom Asher Kidshonu B’mitzvosov Vtzivonu Al Achilas Maror.
*Eat the Maror.

10) Korech – *Eat a sandwich of Matzah and Maror.
*Eat the Sandwich.

11) Shulchan Orech – *Eat the festival meal

Find the Afikoman.

12) Tzafun – *Eat the Afikoman which had been hidden all during the Seder.
*Pour the 3rd cup of wine

13) Barech – Recite Birchas Hamazon, the blessings after the meal
*Leader of Seder recites blessing Boruch Atoh Ado-noy Elo-haynu Melech Ho-olom Boray P’ri Ha-Gofen.
*Drink the 3rd cup of wine. Lean to your left while drinking.

*Pour the 4th cup of wine;
*Pour the cup for Elijah

14) Hallel – Recite the praises of G-d
*Leader of Seder recites Boruch Atoh Ado-noy Elo-haynu Melech Ho-olom Boray P’ri Ha-Gofen.
*Drink the 4th cup of wine. Lean to your left while drinking.

15) Nirtzah – Pray that G-d accepts our praise speedily sends the Messiah.
Sing the songs of the Haggadah

photo credit: dcJohn via photopin cc

Rosh Chodesh Nisan is Coming, a Good Time for Spiritual Pesach Preparation

Here is the Beyond BT Guide to the Seder which goes through the basic halachos of each step of the seder.

While getting ready for Pesach, you might want to give Rabbi Welcher’s Preparing for Pesach, Insights in the Haggadah and Pesach Renewal shiurum a listen.

Check out YU Torah’s Pesach to Go.

Don’t forget Torah Anytime’s Pesach Shiurim.

The Haggadah relates that:

In every generation a person is obligated to regard himself as if he had come out of Mitzrayim, as it is says: “You shall tell your child on that day, it is because of this that Hashem did for me when I left Mitzrayim.”

In this mp3, Rabbi Moshe Gordon, Rosh HaYeshiva at Yisrei Lev, explores some of the classical approaches to understanding and fulfilling this Mitzvah. You can download it here.

And here is an amazing series of Shiurim by Rabbi Gordon on the Seder and the Haggadah which covers the major Rishonim, Achronim and Poskim on the mitzvos of Pesach night and the Hagaddah.

Seder
Kadesh and Arba Kosos
Urchatz Karpas Yachatz
Hallel Rachtza Matza Heseiba
Maror Korech Shulchan Orech
Afikomen Barech End of Hallel Nirtza after Seder

Haggadagh
Intro to Sippur Yetzias Mitzrayim
HaLachma Anya Akiras HaShulchan Intro to Ma Nishtana
Ma Nishtana
Avadim Hayeinu Arami Oved Avi
Arami Oved Avi 2
Makos End of Magid

TEN WAYS to help you and YOUR CHILDREN have a more Meaningful and Inspiring PESACH SEDER

Use these suggestions to infuse new meaning and excitement into your seder and create a lasting experience for you and your family.

1.Make the most of your Seder and best fulfill the mitzvah of V’higadita L’vincha by staying focused on telling the actual story of Yetzias Mitzrayim; concentrate on the events and their lessons.

2. Transform Yetzias Mitzrayim from a story into a reality by celebrating the Seder like you celebrate a Simcha in your own family. Speak about it vividly, personally and enthusiastically…you’ll inspire yourself and your children.

3. Prepare for the Seder! Spend time studying books and Midrashim that elaborate specifically on the details of each miracle to help your children appreciate the extent of Hashem’s kindness.

4. Make Pesach personal and relevant to your children. Use your discussion about the amazing miracles of Yetzias Mitzrayim as a means of opening their eyes to the miracles Hashem performs for us every day.

5. Show your children how so much of the Pesach Seder revolves around them, demonstrating how much Hashem cares about every child and values each one as an essential member of Klal Yisroel.

6. Involve your children in the Pesach Seder. Prepare stimulating and challenging questions that will guide them to understand the lessons of the Haggadah and be an active participant in the Seder.

7. Practice the lesson of the Four Sons during your Seder by making a particular effort to involve each child (and adult!) in a way that best suits his or her unique personality, style and level.

8. Take the time to patiently answer your children’s questions. If you don’t know the answer, create a powerful Chinuch experience by asking a rabbi and exploring the issue… together with your child.

9. Reinforce their Emunah through the Pesach Seder by explaining that the miracles of Yetzias Mitzrayim irrefutably demonstrated Hashem’s complete control over the world to millions of eyewitnesses. We attest to this truth every year on the Seder night.

10. Inspire yourself by remembering that tonight Jewish parents around the world are passing on a glorious 3,320 year old legacy to their children as their parents and ancestors have done before them. Realize that the Seder that you create for your children will inspire them for the rest of their lives and shape the future Seder that they will make for their children.

The Pesach Seder:
A Unique Opportunity to Instill Emunah in Our Children

The Mitzvah of telling the story of Yetzias Mitzrayim is primarily focused on our children and family. Its main purpose is to instill in their hearts the full knowledge of Hashem’s sovereignty and the magnitude of His strength and miracles. One should explain the story to them in the language that they understand to make them aware of the extent of the wonders that Hashem performs. It is not sufficient to explain just the main points of Yetzias Mitzrayim written in the Haggadah. Instead, we should describe all of the miracles vividly as they are depicted in the Gemara, Midrashim and other Seforim. (Based on Yesod V’Shoresh Ha’avoda 9:6)

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Preparing for Pesach is Part of our Avodas Hashem

Rav Itamar Shwarz, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh

Download a number of Drashos on Nissan

In whatever time or situation we are in, we should always be aware that it is an inseparable part of our avodas Hashem. It doesn’t matter if it is something that has to do with ruchniyus (spirituality) or not or if it is something more mundane. Wherever we are, whatever the situation, it is somehow part of our avodas Hashem.

We must wonder in every situation: how is a Jew supposed to go about this?

In these weeks, the frum world, who keep Torah and mitzvos, is very careful to clean the house scrupulously from any trace of chametz. We have a commandment in the Torah to make sure that we do not see or find any chametz in our house; but this mitzvah has much to it which seemingly has nothing to do with Pesach.

Upon reflection, we will be able to see how preparing for Pesach is part of our avodas Hashem, and how through it we can bring ourselves to be closer to Hashem.

“Melumadah” – Acting By Rote

There is a simple point that we must all know and be aware of. This simple point is that we can find Hashem in anything – without exception!

1) When a person begins to clean his house for Pesach, he first has to get rid of the “melumadah” – the tendency to do things by rote. We are not simply cleaning out the house for Pesach “because we have to clean.” Why are you cleaning for Pesach? Because that’s what you did last year and the year before it?! That is not the reason.

2) We all know that to clean the house for Pesach is a mitzvah of the Torah, but what are our thoughts as we do this? If a person doesn’t stop to think, he is only bothered by questions such as: What is the best way to clean the house? What needs to cleaned, and how much? The whole relationship with Hashem is lost with all these questions.

So first, we must get rid of our tendency to just to things without thinking. We must realize that preparing for Pesach is purely avodas Hashem. After we know this we can begin to know how it is avodas Hashem, but the first step is this: don’t just do it like a robot. Just like we understand that learning and davening is avodas Hashem, so must we be aware that preparing for Pesach is avodas Hashem.

If a person feels that cleaning the house for Pesach is not part of avodas Hashem, we can almost tell him that he is forbidden to do it! The Chovos HeLevovos writes that there is no such thing as a gray area; it’s either forbidden or permissible. If it’s not a mitzvah, then it’s wrong to do.

We will try to explain how cleaning for Pesach can be avodas Hashem, in a way how everyone will be able to enter the Yom Tov amidst avodas Hashem, not amidst stress.

Why Do We Clean The House?

If we think into it, besides for the mitzvah of the Torah to keep the house clean from chametz on Pesach, there are more reasons why we need to clean the house.

3) One possible reason why a person cleans is because he feels bad to make the rest of his family do everything! He personally doesn’t care for the house to be clean. Most of the Pesach preparations have nothing to do with the mitzvah of destroying chametz – just various household chores. Why does a person do all these things for Pesach? Many times it is simply because he feels bad standing around and watching everyone else do all the work. He’s doing it all for the sake of chessed.

That is one possible reason why a person spends so much time with Pesach preparations.

4) Another possibility could be that we don’t like it when the house is dirty. Hashem created each person with a natural desire to have a clean house. Some people are cleanlier than others, and they can’t take even the slightest amount of messiness. But all people want their house clean somewhat, so they clean for the house for Pesach.

5) Another possibility can also be because people like it when things are orderly. During the rest of the year people are very busy, and they want to have one time in the year where they sit down and just arrange everything in its place (This is not the same thing as a desire for neatness.)

So far we have mentioned five possibilities why a person cleans the house for Pesach: Acting robotic, doing it because it’s a mitzvah of the Torah, kindness, cleanliness or orderliness.

The first kind of person we mentioned – the one who does it robotically – is obviously not doing it in the right way. That is simple and we don’t need to explain why.

The second kind of person, who does it because it’s a mitzvah, has to put some more thought into it. It is not enough to know that he must clean the house – there must be some more life involved, some more thinking.

Before he begins to clean the house, he should talk to Hashem and say, “Ribono shel olam, Why am I going to clean my house? I have other things to do; I can be learning or relaxing. The reason why I am going to clean my house now is because You, the Ribono shel Olam, commanded me that the house be free of chametz. Since I want to give You a nachas ruach, I will exert myself now to clean my house.”

While a person is cleaning the house, this is what he should be saying to himself. If someone knows how to think in learning Torah as he does something, then he should think in learning and he doesn’t have to do this. But if someone usually doesn’t think in learning as he cleans the house, and his thoughts are just floating elsewhere, then he should at least for a few minutes here and there remind himself of what he’s doing and why he’s doing it.

We are speaking about a very simple thing one can do; there are people who are on a very high level and always have d’veykus in Hashem wherever they are, but we are not speaking of this. We are speaking about something very basic and simple.

If a person cleans the house because he wants to be nice and doesn’t want everyone else to do all the work, he also has to think about this and say, “Ribono shel olam, Why am I doing this? I don’t personally feel a need to clean my house. The only reason why I am doing it is so that I can do chessed with my family.”

A person should keep talking to Hashem throughout the entire time: “Ribono shel olam, it is my will to do Your will. One of the pillars of the world is chessed, and I am thus doing chessed in order to give You a nachas ruach.”

After a day of doing this, besides for the physical exercise you get out of cleaning the house, your entire day is filled with pure avodas Hashem. In this way, a person never leaves ruchniyus even while being involved in this mundane world.

The Natural Desire for Cleanliness

Let us elaborate on the last two points, which are more subtle points about our soul.

There is a desire in a person for cleanliness. Everyone loves cleanliness – some more, and some less. The soul of a person naturally recoils a bit from messiness. People often see a mess and start cleaning it, and if you ask them, “What are you doing? Why you are cleaning it up?” the answer is, “It bothers me.”

People clean because they can’t stand the sight of something dirty or messy, and cleaning it up removes this anxiety. It seems that this has nothing to do with trying to become close to Hashem, and that a person is trying to save his soul from some pain.

But if we think into it just a little, we can connect everything to Hashem. If a person likes to clean, the first thing he should ask himself is: “Why do I like to clean? Did I make myself this way? No. Hashem gave me this nature.”

Realize that whatever your nature is, it was Hashem who gave you such a nature. Not only that, but Hashem is constantly renewing Creation; He is constantly renewing your nature, which is that you like to clean and that you hate messiness.

After you realize with certainty that it was Hashem who gave you this nature to desire cleanliness, and that He continues to renew this nature in you, now think: “Why did Hashem give me such a nature? What is the purpose of wanting cleanliness, and how do I use this natural desire in a person? What are the pros and cons of it?”

The desire for cleanliness doesn’t happen on its own. (It is absurd to think that it does, but the yetzer hora gets a person to succeed not to think.) A person must think to himself, “Hashem gave me this desire for cleanliness. It was Him who placed this desire in me.”

This realization helps you begin your relationship with Hashem.

What indeed is the root of why we like cleanliness?

Cleanliness (nekiyus) is one of the ten steps in the ladder of avodas Hashem as described by Rebbi Pinchos ben Yair, the basis of sefer Mesillas Yesharim. Cleanliness exists for us to cleanse ourselves from sin, because sin sullies our soul. Every power in the soul is also manifested somehow in our body; the power of cleanliness of our soul manifests itself in our body with the need for physical cleanliness.

The truth is that the more a person grows spiritually, the more he increases his cleanliness. Some people are very clean in their soul and others are very particular also about physical cleanliness (in addition to their spiritual cleanliness), but the point is that the more a person purifies himself, the more of a need for cleanliness he has, and the purer his soul becomes.

The root behind cleanliness comes from an inner desire to be purified. This gives us a whole different attitude to have about our need for physical cleanliness – it is rooted in our soul’s need for cleanliness and purity.

Knowing Your Motivation For Cleanliness

There are two reasons why a person wants physical cleanliness; one reason is unnecessary and more of a luxury to a person, while the other reason is coming from our soul’s need for purity and closeness.

There are situations in which we clean more than we have to, and it is extra. It is hard to say exactly what is considered overdoing it, and each person needs to decide for himself what is considered already too much. If a person is just taking a shower or brushing his teeth simply because he is very concerned about his body, this is totally unnecessary (except for certain rare individuals who won’t get affected by this).

Something even worse than this is when a person is really bothered by uncleanliness and he doesn’t clean. Such a person not only has physical messiness, but he damages his soul with this. He is denying his soul’s demand for cleanliness.

So before begins to clean, he must ask himself: What is my motivation in cleaning the house? Am I doing it out of a compulsiveness to clean (just like there are people who indulge in food and drinking), or am I doing it to help my household? If he realizes that he is doing it to help, then he should work on the avodah we mentioned before (which is to say a tefillah to Hashem).

If he discovers that he’s doing it because he has a personal need for cleanliness, he must really ask himself if he is overdoing it or not, or if it comes from a sensitivity in his soul for cleanliness (and he therefore needs it). Everyone must uncover what is motivating him to clean.

Most people do not have these issues. We will therefore discuss a more simple kind of issue that people have which is much more common: when people love to clean something that is clearly a mess. In this, we need to put some thought into the cleaning.

Before a person cleans, he should say: “Ribono shel olam, this mess really bothers me. Who gave me this feeling? You – Hashem. Where does this nature in me come from? It comes from a power in my soul to demand purity. Ribono shel olam, is it Your will that I break this nature of mine and endure the messiness? Or is it Your will that I live with purity and cleanliness? Since it is clear to me that You want my soul to desire this cleanliness, I will go clean the house in order to get close to You and give You pleasure.”

Even though you’re doing it shelo lishmah – not for the sake of Heaven (because you’re doing it out of your need for cleanliness) – you can still add this element of lishmah into your action.

But always remember that cleaning the house for Pesach is purely avodas Hashem. It must be done properly with thought and concentration.

The Importance Of Orderliness

Another point to be addressed is the fifth reason why a person wants to clean the house: to have orderliness.

Just like a person has a natural need for cleanliness, and this comes from the soul’s desire for purity which Hashem put in us, so did Hashem put in us a natural desire for orderliness.

Some people have a more of a need to be organized than others, but all people have a need to get things organized. This is not by itself – it is a nature which Hashem gave each person.

Without our natural desire for orderliness, no one would get anywhere. In order to build up anything, there is a certain order involved. Since every person on this world must build himself, Hashem endowed each person with an ability to have orderliness. Without orderliness, we wouldn’t be able to develop our avodas Hashem.

The more orderly a person is, the more he is able to develop in avodas Hashem. The less orderly a person is, the more confusion he has, and he feels like he is an exile. A person has to get out of this exile of confusion and become more orderly. This is the beginning of an inner freedom.

Orderliness is thus a need of our soul, but we often use it just for our body’s physical needs, such as the need to look very put together and organized.

Just like a dirty house makes our soul suffer, so can living in a messy house bother us so much that it is an impediment to our avodas Hashem. If we don’t care about how our house looks inside, we will definitely be affected spiritually as well.

It is well-known that when a tzaddik would look for a prospective match for his daughter, he would inspect the boy’s room and see if he’s neat. When a person has no sense of orderliness when it comes to the physical, it is a sign that he has is spiritually messy as well.

In order for our soul to get orderliness in spiritual matters, a person needs to first make sure he’s neat when it comes to his physical matters. But we must always remember that it is Hashem who gives us such a nature. We must recognize that our need for orderliness comes from Hashem, and that this need that people have doesn’t come by itself.

Realize that this need for orderliness can be used as a way to connect to the Creator. Like this, a person can take the physical world and use it to develop a relationship with Hashem. It is an inner kind of life, a life spent with Hashem even in ordinary, mundane actions.

When a person realizes that the need for organization is necessary in his avodas Hashem, he is able to realize that organizing the house is not just an act of kindness with his family, but it is a necessary part in one’s personal avodas Hashem.

In this, there are two parts. Some people were born with a need for orderliness, and it really bothers them when things aren’t in place. The avodah of such a person is to realize that this need comes from Hashem, and it is a way to serve Hashem.

But others don’t feel such a need for cleanliness. They know with their minds that a person should be orderly, but they don’t feel that this is a need for their soul. Such people feel that it makes sense to clean the house once a year, or else the house becomes unlivable…but not more than once a year.

This person’s avodah is the opposite of the first kind of person. Besides for the fact that he must organize his house, he also needs to awaken in his soul a desire to have orderliness.

Days Which We Can Grow From

A person wonders: Why did Hashem make it that people have to work so hard on Erev Pesach? Doesn’t this sacrifice our opportunities to grow spiritually by making preparations for Yom Tov? If we have to work so hard cleaning up, how do we prepare for the Yom Tov??

But if you think about it, these days before Pesach contain tremendous areas which we can use to attain growth in. If Hashem made it this way that we have to clean and organize the house, then that is the way for us to acquire all the precious areas of growth which we need.

Really, cleaning up and organizing the house are there to remind us of our soul’s need for purity. This is a precious gain in our avodas Hashem. But the yetzer hora comes and takes away the message of it and turns it into mundane actions, drying it up from all the avodas Hashem contained in it.

If a person understands the depth of avodas Hashem, he doesn’t clean the house simply because he wants it to be clean. He cleans the house because through that, he connects to an inner point in his soul – the need for spiritual cleanliness. He understands that now is precisely the time to work on this.

The truth is that all of life is like this: the yetzer hora comes and takes what’s very important and turns it into something that’s not important. In whatever we encounter, we should always see the greatness we can achieve in this situation. The more confusing and seemingly pointless a situation appears, the more greatness lies in it if we uncover it.

If a person before Pesach is caught up in this and that and he comes into the Yom Tov exhausted and stressed out, what is all our hard work worth? We don’t gain from this kind of a life.

If we don’t see how everything we do can be a form of avodas Hashem and how much being involved with the world takes away from our soul, then these days go to waste. Our preparation for Pesach should not be a physical preparation; although we do exert our body to prepare for Pesach, really, there is an inner depth taking place in what we are doing. It is really a preparation of our soul for the coming days. Through preparing for it in the right way, a person comes into Yom Tov the way he should.

Each person can take these words and open them up more to himself, each to his own. The common denominator between all people is the days preceding Pesach are days of ruchniyus, not days of materialistic pursuits. They are days of closeness to Hashem.

Hashem should help us that we prepare properly for Pesach during these days, from a sincere desire to give pleasure to our Creator. In these days preceding Pesach, each of us should merit to increase our true closeness and love of Hashem.

The Three Major Themes of Pesach

These are the three major themes of Pesach:

Emunah/Belief
The Ramban says at the end of Parsha Bo that the miracles of Yetzias Mitzraim established three fundamental principles of belief: the existence of God, Hashgacha Pratis and Prophecy. These principles are the foundation of performing mitzvos and seeing the Godliness in everything.

Hodaah/Thankfulness
We thank Hashem for Yetzias Mitzraim, Matan Torah and making us His nation. As the Ramchal points out in Mesillas Yesharim in Zerius, we can show our thanks to Hashem by doing His mitzvos. This is why we meticulously perform the mitzvos on the seder night.

Cheirus/Freedom
Materialistic pursuits such as desire, ego-gratification, and worldly distraction imprisons our soul and prevents us from focusing on Hashem and His mitzvos. The anti-materialistic diet of Matzah powers the first stage of breaking free from the shackles of materialism.

Beyond BT Guide to the Passover Seder

Please make copies of the guide for your seder so that participants who want to perform the mitzvos properly can do so, without the need for continual instruction. Please feel free to email it to anyone who you think would find it useful.

Here is the link for the Beyond BT Guide to the Seder. The contents are also included below.

(Compiled by Mark Frankel) Brought to you by www.beyondbt.com.

The purpose of this guide is to highlight the structure, Mitzvos and some insights to the Seder. The halachos and measurements were mostly culled from the Kol Dodi Haggadah by Rabbi David Feinstein.

Mitzvos of the night
Biblical Mitzvos are mitzvos that are found in the Torah (five books of Moses)
Rabbinic Mitzvos are mitzvos that our Sages enacted. There is a Biblical Mitzvoh that the Rabbis can enact Rabbinic Mitzvos and we follow them just as if they were Biblical Mitzvos

In the times of the Talmud and before (before the year 500 C.E), there was a Sanhedrin composed of 70 of the leading Rabbis of the time. Every Rabbi had to be ordained by a Rabbi who had been previously ordained with the chain going back to Moses and the giving of the Torah by G-d at Mount Sinai. To be ordained, the Rabbi had to know all the laws of the Torah. After the period of the Talmud, this ordination process ended, mostly due to the dispersion and persecution of the Jewish People.

The Biblical Mitzvos on Pesach are:
— Eating Matzah – “In the evening you shall eat unleavened bread”.
— Relating the Story of the Exodus from Egypt – “And you should relate to your son (the story of Pesach) on this day”.

The Rabbinic Mitzvos on Pesach are:
— Drinking four cups of wine
— Eating Bitter Herbs
— Reciting the Hallel – Songs of Praise

Read more Beyond BT Guide to the Passover Seder

Structure of Maggid According to the Malbim

According to the Malbim (although there is a dispute whether it really is the Malbim) the structure of the narrative portion of the Haggadah is based on the verse in the Torah from which the obligation to tell the story is derived:

And you shall relate to your child on that day, saying “It is because of this that Hashem acted for me when I came forth out of Egypt.” (Shemos (Exodus) 13:8)

This source verse is broken up into six parts corresponding to the six sections of the story in the Haggadah.
— And you shall relate to your child
— on that day
— saying
— It is because of this
— Hashem acted for me
— when I came forth out of Egypt.

And you shall relate to your child…The first eight paragraphs correspond to this verse and teach us about this obligation to tell the story
— “We were enslaved unto Pharaoh and G-d freed us”– tells us we should relate this to our children who would also still be enslaved had G-d not taken us out.
— “It once happened that Rabbi Eliezar..” –shows that our greatest sages told the story, since the main function is to recount it for our children.
— “Rabbi Elazar, son of Azaryah, said…” –shows the duty to do so at all times.
— “Praised be the Ever-Present, praised be He…” –shows how every type of child is to be instructed at the Seder.
— “What does the wise son say…” –shows how to teach the wise son
— “What does the wicked son say…” –shows how to teach the wicked son
— “What does the naive son say….” –shows how to teach the naive son
— “And regarding the one who does not know how to ask a question…” –shows how to teach the son who can’t ask a question

–“on that Day…” –The next paragraph tells us when the obligation to tell the story applies
— “One might think that the obligation to talk…” –explains when the special duty applies.

–“saying…” — The next paragraphs contain the actual saying of the story of the Exodus
— “In the beginning our fathers were worshippers of idols…” –shows the deeper roots of the exile and the Exodus as the way to spiritual redemption.
— “Blessed is he who keeps His promise…” –shows that G-d kept His promise to Abraham that we will be enslaved and redeemed
— “It has stood firm…in every generation there are those who rise against us..” –shows that G-d continually redeems us
— “Go and ascertain what Lavan the Aramite intended to do…” –describes the beginning of the Exodus when Jacob went down to Egypt
— “And he went down…And he sojourned there…With few people…And he became there a nation…” –Great, mighty…And formidable…describes how we became a great nation in Egypt
— “And the Egyptians made evil of us…” –And the tormented us…And laid hard labor upon us…describes how the Egyptians enslaved us
— “And we cried out unto G-d… And G-d heard us…And He saw our distress… And our travail… And our oppression…” — describes how G-d heard our pleas
— “And G-d took us out of Egypt…With a strong hand…And with and outstretched arm…And with great terror…And with signs…And with wonders…” –describes how G-d redeemed us
— “Blood, and fire and smoke…An alternative explanation…These are the ten plagues…Rabbi Yosi the Galiliean says…Rabbi Eliezer says…Rabbi Akiva says…” –describes the miracles and wonders G-d did for us during the redemption
— ‘How indebted are we…How multiple, then is our debt to G-d…” –describes additional accounts of G-d’s benevolence which were not yet mentioned

–“It is because of this…” –can be read this is because of…Rabban Gamliel reads it this way…this refers to Pesach, Matzah and Maror
— “Rabban Gamliel used to say…” –explains the concrete Mitzvos ordained for the Seder: Pesach, Matzah and Maror.
— Pesach… Matzah…Maror…explains the reason for these Mitzvos

–“Hashem acted for me…” –The next paragraphs describe how we should consider it as if Hashem took us out of Egypt
— “In every generation, one is obliged to regard himself…” –emphasizes that, in celebrating the Seder, we must see ourselves as having gone out from Egypt.

–“when I came forth out of Egypt.” — The next paragraphs are the introduction and recitation of Hallel songs of praise, similar to the songs of praise that were recited when we left Egypt.
–“Therefore it is our duty to thank, praise…” — since Hashem took us out from Egypt, we praise Hashem for his kindness ending the Haggadah with a Bracha.
–“Praise G-d…” — When Israel went out of Egypt…is the beginning of Hallel which describe the going out from Egypt

Preparing Your Soul for Pesach

Rabbi Itamar Shwartz author of Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh and the Getting to Know Your Self/Soul/Emotions/Thoughts series has some great articles for Soul Preparation for Pesach.

Pesach Talks

Pesach – Freedom From The Evil Inclination

Pesach – Internalizing Your Knowledge

Pesach – Time of Our Freedom

Pesach – Redeeming Your Soul

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Rabbi Akiva Tatz has some amazing Pesach Shiurim here.

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Torah Anytime has hundreds of shiurim on Pesach.

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YU Torah has hundreds of shiurim on Pesach.

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Aish has many articles on Pesach here.

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The Haggadah relates that:

In every generation a person is obligated to regard himself as if he had come out of Mitzrayim, as it is says: “You shall tell your child on that day, it is because of this that Hashem did for me when I left Mitzrayim.”

Rabbi Moshe Gordon explores some of the classical approaches to understanding and fulfilling this Mitzvah in this mp3 on Leaving Mitzraim.

And here is an amazing series of Shiurim by Rabbi Gordon on the Seder and the Haggadah which covers the major Rishonim, Achronim and Poskim on the mitzvos of Pesach night and the Hagaddah.

Seder
Kadesh and Arba Kosos
Urchatz Karpas Yachatz
Hallel Rachtza Matza Heseiba
Maror Korech Shulchan Orech
Afikomen Barech End of Hallel Nirtza after Seder

Haggadagh
Intro to Sippur Yetzias Mitzrayim
HaLachma Anya Akiras HaShulchan Intro to Ma Nishtana
Ma Nishtana
Avadim Hayeinu Arami Oved Avi
Arami Oved Avi 2
Makos End of Magid

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Beyond Vertlach – Key Points of the Seder

Divrei Torah and vertlach at the Seder are wonderful, but it’s important to focus on the key points of the seder.

Here’s are the Key Points of the Seder in text:

1) Tell the Detailed Story – Sippur Yetzias Mitzraim

2) Use Imagery & Details to Really Live/Feel It

3) Strengthen Your Emunah
a. Hashem Exists
b. Hashem is Directly Involved – Hashgacha Pratis
c. Hashem is One – No Other

4) Feel the Gratitude – Hakaros HaTov

5) Give Thanks, Sing, Praise – L’Hodos, L’Hallel, L’Shevach

6) Serve Hashem with Love, Joy and Enthusiasm

Download the one page graphic here.

Guide to the Seder and The Five Minute Seder

The Beyond BT Guide to the Seder contains all the steps of the seder along with some commentary and halachic instructions.

A few years ago I edited the above guide and compiled a Five Minute Seder for a non-observant friend and his family. Five minutes may be stretching it, but it’s pretty bare bones for those who have trouble going through the whole thing.

And here’s the One Minute explanation if you’re really pressed for time.

The Events of the Exodus
The process of the Exodus began when our forefather Jacob, the son of Isaac and grandson of Abraham, and his family settled in Egypt as the honored guests of the Pharaoh at that time. The process continued through the Jewish enslavement by the Egyptians; the 10 nature-defying plagues prophesized by Moshe and activated by G-d over a period of 12 months; the subsequent release of the approximately 3 million Jews to freedom after the plague of the death of the first born; the splitting of the Red Sea 7 days after their release; and the receiving of the Torah at Mount Sinai 7 weeks after their release.

The Centrality of the Exodus
The centrality of the Exodus in Judaism is predicated on the fact that the Jewish people were freed and separated as a unique nation through the clear actions of G-d Himself. Besides the physical freedom achieved, G-d chose us to be the world’s spiritual leaders by giving us the mitzvos of the Torah at Mount Sinai The mitzvos free us from a purely animal-like physical existence, to one in which we can elevate all our actions to be spiritual and G-d connected. Passover is a time where we commemorate the Exodus and renew our spiritual focus.

The Seder
The Seder with its focus on the telling of the story enable us to experientially reconnect with the slavery and freedom of the Exodus and express our appreciation to G-d for our redemption and selection as His chosen people. The salt water in which the green vegetable is dipped and the bitter herbs are associated with our bondage. The four cups of wine and the festival meal help us relive our freedom.

The Holiday of Matzah
The Matzah is the central component of both the Seder and the 8 days of Passover. Matzah, consisting of just flour and water was our no frills food when we were slaves in Egypt. It’s also a symbol of our freedom because we hastily left Egypt without time to bake bread.

On a spiritual level, the leaven in bread makes it more digestible and flavorous. This is appropriate for the rest of the year when our main challenge is to integrate the physical into the spiritual. On Passover, we eat only Matzah and abstain from the physically oriented leaven. This allows us to keep spiritually focused as we recharge our spiritual mission and focus during the holiday of Passover.

Understanding the Structure of the Haggadah

According to the Malbim (although there is a dispute as to whether it really is the Malbim) the structure of the narrative portion of the Haggadah is based on the verse in the Torah from which the obligation to tell the story is derived:

And you shall relate to your child on that day, saying “It is because of this that Hashem acted for me when I came forth out of Egypt.” (Shemos (Exodus) 13:8)

This source verse is broken up into six parts corresponding to the six sections of the story in the Haggadah.
— And you shall relate to your child
— on that day
— saying
— It is because of this
— Hashem acted for me
— when I came forth out of Egypt.

“And you shall relate to your child…”
The first eight paragraphs correspond to this verse and teach us about this obligation to tell the story
— “We were enslaved unto Pharaoh and G-d freed us”– tells us we should relate this to our children who would also still be enslaved had G-d not taken us out.
— “It once happened that Rabbi Eliezar..” –shows that our greatest sages told the story, since the main function is to recount it for our children.
— “Rabbi Elazar, son of Azaryah, said…” –shows the duty to do so at all times.
— “Praised be the Ever-Present, praised be He…” –shows how every type of child is to be instructed at the Seder.
— “What does the wise son say…” –shows how to teach the wise son
— “What does the wicked son say…” –shows how to teach the wicked son
— “What does the naive son say….” –shows how to teach the naive son
— “And regarding the one who does not know how to ask a question…” –shows how to teach the son who can’t ask a question

–“on that Day…”
The next paragraph tells us when the obligation to tell the story applies
— “One might think that the obligation to talk…” –explains when the special duty applies.

–“saying…”
The next paragraphs contain the actual saying of the story of the Exodus
— “In the beginning our fathers were worshippers of idols…” –shows the deeper roots of the exile and the Exodus as the way to spiritual redemption.
— “Blessed is he who keeps His promise…” –shows that G-d kept His promise to Abraham that we will be enslaved and redeemed
— “It has stood firm…in every generation there are those who rise against us..” –shows that G-d continually redeems us
— “Go and ascertain what Lavan the Aramite intended to do…” –describes the beginning of the Exodus when Jacob went down to Egypt
— “And he went down…And he sojourned there…With few people…And he became there a nation…” –Great, mighty…And formidable…describes how we became a great nation in Egypt
— “And the Egyptians made evil of us…” –And the tormented us…And laid hard labor upon us…describes how the Egyptians enslaved us
— “And we cried out unto G-d… And G-d heard us…And He saw our distress… And our travail… And our oppression…” — describes how G-d heard our pleas
— “And G-d took us out of Egypt…With a strong hand…And with and outstretched arm…And with great terror…And with signs…And with wonders…” –describes how G-d redeemed us
— “Blood, and fire and smoke…An alternative explanation…These are the ten plagues…Rabbi Yosi the Galiliean says…Rabbi Eliezer says…Rabbi Akiva says…” –describes the miracles and wonders G-d did for us during the redemption
— ‘How indebted are we…How multiple, then is our debt to G-d…” –describes additional accounts of G-d’s benevolence which were not yet mentioned

“It is because of this…”
can be read this is because of.… Rabban Gamliel reads it this way… this refers to Pesach, Matzah and Maror
— “Rabban Gamliel used to say…” –explains the concrete Mitzvos ordained for the Seder: Pesach, Matzah and Maror.
— Pesach… Matzah…Maror…explains the reason for these Mitzvos

“Hashem acted for me…”
The next paragraphs describe how we should consider it as if Hashem took us out of Egypt
— “In every generation, one is obliged to regard himself…” –emphasizes that, in celebrating the Seder, we must see ourselves as having gone out from Egypt.

“when I came forth out of Egypt.”
The next paragraphs are the introduction and recitation of Hallel songs of praise, similar to the songs of praise that were recited when we left Egypt.
–“Therefore it is our duty to thank, praise…” — since Hashem took us out from Egypt, we praise Hashem for his kindness ending the Haggadah with a Bracha.
–“Praise G-d…” — When Israel went out of Egypt…is the beginning of Hallel which describe the going out from Egypt

Pesach Advice From Experienced Jewish Homemakers.

Rivka Slatin has a nice site called Jewish-Life-Organized.com, which lots of tips and techniques to organize the Jewish home. She was kind enough to let us post anything from her site that would be useful for the Beyond BT community.

Pesach advice as told to me by experienced Jewish homemakers.
Pesach advice collected. Being the researcher that I am, I am constantly interviewing homemakers who are very experienced, running a home for over 30 years. Here is some pesach advice that I want to share with you. See what can work for you in your own home.

My own Pesach Tip!!!-I don’t make a cent off of this recommendation. There is a product that removes the cold hard grease from any surface. I just cleaned my refrigerator and the gunk underneath is with a few sprays! It is really really important that you get this product if you want to clean easily. The only downside is that it is not a natural product so you’ll want to wear gloves and not inhale. I think it is from Israel. This company also makes the Magic Sponge and the two products when used together are pretty powerful degreasers.

* I think about Pesach all year round. Otherwise it becomes impossible. No food is allowed upstairs or downstairs EVER! If chametz is all over the house, pesach becomes much harder.

* After Purim I start cleaning the dining room. Empty out the buffet, wash everything. I put a sign on it and only return things that are clean.

* I work my way up the cabinets in the kitchen, consolidating everything on the top shelves. That way, by the time my grandkids can help me bring stuff upstairs, I have empty space for Pesach dishes. My bottom cabinets end up Pesachdik.

* My kitchen is Pesachdik 2 Shabbosim before Pesach. I use a bunson burner if I want to cook anything with Chametz.

* If you want to Spring clean, fine. We all do. But have it done before Purim. Or wait until Pesach is over.

* I kasher my silver and use it all year-round.

* I save my cabinet liners year to year, cut them to size, and write on the back which shelf it corresponds to.

* I don’t bake after Purim and I start minimizing the chametz in my pantry. The chametz mamash goes in a box in the hallway. I keep cans in my pantry and just tape it up over Pesach.

* I pull one all-nighter and by the morning of bedikas chametz my house is completely ready for Pesach.

* There are 4 weeks between Purim and Pesach, I spend the 1st week on bedrooms, (after which no one brings food upstairs), the 2nd week on the downstairs, and the 3rd week for the kitchen. Having defined goals keeps me focused.

* I spend one whole day planning my Pesach meals. I choose foods that I know will serve many people. I tear apart my recipes and make sure EVERYTHING is on the list. It takes a whole day. After that, I spend one whole day going shopping.

* I have two freezers. During the year, I keep one chametz free.

* BUY A SELF-CLEANING OVEN!

* It’s all about attitude! I feel that my home is a miniature Bais Hamikdash and I am like the Kohen Gadol. I keep this in mind all year long but when it comes to Pesach, the feeling is even stronger. For me, cleaning for Pesach is a spiritual cleansing.

* I start around Chanukah time…no food is allowed anywhere besides kitchen and dining room.

* I work in 20 minute intervals, one task per day. So if I have the time, I just pull out a drawer and clean it.

* I don’t clean one room at a time. That’s too hard. I break it down into tiny tasks to complete daily.

* After Purim I start on the kitchen. I clean out my pantry, take out real chametz and put it in boxes. I leave the boxes in the corner of my dining room. It never goes back in the closet. Slowly I work on the kitchen, one shelf and one cabinet at a time. Once a cabinet is done, I am very careful about putting my dishes back in there. Before I put the dishes away, I make sure they aren’t put on a chametz counter.

* Cleaning the oven takes one whole day. So does the fridge and the stove! If you think a task takes 2 hours, give it 4! You can’t do it all in a day.

* I try to have everything Pesachdik 4 days before. We will have our kitchen Pesachdik before Shabbos HaGadol this year. That means our Shabbos food will be Pesachdik. We will eat in the dining room on plastic. After shabbos, the tablecloth is literally thrown out the door. The Dining room is my last room to turn over.

* Making Pesach is a Family project. It is not only the mother’s job. I divide up chores according to what each person does best. Kids are responsible for doing their own rooms. Make it fun!

* Around Purim time, I make lists of everything that needs to done in each room. I clean one room each Sunday.

* My home is usually changed over Sunday night. Shabbos we eat in the kitchen. Motzai Shabbos I do the oven, stove, and sink. Sunday, I reline the pantry, put chametz downstairs and put out the Pesach food. Sunday night the Pesach dishes are brought upstairs. This is the one night a year that we go out to dinner.

* I reserve one day for cooking fleshigs and one for cooking milchigs. My kids do the baking.

* I spend Erev Yom Tov preparing the Seder plate.

* My shopping is done 2-3 weeks before pesach. I store the Pesach food in my second fridge. For someone without one, leave the food in boxes and buy the perishables later. I buy kosher for pesach brands all year round. I always ask myself-DO I REALLY NEED THIS, IT’S ONLY 8 DAYS!!!!!!??!!!!!!!!!

* I keep an active Pesach folder all year round with recipes, inventories, & lists.

Originally Posted June 2007

Birth and Rebirth on Tazria, Parshas HaChodesh and Pesach

This week’s parsha, Tazria discusses a mother giving birth. There is a great irony in the birth of a child. The mother is one with the embryo before birth. Physically, a closer bond could never be attained between two. However, at birth, when the infant emerges and mother and child are physically separated, the love intensifies and there is an even greater bond than before. The irony is; through the separation is a stronger union. This new connection can be referred to as a union “face to face.”

The gemarah (Eruvin 18a) explains that Adam and Chava (Eve) were first created as one being, back to back. Hashem separated the two in order to achieve a greater union face to face.

In the deeper wisdom, the back represents the side of negativity. It is the side of darkness where light does not shine. It is a lack of revelation (expressions can only be seen on a face, not a back) and it is the place of filth. Negative energy is referred to as the sitra acher, the forces of the back.

Hashem separated Adam and Chava. In doing so, He created their back, great negativity. The sacrifice, however, was for a greater good. It was in order to attain an eventual, superior union face to face.

The Arizal elucidates that a soul before birth is created back to back. It is explained that a zivug (one’s soul mate) is half of one soul, separated into two, male and female. It seems that, like Adam and Chava, one is attached to his zivug in Heaven back to back. At birth, the two are separated and a virtual back is created. This is the negativity the couple experiences through separation in this world. However, all the uncertainty and anguish is for a greater good. It is in order to have the exalted relationship of face to face under the chuppah.

I would like to suggest this is all a parable for the ultimate relationship in life, our relationship with Hashem. We too were one with Hashem before birth. The soul is a part of Hashem above. Perhaps, our attachment to Hashem on high was like a back to back relationship. Our soul is separated from Hashem and plunged into this lowly world. It is only through the back, the darkness and pain of this world that we can achieve the supreme, ecstatic union of face to face with our Creator.

This is the challenge of Parshas Hachodesh (the Torah portion of the new moon read this Shabbos). The moon only shines in the night sky after it experiences great darkness. A crescent blossoms into a complete sphere. This is the Jew. Through the darkness he shines most magnificently. The non-Jewish calendar is exclusively a solar calendar. A solar year is called a shana. In Hebrew, shana means old. However, our calendar is also based on lunar months. A month in Hebrew is a chodesh. It means new. The Jewish people, like the moon, are always reinvigorating and becoming stronger and brighter than they were previously.

This is the message of Pesach. One can only complete the hagadah when the matzah and marror (bitter herbs) are before him (Pesachim 115b). His mouth can only be full of song through the recitation of Hallel (praises to Hashem) on the Pesach night, when there is a constant reminder of the darkness of Egypt. This is the breaking of the glass at a wedding. This is the plight of a baal teshuva. The apparent negativity and distance is not simply a reminder. It is an integral component of growth. It is this very darkness that yields the greatest simcha. This is Pesach. It is the back to back union transformed into a face to face relationship through the birth of the Jewish people into a nation.

Good Shabbos,
R’ Moshe Zionce

Originally Posted 4/4/2008

Sederim Without Extended Family

My children feel sad every year when Pesach comes around, because they are in yeshivas where they are surrounded by friends who talk about their excitement about Pesach Sederim, and all the extended family who will be there. My children have grown up with their grandparents never at the Seder table, or any extended family for that matter, and this is how it will be until Moshiach comes. Sometimes I would try to console my children with the tried and true BT speech: “Some day you’ll be grown up with children, and I’ll be the Bubbe at your Seder table!” Lately, I don’t give that speech. I just hug them and say, “I understand. I miss having family at the Seder table too. I wish Grandma and Grandpa, and Nana and Papa, and your cousins could be there too.”

The key is, I miss the concept of having family at the Seder table. It’s a beautiful, sentimental idea that belongs with Pesach, like it was written into the script. But I don’t miss having my family at the Seder table, or my husband’s family either for that matter. That’s when the rosy picture breaks down. When I wrote the book, “What Do You Mean, You Can’t Eat in My Home, a Guide for Newly Observant Jews and Their Lesser Observant Family Members,” I had a conundrum when I got to the chapter on Pesach. First I tackled Pesach as a cheerleader: You can do it, you can have Seders even in your mother’s non-observant home, or you can join together with your secular sister and her kids. Here’s how! And for some families, these compromises and adjustments are a small price to pay for the pleasure of being with family on Pesach, and it is a goal that can be accomplished and relished. To those families who have figured out how to bring together observant and non-observant (or lesser observant) families at the Sederim, G-d bless you. In some families, compromises won’t work, and true harmony is only reached by making a mutual decision that on this holiday, or for this simcha, or in this circumstance, we just can’t be together. We still love each other, but we have to separate from each other at this time. And so it is, in our family, for Pesach.

I remember when my husband pointed out to me that all of my life, I had never actually experienced a Pesach Seder on Pesach. When we were growing up in our secular home, we knew we were Jewish because we celebrated Hanukkah instead of Christmas, and Passover instead of Easter. Our Seder took all of twenty minutes. We used a booklet produced by the Reform movement called, “The Concise Family Seder”, and my mom cooked a delicious (non-kosher of course) brisket and bought a box of matzoh. We dipped the parsley, recited the plagues, ate the horseradish, sang “Dayenu”, and got right to the meal. Every Seder, and its accompanying meal, was over before Passover actually began, because who’s going to wait until 9 PM to start? I’m sure we were eating bagels the next morning, and there was no meaningful discussion at the table. What was meaningful was that this completely secular family was still holding on to this annual ritual of the Passover Seder. It wasn’t what the Seder stood for that really mattered; what mattered is that we still identified as Jews, who therefore, did three things: circumcised our babies, avoided Christmas, and then sat around a Seder table reading stories of our ancestors to remember that we are Jews. Even when I was away at college, and an adult in my twenties before marrying my husband, I came home for the Seder.

For the past fifteen years, my husband and I have been conducting the Pesach Seder in our own home. We don’t join with other BT families (as many do, to relieve the sadness of loss of family and to celebrate together in friendship), but instead, we give our three children ample time at the Sederim to share over the volumes of learning they have brought home from Yeshiva. Getting together with family is not an option for us. Going there is impossible because there would be nothing kosher about it, and no willingness to accommodate to the extent we’d need. So then, why not invite family to our Sederim? We’ve always done so, but the answer is always no, and I understand. To them, it looks like a punishment. You don’t start until 9 PM? You spend two hours with all of the rituals before you get to the meal? Instead of nachas over the children’s excitement and learning, there is something between distaste and disdain, and who needs that at the Seder table?

I feel sad when I see the children’s excitement at the Seder table, and I know that their grandparents are missing out on all this nachas. I feel sad when I know that all of our family members choose to separate from us on the most family-centric holiday of the year. I feel sad when I’m going through the sometimes-exhausting Pesach preparations, and I dream about what it would be like to have a mother or sibling to share it with, or at least someone who could even relate. It can be a lonely time, Pesach, one that really reminds me how far we have moved away from our families of origin.

I’m not going to end this essay with a “rah rah” sentimental speech about how good my husband and I feel as observant Jews, and how this makes up for all of the sadness, etc. This is what is true for me. Sometimes the path of the BT is a lonely one, especially when it comes to family. Sometimes I ache for my family to join me. Sometimes I’m angry that they aren’t here. Sometimes they are angry that I am not there. Sometimes I miss the good old days when I didn’t know any better, and I didn’t have to clean out the whole house for Pesach, and the Seder was over in twenty minutes. . . let’s eat. But there’s no going back. What there is, after fifteen years on this path, is increased pride and conviction of where my husband, children, and I have gone – no turning back – and increased acceptance that this has meant a necessary separation from our families of origin. This is what it is. It isn’t perfect, but this is it, so we live with it and make the most of it. And sometimes we cry. While my husband’s eyes are brimming over from too much horseradish, mine are sometimes teary from being lonely for observant family to join us. G-d receives all of our tears, whatever their origin. A very famous alcoholic came up with an expression I find very true everytime Pesach rolls around: “G-d grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Amen!

First Published April 14, 2008

Mark Twain and the Pesach Blues

Pesach is over and many see it’s chometz avoidance requirement as a chore and are relieved to see it over. Obviously that is not what Hashem intended in the mitzvah. Here is a comment from David Linn on a past post which may help us gain some perspective

I also think it helps if you focus on the mitzvah aspect of the cleaning, prep and carefullness. One of my favorite literary scenes is of Tom Sawyer painting the fence. For those who aren’t familiar, Tom has been punished and must whitewash the fence. He would, of course, rather be fishing or swimming or whatever else the other boys would be doing on a summer day. He devises a plan to make the other boys think that he wants to paint the fence and that they should only be so lucky. Before you know it, the boys are begging for a chance and actually giving Tom their respective prized possessions to get a chance to paint the fence.

Twain then writes:

“He had discovered a great law of human action, without knowing it — namely, that in order to make a man or a boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make the thing difficult to attain. If he had been a great and wise philosopher, like the writer of this book, he would now have comprehended that Work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do, and that Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do. And this would help him to understand why constructing artificial flowers or performing on a tread-mill is work, while rolling ten-pins or climbing Mont Blanc is only amusement. There are wealthy gentlemen in England who drive four-horse passenger-coaches twenty or thirty miles on a daily line, in the summer, because the privilege costs them considerable money; but if they were offered wages for the service, that would turn it into work and then they would resign.”

Now, I don’t think you’re going to have your friends paying you to help clean and prep for Pesach, if you do, please contact me so I can get the recipe. But, I do think that we build up the cleaning and prep to such a point of drudgery that we often fail to realize that there are mitzvos involved. Losing sight of that adds to the drudgery and exhaustion.

This won’t make it easy but maybe, just maybe, it will help us focus and see the gain from the pain.

The Making of a Passover Seder

Chapter 1 The Great Pesach Divide

I don’t think there are many days in the year that can cause greater strife in BT-Familial relations than Pesach. I think the reason for that is twofold. First, Pesach is a holiday that involves a high level of kashrus scrutiny. Second, many non-religious people take Pesach seriously on their level and a BT’s unwillingness to eat in their home often comes across as offensive.

Growing up, one seder was always held at my Aunt’s house, approximately 45 minutes away by car. Although my Aunt and Uncle weren’t religious, they were fairly traditional and they took Pesach seriously. My Aunt is one mean cook and my Uncle (he should rest in peace) always prepared the entire seder, complete with written explanations for each participant to read at the appointed time and his strawng awshkenawzi pronawnciation. He also freshly grated horseradish that could clear a stuffed nose from across the room. Other than my eternal fear of botching the four questions, I actually looked forward to those Seders every year. I was one of the few youngsters who stayed with the older men to complete the hagadah long after the others had retired to watch a post-meal hockey game. The seder at my Aunt’s was also pretty much the only time of the year that my extended family would get together.

So, it was with great trepidation that I approached my parents when I was approximately 16 and told them that I was no longer willing to ride in the car on Passover. At the time, I thought I might have more easily launched the first missle of WW III but, though my Aunt was not pleased, my parents handled it as well as could be expected and my Aunt, I think, eventually forgave me.

Chapter 2 A Teenager’s Seder
To my parents’ credit, they decided that if I wasn’t willing to go to my Aunt’s, they would stay home as well. That meant that I would have to prepare the Seder. Every year I would meticulously prepare my father’s hagadah with notations, explanations and parts so that he could “lead” the Seder. My father a’h, mother, brothers and any guests bravely persevered as we completed the entire hagaddah both nights for years. Knowing that this experience would not be the most pleasant one for the others, I did everything I could to try to make the seder relevant to them. I would spice it with history, family remembrances, riddles, jokes, etc. (One year we went through an entire scientific analysis of the process of leavening, another year I contacted the seder participants and asked them to submit advance questions about pesach the answers to which I researched and presented at the seder)

Chapter 3 The Seder in My Own Home
Though I am only in my mid-30s, I have been preparing a seder for the past 20 years. I think that my early seder experiences have helped fashion the seder I presently run. I am blessed with my own children now and I try to prepare a seder that is fun, interesting and relevant to them and any guests. Our seder is becoming well known for our children’s Ten Plagues skit (especially the famous water into blood scene, a must see), mixed minhagim (I have incorporated many of my Father In Law’s sephardi minhagim), interesting niggunim (kadesh, urchatz… to the tune of the Egyptian National Anthem) and the signed, notarized statement I procured from my wife and mother-in-law promising that they will not stay up all night the day before Pesach. I still think the time my father-in-law, already in his 70s, stood on his chair like a little boy to recite the Four Questions so he could get a chocolate covered marshmallow was the best.

Though my decision to break from my extended family’s passover seder was a difficult one that had relationship reprecussions, it forced me to develop a deeper understanding of the Hagadah and to (I hope) prepare a seder that is interesting and meaningful to its participants.

First posted on April 10, 2006

TEN WAYS to help you and YOUR CHILDREN have a more Meaningful and Inspiring PESACH SEDER

Use these suggestions to infuse new meaning and excitement into your seder and create a lasting experience for you and your family.

1.Make the most of your Seder and best fulfill the mitzvah of V’higadita L’vincha by staying focused on telling the actual story of Yetzias Mitzrayim; concentrate on the events and their lessons.

2. Transform Yetzias Mitzrayim from a story into a reality by celebrating the Seder like you celebrate a Simcha in your own family. Speak about it vividly, personally and enthusiastically…you’ll inspire yourself and your children.

3. Prepare for the Seder! Spend time studying books and Midrashim that elaborate specifically on the details of each miracle to help your children appreciate the extent of Hashem’s kindness.

4. Make Pesach personal and relevant to your children. Use your discussion about the amazing miracles of Yetzias Mitzrayim as a means of opening their eyes to the miracles Hashem performs for us every day.

5. Show your children how so much of the Pesach Seder revolves around them, demonstrating how much Hashem cares about every child and values each one as an essential member of Klal Yisroel.

6. Involve your children in the Pesach Seder. Prepare stimulating and challenging questions that will guide them to understand the lessons of the Haggadah and be an active participant in the Seder.

7. Practice the lesson of the Four Sons during your Seder by making a particular effort to involve each child (and adult!) in a way that best suits his or her unique personality, style and level.

8. Take the time to patiently answer your children’s questions. If you don’t know the answer, create a powerful Chinuch experience by asking a rabbi and exploring the issue… together with your child.

9. Reinforce their Emunah through the Pesach Seder by explaining that the miracles of Yetzias Mitzrayim irrefutably demonstrated Hashem’s complete control over the world to millions of eyewitnesses. We attest to this truth every year on the Seder night.

10. Inspire yourself by remembering that tonight Jewish parents around the world are passing on a glorious 3,320 year old legacy to their children as their parents and ancestors have done before them. Realize that the Seder that you create for your children will inspire them for the rest of their lives and shape the future Seder that they will make for their children.

The Pesach Seder:
A Unique Opportunity to Instill Emunah in Our Children

The Mitvah of telling the story of Yetzias Mitzrayim is primarily focused on our children and family. Its main purpose is to instill in their hearts the full knowledge of Hashem’s sovereignty and the magnitude of His strength and miracles. One should explain the story to them in the language that they understand to make them aware of the extent of the wonders that Hashem performs. It is not sufficient to explain just the main points of Yetzias Mitzrayim written in the Haggadah. Instead, we should describe all of the miracles vividly as they are depicted in the Gemara, Midrashim and other Seforim. (Based on Yesod V’Shoresh Ha’avoda 9:6)

COURTESY OF THE COMMUNITY TRAINING INITIATIVE OF PRIORITY-1
Under the auspices of Harav Reuven Feinstein, Shlita

For additional copies of this poster or for more information about Priority-1’s training programs, resources and consultations for parents and educators, please call 800-33-FOREVER

Inspiring Ideas for the Pesach Seder

In the hope of trying to create an inspiring, interesting and educational leil Pesach, we have often attempted to create activities that can be used to keep the kids (and adults) awake and involved. Please share with us any creative ideas, thoughts or activities that you have used at your seder or seen used at other seders.

Any contributions geared to any age group and/or ability or learning level will be great.

Please try to indicate weather the idea is best for pre–school, elementary school, high school, adult or all ages and/or weather it is best for beginner, intermediate, or advanced level.

Include as much detail as possible so that we can all benefit from each other’s experiences.

Here’s a starter from Aish: Family Fun with the Ten Plagues.