Pesah: Earning Redemption, Then and Now
Twice during the Seder on Pesah we take a piece of food and dip it into a liquid before eating it. First, after Kiddush, we take the Karpas – a vegetable – and dip it in salt water. Later, after eating the Masa, we dip the Marror in Haroset. What do these two dippings represent?
The Karpas, it has been suggested, hearkens back to the early history of the Egyptian exile – to the story of Yosef and his brothers. Yosef’s brothers despised him, resenting his favored status, which was symbolized by the "Ketonet Pasim" – the special cloak which Yaakob had made for him. Rashi, in explaining the word "Pasim," writes that this word stems from the same root as the word "Karpas," which means a "fabric that covers." The word "Karpas," then, is associated with Yosef’s special cloak. As we know, at the time Yosef’s brothers assaulted him and threw him into a pit – before eventually selling him as a slave to merchants who brought him to Egypt – they tore off his "Ketonet Pasim" and dipped it in goat’s blood, in order to make it appear as though he was attacked by a beast. Therefore, as we begin the Seder, we dip "Karpas" in liquid – to commemorate the tragic event of Mechirat Yosef (the sale of Yosef), which resulted in our ancestors’ relocation in Egypt, thus facilitating the bitter exile.
The second dipping, which we perform later, after we study the story of the Egyptian bondage and the Exodus, commemorates the dipping which occurred on the night our ancestors achieved their freedom. They were commanded to slaughter the Pesah sacrifice, and to then dip a bundle of hyssop in the blood, and place some blood on their doorposts. The bundle of hyssop ("Agudat Ezob") represents the nation’s unity, the peace and harmony that prevailed at that time, their coming together into a single "bundle," a single unit. As such, it reflects the drastic transformation that they had undergone – from the time of Mechirat Yosef, when they turned against their brother, to the point where they merged into a single "bundle," bound together by mutual love and devotion.
This is the transformation that we, too, are to undergo at the Seder. We are to reflect upon the cause of the Egyptian exile – internal strife and conflict – and on the need to come together in peace and harmony in order to be worthy of redemption.
Rav Eliyahu Dessler (1892-1953), in his Michtab Me’Eliyahu, observes that the current exile which we endure is characterized by Sin’a – senseless hatred toward the Jewish People. Over the course of the nearly two millennia of this exile, we have been despised for so many different reasons. Jews have been despised for being rich, and despised for being poor. It seems entirely irrational, and it is. But Rav Dessler teaches us the harsh reality about this experience – that the hatred toward us is a mirror image of the hatred that exists among ourselves. The Gemara famously teaches that the Second Temple was destroyed because of Sin’at Hinam (baseless hatred), and this scourge continues to be the reason why our final redemption has yet to arrive. Our nation has suffered baseless hatred from other nations because of our baseless hatred toward one another.
I once took a trip to the town of Radin in Belarus, and visited the yeshiva of the Hafetz Haim (Rav Yisrael Meir Kagan, 1839-1933). It was there where the Hafetz Haim wrote his legendary work on the laws of Lashon Ha’ra (negative speech about other people). We then crossed the street to the Hafetz Haim’s grave, and prayed. Not far from the grave, we noticed a memorial plaque. The plaque commemorated the liquidation of Radin by the Nazis in June, 1941. The Nazis killed 1500 Jews, and they were buried in a mass grave. I was struck by the proximity of these two sites – the yeshiva and grave of the Hafetz Haim, who devoted much of his life to teaching the importance of avoiding negative speech about our fellow Jews, and the senseless hatred which the Nazis harbored toward the Jews. It is almost as though the Hafetz Haim prophetically saw the irrational hostility and crimes that would be perpetrated at that site, and set out to teach us to combat this hatred by eliminating the hatred among our own nation, our own families and our own communities.
The Arizal (Rav Yishak Luria of Safed, 1534-1572) observed that the letters of the name "Pharaoh" spell the words "Peh Ra" – "evil mouth." The root cause of the oppression we suffered at the hands of Pharaoh was the "evil mouth," the harsh words spoken to and about one’s fellow. We rectify this ill, the Arizal taught, through "Pesah," which can be read as "Peh Sah" – "the mouth that speaks," referring to proper speech, to speaking words of Torah, prayer, praise of G-d, and expressions of friendship, love and kindness to our fellow Jew.
The Egyptian exile, and the Exodus, serve as the prototype of all future exiles and redemption. We sit at the Seder to not simply recall the past, but to apply the lessons of the past to the present. Let us, then, spend some time reflecting on the transformation from the first dipping to the second – from the tragic hatred of Mechirat Yosef to the "bundle" that was formed through the people’s friendship and harmony at the time of the Exodus. And let us commit to making this transformation in our own lives, as well, so we will be worthy of our final redemption, speedily and in our times, Amen.