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The “Intoxication” of the Seder

The Rema Mi’Pano (Rav Menahem Azarya of Fano, Italy, 1548-1620) writes that the verse in Shir Ha’shirim (5:1), "Ichlu Re’im Shetu Ve’shichru Dodim" – "Eat, friends; drink to intoxication, beloved ones" refers to the night of Pesach. We are urged to eat heartily at Shulhan Orech – the meal of the Seder – and then drink the third and fourth cups, which follow the meal. This "intoxication," the Rema Mi’Pano writes, is a "Shichrut She’en Bo Genai" – a type of intoxication which is not discouraged, as intoxication normally is.

How might we explain the "intoxication" that we are encouraged to experience at the Seder?

The Gemara in Masechet Berachot (7b) teaches that Rut, the great-grandmother of King David, was given this name because it is etymologically connected to the verb "Riva," which means "filled" or "drunk," as in the phrase "Kosi Revaya" ("my cup overflows" – Tehillim 23:5). King David, the Gemara explains, "filled" G-d with beautiful praises, and Rut’s name alludes to this quality of her great-grandson. The Gemara here describes King David’s praises of Hashem with a term that is normally used in reference to drinking and intoxication, indicating that there was an "inebriating" quality to David’s praises. A person who is drunk forgets his problems and difficulties, and experiences nothing but blissful joy – and this is what David’s praises expressed. David was able to praise Hashem even under the direst circumstances, even in situations of hardship, and even when experiencing pain. He gave praise to G-d not only in good times, but also in hard times, fully trusting and believing that everything Hashem does is always for the best.

This, then, might be the meaning of the Rema Mi’Pano’s remark. By the time we reach the latter part of the Seder, when we sing joyous songs of praise to Hashem, we are to have arrived at exalted levels of Emuna (faith) whereby we give praise in a state of "intoxication," viewing everything in our lives as positive. The Seder is meant to bring us to a point of faith where we become "drunk" from joy and contentment, where we are no longer troubled and pained by our hardships, and are able to give praise to Hashem irrespective of the situation.

A similar point is made by the Hatam Sofer (Rav Moshe Sofer of Pressburg, 1762-1839) in explaining the seemingly peculiar acrostic of the ten plagues which we mention in the Haggadah. After listing the ten plagues, we note that Rabbi Yehuda would refer to the ten plagues by the acrostic "Desach Adash Be’ahab," which contains the first letters of the names of the plagues. Many have wondered why this point is significant, such that it was deemed worthy of mention at the Seder. Why is it important for us to know that Rabbi Yehuda used a mnemonic to refer to the ten plagues?

The Hatam Sofer explained that in truth, the words "Desach Adash Be’ahab" convey a deeper message. The word "Desach" means "your joy" ("Disa Shelach"), and the word "Adash" means "lentil." The third word, "Be’ahab," can be understood as "Be’ahaba" – "with love." The explanation, the Hatam Sofer said, is that we are able to experience joy even in times of pain and distress – symbolized by lentils, the food traditionally eaten by mourners – if we accept life’s travails with love. The Seder experience is to elevate our level of Emuna to the point where we are capable of embracing life’s hardships through our firm faith that everything Hashem does is good, and even the hardships we experience are actually to our benefit, whether or not we can see how. And thus Rabbi Yehuda taught, "Desach Adash Be’ahab" – that we can feel true joy and happiness even in periods of distress through the special level of faith we reach at the Seder, through the realization that Hashem governs all aspects of our lives and does everything for our benefit, with immense love and compassion. The more we build this belief within our beings, the better able we will be to live happy, content lives no matter what bumps we encounter along the road.

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