Rav Hirsch z”l, the B’nai Yisrael and “Being There” at the Pesach Seder 5773

by Moshe Burt

Shalom and Chag Same’ach Friends;

Seems I keep harping on the same theme regarding the Pesach Seder in recent years. I remember back some five years ago when Rav Chaim Zev Malinowitz spoke before Pesach 5768 saying that to truly experience Pesach, we need to put ourselves in a mindset of feeling the Yetziyat Mitzrayim (the leaving of Egypt) as if WE were THERE, as if WE had been through the slavery, bondage and persecution, as if WE watched the naisim of the Asserah Makkot (the 10 plagues) and were now dressed like Kings and Queens eating the Seder meal —the Korban Pesach which had been tied to our bedposts before slaughter, the Matzot (the bread of affliction which was baked in haste because of the haste of departure from that iron crucible: Mitzrayim) and the Maror — the bitterness of the affliction..

I’ve gotten very into R’ Shimson Rafael Hirsch z”l as is evident from citings from the new Hirsch Chumash (published by Feldheim in 2005 and translated to English by Rabbi Daniel Haberman) included my various Parshiyot HaShavua’s in recent years. I’ve also been learning R’ Hirsch’s “Nineteen Letters”, translated with commentary by Rabbi Joseph Elias. There are some passages from the text of Letters # 8 and 9 of “Nineteen Letters”, as well as commentary on the letters which, to me, speak to contributing to an ADULT’s focus in Being and Feeling as if “There” — being with the rest of Am Yisrael in Mtizrayim, feeling their pain of persecution and enslavement, as well as their euphoria upon Yetizot Mitzrayim.

Please feel free to print out copies of these exerpts appropriate to the number of teens, young adults and adults of all ages at your Seder table so that they can read them during the week before Pesach, or take a few moments before the Seder gets under way, to transplant themselves to that time in Mitzrayim and to “Be There.”

Also, if you and your guests enjoy and are enriched by these exerpts, I invite you all to view my ongoing Parshiyot HaShevuas each week on http://www.sefer-torah.com/blog/ , to sign up to receive the current Parshat HaShevua each week by email or to sponsor a Parshat HaShevua to commemorate a family simcha, a Yahrtzeit or other event worthy of sponsorship.

Many thinks for printing this out. I hope that by doing this exercise, that I have helped to make your Seder more meaningful.

May we, the B’nai Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole — be totally restituted for all that was stolen from them at leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized gunpoint, that our dear brethren Jonathan Pollard and Sholom Rubashkin, as well as the other MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem. May we have the courage and strength to stand up and physically prevent the possibility of Chas V’Challila any future eviction of Jews from their homes and the handing of Jewish land over to anyone, let alone to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nai Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem V’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bim hay v’yameinu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!

Good Yom Tov! Chag Kosher V’Some’ach and, remember: BE THERE at the Pesach Seder!

Moshe Burt

Rav Hirsch z”l, the B’nai Yisrael and “Being There” at the Pesach Seder 5773

It is perplexing that there are soo many blanks, soo many vagueries as to the history of that era such that it is difficult at best to frame the period in one’s mindset and perspective.

I cite here from my Parshat HaShevua on Sh’mos a few years ago:

the evolution of Jewish enslavement and persecution seems quite difficult to impossible due to great disparities between googled sources like this one, and Jewish historical chronologies. These disparities range from at least 200 to 500 years in terms of which Pharoah reigned in the times of Yosef and the deaths of the brothers and the ensuing enslavement, in which era and Dynasty, what Pharoah’s name was and what wars were fought when. And in the process of searching, it seems likely that ancient historians may have obscured or obliterated hundreds of years of Mitzri history, as Middle East expert Daniel Pipes claims. But it seems that Pipe’s dates are off as well, by about 175 years as to when Yaakov entered Mitzrayim and, in a later citing regarding the beginning of the reign of Shlomo HaMelech. The closest chronology seen by this author is one compiled by a Rabbi Hochheimer where it nearly agrees, only being off by 4 to 20 years and with agreement as to the date the Jews left Mitzrayim in 1313 BCE. But it is a mere snapshot chronology with no corrolating history as to which reign, what wars connection with Yosef and the Jews.

There are also those who write claiming that Yosef interpreted Pharoah’s dreams and was thus appointed Viceroy during a period when a foreign power held the seat of government and the Kingship in Mitzrayim. They claim that it was this Pharoah who designated that Yaakov and the brothers settle in Goshen and who had an affinity with the Jews. The Freeman Institute, whose dates also seem disparate from Jewish chronology — off by about 140 years, indicates that:

Joseph was promoted… in the middle of the Hyksos occupation of Egypt. But it is impossible to identify the individual before whom Joseph appeared, because the dating and succession of Hyksos kings remains indemonstrable today.

One could therefore question:

Who is the “new king” of Exodus 1:8 who “came to power in Egypt” and “did not know Joseph”? Was this new pharaoh Egyptian or Hyksos? What was the identity of the pharaoh who initially refused, but eventually was obliged to acquiesce to Moses’ demand that the Israelites should be released from bondage?

Perhaps one could theorize that if it was a Hyksos Pharoah whose dreams Yosef interpreted and who appointed him Viceroy and who ceded Goshen to the Jews, then pehaps the “New Pharoah” who “didn’t know of Yosef” was a Mitzri who became King when the Mitzriyim ousted the Hyksos invaders. Then it could be very understandable how the Mitzriyim would disdain the Jews who had by then penetrated Mitzrayim proper and could be found in all sectors of society; the trades, professions, arts, theatrical, business, economic, etc.

And so, a Pharoah schemed the enslavement of the Jews — mida keneged mida — to isolate the Jews from Mitzri Society.

With this background, we can now introduce citings from R’ Hirsch’s “Nineteen Letters”.

“Nineteen Letters,” Letter # 8, pages 114-115:

Hashem revealed Himself in the lives of these individuals as the “invisibly ruling Providence”, until they grew to a family of seventy, the nucleus of the nation-to-be. Starting with this nucleus, however, this people still had to be trained in order to be able to carry out its future mission. Unlike other nations, it could only attain nationhood only in the school of suffering. Hence, it had to be deprived of everything that makes a people a nation — in fact, even of that which, superficially seen, makes them men. Until the time of its liberation, this nation was to lose everything — except its morality, the promise of a better future and its trust in the One Alone — only to receive it all anew from His hands when it was freed.

The crucible of suffering in which Yisrael was to be forged in order to fulfill its future mission was Egypt, the country which then enjoyed the highest standard of civilization and which considered its land and its river to be its gods. Yisrael had been invited to Egypt in reward for a favor rendered by one of its members. Initially a guest, Yisrael established itself there. Egypt, however, worshipping material wealth only, did not acknowledge the One Alone and did not consider all men to be His children. In the arrogance of its power, it flouted the rules of hospitality and human rights, and made Yisrael its slaves. Yisrael, by now grown into a people, was reduced to the lowest level of human existence; and it was confronted by an Egypt that was in the full flowering of its might, proud of its greatness and contemptuous of the oppressed. At this moment, the One Alone appeared.

“Upon a light cloud, He appears… and Egypt’s gods tremble.” (Yeshayah perek 19, posuk 1)

He reveals Himself as the sole Creator, the Lord of nature…. he reveals Himself, too, as Lord over the life of nations, as Vindicator of the oppressed, as Judge of the arrogant. Egypt’s glory collapses before the majesty of a people that has nothing but Hashem alone. Hashem speaks __ and the walls of Egyptian prison tumble down; and the people… is free to march out.

From the hands of Hashem it obtained its freedom and nationhood, and the goal of its liberation, the revelation of how Hashem wants man to live — the Torah. From Yisrael’s schooling in Egypt and its training in the wilderness, one basic trait was to be forged: Emunah, rock-like trust in the One Alone Whom it had come to know, no matter along which paths His providence would lead it.

Commentaries on Letter # 8:

4. Suffering, page 120

Rabbi Hirsch stresses, the suffering in Egypt was necessary so that the Jews themselves, as well as the entire world, would realize that they [the Jews] were redeemed, and thus became a people, purely by miraculous Divine intervention. All this had to take place in Egypt because it was both the most powerful and the most civilized nation of the time.

5. Still in its fetters, page 121

“The fact that they were driven out of Egypt and that they could not even prepare the necessary bread for the journey… impresses forever on this exodus the stamp of its being exclusively the act of Hashem… they were still, even at this moment of their exodus, completely, as before, in the power of their oppressors and it was Hashem alone Who was directing matters…” (Commentary on Sefer Shemot)

6. Wilderness, page 121

The Torah was not given in Egypt, some commentators declare, because it might have been felt in later generations that the Jews would have consented to anything to escape from the house of bondage. On the other hand, [as cited from R’ Sa’adya Goan re: Letter # 7] R’ Hirsch indicates, the Torah could not be given in Eretz Yisrael because it had to be made clear that the Jews would become a nation without any of the appurtenances, such as a common territory, that usually are necessary for the emergence of a nation. (Commentary on Sefer Devarim)

At the same time, the giving of the Torah in the desert was intended to make it clear for all generations that the Torah does not depend on any material conditions (see Maharal, Derush al ha-Torah), just as the survival of the Jewish people does not depend upon them. The Torah and the Jewish people are inseparable and unaffected by the vagaries of time…

8. One condition, pages 122-123

Even though the existence and nationhood of the Jewish people do not depend upon the possession of land and state (Letter #7), the land of Yisrael has a crucial role to play as the Jew seeks to fulfill his Divine mission.

The land was to be received by the Jewish people for the realization of its national ideal: a state ruled by Hashem’s Law…. Eretz Yisrael was to be a Gan Eden for a people serving Hashem, and in return, receiving the Divine blessings of material and spiritual prosperity Commentaries on Sefer Devarim). On the other hand, if the Jewish people failed to live up to its duties, Divine providence, which is particulary manifest in this land (Sefer Devarim Perek 11, posuk 12), would cause it to become barren and desolate of its inhabitants who would be exiled. (Commentaries on Sefer Breish’t, Devarim) “This Jewish land, in its prosperity and in its ruin, is the pledge of the special historical position oof Israel on earth… The Divinely promised land can only be visualized in the context with the covenant [of Avraham] and the Torah.” (Commentary Sefer Devarim)

That the fate of Eretz Yisrael depends on our obedience to Hashem, rather than on political power and military might, is shown not only by the fact that in due course, “we were exiled from our land because of our sins” but also by the fact that we were given a number of Mitzvot that particularly tested our trust in Hashem rather than in military and economic calculations…

It should be clear, of course, that our eagerness for the return to Zion has never been due to a desire for political independence and material prosperity as ends in themselves, but to our longing to regain the closeness to Hashem’s Presence that the Beit HaMikdash, “the sanctuary of the Torah, the seat of Hashem and the Divine word.”

Letter # 9, pages 125-126:

…As a state Yisrael had committed no sins other than those evident among all of the other nations; but that which could be tolerated in the case of the other peoples could not be excused in Yisrael, for the entire purpose of its existence was to remain pure of such aberrations , since Hashem was its G’d! The collapse of the state, then served in its way to educate Yisrael just as much as its former prosperity had done; and its dispersion opened a new, great and far-flung field in which to carry out its mission.