Here’s 4 brief gems to appreciate Passover more. I wish you a wonderful rest of your Passover and would love to hear any highlights from your Seders.
1. The full gematria (numerical value, counting the full name of each letter) of Passover, פסח, comes to 613!
By fulfilling the Mitzvah of Passover, we merit receiving all 613 commandments. That’s why we count up the days between Pesach to Shavuot, the receiving of the Torah. Each of the 49 days rectifies one of the 49 levels of impurity that we were at when we left Egypt.
If our ancestors could transform the lowest level of slavery into the highest level of spirituality in 49 days of concentrated self-improvement, don’t we owe it to ourselves to do the same? If we strive for greatness, there’s no limit to the heights we will achieve.
The following ideas come from Rabbi Immanuel Bernstein’s “Darkness to Destiny: The Haggadah Experience, chock full of great Pesach insights and written by a Rabbi at my sibling Yeshiva, Makkon Yakkov.
2. Why are we instructed to “blunt the teeth” of the wicked son? R. Shmuel David Walkin (Kisvei Aba Mari p.242) explains that teeth represent the external expression of speech (in front of the throat and tongue, heart and mind). A parent is not to define the child based on the objectionable question coming out of his mouth. Rather, (s)he must reach past that to the child inside, whom (s)he knows to be good.
The gematria of רשע/wicked is 570.
The gematria of שניו/his teeth is 366.
When one knocks out the teeth of the wicked son, he knocks out 366 from 570, which leaves…
204, the gematria of צדיק/righteous person. That is the one the parent is looking to deal with, for his son is indeed a good child; all he needs to do is get past the fangs (Ahavas Olam — R’David Yosef Haparchi, p.171).
That’s also why the haggadah says, “For me, and not for him! If he had been there then, he would not have been redeemed.” Why is it “For him” and not, “For you”? A: A parent can never tell his child they wouldn’t be redeemed. Rather, the parent says, “That person wouldn’t have been redeemed. You, my son, should learn from the experience of others that negative attitudes can often beget negative consequences, and perhaps then you may reconsider which path you with to take, for you are better than that.”
3. The Mechilta explains (Parshas Bo 12:6) : Although the time had come for Hashem to redeem the Jewish people, they were bare of mitzvos through which to merit the redemption. To this end, Hashem gave them two mitzvos: the Pesach offering and Bris Milah/Circumcision. This is the meaning of the phrase, “Through your blood you shall live” (Yechezkel 16:7,6).
He then asks, “Didn’t the Jewish people take pains to avoid changing their names and their language, that they did not slander each other, and resisted any pressure towards physical immorality? Surely those merits should have been enough.
A: All of those are passive in nature — refraining from doing something wrong. This allowed them to not disintegrate during the exile. In order to merit being actively redeemed, they needed the active merits of Pesach and Milah.
4. Dayenu: Enough for whom? The song seems to make little sense — for example, if G-d brought us to Mt. Sinai, but didn’t give us the Torah, it would have been enough? The point was to receive the Torah!
The song starts off with the line, “How grateful we must be to the Omnipresent for all the levels of kindness He has done for us!”
The Malbim translates the word “מעלות”, levels, as “praises”, as we often find mentioned in our prayers. For each level of kindness Hashem bestowed upon us, there is a corresponding level of expressing gratitude, עלינו/incumbent upon us. The lesson is we must not wait until the end of a process to say thank you — rather each stage is deserving of gratitude. A simple gesture is thanking and praising the chef of a Shabbas meal for each dish specifically, instead of simply saying the meal was delicious as you leave. Since the Creator took such pains to notice the details for our sake, we notice the details and appreciate them.
As for the specifics of why we’d be thankful for Mt. Sinai even if not for the Torah, we see in Gemara Tractate Shabbas 146a that the experience of being before Hashem at Mt. Sinai was of immense spiritual benefit to us. The damaging spiritual effects from eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil disappeared from our ancestors when they stood at the foot of Mt. Sinai. This benefit alone deserves our gratitude.
I hope your Passover Seders were inspirational and lively. May you be blessed to feel ever more free and empowered with every passing year.
Have a Fantastic Passover!