The Learning Experience by Rabbi Darren Blackstein


This Motzai Shabbat, אי"ה, we will all sit down to our Pesach Sedarim.  We will ask questions, have discussions, eat certain foods, and sing certain songs.  For many, this is a long awaited time for distant family members to get together and enjoy Simchat Yom Tov.  All too often, however, the Seder falls to time restraints, and we are compelled to sprint through many parts of the Hagada.  There is so much to say about so many parts that eventually we become handcuffed by our own scholarship.  It is at this point that the Seder becomes a ceremony that we merely perform.  We wind up performing a ritual whereby we remember the miracles that were done to and for our ancestors many years ago.  The Hagada itself is replete with statements that urge us to avoid such feelings.  Let us discuss one such reference.

Prior to the end of Maggid, we say that in every generation we are obligated to view ourselves as if we are leaving Egypt.  The Rambam, in Hilchot Chametz U’Matzah (7:6), stresses this by saying that we should view ourselves as if we are leaving “now!”  This clearly tells us that the Seder is not merely a ceremony but an experience to be felt.  Through the recitation and learning of the Hagada, we transport that ancient experience to the present.  We attempt to feel it now!  This is accomplished by absorbing ourselves in the Mitzvot of the Seder.  We eat what they ate, talk about that which they focused upon, and sing praises to Hashem as they did.  All of this is done with such meticulousness in the hope that we can achieve some level of intensity that allows us to feel as they did.

Our Torah portion attests to this game plan as well.  At the end of Chapter 7 of Vayikra, we are given a summary statement concerning the Korbanot that have been mentioned thus far.  The Torah tells us in verse 37 that, זאת התורה, this is the law of the elevation offering, the meal offering, and the sin offering, and the guilt offering, and the inauguration offerings, and the feast peace offering.”  This Pasuk is referenced on the last page of Masechet Menachot (110a).  While discussing the lofty status of a Talmid Chacham, the Gemara cites our verse and its conspicuous use of the phrase, “This is the Torah.”  Reish Lakish says that this phrase teaches us that anyone who occupies himself with learning Torah is considered as one who has offered all of these sacrifices.  This is apparently true even though one’s learning at the time may have nothing to do with sacrifices.  Rava takes this one step further and says that someone occupied with learning Torah need not offer these sacrifices.  Rashi explains that the person’s learning will, in effect, be used to achieve atonement.  The Gemara concludes with Rabbi Yitzchak, who says that our Pasuk teaches us that one who learns about a particular sacrifice is considered as if he offered that sacrifice.  Whichever opinion you analyze, the outstanding conclusion is unavoidable.  The learning of Torah has the capacity to capture one’s mind and body to such a point that one can feel the reality of what one learns.  Just as our learning can be considered by Hashem as a Korban, we can consider ourselves, through the Seder, as having just been redeemed.

At the conclusion of his Shabbat Hagadol Drasha, Rabbi Yosef Adler quoted a statement of Rav Hai Gaon.  Rav Hai explains that there is no Beracha for Hallel at the Seder because it is more Shira, song, than Hallel.  Hallel is something you are commanded to do.  Shira, song, is something that occurs spontaneously from a person who has experienced something wonderful, and therefore a Beracha is out of place.  May we all be זוכה to have a Seder where we each feel the redemption and spontaneously feel the need to praise Hashem.


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