The Learning Experience by Rabbi Darren Blackstein


This Monday night, 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 Haggadah.  There is so much to say about so many topics that eventually we become handcuffed by our own scholarship.  It is at this point that the Seder becomes a ceremony that we merely perform by rote.  We wind up practicing a ritual whereby we remember the miracles that were done to and for our ancestors many years ago.  However, the Haggadah itself is replete with statements that urge us to avoid such feelings. 

Near the end of Maggid, we state that in every generation we are obligated to view ourselves as if we are leaving Egypt.  The Rambam (Hilchot Chameitz UMatzah 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 rather an experience to be felt.  Through the recitation and learning of the Haggadah, 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 Sefer VaYikra, we are given a summary statement concerning the Korbanot that have been mentioned thus far.  The Torah tells us (7:37), “Zot HaTorah LaOlah LaMinchah VeLaChatat VeLaAsham VeLaMiluim UlZevach HaShelamim,” “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 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 this verse and its conspicuous use of the phrase, “This is the Torah.”  Reish Lakish states that this phrase teaches us that anyone who occupies himself with learning Torah is considered as if he had 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 states that someone occupied with learning Torah is exempt from offering these sacrifices.  Rashi explains that the person’s learning will, in effect, be used to achieve atonement.  The Gemara concludes with Rabi Yitzchak, who states that this Pasuk teaches us that one who learns about a particular sacrifice is considered as if he offered that sacrifice.  Whichever opinion one analyzes, the outstanding conclusion is unavoidable.  The learning of Torah has the capacity to capture one’s mind and body to the point that he can feel the reality of what he 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 one of his Shabbat HaGadol Derashot, Rabbi Yosef Adler quoted a statement of Rav Hai Gaon.  Rav Hai explains that that there is no Berachah on Hallel at the Seder because it is more Shirah (song) than it is regular praise.  While Hallel is something obligatory, Shirah emerges spontaneously from a person, and therefore a Berachah is out of place.  May we all merit to have a Seder where we feel the redemption and concomitant need to sing to Hashem.

Shevii Shel Pesach by Shai Berman

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