"We are closer to G-d when we are asking the questions, than when we think we have the answers" Heschel

Monday, March 29, 2010

Being The Redeamed and The Redeamer

The four questions that the child asks his parents are our gateway into the quest for the wondrous experience that lays ahead of us tonight. We are about to step into an adventure which will allow us to relive the transformation of our ancestors from slaves to free men. The way by which the Torah as well as our Rabbis formulate this goal is that every father must teach his child the story of the exodus. This experience is prompted by the child’s questions which lead to the teaching of the miraculous story.

This requirement of question and answer is a unique element that the seder night has which differentiates it from all other educational mitzvot that we have over the year. Rav Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, commonly know as the Kedushas Levi, the name of his monumental work of Chassidic thought, explains that the reason for this is that something phenomenal happens when a parent and a child enter into a dialogue. If one were to examine such a conversation from a distance, it would seem absolutely ludicrous. Why would an intellectually mature individual take his time to speak with another individual of much lesser intelligence and understanding? He should focus his mental faculties on pursuits which befit his own level. The Kedushas Levi therefore explains that when a father teaches his child or a teacher his student they are forced to take their own intellectual self and diminish it. They do not speak to them as an equal, rather they must use language, tones, metaphors and gestures which will all appeal to the mind of the child. This is what happens in such a pedagogical dialogue; it is not a conversation of equals. It necessitates one greater, more advanced individual to lessen his own mind for the sake of being able to properly relate to his pupil.

Why is there a specific need for this phenomenon on the night of the Pesach Seder? According to some Halachic authorities the mitzva of the telling over of the story of the exodus is fulfilled in the greatest way when a father teaches a child who has the most minimal intelligence. How does this contribute to our personal experience of leaving Egypt? To this the Kedushas Levi responds that when the father answers his sons questions and achieves this educational dialogue he is doing precisely what The Master of the World did for the Jewish people in the exodus from Egpyt. Just as the father goes down to the level of his son out of pure, absolute love and devotion in order to respond to him so too did Hashem come down by HimSelf in order to bring the Jewish people out of Egypt. The lower the father has to stoop to answer questions and clarify difficulties, the more he relives the exodus. In order to redeem our ancestors our Father in Heaven went down to the lowliest and most disgusting promiscuous, idolatrous and impure place in the world, Mitzrayim. It is utterly illogical for such a thing to happen. The Baal HaTanya asks, why would an exalted, pure infinite G-D lower HimSelf in such a way? Nothing besides absolute love and devotion can explain such a phenomenon.

Our total experience of the exodus of Egypt requires us to relive not only the receiving side of the salvation and redemption but also the side of the bestowing and giving: Hashem. This is the relationship between the teller of the story of yetziat Mitzrayim and the hearer of the story. The truth of the matter is that within every Jew, young or old, educated or less so, spiritually aware or less so, there lays both elements. Every Jew is a child, the hearer of the story, the recipient of the miraculous deliverance from slavery and bondage. But at the same time we also have a piece of G-D within us, we have the power to tell the story, to be redeemers and saviors in our own rights.

To conclude, the halachah, Jewish law, requires a Jew who may unfortunately sit at his Seder by himself to ask himself the questions and respond to himself. This too fits in precisely with our understanding. For in a sense we all oftentimes find ourselves quite lonely, down and unproductive; our own personal feeling of exile and servitude. The halachah demands of us to tell ourselves the story. Not only to be the needers and recipients of the salvation, but to also be completely aware that we can be the parent and the teacher; we can be bestowers of the redemption as well, most importantly to ourselves.

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