A Blessing on Your Head

Rabbi Wagensberg
Pesach/Haggadah - Leil Mevarchim
A Blessing on Your Head

There is a lot of material when it comes to speaking, or writing, about Passover. In this article, we will focus on four points: two of the four sons, the signs of Rebbi Yehudah, Yachatz, and the Afikoman.

The wise son wants to know ALL about the laws of Passover. We tell him that one may not request food after the consumption of the Afikoman.

Question number one, why is this one law singled out from all the other laws?

Then, the wicked son wants to know about the nature of the service that we do on Passover. We are told to blunt his teeth and tell him that he would have never survived Egypt.

This seems very harsh. The wicked son is already sitting at the Seder table. He could have been at the movies. Instead, he participates and asks questions. That's amazing! OK, he asks with an attitude, but we can handle that.

What are we told to do? Punch him in the face!

Question number two, is this the greatest kiruv tool we could come up with so far? Maybe we should try spitting on him and curse at him. As he's bleeding he'll probably say, "Oh, I see the light. Where can I sign up?"

This is the night of education, where we pass our tradition over to the next generation. How can we be so coarse, rigid, and mean when the Torah is supposed to be peaceful and pleasant?

Besides, the Bible tells us to respond to the wicked son's question differently. The verse says to tell him that that the service is called a Korban Pesach (Paschal Lamb), commemorating the fact that God passed over Jewish homes and crashed down on Egyptian homes, slaying their first born (Ex. 12:26-27).

I guess this answer wasn't good enough for the authors of the Hagaddah (The Anshei K'nesses Hagedolah; The Men of the Great Assembly). Why wasn't it?

Question number three, how could we tell the wicked son that he would have never made it out of Egypt alive? In the Haggadah it says that we must, "See ourselves as if we came out of Egypt, because God didn't only rescue our ancestors, He rescued us with them."

The Bnei Yossaschar (Nissan, 5:14) explains this passage by teaching us that the 600,000 Jews who left Egypt possessed the 600,000 primary Jewish souls. All subsequent souls were wrapped up in their souls.

Therefore, Hashem DID redeem us from Egypt. How can we say to the wicked son that he would have never made it out? If he is sitting at the Seder table, he is not part of the Jews who perished during the Plague of Darkness, because they had no descendants. Obviously, the wicked son descended from the 600,000 Jews. He was there and he was rescued. How can we falsify the facts?

Question number four, why do we need to hear the heresy of the wicked son to begin with? Passover night is so holy. God sends His entire entourage of angels to all the Jewish homes to hear how we relate the story of the Exodus from Egypt (Zohar Bo, pg. 40b). Every Jewish home is packed with angels. The holiness is so palpable that you can reach out and touch it.

Is it appropriate table talk to speak about the wicked son's heresy? What's the next conversation going to be? Politics? Maybe we should discuss that latest movie we saw! These topics may not be suitable for any table, let alone the Seder table. Why not just leave the wicked son's comments out of the Haggadah? Let's keep the conversation neat and clean.

These are the four questions. How fitting it is to raise specifically four questions about Passover!

In order to appreciate the answers to these questions, let's talk about a miracle which occurred on Passover night, generations before our ancestors left Egypt. It was on Passover night that Ya'akov received the coveted blessings from his father Yitzchak.

It was a close call, because through Eisav's trickery, he almost received those blessings. Eisav knew how to make himself appear righteous in Yitzchak's eyes (Gn. 25:27; Rashi citing Bereishis Rabba, 63:10). This misconception almost led to Eisav being blessed.

Yitzchak's blessings were powerful. If Eisav would have received them, it would have changed the course of history.

Let's describe what that Passover night looked like. There was a battle waging on between the forces of holiness and the forces of impurity. There was a struggle between Ya'akov and Eisav with respect to receiving those blessings.

Yitzchak sat at the head of his Seder table with motzos, maror, four cups of wine, charoses, etc. Although his physical eyes were dimmed so that Ya'akov would be able to get the blessings (Gn. 27:1; Rashi citing Tanchumah 8), his spiritual eyes were wide open. Yitzchak foresaw how his descendants would be enslaved in Egypt and subsequently redeemed from there.

On that holy night, Yitzchak (who received the power of blessing from his father Avraham, who in turn received it from Hashem; Gn. 12:2, Rashi citing Bereishis Rabba 39:11, Rebbi Brachya), searched for somebody to bequeath his blessings to.

Yitzchak chose to bless Eisav. After all, Eisav seemed to be a righteous man. Since Yitzchak's prophetic vision was not on the level of Moshe Rabbenu, he didn't see clearly. He could tell that his descendants were going to be imprisoned in Egyptian bondage, but he could not tell if they came from Eisav's line or from Ya'akov's. Yitzchak assumed that they came from Eisav.

Yitzchak instructed Eisav to hunt some game, and make it into delicacies that he loved. Only after eating from the food would Yitzchak bless him (Gn. 27:2-4).

When Rivka saw what was going on, she stepped in and told Ya'akov to listen to the Divine Inspiration within her voice and fetch two goats from the flock. Rivka, who cooked for Yitzchak for many years, knew what he loved. She would make those delicacies so that Ya'akov would get the blessings (Gn. 27:8-9).

Requesting two goats seems a bit strange. Did Yitzchak's average meal consist of the flesh of two whole goats? That's a lot of meat! How did he consume so much in one sitting?

Rather, that was night was Passover night. One goat was for the Korban Pesach, and the other goat was for the Korban Chigigah (Festive Offering; Pirkei D'Rebbi Eliezer, chap. 32). Eating a k'zayis (olives worth) from each offering would suffice.

Ya'akov listened to his mother and picked himself up in the middle of the Seder, fetched the two goats. After Rivka prepared them, Ya'akov reentered the Seder room dressed in his Purim costume; Eisav's desirous clothing (Gn. 27:15).

Ya'akov was sweating with nervousness and said, "I am Eisav your first born. Rise up, please and eat of my game so that you may bless me" (Gn. 27:19). Realizing that Eisav had been sent just a short while ago, Yitzchak asked, "How is it that you were so quick to find, my son?" (Gn. 27:20).

Ya'akov responded, "Hashem, your God, arranged it for me" (Gn. 27:20). Yitzchak was suspicious. He knew that Eisav never mentioned God's Name. Only Ya'akov did. To determine who was standing in front of him, Yitzchak said, "Come close please, so that I can feel you, my son; are you, indeed, my son Eisav or not?" (Gn. 27:21, Rashi citing BereishisRabba, 65:19).

It was the moment of truth. The entire heavenly arrangement, including the sun, moon, stars, and mazalos, held their breath. Angels and Saraphites stood taken aback, in shock, wondering if Ya'akov would be able to pull it off, or would his cover be blown, resulting in Eisav receiving the blessings.

When the entire universe witnessed Ya'akov lower his holy head so that Yitzchak's his holy hands could rest on it, and when they heard that sweet voice of Yitzchak bless Ya'akov, they sighed a sigh of relief.

The blessings spoke about possessing dew of the heavens and fat of the earth. It spoke of having grain and wine. It promised that peoples would serve Ya'akov and regimes would prostrate themselves to him. It mentioned that Ya'akov would be a lord over his brother, and that his mother's sons would prostrate themselves to him. Finally, those that would curse Ya'akov would be cursed, and those that would bless him would be blessed (Gn. 27:28-29).

This miracle occurred in the middle of the Seder, while Yitzchak fulfilled the mitzvah of Sippur Yetziyas Mitzrayim (telling the story about the future Exodus from Egypt), literally moments before Eisav returned to receive those blessings.

Parenthetically, this salvation came about because of Rivka who stepped in to change the course of events. Rivka was one of the Nashim Tzidkonioses (righteous women). She was responsible for the rescue in her generation. By doing so, she paved the way for future righteous Jewish women, in whose merits, the Jewish people were saved from Egypt (Sota, chap. 1, "Hamikaneh", pg. 11b, Rav Avirah or Rebbi Akivah).

If the miracle of Ya'akov receiving the blessings instead of Eisav happened on Passover night, why isn't there a mention of this in the Haggadah? The Haggadah talks about other events which happened on Passover night, why not mention one of the earliest documented cases of a Passover night observance with Yitzchak, Ya'akov, Rivka, and Eisav?

Rebbi Aharon Rokeach of Belz (the fourth Belzer Rebbe, b. 1880, Belz, Poland, d. 1956, buried in Har Hamenuchos) says that we do make mention of this in the Haggadah. It can be found in the words of Rebbi Yehudah who gave signs to the Ten Plagues which are, "D'tzach, Adash, Ba'achav."

These signs are really the acronym of the Ten Plagues. But, who really needs these signs? What purpose do they serve?

The Belzer Rebbe says that these signs hint that, eventually, the plagues which they represent will come crashing down on Eisav and his descendants, destroying them.

"D'tzach" is not only an acronym, but it is also related to the word "Ditzah" (happiness). "Adash" is not just an acronym, but it refers to Eisav who sold his birthright for a bowl of "Adashim" (lentil soup; Gn. 25:34). Lentils are red resembling Eisav's complexion.

When you put these two sign together, it's a message we are sending to the Eisav's of the world. We are saying to them, "D'tzach Adash", be "happy" you "Eisavs" while you can. Enjoy yourselves while we are in exile. But, remember, "Ba'achav." This sign is composed of two words, "Bo, Chov" (liability is coming). One day you will have to pay the price for all the Jewish suffering you caused over the generations.

Just like Eisav lost the blessings on a Passover night, his descendants can be toppled on Passover night. Passover carries the energy of Eisav's downfall.

Accordingly, the wise son and the wicked son in the Haggadah refer specifically to two boys, Ya'akov and Eisav. There is a pattern which supports this. Ya'akov mentioned God's Names (Hashem Elokecha; Gn. 27:20), and the wise son mentions God's Names (Hashem Elokeinu). Eisav never mentions God's names, neither does the wicked son.

May I just add, that mentioning God's Name when we speak is not merely a fulfillment of a technicality in Jewish law, custom, or tradition. It is much greater than that. It demonstrates an awareness that God is involved in this world and in one's personal life. It also invites God in.

Inversely, not mentioning God's Name in conversation is not merely a violation of Jewish law, practice, or custom. It is much more global than that. It reveals a lack of awareness of God's involvement in the world and in our personal lives. It also does not invite God in.

Ya'akov deserved the blessings because he sacrificed himself for them by mentioning God's Names to begin with. Ya'akov also realized that Eisav never mentioned God's Name. By telling Yitzchak that Hashem had helped him prepare everything in a short amount of time, he ran the risk of revealing that he was not the person who he was trying to impersonate. Ya'akov could have lost the blessings because of that. History would have ended very differently. How could he take such a chance?

It is because Ya'akov could not bring himself to speak like Eisav. Ya'akov credited all of his accomplishments to Hashem. Ya'akov believed that he could mention God's Names and still walk away with the blessings if God deemed it to be.

Later, when Yitzchak realized that he blessed Ya'akov, he understood that Ya'akov took a huge chance at being caught. Yitzchak realized that Ya'akov was incredibly righteous. Therefore, Yitzchak willingly agreed that Ya'akov was the deserving party to receive the blessings (Shvilei Pinchas).

This answers question four. We DO mention the heresy of the wicked son on such a holy night because we want to mention Eisav who lost the blessings on this night. We want to tap into this energy so that the Eisavs of today's world can also be defeated (Shvilei Pinchas).

It turns out that we do not only mention Eisav in Rebbi Yehudah's signs, but we also mention him in the question of the wicked son.

This also answers the third question. We CAN say to the wicked son that he would have never made it out of Egypt alive, because we are not talking to a Jewish boy who became wicked, we are talking to Eisav. Eisav was never enslaved by the Egyptians, but, we tell him that if he was, he would have never survived (Shvilei Pinchas).

Now, we can understand the answer to the second question. The authors of the Haggadah do not use the Bible's answer to the wicked son, but rather give a different answer which is so sharp. This is because the Bible is talking to Jewish children who have become wicked. To those children, we explain the meaning behind the Korban Pesach. "Pesach" means "Passover" teaching us that God "passed over" Jewish homes and struck Egyptian homes.

When it says that God passed over Jewish homes, it implies that it was "difficult" for God to do so, almost as if He had to force Himself to pass over them. The reason for this "difficulty" was that the Jews were still idolaters at that point. Yet, Hashem was patient and spared them because He loved them anyway.

We tell a wicked Jewish child that God loves him too, and is waiting with open arms to embrace him whenever he is ready.

This is how the Torah comforts Jewish parents with children who have rebelled, instructing them to never give up hope on a child, no matter how difficult he is, because the constant acceptance and love will eventually persevere, at least to some degree.

However, the authors of the Haggadah offered a different and much harsher answer because the authors of the Haggadah are not talking to Jewish children who went off the path. Rather, the Haggadah is speaking to Eisav. To those who caused immeasurable Jewish suffering during Crusades, inquisitions, pogroms, and holocausts, we slap them across the face. We say to them, "D'tzach Adash," be happy while you can Eisav, because, "Ba'achav", days are coming when you'll pay the price. As a matter of fact, if you were in Egypt, you would have never survived. You may have circumvented Egyptian bondage in the past, but at the End of Days, you will not escape (Shvilei Pinchas).

Before addressing the answer to question number one, we must share a few more bits of information.

When Yitzchak told Eisav, "Your brother came "B'mirmah" (with trickery) and took your blessings" (Gn. 27:35) the Midrash (Bereishis Rabba, 67:4; Rebbi Yochanan) comments that the "trickery" was Torah wisdom. Where do we find Ya'akov displaying Torah wisdom to ensure that the blessings remain his alone?

The Bigdei Aharon addresses this with a Midrash Pliyah which says that the "trickery" was giving Yitzchak the Afikoman to eat. How was this considered trickery?

He explains that after Ya'akov received the blessings, he was still concerned that Eisav would give Yitzchak to eat again which would compel Yitzchak to bless Eisav. This is because Yitzchak said that if he ate from the delicacies that Eisav would prepare, he would bless him. The blessings were dependent on the fulfillment of the condition (eating from Eisav's food).

Therefore, Ya'akov gave Yitzchak the Afikoman in order to prevent Yitzchak from eating Eisav's food, because the law is that one is not allowed to eat after consuming the Afikoman. Once the condition (eating from Eisav's food) has been nullified, Yitzchak would no longer be bound to bless Eisav.

The "trickery" was giving Yitzchak the Afikoman, and this was a demonstration of using Torah wisdom to cleverly trick Eisav out of the blessings.

As a matter of fact, the Hebrew word "B'mirmah" (trickery) is numerically 287. This number shares the exact numerical value as the word "Afikoman", supporting this idea that the "trickery" was giving Yitzchak to eat from the "Afikoman" (Sefer Einey Ha'eidah).

Now we can answer the first question. The reason why we tell the wise son this specific mitzvah of not eating after the Afikoman is because we are talking to Ya'akov., Ya'akov is the wise son who mentions the Names of God. Therefore, we say to Ya'akov, "Wasn't it you who gave the Afikoman to Yitzchak thereby preventing him from blessing Eisav? That was Brilliant!" Mentioning this law awakens the strength of Passover which is that Ya'akov wins and Eisav loses (Shvilei Pinchas).

However, if Ya'akov gave the Afikoman to Yitzchak, it implies that Ya'akov gave him a piece of Matzah, because the word "Afikoman" is used only in reference to the Matzah which is used to substitute the absence of the Korban Pesach. Why was it necessary for Ya'akov to give Yitzchak a piece of Matzah to prevent him from blessing Eisav, Yitzchak already ate from the flesh of the Paschal Lamb that Ya'akov brought to him? The same law, of being forbidden to eat afterwards, applies to the flesh of the Paschal Lamb just as it does to the piece of Matzah. Yitzchak was already prevented from blessing Eisav due to the meat of the Korban Pesach.

To address this, let's turn to Yachatz (the breaking of the middle Matzah). One half is put away for the Afikoman and the other half is put back between the two whole Matzos (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, 473:6).

The larger piece is set aside for the Afikoman, and the smaller piece goes back on the Seder Plate (Magen Avraham, sub chapter 21 citing Maharil, based on Minhag Ha'Arizal).

The larger piece represents Eisav, the older son, and the smaller piece represents Ya'akov, the younger son (Chamrah Tava).

It's interesting that we specifically break the middle Matzah for Yachatz, because the three Matzos represent the three Patriarchs. Therefore, we specifically break the middle Matzah, representing Yitzchak, into two parts, representing the two children that came from him (Shvilei Pinchas).

However, the larger piece only represents Eisav up until the time that he sold his birthright. But, once he sold his birthright to Ya'akov, Ya'akov is halachically called the first born and Eisav is halachically considered the second born (Ex. 4:22, Rashi citing Shemos Rabba, 4:22).

Therefore, the larger piece represents Ya'akov, and the smaller piece represents Eisav. If so, why do we hide Ya'akov's piece until the end of the meal?

It is because Ya'akov saved the lion's share of the blessings for the Jews who will be alive at the End of Days, when all the kings of the world will rise up against us. That's when we'll need those blessings. Ya'akov only used a fraction of those blessings to help the Jews over the generations (Zohar Toldos, pgs. 146a-b).

Therefore, the larger piece of Matzah, representing Ya'akov and representing the larger share of the blessings, is saved for the "end of the meal", representing that we will benefit from those blessings at the "End of Days" (Shvilei Pinchas).

This also explains why the children are told to steal the Afikoman (Chok Ya'akov 472:2). What kind of education is that? Do we want to train our children to be thieves?

We are supposed to explain to the children that the larger piece of Matzah called the Afikoman represents the majority of blessings that Ya'akov received from Yitzchak. We tell the children that they represent all of us because we are all God's children. We tell them to "steal" the Afikoman as a prayer to Hashem that we start cashing in on those blessings now. We don't want to wait until the last possible moment (Shvilei Pinchas).

With one more piece of information, we will be able to understand why Ya'akov gave Yitzchak a piece of Matzah as the Afikoman if Yitzchak already ate from the flesh of the Korban Pesach.

The Chasam Sofer says that Yitzchak wanted to give the blessings of materialism to Eisav because he recognized Ya'akov to be righteous and deeply involved in Torah study. Yitzchak intended that Eisav use his wealth to support Ya'akov in his Torah learning. This was the first attempt at making a Zevulun - Yissachar partnership.

This is why Ya'akov gave Yitzchak the Afikoman. Ya'akov basically said to Yitzchak, "Look at this Matzah. It's the middle one. Isn't this the Matzah that represents you? Notice how the two pieces have been torn asunder. They will never be able to come back together again. Just as the two pieces are irreparable, so are your two sons. We will never be able to partner together."

This adamant refusal of working together comes from Eisav, not Ya'akov. To prove it, take a closer look at this Matzah. It's called the Afikoman. It'll be used in the future as a weak substitute for the absence of the Korban Pesach after the Churban Beis Hamikdash (Temple) that your darling son Eisav is going to destroy. Eisav is not a friend, he is a foe. Therefore, the blessings belong to me and my descendants alone (Shvilei Pinchas).

We could practically use all of this information to further enhance our Seder experience. Here are four exercises that we could implement on Passover night.

1) Before Yachatz say, "I am taking Yitzchak's Matzah and I'm breaking it in half to represent Ya'akov and Eisav. The smaller piece, representing Eisav, remains on the table showing us that Eisav is very much present during our exile. The bigger piece, representing Ya'akov, is hidden away until the end of the meal, so that at the End of Days we will benefit from all of the blessings that Ya'akov received from Yitzchak on this night, thousands of years ago. But, children, please "steal" the Afikoman with the intention that it serve as a prayer to God that we start benefitting from those blessings right now." Then break the Matzah.

2) After the children ask the four questions, it's the adults' turn. We should announce, "The wise son in the Haggadah represents Ya'akov who kept the Name of God on his lips and who wisely listened to his mother, and who wisely gave the Afikoman to Yitzchak, preventing Eisav from receiving the blessings. This is why we only make mention of the law pertaining to the Afikoman (not eating after it) in the answer to the wise son. This shows that only Ya'akov and his descendants deserve to be the recipients of the blessings. The wicked son in the Haggadah represents Eisav who never mentions God's Name. Eisav would have never made it out of Egypt. They do not deserve any blessings. On the contrary, bash his teeth in for all the Jewish sorrow he caused throughout the ages." Then ask the four questions.

3) Before the signs of Rebbi Yehudah, say, "D'tzach Adash, be happy while you can Eisav, because your "Chov" (liability) is "Bo" (coming). You're going to have to pay the price for all the anguish you caused the Jewish people." Then say the signs of Rebbi Yehudah.

4) Right before eating the Afikoman, declare, "This bigger piece of Matzah represents Ya'akov, the halachic first born. It also represents the majority of the blessings that he received from Yitzchak because of the Afikoman that he fed him. May we start benefitting from those blessings already, protecting us from our enemies, culminating in the building of the Third Beis Hamikdash which will be built in the merit of Ya'akov, and thus fulfill the Mitzvah of the Korban Pesach once again.

Don't forget, Passover night is a night of blessings. Therefore, let's bless our children, let's bless each other with the most powerful heartfelt blessings we can muster up. Let the blessings include both physical and spiritual areas.

So, may we, B'nei Ya'akov, be BLESSED to keep God's Name on our lips and thereby keep God in our lives, in order that we, and all of our children, start benefitting already from the blessings that Ya'akov received from Yitzchak, and witness the end of Eisav's rule, replaced by the sovereignty of Hakadosh Baruch Hu.