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Pesach 5776 - Insights on the Hagaddah

 


מה נשתנה הלילה הזה.

“Why is this night different from all other nights?”

 

The Hebrew word leila – night, is a feminine noun. If so, why do we say haleila hazeh – this night, using the word zeh which is a masculine word? It would be more correct to say haleila hazos, in feminine form.

 

The night when the Jewish people left Egypt was illuminated with a divine light; it was as bright as day. Therefore, we use the word zeh, which fits the masculine word yom – day, alluding to the special light that brightened the night, turning it into day.

 

The letters of the word nishtana (different) can be rearranged to spell the words nitan seh – offering the sheep. Hashem commanded us with the mitzvah of bringing the Pesach Offering, as it says: “Pull away [from idol worship] and take for yourself sheep.” The very same sheep that were used for idol worship were now used to serve Hashem. Just like the night turned into day, so too the Jewish people turned over from idol worshippers to servants of Hashem. On Pesach, we have the ability to transform night into day and evil into goodness.

 

The word שה - seh (sheep) has the same numerical value as the word היצרhayetzer. Just as the sheep was offered to Hashem on Pesach, so too we have the ability to transform our yetzer hara, our evil inclination, and bring it around to help us serve Hashem. This is the ultimate transformation of night into day.

 

We read in the Hagaddah how the five great sages sat in Bnei Brak and recounted the story of the Exodus all night, until their disciples came and reminded them that the time came to say the morning prayers. In that section of the Haggadah, the word night is once again combined with a masculine word instead of a feminine one (אותו הלילה instead of אותה הלילה). When the sages recounted the miracles of the Exodus, the night became illuminated just as the night of the actual Exodus, turning it into day. The disciples saw that it was bright as day, so they came to remind their masters that it was time for the morning prayers. In truth, it was still nighttime, but due to the holiness of the tzaddikim it appeared to the disciples as if it were already daytime. This is why the word leila – night, is combined with a masculine word to show that the night was as bright as day (yom - day is a masculine noun).

 

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ומושב בני ישראל אשר ישבו במצרים שלשים שנה וארבע מאות שנה.

“And the stay of the Jewish people who resided in Egypt was for thirty years and four hundred years.” (Shemos 12:40)

 

Why does the Torah say that the Jewish people were in Egypt for 430 years, when in fact they were only there for 210 years? Even if we shall count according to what was originally ordained at the Covenant between the Parts, Hashem told Avraham then that his offspring would be in exile for four hundred years. In actuality, the Jewish people were in Egypt for only 210 years, of which they were only enslaved with difficult labor for eighty six years. Why then does the Torah state that the exile lasted for 430 years?

 

Rashi explains that the four hundred years of exile did not all have to be in Egypt. Hashem merely said that the Jewish people would be in a “land that isn’t their’s.” Hashem calculated the beginning of the exile with Yitzchok’s birth, because from that moment it could be said that Avraham’s offspring were in a land that wasn’t their’s. From Yitzchok’s birth until the Exodus was four hundred years, thereby fulfilling the promise that the Jewish people would be in a strange land for 400 years.

 

The Torah states that the Jews were in Egypt for 430 years by counting the beginning of exile from the Covenant of the Parts, when Avraham was told about this exile. The Covenant took place thirty years before Yitzchok’s birth. From then until the Exodus was exactly 430 years.

 

The Gemara relates that when Alexander the Great conquered most nations of the world, the Egyptians came to him to summon the Jewish people to his court. They claimed that before the Jewish people left Egypt they borrowed many valuables from their neighbors, yet never returned it. Therefore, they demanded that the Jews give them their land as payment for the money they owed.

 

The sages were apprehensive about these charges and were looking for someone who would capably defend the Jews. A humble man named Geviha ben Pesisa offered to represent the Jewish people. “If my arguments would be accepted, then all would be well,” he said. “But if I won’t succeed, you would be able to claim that I wasn’t qualified to speak on your behalf and you’d send someone more capable than me.” The sages agreed and Geviha was given the task. When the Egyptians reiterated their claims in front of the Emperor, Geviha replied: “True, we borrowed valuables from the Egyptians. But don’t forget, we were forced into slave labor even though we came to Egypt as free men. The Egyptians worked with us for four hundred thirty years. We should figure out the wages of a typical slave and multiply that amount by 600,000 to include all Jews who worked in Egypt, and then multiply that amount by 430 to determine the amount that the Egyptians owe us. Then, we will deduct the value of the items we borrowed, and see who is left with a balance…” Alexander gave the Egyptians three days to come up with a counter-argument, but they didn’t have anything to say and so they fled.

 

Why did Geviha say that the Egyptians worked with us for 430 years? Even though it says so in the Torah, the Egyptians should have known that in truth the Jewish people were only in Egypt for less than half of that time.

 

The Chida explains this issue as follows: The Divine decree was for 600,000 Jews to work for 430 years in Egypt. However, the Jewish people multiplied much faster than expected, as we see that Pharaoh was looking for ways to curtail the explosive growth of the Jewish people. There were so many Jews in Egypt that their numbers ran in the millions. When the Jewish people left Egypt with 600,000 men between the ages of 20 and 60, four times as many people had been left behind in Egypt. Due to their supernatural growth, the number of Jews in Egypt was simply staggering. Because there were five times as many Jews in Egypt as the 600,000 who were originally destined to be enslaved there, the length of the exile could be reduced to one fifth. One fifth of 430 comes out to be 86, which is the number of years that the Jews were actually put to work.

 

We can now understand the Torah’s statement: “And the stay of the Jewish people who resided in Egypt was thirty years and four hundred years.” By counting the number of Jews who were actually enslaved for 86 years and spacing it to 600,000 Jews at a time, we would arrive to 430 years of exile. This is also why Geviha demanded payment for 600,000 slaves who worked 430 years. If the Egyptians would have countered that the Jews only worked for 86 years, the number of slaves would have to be multiplied by five, and the sum total would have been the same.

 

The Tzvi Latzaddik of Bluzhev zt”l asks why the Torah states that he Jewish people were in exile for 430 years, when Hashem said at the Covenant that they would be exiled for 400 years. Furthermore, why does the verse separate the thirty years from the remaining four hundred years? He explains that when Hashem destined for the Jewish people to be enslaved for 400 years, He did not intend for them to work on Shabbos. Avraham Avinu already kept Shabbos long before the Torah was given, as it says (Shabbos 118) that the Patriarchs kept all mitzvos of the Torah. The Jewish people should have been permitted to rest on Shabbos.

 

However, Pharaoh did enslave the Jews on Shabbos and did not allow them any reprieve on their day of rest. At one point Moshe intervened on behalf of his brothers and persuaded Pharaoh to allow them to rest on Shabbos, but this period lasted for only a short time. When Moshe was forced to flee Egypt, Pharaoh reinforced a seven-day work week for the Hebrew slaves.

 

This means that every seventh day of the 210 years in Egyptian exile was a day not really meant for work. One seventh of 210 years comes out to 30 years, so the Jewish people worked 30 years more than they should have. This is why the Torah adds thirty years to the 400 years, and keeps it separate, to show that these thirty years were additional because they really shouldn’t have had to work on Shabbos.

 

When the Jewish people were in Egypt, they couldn’t keep Shabbos. We are truly fortunate that although we are now in exile, we are able to keep Shabbos without fear. Those who have not yet discovered the beauty of Shabbos are sadly “enslaved to Pharaoh” in a figurative sense; they are not free men! Let us pray to Hashem to free all of our brothers from spiritual bondage so that they should keep Shabbos, and thereby all of Klal Yisroel should soon merit welcoming the Eternal Shabbos, the Ultimate Shabbos, with the coming of Moshiach, Amein.

This Weeks Divrei Torah is dedicated in honor of:
Shmuel ben Chaim
Feinberg A"H
5708-5769 9 Shvat

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