Passover Seder with Rabbi Fohrman & Immanuel Shalev
Model Passover Seder
Rabbi David Fohrman
Founder and Lead Scholar
Sit alongside Rabbi Fohrman and our CEO Imu Shalev for a model seder as they explore wonderfully new and invigorating ideas on an age-old seder tradition.
Rabbi Fohrman: Welcome, everybody. We are here to do a first-of-its-kind model Seder. Imu, I've always wanted to do a Seder with you, so here's our chance.
Imu: The truth is, I don't think either of our families would be that interested in doing a Seder with us. I think we'd probably keep everyone up way too long.
Rabbi Fohrman: That's true, which actually brings me to an interesting point. Imu, this exercise -- even before we begin, let me just say this. This exercise, doing a model Seder, the last time I did a model Seder -- I'm curious as to the last time you did a model Seder -- but the last model Seder I was in, I think was maybe third grade. What about you?
Imu: The last model Seder I did must have been in kindergarten. Yeah.
Rabbi Fohrman: Yeah, I have vivid memories of it. Actually, it was especially because one of the poor girls in the class (missing audio 00:01:12), grabbed her and took her to the nearest faucet, and that was her beautiful long hair. She'd just singed about an inch of it, but it was definitely one of those things that you don't forget.
We're going to do a Seder without candles here, but doing a model Seder as an adult, or getting into Judaism as an adult, I actually think it's a great exercise. What I would suggest is that what we're doing right here is something that you guys at home might consider doing with members of your family before the actual Seder.
I'll just say that the Seder as we experience it is not as easy to pull off as you might like. There are all sorts of distractions, there's all sorts of things going on, and you're also really hungry and there's a meal to get to. The chance to kind of get on the same page with folks in your family and to kind of do a dry run is I think is always, it's an interesting chance.
The way we thought we would handle this today is, we kind of thought we would go through, jump around a little bit. Imu, we were chatting a little bit earlier by phone, and you were talking about some of the courses we had done earlier. Maybe I'll just chime in and say that, for those of you who have been around the block at Aleph Beta, we have a lot of stuff at Aleph Beta, a lot of courses. We're not going to, for the most part, reprise that. Occasionally, we'll refer to some of our courses.
That having been said, I'm curious from you guys, and if you could interact and chat, or if any of you have something to say on this, one of the things I'm curious for you is -- one of my dirty little secrets, so to speak is people will come to me and say, boy, it must be really interesting being at your Seder. What would I give to be a fly on the wall at your Seder?
For me, what I find is that it is very difficult for me actually, to take the material that I have in the courses in Aleph Beta and import them into my Seder. It feels like I would just be hijacking the whole thing. Like, let me give a monologue now, for 35 minutes, and lead you through something. It's just not an easy thing to do. If any of you have successfully done it, I'm really curious about that. I just would love to see what that is like.
People have said to me, I used your material in the Seder. I just don't know exactly how to do that. That having been said, we're not really going to do any of those courses tonight. We're going to make our way through a Seder, and I'm just going to share with you some things that occurred to me this year, pretty much, for the most part. Just some new insights here and there that hopefully I'll get a chance to share one way or the other at the Seder. I thought we'd maybe pick up, Imu, from Mah Nishtanah, which is really good. You're younger than me, so I'm going to let you ask the questions.
Imu: Boy, we're going to read Mah Nishtanah?
Rabbi Fohrman: Well, we can just, we can give--
Imu: I can stand on my chair and sing. (00:05:00)
Rabbi Fohrman: Yeah, that would be good. But if we can actually put the text on the screen here. I had my text somewhere before I had my internet problems. Let's call it Sefaria and take a look at our Haggadah text. We will show this to you guys in Hebrew and in English. I'll share my screen with you guys. Okay, so here we are.
I guess the first thing that comes to mind, Imu, when I look at the four questions is that I wonder if that title for this section of the Haggadah is even correct. I'm actually curious as to this, right, because the Haggadah itself doesn't have a title for this. The notion of the four questions itself, where does that come from?
It really comes from the Yiddish. The arba kashios, or something like that, but the Haggadah doesn't refer to it, doesn’t give it that title. I would actually argue that these aren't actually questions. Imu, let me ask you this. How would you translate the Hebrew of "mah nishtanah halailah hazeh mikol halaylot?"
Imu: Mah is the word for what. "Mah nishtanah halailah hazeh mikol halaylot" is, what has changed this evening from all the evenings?
Rabbi Fohrman: Okay. That is a valiant attempt. I would say that, mah nishtanah, what has changed -- here you have what differentiates in Sefaria, but nishtanah, I would think, really means, different. Right? The attempt to make a verb out of it is kind of weird. The way I would translate it actually is to take the question mark out and replace it with an exclamation mark. What I would suggest is that these aren't actually four questions, they're four explanations. The proper way to read it, "mah nishtanah halailah hazeh mikol halaylot," exclamation mark. My, how different this night is—
Imu: So not the word what, but the word how.
Rabbi Fohrman: Yeah, right. In Hebrew, the word mah can actually double for how. You can have mah as an exclamation. I don’t have any other good examples that come to mind but I don't know if you can think of any, maybe.
Student: "Mah tovu ohalecha Yaakov."
Rabbi Fohrman: Right. "Mah tovu ohalecha Yaakov," is a great example. That's an exclamation mark. Right? How goodly are your tents, oh Jacob. That's a great example. It's the same form. "Mah nishtanah halailah hazeh mikol halaylot," how different is this night. And that's why she'bechol halailot makes sense too, also. She'bechol isn't a question. What is that? There is really only one question, and it's not even a question. It's an exclamation. How different this night is from all the other nights. Then there's four ways in which it's different. It makes sense because as a kid, think about it -- if you were actually a kid, and you were wondering about the four questions -- what would you say if you were a young kid?
You wouldn’t really ask why. You would say, how. You would say, boy, this night is different. I'm noticing stuff that's different than any other night. I'm noticing that she'bechol halailot, on all other nights, we can eat whatever we want when it comes to bread. But this night, we need matzah. I'm noticing that on all other nights we can eat whatever we want when it comes to vegetables. Tonight, we focus on maror. I'm noticing "she'bechol halaylot ain anu matbilin afilu pa'am echat halailah hazeh sh'tei pa'amim." It's all of these noticings. Which actually is kind of interesting because we have an inside baseball word for it in Aleph Beta land which I think Imu you coined, and it's noticings. Imu, how would you describe a noticing?
Imu: Noticing isn't so much a question that you have on a text. It's just something that's belate, something that's sticking out. (00:10:00) Almost like you're walking down the road and a sign that is supposed to be hanging one way is hanging the other way. You noted that something's off. There's a log in the middle of the road or there's an elephant crossing the street. Something that shouldn't be there, seems out of place.
Rabbi Fohrman: Sometimes a noticing is not necessarily something that is out of place, but something that you happen to notice that catches your eye even if it's not really out of place. For example, if the Torah uses the same language at the books ends, at the beginning of something and the end of something. That's a noticing. You happen to notice it. If the Torah uses a string of four plays on words of something else, you notice it, right? That's a noticing. The whole intertextuality. If you notice that something's going on in this text and something's going on in that text, it's not a question, it's a noticing. It's something you notice.
Noticings are actually very special. Even within Aleph Beta methodology and the way we've looked at the text, I think one of the things we've done is distinguish between noticings and questions. This took me a long time to understand, even just in the way that I do things in Biblical text. Which is that, I used to think that the most important thing was to come up with a whole bunch of questions, things that bother you about the text. Why is it that God told Adam and Eve to stay away from a tree that has to do with the knowledge of good and evil? That's a really strange thing to do. It's a very good question. Right?
There are lots of really good questions you can ask, but what I began to find is that most of the insights that I've come up with over time are less a function of questions than a function of noticings. Noticings are almost more important than questions. Just being able to say, oh, that's interesting, and to just put a mark on it. I think the reason for that is because that's that way people are. That's the way kids are.
A kid will almost notice something before they ask questions about it. What kid is going to come along and ask a question like, I don't understand. Can you explain to me, why is it that we do things this way, as opposed to? That's not how kids work. Kids just notice something like, oh wow, that's weird. I usually expected it this way and all of a sudden, it's that way. Well, you notice something. That’s very good.
(Missing audio 00:12:33) is a kid's ability to think about what we're doing. I think that kids are great observers of life, not just text, but great observers of life, and they learn from what we do. One of the most important things they learn from what we do is they learn when things are off. A kid will know when something's off. A parent can try to cover it up, but they'll figure out that there's something to notice. Over here, we plant things for kids to notice. We do things specifically so kids notice them. The thing that I would just say is that the Haggadah really begins, I think, with these four questions and these kinds of noticings.
Let me just take you into sort of the classic answer, and just share with you an insight which I think began to come to me over Shabbos as I was thinking about this a little bit. What would you say the answer to Mah Nishtanah is? It's interesting now because it's not even really an answer. It's a response to the noticing. But let's take a look at the Haggadah, at how we respond to Mah Nishtanah.
This is a real question. It's something that we grappled with in our Haggadah course, and I think I've changed a little bit how I think about it since then. Let's look here at the text, at the answer. This Mah Nishtanah is of course the segway into maggid. Let's look at this next paragraph. I'll invite anybody and you guys can answer, too. What do you think the answer is in the next paragraph? Or what do you think the next paragraph is telling us by way of answer to Mah Nishtanah? Anybody?
Vadim: This is the night that we tell about the Exodus.
Rabbi Fohrman: So this is the night that we tell about the Exodus. Okay, interesting. So that is how you would summarize the paragraph. What's that?
Miriam: Why do we start at the very beginning about being slaves, and even going further back than that. (00:15:04)
Rabbi Fohrman: What do you mean, and even going further back from that?
Miriam: Arami -- I can't say it.
Imu: Arami oved avi.
Rabbi Fohrman: Why do we get to -- but let's keep things simple for a moment. Let's just look at the next paragraph. I just have a very simple question to you which is, how exactly does the next paragraph answer the question. Right? Or, what part of the next paragraph would you say answers the question? All of the next paragraph? Or the first line of the next paragraph? The first line of the next paragraph is, "avadim hayinu l'Pharaoh b'Mitzrayim, v'yotzi'anu Hashem Elokeinu misham b'yad chazakah u'bizro'a nituya."
The question, let me put it to you, is this, let's just ask a reading comprehension. Let's play one of my favorite games: take it apart and put it back together again. How many parts are there to this paragraph? How do they hang together? Which one, or all of them, is the answer to the question?
Let's look at part one. What would you say part one is? It's this line here. "Avadim hayinu l'Pharaoh b'Mitzrayim, v'yotzi'anu Hashem Elokeinu misham, b'yad chazakah u'bizro'a nituya." We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt and God took us out from there with an outstretched arm. With a strong hand and an outstretched arm. That's idea number one.
Idea number two. "V'ilu lo hotzi Hakadosh Baruch Hu et avoteinu miMitzrayim, harei anu u'vaneinu, u'banei baneinu meshubadim hayinu l'Pharaoh b'Mitzrayim." Had God not taken us out, had God not taken our forefathers out, we and our children and our children's children, we would all be slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt. That, I would say, is idea number two. Had God not taken us out, we would all be slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt.
Idea number three. "Ve'afilu kulanu chachamim, kulanu nevonim, kulano zekeinim, kulanu yodim et haTorah, mitzvah aleinu l'saper yetzi'at Mitzrayim." Even if we were all wise, even if we were all smart, even if we were all understanding, even if we all had all the life experience in the world. Even if all of us had all the knowledge in the world, we knew the entire Torah, still it would be a mitzvah upon us to tell of the Exodus. That's idea number three.
Idea number four, "v'chol hamarbeh l'saper yetzi'as Mitzrayim herei zeh meshubach." All who tell, anybody who tells, whose marbeh, how do you say that in English? Anybody who --
Rabbi Fohrman: Dives in, excessively, is "mesaper b'yetzi'as Mitzrayim harei zeh meshubach." Anybody who excessively tells of the Exodus, that is meshubach, that is praiseworthy. Which brings us to the next story of the five rabbis, which seemingly is an example of marbeh l'saper. The famous story of Rebb Elazar ben Yehoshua and Rav Elazar ben Azaria, Rabbi Akiva, and Rabbi Tarfon who were at Bnei Brak. They were talking about the Exodus from Egypt all night long until their students came and said, Rabbis, it's time to daven Shacharis. That's our story.
So back to the question. Let's just center ourselves. There are these four questions. What exactly was the answer? What's the point? What exactly is the answer? What struck me is that gee, I always thought the answer was just the first line. What about you, Imu? "Avadim hayinu l'Pharaoh b'Mitzrayim," felt like, that's maggid right there. That's all of maggid in one sentence. We were slaves and God took us out with a strong hand and outstretched -- that's the way my father always did it. My stepfather, he'd always say, well, children, here's the answer to your question. The answer to your question is we were slaves, and God took us out with a strong hand and an outstretched arm.
Then the problem with that -- just a group therapy session -- is that I never understood how the rest of the paragraph connected to that. Like, okay I'm done. Like you just told me with your first sentence you just spilled all the beans. You took a great story, and you ruined it by just saying the whole story in one sentence. We were slaves in Egypt, and God took us out. Like, can we eat now? (00:20:00) Like, that was the whole story, right? Like everything else is just -- why do I have to do the maggid? You just told me that's the answer to the question. We answered the question already.
I think, Imu, when it came time for us to do our Haggadah course, I believe the way we phrased it now is that this is sort of by way of an introduction to maggid. We are summarizing all of maggid. That's how I've understood it. I wonder how you've understood it. What exactly is "avadim hayinu l'Pharaoh b'Mitzrayim, v'yotzi'anu Hashem Elokeinu misham, b'yad chazakah u'bizro'a netuya," if not a summary of everything else that we're about to say? Is that how you've understood it?
Imu: Yeah, and I think if I remember the course a little better, you're technically done. You're yotzei in that first sentence. The rest of the paragraph is justifying what we're doing the rest of the night. The rest of the paragraph is saying, okay if we're yotzei, then why can't we eat? It's because this is not really about the knowledge of, we were slaves and now we're free, right?
The idea is that even if you have all the knowledge, if you are a chacham and a navon, although I never noticed the chacham and navon part there, that's interesting. It's a Yosef shout-out. Zekeinim, you've done this many times, you know Torah completely, it's still a mitzvah "l'saper yetzi'as Mitzrayim," and "v'chol hamarbeh l'saper yetzi'as Mitzrayim herei ze meshubach," which is what we did in the course. We said that you would be done if it was just the first line, but the rest of the paragraph is justifying why you need to be ma'arech, and then you get the example of those who actually were the greatest Sages, and then they spent their entire night talking about it.
Rabbi Fohrman: Well, here's my question, the fifth question. Ready?
Imu: Hit me.
Rabbi Fohrman: My question on that is if that's the way to read the paragraph, and I grant you that is the way I've read the paragraph, then we're answering a question that the child has not asked. The child didn't ask us how come it's taking so long to eat? Which, by the way, would be very good question.
The child is asking a bunch of other things. The child's noticing some funny things about the Seder, and we're telling him why it's taking so long to eat. We're telling him why we are going to spend a whole long time talking, but what about his questions?
Imu: That's a great point. Your question is if Mah Nishtanah flowed perfectly into Avadim Ha'inu, then we would go point by point, explaining the symbolism of dipping twice and leaning and chametz and matzah. Is that your question?
Rabbi Fohrman: Yeah, that's kind of my question. Where's the answer? How did we actually answer anything? First of all, even "avadim ha'inu l'Pharaoh b'Mitzrayim," is not an answer.
Imu: It's not a great answer to that question.
Rabbi Fohrman: It's not a great answer. If I'm a kid -- were you ever in class and you asked a good series of questions to the teacher. Then the teacher very confidently gives you an answer in a sentence, which actually does not answer any of your questions? But the teacher says it with such great confidence that you feel a little stupid pointing out that none of your questions have been answered.
If I was a kid, that's how I would feel when Dad gives me this answer. So I don't get it, what was that about? Why are we dipping twice? Why are we? Why are we? How did you answer anything with "avadim ha'inu l'Pharaoh b'Mitzrayim?"
So Vadim I think had his hand up. What were you going to say, Vadim?
Vadim: Yeah, according to the Malbim Haggadah, there is an explanation that this is not the story of Exodus. This is actually the explanation why we tell the story. Why it's important even if you're old. Because it's the telling the children part, it's not maggid. Maggid is the story of Exodus. This is part of why we are telling the story. That's it.
Rabbi Fohrman: Okay, but see, that too doesn't seem to be the kid's question. Why are you telling the story? Why are you doing--
Vadim: No, it's not the kid's question. It's the explanation of why is it important to tell the kids, whether they ask or not.
Rabbi Fohrman: Okay, I hear you. So then, interestingly, we would be answering a question that has not been asked. Janet, what were you going to say?
Janet: So just playing devil's advocate, this seems to do the opposite of the Mah Nishtanah questions because it almost is making it that everyone's obligated, just like every day with davening or keeping Shabbat. So actually, the night isn't so different because everyone has to hear the story again.
Rabbi Fohrman: One second, I'm trying to wrap my head around what you're saying.
Imu: (00:25:00) You're pointing the "v'afilu kulanu chachamim, kulanu nevonim," right? Basically, it is a universal obligation, and you're pointing out how this is just like--
Janet: It's kind of making the night the same as every day instead of making it different.
Imu: Um hm.
Rabbi Fohrman: You're saying because everything that we're doing is covered under an obligation. Right?
Imu: It's a universal obligation.
Janet: Because for some reason, the author decided to include all of these people. It's almost like with davening, or keeping Shabbat, or many other mitzvot that everyone has to do it, so it's not really so different from any other day.
Rabbi Fohrman: Okay, I hear you.
Janet: It's almost hitting one aspect and going the opposite of what the question is.
Rabbi Fohrman: I hear you. The other problem I had, by the way, is that if the answer to the question is in the first line, so then what is everything else doing here? While I'm at it, let me just throw another question your way. I don't know about you, but a question that always comes up at our Seder table, and I'm curious as to how many Seder tables -- whether this question comes up at your Seder table. But how many times does someone stop you when you say, "ilu lo hotzi HaKadosh Baruch Hu et avoteinu mi'Mitzrayim, harei anu u'baneinu u'v'benei baneinu meshubadim ha'inu le Pharaoh b'Mitzrayim."
Then it's like somebody's raising their hand. It's oh, can you call on me, call on me, call on me! When you say, and if God had not taken us out of Egypt, then we, our children and our children's children would all be slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt. What's the question that everyone asks? Or at least around our table everyone asks? Anybody? Debby, what?
Debby: Pharaoh isn't there anymore so we would be fine.
Rabbi Fohrman: Pharaoh isn't there anymore, we would be fine, right? It's not really true. Debby, what's the answer that everybody always gives at your Seder table to that question?
Debby: There would be a new Pharaoh in town. There'd be a new sheriff in town.
Rabbi Fohrman: There would be some sort of new sheriff, or God would take us out. Sorry, God wouldn't take us out -- we would have gotten out some other way, but then we would still be enslaved to that person, and the only way that we're really free is because God took us out. Something like that.
Everyone always gets tripped up on this line. Here's the understanding, and maybe this is obvious to you all, but it's an understanding that just dawned on me. At this shalosh seudos time as I was thinking about this. I think that we actually make a mistake when we read this paragraph.
We make a classic reading mistake. That mistake is we're guilty of reading with the end in mind. What I mean by that is I have a general principal, which is that whenever you read a Biblical text, or anything really, you can never read with the end in mind. You can't read knowing the ending. Just because you know the ending, that can't influence your understanding of the story itself.
Here we are living in 2022, and we are no longer slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt. That lulls us into a certain kind of complacency. It lulls us into asking the question, what do you mean "ilu lo hotzi Hakadosh Baruch Hu et avotaynu mi'Mitzrayim, harei anu u'baneinu ve'benei baneinu meshubadim ha'inu l'Pharaoh b'Mitzrayim?" Surely, we would have gotten out some other way? Let me just ask you to analyze that question that we ask on this text. By the harsh light of reality is that really true?
The people of Israel were enslaved for at least 210 years, somewhere between 210 and 400 years. When is the last time you found an entire population, an entire national population which was subjugated as slaves to another people for centuries, and broke free? Does that really happen?
Now you might say, oh sure, it happened with the blacks in America. It kind of happened with the blacks in America. Did it really? I mean, so if you look at the history of what happened there, what happened is that the world changed. What happened, really? The world changed. In other words, I almost think that the question we ask about, that surely we would have gone free, is really a product, it's a really modern question. It's a question that you would have asked over the last hundred years, post-Civil War. Because you would assume if we had a Civil War, then everyone has a Civil War.
Well, before the Civil War, how many slave populations had actually broken free? What happened is that the world changed and slavery went out of vogue over the last 200 years. Actually, the truth is, America was Johnny-come-lately to the party. Other countries had banned slavery well before America had. The slave trade was alive and well in America for a long, long time after other countries like England had banned it (00:30:02).
What happened was that there was a Renaissance, and there was humanism that took place and slowly the idea of slavery went out of favor in the world. In the end, that influenced America itself and we had a civil war. Because of that, the blacks went free because slavery went out of vogue.
But imagine slavery doesn't go out of vogue. Imagine there's no moral qualms that anyone has about slavery. Slavery is a thing the way it always was in the ancient world, because that's the way things happen. By the way, if you think about why slavery went out of vogue, I think a lot of it had to do with economics. I don't think it's a coincidence that humanity found its footing philosophically about slavery once the Industrial Revolution was around. Once the Industrial Revolution was around you can, all of a sudden, begin to produce things without slaves. But what if economic necessity seems to demand slavery? Who is going to give up slavery? If you have an entire nation enslaved, they don't go free.
What I would suggest is, what we were experiencing in Egypt was actually a civilization-ending event. This is a point I think we sort of made in one of our Haggadah courses, which is that our backs were actually to the wall. There was going to be nothing left of the Jewish, of the national project of Israel. Under normal circumstances, left to our own devices, we would have assimilated into Egyptian society as a slave class. It's an illusion to believe that we ever would have gotten free.
This text should be taken in the very simple way that we understand it. It's actually true that if God had not taken us out, we and our children's children would be slaves. Or we would have just assimilated and there would just be nothing left of us. Slavery would have been an ongoing enterprise in Egypt until there was just nothing left of the nation.
Keep in mind also, that Pharaoh's intent was actually a work-to-death kind of thing. He was population control. It was in many ways like the Holocaust. It was arbeit macht frei. There is an illusion that if you work everything will be fine. But Pharaoh's all too happy to double the work load and make impossible demands upon slaves and throw babies in the Nile, and do all sorts of things to make it seem like it's all about work. When what it really is about is population control, and driving down the numbers until this people, who we consider a threat, dwindle and dwindle and dwindle.
What if you read the paragraph that way? If you read the paragraph that way, all of a sudden it struck me, and again maybe it's obvious, but it struck me that there is a new way to understand what the paragraph means. The new way came to me through one other little observation, and it's this. The last sentence -- I was chatting about this with Imu earlier today, when we were talking about this -- but how would you translate "kol hamarbeh l'saper yetzi'as Mitzrayim harei zeh meshubach?" Anyone who spends extra time in telling the story of the Exodus from Egypt. That's the way Sefaria translates it. I would argue that that, to me at least, to my Hebrew, it does not seem like an accurate translation of the text.
The way we've always understood it is, "mitzvah aleinu l'saper b'yitzi'as Mitzrayim." Let's see how Sefaria translates that. It is a command upon all of us to tell the story of the Exodus from Egypt. Let me ask you. Do you think, "mitzvah aleinu l'saper b'yitzi'as Mitzrayim." is best translated as, it is a command for us to tell the story of the Exodus from Egypt? Is that how you would say it? Does anybody, if you know Hebrew here, how would you actually translate "mitzvah aleinu l'saper b'yitzi'as Mitzrayim?" Anybody?
Debby: Sipur Yetzi'at Mitzrayim.
Eitan: "L'saper et Yetzi'at Mitzrayim," not the 'this' as if we're going through it.
Rabbi Fohrman: The Beit is problematic. What is that bet doing there? "Mitzvah aleinu l'saper," right. It's a mitzvah upon us to be mesaper about Yetzi'at Mitzrayim. That's very different than to tell the story of the Exodus. And it strikes me that we'd actually got the mitzvah of the night all wrong. (00:34:59) Actually, a couple hours ago I just checked it in the Rambam, and Maimonides as he codifies this in Mishnah Torah, codifies it this exact way. He does not say that there's a mitzvah to actually tell the story of the Exodus.
It struck me as this crazy thing, that we think that the mitzvah of the night is to tell the story of the Exodus. It's not. It's "l'saper b'yitzi'as Mitzrayim." Which is very, very different.
Miriam: That's why we have the part about the five rabbis, they were talking about it. They weren't telling the story.
Rabbi Fohrman: Exactly. They weren't telling the story and I'll give you an example. Did it ever strike you as strange why we have the Haggadah the way we have it? If there really is a mitzvah to tell the story of the Exodus, what do you think you should do, Debby?
Debby: Read Shemot.
Rabbi Fohrman: Read Shemot! Start from Exodus 1:1 and when you get to the Ten Commandments, you're done. The same way you watch Charlton Heston's The Ten Commandments, right? Just tell the story from beginning to end. That's what you should do. You should ditch the whole Haggadah and you should just literally read the text.
Why don't we do that? What do we do instead? We take a little piece of text taken from the end of Devarim, which is Parashat Bikkurim starting from Arami oved avi. We literally have seven sentences that is a summary of the story of the Exodus. And you know what we spend our whole night doing in the Haggadah? We talk about rabbinic tales, Midrashim, on each of the words of those seven sentences.
What a lousy way to tell the story of the Exodus. How can we even? We should be ashamed. We should not even look ourselves in the eye. We have totally failed to tell the story of the Exodus from Egypt.
Guess what? The Rabbis understand that that wasn't what we're supposed to do tonight. We're not supposed to tell the Exodus. We're supposed to be "mitzvah aleinu l'saper b'yitzias Mitzrayim." We're supposed to tell stories about the Exodus. Oh, that's very different. We're not supposed to tell the story of the Exodus; we're supposed to tell stories about the Exodus. That's a very different thing. "V'chol hamarbeh l'saper Yetzi'at Mitzrayim harei zeh meshubach."
Now the question is what does hamarbeh mean? Anybody who excessively tells stories. Well, what's excessively tells stories? Tell a story about something? What does that mean? To excessively tell stories about something? That's the guy who says, come on, sit on my lap, I'll tell you some real stories, here's what happened to your grand-pappy, right? Then, oh man, you're going to tell me that story again.
Then it struck me that the way the rabbis are catching this, the Midrashim is the point. The Midrashim are almost like these tall tales about the Exodus. That's what you're supposed to be doing. You're supposed to tell these completely subjective understandings of what happened, and everyone's supposed to tell different stories. What's your story about the Exodus? What does it mean to you? Tell me a whopper. Come, sit me down and tell me some story, and lose yourself in the story. Tell some, and just pack it in. Tell some incredible story.
Everyone's stories are different, and it struck me that that's exactly what the next paragraph is about. "Ma'aseh b'Rabbi Elazar v'Rebbe Yehoshua ben Azaria." These were rabbis who lost themselves in tales. They weren't just sitting there starting from Shemot and getting through to the end. They were telling you a tale, not the whole history.
It struck me that, here's how you read the paragraph. Why do we do it that way? Here's how I would read the paragraph. Let's put all the pieces together. "Avadim ha'inu l'Pharaoh b'Mitzrayim, v'yotzi'anu Hashem Elokeinu misham, b'yad chazakah u'bizro'a nituya." We were slaves in Egypt and God took us out with an outstretched arm. That is not the end of the answer. It is not the case that the first sentence is the answer. The entire paragraph is the answer. We're just getting started with that first sentence. Here, kids, here's why we have all this crazy stuff going on that you noticed. Here's the reason for all these noticings that you have. It starts with the fact that we were slaves in Egypt and God took us out of there with an outstretched arm.
Now if you read that without the end in mind, if you feel like, this is the first time you're coming across that information (00:39:58). That in itself is quite a story, wouldn't you say? When's the last time that happened in history? That there was a slave class of an entire nation that were just slaves, and then in swooped God and delivered them with signs and wonders, with an outstretched arm? I mean, that's quite a story. That's a tall tale right there.
So then we continue. We say, but you know what, there's more to the story than that. Here's the rest of the story. What we were facing when we were slaves was not just an issue of working a little hard. It wasn't just like our lives were lousy because we had to wake up every morning and work hard. No. We were facing a civilization-ending event. The entire story of Israel was about to come to a complete halt, harei, because, "ilu lo hotzi Hakadosh Baruch Hu et avoteinu mi'Mitzrayim." If we play what-if, in other words, it's all too easy for you to live in the world in which God has taken us out.
But let's not live in that world. Let's imagine that God hadn't taken us out. Do you know little children, what the fact is? The fact is that if God hadn't taken us out, we wouldn't be here to tell a story. "Harei anu u'baneinu v'benei baneinu meshubadim ha'inu l'Pharaoh b'Mitzrayim." This was the end of the line for our civilization. Which means that the story that we are telling of God taking us out just took on different dimensions. We're not telling a story about something interesting that happened in our history once upon a time. What we are telling is our origin story. We were dead to rights. Our civilization was over.
When we came out, God resuscitated us as a nation. He took a dead nation, a nation that was literally disintegrating, that was in the process of dying, and he breathed new life into it and brought it back to life. Therefore, when we tell the story, we are not telling any old story. We are telling our national origin story. This is how we came to be because, yes, even though we existed before this, we were dead. It was over. This is the beginning of a new story. This is our origin story and because it's our origin story, let's go to the next part.
Therefore, "afilu kulanu chachamim, kulanu nevonim, kulano zekeinim, kulanu yodim et haTorah, mitzvah aleinu l'saper Yetzi'at Mitzrayim." Now this is interesting, it's one thing I noticed shalosh seudos is, Imu, if you could finish the sentence, how would you finish the sentence? If this text wasn't here, and you just said, okay, here is this amazing, momentous event, and we would be dead if not for the fact that God took us out.
And therefore, no matter how smart we are it’s a mitzvah for us to spend the night doing what? Imagine there was no mitzvah of sipur Yetzi'at Mitzrayim. What would you think we should do? If we were dead to rights but God took us out in an unprecedented way, with a strong arm, what should we spend the night doing?
Imu: Thanks giving. Hallel.
Rabbi Fohrman: We should completely rename the holiday! It should be thanksgiving day and we should spend the entire night doing what we do at the end of the Haggadah. We should spend the whole night in Hallel and hoda'a. We should spend the whole night singing songs. That's what I would do if I was thankful that somebody saved me.
But it's so interesting we don't do that. You know what the mitzvah is? The mitzvah is not Hallel and hoda'a. The mitzvah is not thanksgiving. What a strange thing. You're telling me God did this incredible thing for us and it's not thanks giving? The mitzvah is something else? What is the mitzvah?
The mitzvah is that no matter how smart we are, we're supposed to tell the story. We're not actually supposed to tell the story. We're supposed to tell stories about Yetzi'at Mitzrayim. "Mitzvah aleinu l'saper b'yetzi'at Mitzrayim." We're supposed to tell stories about the Exodus. What an interesting thing. So what is the mitzvah, then, if it's not thanks giving? The mitzvah is, wrap your mind around the idea that this is your origin story. What do people do with their origin story? They tell it.
Imu: They tell it.
Mx: They keep on telling it. Remembering it, remembering it.
Rabbi Fohrman: They keep on telling it, they keep telling it, they keep on telling it. They tell it over and over again. We were chatting earlier today, Imu, could you tell that story? Imu was telling a story about him and Dafina the giraffe. Could you tell the story?
Imu: I was talking to my wife on Shabbos about different projects that I had made in different years. I settled back into my chair and my eyes glazed over, and I was like, you know, there was once, and my wife cut me off, and she was like, are you going to tell the giraffe story again? (00:45:00) I heard the giraffe story like ten times about the time you got a giraffe, and I was frustrated because I didn't care that she knew the giraffe story. I just needed to go back in time and relive the giraffe story. I needed to tell her about how I was supposed to make the giraffe and my mom had already made the giraffe for me. It was a beautiful giraffe, and everyone believed that I made the giraffe. I needed to go back in time and relive that experience, but because she cut me off I was deprived of that opportunity.
Rabbi Fohrman: Let me ask you a question. For those of you around, don't you have this experience? When you think of your origin story, how do you relate to it? When somebody says, so tell me about yourself, what do you do? Do you launch into an Encyclopedia Britannica narrative about your life? Do you tell the story from Exodus 1:1 all the way through Exodus 19, and bore everyone with 19 chapters of the story of Carole? Or the story of Janet? Or the story of Imu?
No, you don't, because people will be bored. You know what you do? You tell stories about yourself. You tell stories about your origin. You pic three or four things from your origin and you say, let me tell you a story. That's what you do. You don't have that many stories.
It's so funny. Ask your spouse, how many stories do you have about your origin? You probably have five or six or seven or eight stories, and you know what? You tell them over and over again every once in a while. It's just like Imu said, you almost tell them because you have to tell them. It's like, oh, man, are we going to do that one again? Yes, we're going to do that one again, and this time, you're going to add more embellishments, and this time, you're going to make it even more different.
It's fascinating. The notion of history, as we have it, it's so desiccated. We have this objective view of history, as if that's what life is about. That's not the way it works. Human beings work by telling stories. Read Herodotus. Herodotus is like the first great modern historian. Herodotus was a great storyteller. It seems that if you go back historically, they weren't even focused on the truth of the matter. There was this great Persian war, and we're going to tell the stories about the Persian war. So you embellished it? Yeah, we embellished it a bit. This is our origin story. This is how the Greeks managed to survive the onslaught of the Persians.
Now I'm not saying that we're supposed to tell lies, but there's something that happens in storytelling which is Midrashic. What does Midrash do? Midrash goes and says that sure, there are the facts, but there is more to storytelling than the facts. There's allegory. There's subtlety. There's emotion. There's what things mean. There are all these other aspects that go into your stories, and when you tell your origin stories, you're telling Midrashic stories about yourself. You're telling stories which, at some level, if we stopped you and said, one second, Janet, are you totally confident that the story you just told when you were five years old transpired exactly the way you told it right now? It's like, I don't know. I'm not absolutely sure. That's the way I think it is. That's the way my memory has it, but the point is, this is you.
You're talking about your identity. This is what my identity means to me, this story. This is what we do with our origin stories. We pick some origin stories and we talk about them, and we lose ourselves in those stories, and that's the mitzvah of the night. The mitzvah of the night is, tell your origin story because once you understand there's an origin story you've got to relate to it that way. To me, what occurred to me is that we all do this with our personal origin story, but very few of us do it with our national origin story.
It's interesting. I was reading a book, Oh, Jerusalem, which I heartily recommend to you. Oh, Jerusalem is a history of the 1948 battle for Jerusalem told by two journalists who were there. What was remarkable about the book is that it reads like a novel. It's the stories of the 1948 War. It's not like it was history. It's stories of the 1948 War. It's the personal stories of people who were involved. The personal stories. You have vignettes of Golda Meir as a young girl addressing donors in New York, and what that was like. I just felt reading this, I was hearing the stories of 1948 (00:50:00). It just felt like you were there in a powerful way.
What was interesting is that this was a national origin story that they were telling. It struck me that no one does that. It's so rare. We tell our personal origin stories. We have a need to do that. To me, what the Haggadah is doing right here is it's framing everything that happens later on in the night. What it's saying is that the challenge that we want you to have tonight, on the Seder night, is to be so invested in our national story, in our communal story, that it feels like your personal story.
We all have, I talked about this before in Aleph Beta, the personal sides of ourselves and the communal sides of ourselves. It's very easy to relate to ourselves as individuals and to invest in our story as individuals. It's not always so easy to invest in a communal story and feel, this is my story, but we're supposed to do that. You're supposed to be so involved in your story that you have this need to just sit down and tell stories about Yetzi'at Mitzrayim, the mitzvah of "aleinu l'saper Yetzi'at Mitzrayim." We're supposed to lose ourselves in that story, and I think that's what we do on a Seder night. The point of "avadim ha'inu l'Pharoah b'Mitzrayim," is that we are going to spend the night telling origin stories, telling all these stories.
The last thing I'll say is maybe the answer to the kids is, so you say, well, how is it that we do that? We do interesting things with these stories, don't we? We tell stories for a while, and then we eat, but when we eat, we eat maror, and we eat matzah, and we recline, and we have wine. So are we taking a break from storytelling when we eat?
Isn't it interesting that in Shulchan Aruch, the meal, is part of the Haggadah, i.e. the meal is part of the story. It's just, our storytelling has reverted to a different form. We are going to have a no-holds bar approach to storytelling, because this is what you do with your origin story. You're so overwhelmed with your story, you're going to find any and every way to tell the story. You think the only way I can tell the story is by talking to you? No. I can tell my story through my behavior. I can tell my story through all sorts of things. I can tell the story through the bitter herbs that we eat. I can tell the story by not eating chametz. I can tell the story with matzah. I can tell the story with all these crazy things that we do, and you know what we do at the end? We sing and we praise. Why? That's not the mitzvah, but that's what you do with an origin story.
How can I tell this whole origin story, and not praise G-d at the end and not sing? Of course, I will praise G-d and sing. That's not the mitzvah of the night. The night isn't Thanksgiving. It's origin story night. When you lose yourself in the origin story, you can't help but sing at the end of it. That, I think, is the structure of the Haggadah. That's at least what came to me.
Carole: Rabbi, can I say something? Some of what you've been saying, though, took me in a different direction. One, the whole thing about the Yetzi'at Mitzrayim made me think of the Rambam, and that we're supposed to actually experience it. That we're supposed to be speaking as if the whole issue of, as if we were there. So that the way we're talking is supposed to be from this place of re-experiencing.
Also, when you were talking about how our civilization as Jews wouldn't exist and you said, well, what would you do on a night like that? I was thinking that you would want to kind of try to figure out the meaning of, jumping ahead to Matan Torah, in a way I am, but the meaning of why are we here rather than just telling stories. That would tie into why you're talking about the rabbis, and talking about even the first fruits. I mean, yes, they do talk about our origins, but also, it's that kind of looking at the whole, everything that we've done since then, in terms of realizing the impact of being freed and being able to develop this unique civilization.
Rabbi Fohrman: I think what you're saying, Carole, is a great example of what the rabbis are talking about. To be mesaper b'Yetz'ias Mitzrayim is to prize the subjective understanding. You know what you're supposed to do? You're supposed to tell the stories that mean something to you. That is your way of telling about it.
So if Carole is teleologically oriented, and Carol can't imagine telling an origin story without understanding what the purpose is of all we're going to do. She's going to focus on the Ten Commandments (00:55:00). She's going to focus on coming to Sinai, and she's going to focus on Revelation, which is all leading there and that's a teleological view of the story. That's her story.
The rabbis, when they lost themselves in the story, were each telling different stories. The Haggadah is giving an example of that, which is that, look at these incredibly variant stories which you can get out of these verses and now, tell your story. You've got to look at it as if you were there. Well if you were there, you would have a personal story. What about this turns you on? What about this is your story? So sit down with your kids on your knee and focus on that during the Seder and say, this really touches me. This is my story. When I think of Yetzi'at Mitzrayim, this is what I tell about.
Your kids should be able to say, yeah Grandpappy, you know whenever he gets up to this he always looks at this because here's his view of this story. Why? Because it's an origin story. It means something to him. This is his story. I think the Haggadah is unabashedly telling us that we're supposed to prize the subjective rather than the objective. By subjective, I guess I don't mean to say that it's inaccurate, but I guess what I'm saying is, that with things that matter to us, we give our personal understanding of its meaning, and we do that by storytelling. That's what we're supposed to be doing tonight.
I feel like I've been taking up all the air in the room over here, so I think we're going to institute something new here. Which is, I'm going to share something with Imu and you guys, but then I'm going to ask you to share. Imu, I'm going to pass the microphone over to you and ask you to share something with me and I'll play teller-commentator.
Imu: Oh no, I'm enjoying this. I've been digesting this since you spoke about it earlier. I think there are two riffs I would do on this. One is hamarbeh l'saper b'Yeti'at Mitzrayim, just the notion of storytelling as being something that isn't cognitive, as something that is also emotional. I love the fact that the Torah, which you can see as a law document or a philosophy document, actually encodes much of its meaning via story. In a way in which, methodologically speaking, you kind of do need to get sucked in in order to get all the good stuff out of it.
If you just read the Torah plain, on its face, you don't really get the majesty and the breathtaking beauty. That's sort of what so much of the material at Aleph Beta is about; is sucking the marrow out of these stories and then getting drawn in. I think that's true with storytelling in general. If you could make Animal Farm shorter and just say, hey, over-power corrupts, absolutely, it wouldn't be a very interesting book, even though we all know the punchline. That's not why you read Animal Farm. It's not why you read Lord of the Rings. It's not why you read anything.
You read these stories not for the knowledge. But something about, I think, wisdom or something about stories, is they take you on a journey back to a place you kind of already knew. That journey really matters to you, and it's just, I think, a nice compliment to what you're pointing out in avadim ha'inu.
The other thing that I noticed only when you were reading it, just because we're working on Yosef, as we often do at Aleph Beta behind the scenes. The chacham and navon, "afilu kulanu chachamim, kulanu nevonim," could be it's a coincidence, and that's why it's there, just because being smart and wise is a nice phrase. But I'd wondered, or at least was noticing, the other person we were talking about that was a chacham and navon is Shlomo HaMelech.
We're doing a piece behind the scenes here at Aleph Beta on Solomon, who is a chacham and navon, but G-d also gives him rechov lev. He gives him a wide heart as well. This to me feels like a version of this. We think that part of Solomon's downfall is actually when he's not able to wield his heart in conjunction with his wisdom and knowledge. Here, too, I think the text is going out of its way to say, you can do all your vorts, you can do all of your commentaries and bring all the cool things at the Seder, but that's not the point.
The point is actually the story, which is really the heart side of things. Even if you are a grand master, even if you are hyperintelligent and you know a lot. I love that. I think that that brings everybody into the Seder. (01:00:00) But I think, I've been at Sedarim with intimidating people, with people who have that giant stack of books, with the people who have learned it all, but the truth is, you don't really need that. I think your piece tonight is really about permission for every person to approach it with their heart, with their story that matters to them. Every one of us has a story, our own angle on it. So that was moving to me. I appreciated it.
Rabbi Fohrman: Now that you mentioned that, it just strikes you as you read this paragraph, that line "afilu kulanu chachamim, kulanu nevonim, kulano zekeinim, kulanu yodim et haTorah, mitzvah aleinu." Why? Because it's subjective. In other words, if this were an objective story, if the mitzvah were just to tell of what happened, then who is the best teller of what happened? The answer is the person who knows it all. The person who’s smartest and is able to assimilate everything that happened. If the mitzvah is to retell history, then who has the best memory remembers all the history? Who is able to talk the fastest is who is able to shape that whole story.
But that's not the mitzvah. The mitzvah is to talk about what happened because it's so viscerally important. Because it gets to the essence of who we are. So it doesn't matter whether you have mastery over this. There's a need to come back. It's almost like, the same way that the salmon is going to climb up the waterfall to get back because it's your origin story. I'm going to go back to the place where I was born. I'm compelled, in some visceral way, to come back to where I came from.
Part of that is a storytelling aspect of this, is that I'm bewitched by this notion of this is our origin story. Guess what our origin story is? Our origin story leads us straight to G-d, which is crazy if you think about it. Who has an origin story that leads them straight to G-d? You might say, well, I have a religion that leads me to G-d, I have theology that leads me to G-d, but an origin story that leads you straight to G-d? That's a crazy thing, but that's what we're talking about. So tell your story about what that means. It meant a lot to me when I noticed it over Shabbos.
Dina: It also ties us into the arba habanim. Everybody has their own story, even if they cannot ask the question. Everybody can tie in.
Rabbi Fohrman: Yep. Yep, and their words. Sorry, hold on, let me just mute you guys because you're getting a little rowdy over there. Where is our mute button?
Imu: It's my mom, I got it. My dear mother, you need headphones.
Rabbi Fohrman: But sure, that's the idea of the four sons, or four children, each needing to be talked to differently, speaks to the notion of an origin story not being just tailored from. Not being different just because of the speaker but also being different because the listener is different as well.
Debby: Rav Yosef Tzvi Rimon discusses that the same story is told four different ways in order to appeal to the four -- to appeal to people in different ways. That there's a multisensory part like you were saying, with the eating and with using the food. That there are people that like textual, and that's the middle part, the lengthy part with all the pesukim. You know, like show me the money, show me the pesukim. Show me the text to prove the story.
The first two parts of the story, either it's ovdei avodah zarah or avadim ha'inu, either it's physical, you know, what is the ge'nei? Either it's physical or it's philosophical. But he said it's the same story that's repeated over and over to relate to different people according to the way, which is what you're saying. It fits very well that, chanoch l’na'ar al pi darcho, that the Haggadah repeats the story in different ways to appeal to each person.
Rabbi Fohrman: Interesting. By the way, this vision I think goes through the next paragraph also, if I could just share a screen with you. (01:05:00) Our next paragraph is Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah, who seemingly tangentially takes us to a place which we shouldn't be going to, which seemingly has nothing to do with the Seder.
Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah comes and says, "harei ani k'ben shivim shana," I am seventy years old, "v'lo zachiti she'te'amr Yetzi'at Mitzrayim b'lailot ad shedarshah ben Zoma," I never figured out that Yetzi'at Mitzarayim should be spoken about at night until ben Zoma explained to me, "l'ma'an tizkor et yom tzeit'chah m'Eretz Mitzrayim," so that you should remember the day that you came out of Egypt, "kol yemei chayecha," all the days of your life. The days are the days and then there are the nights. So there might be all sorts of allegorical meanings with days and nights.
The larger question is, what in the world does this have to do with the Haggadah? Because the story of the Haggadah, the mitzvah of the Haggadah is to be mesaper b'Yetzi'at Mitzrayim, or to be maggid, to tell your kids, the story of the Exodus or stories about the Exodus. Along comes Elazar ben Azariah and talks about something else. It turns out that there is another mitzvah, another commandment, when it comes to relating to Yetzi'at Mitzrayim, relating to coming out of Egypt. Which is, to mention the Exodus from Egypt on a daily basis.
Along comes Elazar ben Azariah and says, when it comes to the idea of mentioning, the word zachor in Hebrew can mean to remember or it can also mean to mention. When it comes to this idea of zechirat Yetzi'at Mitzrayim, remembering/mentioning Yetzi'at Mitzrayim, it's not just a daily mitzvah but it's at night, too.
Why is he talking about that mitzvah? That's not what we're engaged in tonight. We're engaged in an entirely different mitzvah. We're not talking about mentioning. We're talking about losing yourself in a story. But it strikes me that what Rav Elazar ben Azariah is getting to is that, if you think about it, if you have an origin story, and your origin story really matters to you, what do you do with that origin story?
It strikes me that there are two things that you do with the origin story. One thing you do is you make sure that, at least once a year, you lose yourself in gathering your kids around the fire and telling them your origin stories. The story of the giraffe. The story of when you were at Berkeley and you were riding your purple bike and this is what happened to you. All your yarns, you share that with them. That's one of the things you do.
You spend the night around the fire with your kids doing that and your kids know that every year we spend a night and we talk about this. Dad stays up, and Dad and Mom stay and talks about that. That's one of the things you do. But that's not enough. The other thing is, if your origin story matters to you, it has to matter to you on a daily basis. Part of it is constancy. Part of it is that your origin story always informs you, but you can't spend every day sitting around, gathering your kids around the fire, telling them yarns about when you were six years old. They'd be bored and they'd never have a chance to do any schoolwork. Never have any chance to do anything else in your life.
What do you do if your origin story matters to you? The answer is you mention it. Constancy is part of it too. All I need to do is just touch base with my origin story once or twice a day. Touch base with my origin story at night, and then that works to give me that sort of constant breadth in my experience of my origin story. My depth in my origin story comes from my once a year, when I gather the kids around the fire and tell the whole story.
I think the whole first three paragraphs of the Haggadah are setting the stage, really, for the rest of the Haggadah that follows in helping us understand what it means to be lost in various versions of our origin story.
Imu: I'm going to preach for just one second, but one thing that I like to remember in the Seder that I think is in line with this is, if you rely on the Haggadah to tell your own personal story sometimes it'll be missed. The Haggadah is telling you drashas that others had used, and I like to encourage the participants in my Seder to take liberties with the Haggadah. To pop into their favorite sections of Exodus if they want to talk about those pieces (01:10:00). Because if you're waiting for others to do the drashas for you, sometimes you'll miss your chance, your connection to relate in your own personal way to the Haggadah.
Rabbi Fohrman: Yep. Sounds good. Okay, Imu, I'm passing the microphone on to you. You take us in a direction of your choosing, and I will dutifully follow your lead.
Imu: Okay, cool. I want to maybe have us fast-forward a bit to, let's see, we did a bunch of the first paragraphs, and we did vehi she'amdah very nicely. Do you want to go to the drashos? Do you want to go to Pesach, matzah, maror? Where do you want to go?
Rabbi Fohrman: The truth us, if we're going to highlight something of yours, I'd love to share with folks the very brilliant insight that you came up with five years ago on matzah, which to me, fits into ha lachma anya.
Let me set the table by just asking a question about ha lachma anya. Here's another example of an origin story of this idea, which is, I have a memory of this idea which I have no idea if it's actually true or not. But I have a memory of it, and I can't tell if I've constructed it, of you bursting into my room when we had a white board back in West Broadway, with this understanding. But it basically came out of ha lachma anya.
Ha lachma anya says the following. Ha lachma anya, we say at the very beginning. This, pointing to the matzah, is poor man's bread. It's the destitute bread which we ate. It's the bread we ate when we were destitute, "d'achlu avhasana b'ar'a d'Mitzrayim," that our forefathers ate in the land of Egypt. They were poor. They had nothing. So therefore we extend our hand to the poor, to those who have nothing, and we say come eat with us. Now, we're all slaves but maybe next year we'll be free.
This is ha lachma anya. If you would just read the ha lachma anya, and you were a little kid, and you were listening to the Pesach story for the first time, you were tugging at your grandfather's sleeve or grandmother's sleeve, and you would say, oh so one second, I think I get why we eat matzah now. So just on the basis of ha lachma anya, why is it that we eat matzah? The answer is that it's poor man's bread. We eat this because we had nothing, because we were slaves. This is what we ate when we were enslaved in Egypt. Matzah is a symbol of slavery. It's what we ate when we were slaves.
The problem is that later on in the Haggadah we say something else. We tell a different story about matzah. When we get later on into the Haggadah, we say, "matzah zu al shum mah?" Why do we eat this matzah? We say, we eat this matzah because "al shum shelo hispik b'tzeikam shel avoteinu l'hachamitz," because we didn't even have time to bake our bread, to even allow our bread to rise when G-d took us out of slavery. It all happened so fast that we had to just take our unleavened dough on our backs. That's why we eat matzah.
Now, if I'm a kid, I'm confused. I can't figure out why we eat matzah. Do we eat matzah because this is poor man's bread and we ate it in Egypt? Or do we eat matzah because we were redeemed so quickly that we didn't have time to bake any bread, that's why we eat matzah? I'm wondering if this question has come up before in our Sedarim. I don't remember ever having a really good answer to it before Imu burst into my office five years ago talking about this. Imu, if you could take it away from here, what were some of your thoughts back then?
Imu: You got it. This is like five years ago that you're taking it back? I don't even remember where exactly you want to go. You got it. Go ahead.
Rabbi Fohrman: Okay, fine. I'll continue with my recollections of Imu bursting in five years ago. Imu had another question that he asked back then, another way we have of relating to matzah, which is actually a little bit more subtle. Later on, in the Book of Numbers, when the people complain about life in the desert, they harp back to their time in Egypt. Now, what do they say about their time in Egypt? They say they remember how good it was in Egypt. They remember all the wonderful food, and they go through a list of food, and one of the things they remember is, they remember how they had bread for free. (01:15:04) They had this delicious bread which they didn't even have to pay for, which they were able to eat in Egypt.
Now you think, well, what are they talking about? Matzah? I thought we were eating matzah in Egypt. Nobody remembers matzah as this great, wonderful thing that we used to eat. Seemingly, they're remembering delicious bread just baked out of the ovens, and that's what their pining for. So what's this notion that we ate poor man's bread? That's question number three. It's really confusing. Is it poor man's bread, the matzah? Is it this thing that we ate? Do we only eat matzah because we came out of Egypt, and all of a sudden, we didn't have time for our dough to rise? Anyway, we didn't eat poor man's bread because we seemingly had wonderful bread back in Egypt.
Finally, there's one last question. The last question is that there's another reason why we eat matzah, for those of you who have read Exodus Chapter 12. Exodus Chapter 12 takes place before the Exodus, before we actually leave. It turns out that before we leave, before we went with our dough on our backs, with the unleavened bread, we were commanded to eat matzah. When did that happen? That happened in between the ninth and tenth plague.
In between the ninth and tenth plague, G-d shows up and says, okay boys and girls, I'm going to be taking you out of Egypt, and you're going to have this sacrifice that you're going to make that's called Korban Pesach. You're supposed to eat the Pesach offering. Guess how you're supposed to eat the Pesach offering? "Al matzot u'mororim yochlu'hu." You're supposed to eat it, unleavened bread, that's what you're supposed to eat tonight.
So one second, I don't get it. I thought we were only supposed to eat unleavened bread the next night when we leave, like it was a big surprise. What are you telling me? That it turns out that we ate unleavened bread before that we're eating matzah? What's that about?
This was the constellation of questions that Imu came into my room asking about. Which is that nothing seems to make sense when you look at matzah. It just doesn't make sense. Is it poor man's bread that we were always eating in Egypt, but then there was good bread in Egypt? What was that even about? Then we get commanded to eat it the night before we actually eat it, before we are taken out. Just how do we put of all of these things together? What's the real deal with matzah?
The way I remember that from five years ago, Imu, is that you came up with a theory which I thought wonderfully reconciled everything. The theory took the form, and I think it's wonderful that it takes this form, it takes a form a story. It's really the power of storytelling. It's to story-tell your way through this. What story can you tell that makes all of these things real? Where you don't ignore any of them, but every one of these data points are touched? There's actually a story, and each one of these data points is true, but it's true at a particular point in time. The story comes by stitching together all the different data points.
Imu's theory, the way I remember it, begins with the data point from the Book of Numbers, and you can ask yourself this. The question which Imu asked was, how do people get into slavery? How do they become enslaved? Why would anyone become enslaved? The answer is, you become enslaved when the basics of life are not available to you anymore. You don't have land; if you can't support yourself; you don't have food to eat; you don't have bread to put on the table. At some point you're willing to sell everything for that. At some point, you're even willing to sell your freedom for that.
The greatest example of this takes place at the end of the Book of Genesis, when we see how the Egyptians became enslaved. That's exactly what happened. There was a famine, and suddenly they couldn't get bread easily and they sold stuff. First, they paid all the money they had, then they gave away their livestock. Finally, they had to give away their land. Ultimately, they had to vie away their freedom. Chillingly, the very first ones who were slaves to Pharoah in Egypt were not Jews, they were actually the Egyptians. (01:20:00)
"Avadim ha'inu l'Pharaoh b'Mitzrayim," that we say on Seder night, the very first slaves were not us. They were actually the Egyptians who sold themselves into servitude, and they did it for bread. Bread became the reason for servitude. By the way, just parenthetically, a book that Imu and I like to bat around a lot that talks about this is Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari. A very interesting book where he argues that there's something about bread-making. Sort of rhyming with "b'zei'at apecha tochal lechem," the very first curse of humanity seems to be a curse of slavery around bread-making. By the sweat of your brow, you will make your bread.
There's something about bread-making which is historically always associated with slavery. The agricultural revolution, before the industrial revolution, could only exist with slavery. Once you domesticate wheat and once you have masses of humanity that are dependent upon wheat, then there almost is no other way to harvest all of that wheat. Which allows you to have the hundreds of thousands of millions of people with some sort of slavery in the workforce to do that. It's almost like you're enslaving domesticated wheat, you're enslaving people to wheat. Something about slavery which is deeply tied to bread production, sort of essentially. This is Yuval Noah Harari's point.
Anyway, getting back from this, if you would imagine and say to yourself, okay, so how did it work that Israel became enslaved? How did we become enslaved? You tell the story and here you have to imagine that you would say, it must be that something like the portrayal of the Book of Numbers was true. In other words, at some point the lure for Israel to become slaves was, okay, you guys are strangers in a land not your own. You don't have land anymore. We stripped you of your title for land. You have no way to provide for yourselves. You're desperate and we've got some nice, delicious bread for you.
You put the bread out there and it smells delicious, and it just came from the bakery, and you have folks who are literally starving. At some point, they're going to sell themselves as slaves. They'll be willing to accept slavery in return for the security of a good meal. For the security of the delicious bread. The memories that we had, those are the memories.
Now, the portrayal of the Book of Numbers, where we remember the hot and delicious bread that just came from the bakery is true, but what Imu suggested is ha lachma anya is also true. This is the bread of our affliction. This is the bread that we ate as slaves. How did it work?
You see, if you're Pharaoh, you lure people into slavery with delicious, fresh bread. But once they're slaves, how do you view them? You don't say, well, I have some obligation to always provide wonderful bread. At some point, slaves are expendable. At some point, slaves are just my means of production. I just have to feed them calories. The bread gets a little worse, and it gets a little worse, and every week it's a little worse. Then at some point it's like, hey, I'm just giving you the calories. I'm just giving you the bare bones. Why should I waste money on yeast? Why should I waste money on eggs? Why should I waste money? Suddenly, before you know it, all that's there is you're in these workcamps, and all you get is this crumbly, lousy matzah, because it's the cheapest available bread to feed the slaves.
You get lured into slavery with the delicious bread, but then, when Pharaoh looks at you as just expendable cogs in a machine, sooner or later, you're down to ha lachma anya. You're down to this terrible, terrible poor man's bread. At this point, Imu, basically in discussing it, we came to the realization that one second, so how come if both of these things are true, if in Egypt there was a time we had wonderful bread, and there was also a time that we had lousy bread, so which was the preponderous of time?
We were slaves for 200 years, so did we spend more time eating matzah? Or did we spend more time eating wonderful, delicious bread? The answer is we spent more time eating matzah. The wonderful, delicious bread was just at the beginning of slavery. That just lures you in. Pretty soon after that you're down to matzah for generations and generations and generations. (01:29:59)
If that's so, how come the guys in the Book of Numbers remember the one percent instead of the 99 percent? How come they look back in Egypt and they remember all the wonderful bread? And they say, oh boy, we remember the good times of Egypt. The answer is, storytelling. The answer is, there were stories about the wonderful bread. There were stories about how we got down into slaves in Egypt. There were stories. What happened is, I remember, Imu, when we were talking about it, the analogy that I gave to that was an addict.
I had read this book, it was called The Corner. It was a book about drug addiction in innercity Baltimore. It interviewed addicts, what it's like to be a drug addict. The drug addict is always in search of the original high. All they remember is the original high, but the cruelty of drugs is that it never recreates that high for you. Slowly, slowly, it's like the bread. Slowly, slowly, your body becomes inured to it. The heroin fails to give you that jolt, and you just become dependent upon it.
But your memory plays a trick on you. Your memory always remembers the ecstasy of that original high. It's always like, maybe I'll get back to it. Maybe I'll get back to it. You're always craving it, so you always come back. Maybe tomorrow, there'll be the delicious bread, and tomorrow there will be. Your memory is suffused with the delicious bread. So the stories that the grandparents tell, we remember how wonderful the bread was originally in Egypt, and that takes up the space in memory. You deny, and ultimately push aside the memories of the hard and awful and brittle bread.
This is our experience in Egypt. Those are two data points. The third data point comes between the ninth and the tenth plague. The problem is what you have at the end of 200 years is a traumatized people, and that trauma is encapsulated in bread. They're so traumatized, they're not even relating to that bread. They're just telling stories about the wonderful bread that they used to eat at the beginning. How come they're not telling the stories about the awful bread? Because it's too awful. That's why.
For those of you who have had Holocaust survivors, or if you haven't had Holocaust survivors, even those who fought in World War Two, do you notice how veterans rarely tell stories about what they saw in the battlefield? Why don't they do that? The answer is because it's traumatic and people can't relate. It's too awful so that's not what your memory focusses on. You block that out and you talk about other happy things.
But the problem is, as Bessel van der Kolk, he's the Dutch psychotherapist that talks about trauma, in his book The Body Knows the Score. The problem is your mind can deceive you, and your mind can remember just the wonderful bread, but the body keeps the score. Deep down you know that there was just the awful, brittle bread, but your mind can't wrap its mind around that. Your mind starts to deny it, and you get to this cognitive dissonance, where your mind is telling one story, but your body knows the other story. That's the state of terrible trauma.
As long as that happens, you're plagued by nightmares, and you can't move forward, and you can't do anything in your life. You're completely traumatized. So if you're G-d, and you've got a traumatized people, that all they can do is remember the happy talk of the wonderful bread and can't even deal with the awful bread, how do you redeem that? What does redemption look like?
That leads to the third place, the third moment in the story, and that's between the ninth and tenth plague. G-d says that, I got a little secret for you guys. I'm about to take you free. You're going to make this offering and you should eat it on matzah and maror, and you should eat it with bitter herbs, and you should eat it with matzah. Now, why are you going to eat it with matzah? G-d doesn't explain why. There's no explanation as to why. There's just a command, out of the blue, that you should eat it with matzah. No explanation why.
You know when you figure out why? The next night is when you figure out why we are eating it with matzah. The analogy we gave back then, Imu, was Babe Ruth. This is the Babe Ruth moment (01:30:01). Where the famous story with Babe Ruth, where he points over the center field wall, and then manages to hit the home run right over the center field wall. The home run is all the more extraordinary because he pointed. It's God saying, I've got this. I’m going to take you free, Tomorrow you'll understand.
Tomorrow there's going to be matzah in store for you but there's a whole different reason for matzah in this story. You're going to eat matzah once again but you're going to change your story. You're going to change your memories of matzah. Matzah is going to mean something else to you know. Matzah is not just the bread, the hard riddled bread, that you ate when you were slaves. When you eat matzah you now have something redemptive that you can remember. Something wonderful that you can remember.
You're going to be going tomorrow. I’m going to take you out of there so fast that you won't even know what hit you. You won't even be able to bake that bread as leavened bread, even if you tried. When you find yourself in joy that night eating that bread, remember that God inserted himself in your life and took you free. You're going to say to yourself, oh my gosh, I'm eating matzah but I'm not eating matzah because Pharaoh gave me this bread, I’m eating matzah because there's another king that all of a sudden fed me matzah. That fed me matzah for a different kind of reason.
That's the beginning of the redemption of bread. Of course, where does the redemption of bread end? Shortly after that what does God do?
Debby: Isn't mahn, lechem min hashamayim?
Rabbi Fohrman: Like the manna from heaven. God says, I'm going to give you bread. I am going to give you delicious bread, it'll taste whatever you want it taste. It's bread from the king. One more time we go back to delicious bread. The matzah is gone and there's delicious bread, which literally comes from the king.
What's remarkable about this, even though we said back then and I didn't even remember this and I was looking at my notes and my notes taught this to me, but it's really something. Is that when Pharaoh gave us bread he didn't just give us bread. He gave us bread with something. He gave us bread with quotas. The word for quotas, interestingly, is chok. "Chok chayavu, lo chilik hapachad," you didn't finish your quota. Pharaoh gave us these back breaking rules that we had to abide by and he gave us this terrible bread. In Pharaoh's world you give the slave bread, awful bread, calories, you've given quotas and these rules, and what do you get? That's your input. Your output is bricks. Pharaoh wanted bricks.
If you think about bricks, where do you get bricks from? You get bricks from chaff that comes from straw, chaff that comes from wheat. Where do you get bread from? You get bread from the kernels of the wheat. Interestingly, straw, bricks and bread both come from the same source. You mix with seeds and it makes you flour and out of that comes bread. You mix water with the chaff and out of that comes mortar, and out of that comes bricks. For Pharaoh the bread was just a means for the bricks. He just cared about the bricks. The bread was a material. Ultimately, I'll give you a lousy matzah, just so I can get my bricks.
Finally, here's God. God is a different kind of god. God says, no, I'm going to start with the lousy bread but then I'm going to give you the really good bread. I too am going to give you laws together with bread, but what are the laws? Pharaoh's law was that you have a quota and therefore you have no time. Therefore even if I give you the flour, you have no time to bake it. All you have time for is matzah. You don't have time for leavened bread. You've got hurry up and eat. You don't have time for anything.
God says, I'm going to give you manna and I'm going to give you laws (01:35:00). You know what the law is? The law is that there's Friday and Saturday, there's no collecting on Saturday. All you do is you have time to enjoy yourself. Time to not collect in the fields. Time to not collect the way you used to collect in the fields. You just have time. Pharaoh's laws deprived us of time and God says I'm going to give you bread and laws and time to enjoy it. The time to enjoy it is the Sabbath.
Somehow our experience of that, we respond to God and at some point we respond after the 49 days of eating that manna, we come to Mount Sinai and we get the Torah and we get the law. It's interesting that we bring sh'tei halechem back to God. We give chametz back to God. We give two loaves that are supposed to be chametz. It's as if we say to God, we remember how You gave us bread, Your bread, and how You gave us time. We too are going to give You bread and time. The way we put bread and time together is to put time into bread making. To give You chametz, the two loaves of bread, is our way of expressing thanks for redeeming us and redeeming our relationship with bread and ultimately redeeming our relationship to law.
So these were some of the ideas that we talked about that I remembered. Part of it is refreshed through notes. It's funny you know, there's an illusion I find Imu, I don't know if you do, but the illusion I find is that I always find that the stuff that we come up with lately is so much better than the stuff we came up with years ago. But here I am reading these notes, this was really great, so I appreciate the journey down memory lane. So that's my memory of our conversation back five years ago. I don't know if it's your memory. I'm curious if this is your memory or if it sounds entirely --
Imu: Some of it you gave me credit for way too much of it. I think 20 or 30 percent of it was me and a lot of it was you putting it together. I think we were doing it when we were doing a Sefirat HaOmer course, right? We weren't doing it as a Pesach course. I think we were just noticing -- the initial noticing was just this idea that bricks and bread are a part of the same plant. Essentially wheat produces straw and it also produces bread. Once you see that you realize how coordinated so much of the Egyptian experience is. We're building, we're building bricks; we're building storehouses, we're not building pyramids, but we're building our storehouses for grain. Egypt's obsession with having storage for grain and accumulating as much grain as they possibly can while accumulating wealth and leisure for themselves and depriving us of it at the same time.
So there are all of those themes and then God's redemption of that. This was part of our Omer course where God is sort of redeeming bad Pharaoh. The redemption of that isn't God bestowing us with our own storehouses of rain but only giving us, "dvar yom v'yomo," giving us just what we need to survive. It goes in a million different places. I was telling my mother about this earlier today about how there's this minhag which a lot of the rationalists like to hate on, about shlissel challah. About putting a key in your challah right after Pesach. It seems to me very clear where that custom originates from. It seems to be very much this is a commemoration of the mahn. Right after you have Pesach you are basically commemorating God being the source of our subsistence and the source of our parnassah.
You put the key in the challah as a segulah for parnassah. It doesn't have to be a segulah for parnassah. You could be remembering and commemoration how actually the source of our subsistence is God. God gave us daily bread, heavenly bread, so we before the Sabbath when we do our double portion, we remember the fact that this bread didn't come from storehouses or from accumulation, it came from God.
It was also another fun idea on this that was how Sukkot night and Pesach night, essentially, commemorate the same thing (01:40:03). So there's the bread making part of things and there's the brick making part of things. So bread is the source of our security in food but bricks are the source of our security in shelter, and we take a break from both of those things. We take a break from overdoing it on the bread side, and we take a break from overdoing it on the security or shelter side.
It just struck me while we were talking how --
Rabbi Fohrman: Isn't that fascinating how there are two sides of the wheat. In other words, what is remarkable about Egypt? What's remarkable about Egypt is the inundations of the Nile leading to fertile area in sunny places which allows for the Nile Delta and allows for the production of wheat. The breadbasket of the ancient world back then is going to be Egypt. So Egypt innovates bricks, brick making comes from Egypt, and bread making, basically, comes from Egypt. Both of these two things.
As we leave Egypt there's this letting go of bricks in the form of a sukkah. Which is what if you didn't have bricks? What if you just had to have faith in God and put together this little lean-to shelter? What if you didn't have bread? What if you had to let go and not even pack your food? So, in a way, we argued in our Sukkot course that both Pesach and Sukkot commemorate the identical moment in time, the first night in the desert when you're eating matzah in a sukkah. When you're saying, oh boy, this is different than the bricks and bread in the place I came from. No bread. No bricks.
What you have then is God reciprocates with on the one hand, shelter in the form of these clouds that provide protection and shelter, and then manna which provides. He says, okay so you don't have bread, I'll give you my bread from heaven and --
Imu: Isn't it elegant how they're both from the clouds? You have bread from the clouds and you have clouds. It's physical security from the clouds and food from the clouds.
Rabbi Fohrman: Yeah. As opposed to from the ground. What if security came from a cloud instead of security coming from the ground? Yeah. Fascinating.
So I really enjoyed that trip down memory lane and reading those notes. There was stuff in there that we didn't even get a chance to talk about so, Imu, we should go back and do a course on it one day. It was a fascinating journey. Also, how that connects just for homework folks, I remember the climax for that for us was reading this little strange tucked away story of Revelation. At the end of Revelation there's this very strange story where Moses and Aaron and the 70 Elders, on their way up the mountain, catch a vision of God. In the vision of God what did they see, of all things? The see a king on a throne and they don't even see the vision of a king, they just see the footstool of a king. The footstool, the bottom of the king's feet, under the Divine king's feet so to speak, there are bricks.
What a chilling image. The bricks of God. But the bricks aren't the muddy bricks of Pharaoh, the bricks that you make with mud, they were translucent bricks. "K'etzem hashamayim l'to'ar," that were blue like the blue of the sky.
Imu: "Livnat hasapir."
Rabbi Fohrman: The livnat hasapir, the sapphire bricks, "k'etzem hashamayim l'to'ar," that were translucent as the heavens themselves. It's almost as if the bricks of the ground -- talking about the difference between clouds and the ground -- the bricks of the ground look like ground, they look like mud. The bricks of the sky look like sky. It's almost as if God is saying, we suggested, that I am a different kind of king. I too have a law to give you just as Pharaoh had law to give you. The difference between My law and Pharaoh's law is that Pharaoh's law was just there for bricks. All he wanted was bricks so the law was just a means to get more bricks, it was a quota. The only thing that mattered was the bricks.
Well, I don't need bricks out of you, I have My own bricks. I have all the bricks I need, heavenly bricks. (01:45:00) I am not going to ask you for bricks, I am going to give you one of My bricks. The very next story is the giving of the Ten Commandments on two tablets that God just somehow has up there in heaven. Where do those tablets come from? What if they were the bricks? What does God do? Inscribe law on them, as if to say that these bricks made of heavenly sapphire, the most precious gemstone you could imagine, sapphire that comes straight from heaven, is just a means to an end.
The brick is just a means for the law. The law at the end. Instead of Pharaoh having law as a means to get bricks from you, God says what I want to do is give you law that will help you live a good life and everything is subservient to that. I'll even take one of My heavenly bricks and write down the laws for you and give you the bricks.
It's this final redemption of the bricks and bread story. Interestingly, Imu, you made the point then what do they do as they watch this vision? But what are the people doing?
Ax: They eat and drink.
Rabbi Fohrman: What would they be eating? They'd be eating manna, the bread from God as they received the bricks from God. The bricks and the bread come full circle at the end of the story.
Imu: Right. The same way that you have wheat which produces bricks and bread, God has some heavenly version which also produces bricks and bread.
Rabbi Fohrman: That's right.
Imu: Every interaction with God is nourishing. It's nourishing in shelter and in food, seemingly.
Rabbi Fohrman: Yes. Right. The bricks and the bread are (inaudible 01:46:42) heaven. All right, Imu, I think that's a good place for us to take out. We kept everybody at least a half hour longer than we said we would. So we should let people go to sleep. Imu, you can take us out with some parting thoughts. It's been a joy spending some time with you thinking Seder.
Imu: It was fun. You got a loopy version of us. What time is it by you Rabbi Fohrman? It's like 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning?
Rabbi Fohrman: It's 4:55 in the morning, that's Israel time.
Imu: Okay. So you're keeping in line with Rabbi Gamliel and Rabbi Akiva, you're staying up until Kri'as Shema?
Rabbi Fohrman: I'm waiting for my child to come in and say, it's time to daven Shacharis, that's right. I feel just like --
Imu: Thank you for your great sacrifice.
Rabbi Fohrman: -- and I'm not even that far from Bnei Brak, what can I tell you?
Imu: This was fun. Do you want to take a question or two? Should we hear from somebody?
Rabbi Fohrman: Sure.
Imu: I think Donna wanted to say something a bit ago? Donna, are you still there?
Donna: Yes, I’m here. Thank you so much Rabbi. It's wonderful to hear and to be joining this. I just thought how wonderful recently I read a book from Primo Levi, and he wrote a book called, If This is Man. He talked about the story that he experienced in the camp. That mentioned, I'll make it very short, it's very tied into what you and Imu shared tonight -- for me this morning. Not just the Pharaoh's wanted the brick he actually he wanted all the Jewish People alive, he just wanted to Holocaust them all.
So it's not different from the Nazi's in the Holocaust. So what Primo said is that they left behind, before 10 days the Russian army had come to the camps. So the Nazi Germans had taken all the people on the death march. So they and them left over because they were very ill and very sick. So what happened was that they left there very ill and they didn't have food, but they all went out and together for as long as possible they can find something to eat. So they gathered something. Some people were able to cover the broken windows and things like that.
At the end they were all saying that we went -- they all got some food at the end. Then the very sick said, is it possible that you can share some food with us? So they all, surprisingly, they all shared each piece of the bread, interesting. They all shared. What he said was, what changed? (01:50:00) In the Nazi camp when the people were fighting each other the stronger ones survived. No different to the Pharaoh's, they had to do the quotas, so the stronger would get the quota and the weak would not.
So the Nazi army left so people were willing to share their portions, so everyone had a piece. What he says was that the bread of afflictions, to share with each other, is sharing back who they are. The humanity. The kindness. The value. So in the camp they lost that because under the Nazi's they were driving people to become less than animals. When they fought they became enemies to each other and to themselves. But what changed was when that Nazi venue left the people became humans.
So I think when you shared with Imu what we need to remember, the story, is not just talking about the story but remember the story that when we have Hashem we don't need to become hoarding. We went through a pandemic with everyone hoarding toilet paper. We can still under extreme crisis and scaredness, but we don't need to fear because we don't want to lose the value that God has given us. The humanity. His values. Having faith is not just a hypothetical word. Having faith is knowing who Hashem is and His character.
I think that is very important that when we go through sharing the Passover and remember how Hashem had rescued us, not just then but now. Particularly we are facing so much uncertainties and difficulties and crises, the most important things we need to remember are that we need to continue to hold that humanity and continue, not lose, the kindness and the chessed that Hashem has given us.
Rabbi Fohrman: On a personal note, Donna, I would just say that you're speaking to this. Donna actually travelled all the way from Australia and made a trip and visited us back in the Aleph Beta offices on West Broadway. I believe it was about four or five years ago, Donna, when you were in our offices.
Rabbi Fohrman: It was right when we had just -- it was just a few months after Imu and I had had this discussion of the sapphire bricks. I remember sharing this with you in our office. What we talked about tonight we talked about then. So it's fascinating to have this come full circle.
Donna: It brings tears to me too. I really miss you guys, yes.
Rabbi Fohrman: Good. Anybody else? Imu, do you want to call on somebody? I can't see everybody here.
Imu: Yeah, I won't call blindly. If somebody wants to say something, or somebody has a question before we go, we're happy to hear from the lovely supporters here.
Miriam: It seems to me like this whole evening, or day, we are talking all about memory. What I remember, what Donna remembers, what you all remember and that's what the Seder is all about. We have to remember.
Rabbi Fohrman: Yeah. That's true. It's interesting that that word for mentioning is really a word for memory. It's almost like what do you do with your memories when your memories are so important to you that they get back to their origins? You just have to tell them but you get lost in them. So what does it mean to remember? So it's the deep dive of what it means to remember and it's the every day in and day out mentioning kind of memories as well.
Donna: I think that, rabbi, that remembering is not just remember but remember who our value and identity and I think that's important. Particularly how Hashem made the Covenant with the Jewish People and how Jewish People continue thriving today. I think continuing to remember is that not forgetting there are still a lot of darkness and sill a lot of antisemitism there. So I think remembering and telling the next generations, I think -- I remember Rabbi Jonathan who is no longer with us, that he wrote a commentary on Passover. (01:55:00)
He mentioned that the fifth sons are not in the table, and in the fifth generations, I think they'd be talking these four ways and talking to people. I think, not just four ways, but I think in talking to different generations. I think it's important that for us to continue to hold the Passover's message sacred, continue passing it down to the next generation. Otherwise going down to the fifth generation that maybe never have seen and I think that is dangerous and to not lose our identity and then to continue to have that longevity.
Rabbi Fohrman: Yes, thank you. I appreciate that. I just want to take us out on a little bit of a lighter note. You know that the Seder is all about how you tell the story. One of the things tonight is how varied story telling is. I think that going back to Mah Nishtanah, the Mah Nishtanah is really the kids saying all this weird stuff is happening and to me the answer of that paragraph is the weird stuff is a part of the story. It's a part of my storytelling, it's how I'm telling you the story. The story is told through food. The story is told through visual aids. When it comes to stories there's no holds barred. It's not just what I say, it's everything tonight is the story.
With that we've got the joy of watching a little video from Janet who's here. Janet has great fun every year with this kind of storytelling. With putting together a table and props and just all sorts of imaginative -- Janet, I wouldn't describe it as visual aid, how would you describe what it is that you're doing? It's a resplendent roomful of almost like a living play. Everything is there to be partaken and taken part of and it's a feast not just for the meal but a feast for the eyes, and a feast for the hands, and it's a multisensory Pesach experience.
Janet, I want to thank you for that. It's a real inspiration. To me it's an inspiration of how we can bring our creativity to all sorts of ways. To use not just verbal storytelling but no holds barred storytelling where you use every possible imaginative thing that you can to tell a story that ignites a child's imagination and helps them construct their own version of a personal origin story.
Anyway, Janet, I just wanted to say thank you for that. It was really wonderful to see what you do there.
With that I'll basically say I want to wish you guys all a wonderful Pesach. We've got a few days left to go. For those of who have not yet turned over our kitchens there's lots of Pesach cleaning, hot water --
Imu: Work to do.
Rabbi Fohrman: -- and slavery ahead and long nights in putting this all together. Keep your eye on the ball and thanks for taking time out in a really busy time of year to make some time for the story, the story that makes it all worthwhile, which is what we were talking about tonight.
I wish you guys a rapturous evening of sharing your story and gathering kids around your knee as the fire crackles in the fireplace, so to speak, metaphorically, and sharing with them your version of our collective origin story. So with that I will bid you farewell.
Imu: Chag same'ach everyone, thank you.
Participant: Chag same'ach. Chag kasher v'same'ach. Thank you.