Wednesday, April 30, 2014


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW
Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead
Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – ASHAR/ Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch


          Although it was more than two decades ago, I would venture to think that anyone who was a classmate of mine when I was in second grade, remembers the time that “Staum got stuck in his chair.”
Our second grade classroom was full of little chairs tailored for little second graders. The wooden chairs had a gap between the chair and the back, and we loved to climb into that gap and fasten the chair snug against our waists. Then we would walk around the room with the chair hanging from our bodies, drumming on the cushion of the chair.
I too occasionally engaged in the fun of transforming my chair into a drum until that fateful afternoon. One day during an afternoon break, I climbed into the chair’s gap and hoisted it around my waist. I proceeded to join my fellow chair-drummers, walking around the room. A few moments later the alarm went out “She’s coming!” Our teacher was returning to call the class to attention. I and my fellow chair-drummers walked quickly back to our places and began pulling ourselves out of our chairs. The only problem was that unlike everyone else I was stuck. I simply could not get myself out of the chair. I panicked and told some of my friends, who, in turn, told the teacher. After a few more futile attempts the bewildered teacher sent a student to summon the principal. 
          Although it seems humorous now, it was quite traumatic for me back then. The principal arrived and surveyed the situation. After seeing the problem, I am sure he turned around to laugh. Then he called the resident expert on all such matters, i.e. the chief janitor. As the janitor approached I was filled with dread as I overheard some classmates murmuring that the janitor would have no choice except to saw the chair apart, with me in it. But the janitor’s prognosis was otherwise. Suffice it to say that thankfully the problem was resolved with no damage, other than a bit of a second grader’s pride.
          For years, my classmates would remind me of the incident and thank me for the extra recess they enjoyed that day. You can bet that afterwards I no longer climbed into chairs. I was advised to play baseball or basketball instead.

          “You shall count for yourselves – from the morrow of the rest day, from the day when you bring the Omer of the waving – seven weeks they shall be complete. Until the morrow of the seventh week you shall count, fifty days; and you shall offer a new meal-offering to G-d.”[1] This is the mitzvah of Sefiras haOmer- the count of the Omer, i.e. the forty-nine day verbal count of the days between the second night Pesach and the holiday of Shavuos. The gemara[2] derives from the words of the pasuk, “You shall count for yourselves”, שתהא ספירה לכל אחד ואחד – there must be a count for every individual.
          Some halachic authorities explain that the gemara’s exegesis is coming to inform that the principle of שומע כעונה (“hearing is like answering”)[3] doesn’t apply in regards to the counting the Omer.[4] Since the law states that every individual must count, one cannot fulfill his obligation by hearing someone else’s recitation.
          HaRav Nissan Alpert zt’l offered a novel explanation of the gemara’s statement. He explains that when the Torah demands an individual count, it does not merely mean that every person must himself/herself recite the words of the counting. It is also a call for every person to count himself, in other words, to make himself count! The counting of the Omer must be a personal experience, and therefore, Reuven cannot recite it for Shimon and Shimon cannot recite it for Reuven.  
          The counting of the Omer involves a count of one’s life - his days, weeks, months, and years. It reminds a person of the fleeting passage of time. The message of Sefiras haOmer is - “if one does not master time, time will master him.”
          Rabbi Alpert continues that on the first day of Pesach, Klal Yisroel physically left Egypt en masse. As soon as they traversed the physical confines of the country of their servitude they became free men. The greatest symbol of freedom is personal control and the ability to manage one’s time. Many commentators explain that the blessing recited each morning, thanking G-d שלא עשני עבד- that He did not make me a slave”, is a blessing of gratitude for our ability to decide how to use our time. A slave’s life is dictated by his master, and how he utilizes his time is beyond his purview.
It is for this reason that the counting of the Omer commences on the day after the first day of Pesach. Counting the Omer symbolizes our ability to raise ourselves to greater heights. That ability was only granted to us after the physical exodus was complete.
The Torah uses two indicators of when the Omer count begins: “From the morrow of the rest day” and “From the day when you bring the Omer of the waving”. Why do we count from “the Omer” and not “from the morrow of the rest day” (e.g. why do we say “Today is the third day of the Omer” and not “Today is the third day from the morrow of the rest day”)?
Rabbi Alpert explains that time is the greatest gift one possesses. Our mastery of time is symbolized by bringing the Omer-offering on the Altar. The Omer was brought from the first barley growths of that season. Its offering initiated the count that culminated with the holiday of Shavuos. On Shavuos the first wheat-growths of the season were used for the special offering of the Shtei halechem (two loaves of bread). The Omer count symbolizes our desire to transform random days into collective weeks and our ability to convert mundane hours into holy units of time. It is time utilized for introspection and spiritual growth.
The extent of one’s celebration on the holiday of Shavuos is wholly contingent on how much preparation one has expended. Therefore, the name of the holiday is “Shavuos- weeks” referring to the seven weeks that are counted, preceding the holiday.  

            I cannot vouch for the authenticity of the following letter, but its poignancy is clear:

This was written by an 83-year-old woman to her friend:

Dear Bertha,
I'm reading more and dusting less. I'm sitting in the yard and admiring the view without fussing about the weeds in the garden. I'm spending more time with my family and friends and less time working.
Whenever possible, life should be a pattern of experiences to savor, not to endure. I'm trying to recognize these moments now and cherish them.
I'm not "saving" anything; we use our good china and crystal for every special event such as losing a pound, getting the sink unstopped, or the first Amaryllis blossom.
I wear my good blazer to the market. My theory is if I look prosperous, I can shell out $28.49 for one small bag of groceries. I'm not saving my good perfume for special parties, but wearing it for clerks in the hardware store and tellers at the bank.
"Someday" and "one of these days" are losing their grip on my vocabulary. If it's worth seeing or hearing or doing, I want to see and hear and do it now!
I'm not sure what others would've done had they known they wouldn't be here for the tomorrow that we all take for granted. I think they would have called family members and a few close friends. They might have called a few former friends to apologize and mend fences for past squabbles. I like to think they would have gone out for a Chinese dinner or for whatever their favorite food was. I'm guessing; I'll never know.
It's those little things left undone that would make me angry if I knew my hours were limited. Angry, because I hadn't written certain letters that I intended to write one of these days. Angry and sorry, that I didn't tell my husband and parents often enough how much I truly love them.
 I'm trying very hard not to put off, hold back, or save anything that would add laughter and luster to our lives. And every morning when I open my eyes, tell myself that it is special.
Life may not be the party we hoped for, but while we are here we might as well dance.

          So often life seems to stagnate and our days become a blur of mundane triteness. We get stuck in our proverbial chairs and can’t get past our present state of living, despite having lofty dreams and aspirations. The process of inertia takes its toll and, before we know it, days become wasted weeks and weeks become wasted years.
          The counting of the Omer comes to “seize us by the collar.” It encourages us to wiggle out of chairs by any means necessary in order to seek the fulfillment in our lives that we truly desire.
          In the words of an American actor who was killed in a car accident before his twenty-fifth birthday: “Dream as if you'll live forever; live as if you'll die today”.

“You shall count for yourselves…
seven weeks they shall be complete”

[1] Vayikra 23:15-16
[2] Menachos 65b
[3]שומע כעונה  is applicable to some mitzvos and blessings that must be verbalized.  One can fulfill his obligation by hearing another person’s recitation if both he and the one reciting have in mind to help the listener fulfill his obligation through the declaration. This law applies most notably to Kiddush and Megillah reading.
[4] See Biur Halacha (489:1) 

Friday, April 25, 2014


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW
Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead
Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – ASHAR/ Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch


          A number of years ago while living in Melbourne Australia, Rabbi Yaakov Haber[1] founded a Kollel known as the Australian Institute of Torah.[2]
Each year the institute would host a Shabbatone to attract non-religious Jews. One year the topic for discussion at the Shabbatone was kedusha (holiness).
The Shabbos prior to the Shabbatone Rabbi Haber was concerned. Holiness is a very intriguing and important concept and he had not been able to develop a down-to-earth message that he felt he would be able to convey. Before he went to sleep he prayed that he would be able to find the right message.
That Friday evening he had a dream. An elderly saintly looking Rabbi that Rabbi Haber had never seen before appeared to him. The Rabbi told him not to worry about finding material for his speech for the Shabbatone. He told Rabbi Haber that he would teach him whatever he needed to know. The saintly Rabbi then explained to him six aspects of kedusha with perfect clarity.
In the morning Rabbi Haber was ecstatic. The dream was the answer to his prayers. However, when he began to review the points he had heard in his dream, he was dismayed that he couldn’t remember them clearly.
When Rabbi Haber arrived at the kollel shul he saw a new sefer (book) on the shelf so he pulled it out and opened it. It was the Nesivas Shalom (chelek 1), authored by the Slonimer Rebbe, Rav Shalom Noach Berzovsky zt’l. He was stunned to find in the sefer contained a collection of essays about holiness.
Some time later, when Rabbi Haber traveled to Eretz Yisroel, he made sure to visit the Slonimer Rebbe. When Rabbi Haber introduced himself the Rebbe asked him to recount all of the details of his dream.
When he completed his account, the Rebbe replied that when he wrote the sefer he debated whether or not he should get a haskamah[3]. In the end he decided against it because he felt he would not be able to find someone who had studied the depth of the topics he had written about as much as he did. But because of that the Rebbe explained he was always distressed. But now that he heard Rabbi Haber’s account he was elated to realized that in heaven they had obviously accepted his work.[4]

The following thoughts are adapted from the aforementioned essays of the Nesivos Sholom regarding holiness:
 In Parshas Kedoshim the concept of holiness is mentioned three times:
1. “דבר אל כל עדת בני ישראל ואמרת אליהם קדושים תהיו כי קדוש אני ה' אלקיכם - Speak to the entire assembly of the Children of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for holy am I, Hashem your G-d”.[5]
2.  After the Torah warns about the severe prohibition of worshipping idolatry the verse states, “והתקדשתם והייתם קדושים כי אני ה' אלקיכם – You shall sanctify yourselves and you will be holy, for I am Hashem, your G-d.”[6]
3. At the conclusion of the parsha, after the Torah states that one may not, “render your souls abominable” by eating non-kosher birds and any crawling insect, the verse states, “והייתם לי קדושים כי קדוש אני ה' ואבדיל אתכם מן העמים להיות לי – You shall be holy for Me, for I G-d am holy; and I have separated you from the peoples to be Mine.”[7]
Nesivos Sholom explains that these three verses correspond to the three chief detractions from holiness: Immorality, idolatrous beliefs which enervate one’s faith, and partaking of forbidden foods. In regard to these three areas one must go beyond the actual prohibitions of the Torah. One must erect personal safeguards and stringencies to ensure that he does not fall prey to these egregious sins.
Conversely, there are three main sources of holiness from which one can elevate himself: The study of Torah and the performance of mitzvos, the holidays and special times which are propitious for spiritual growth, and overcoming physical desires and inclinations. The more one transcends his desires for physicality and the pleasures of life the more control he maintains over his evil inclination. These three areas represent the cadre of holiness in the life of a Jew.

The centrality of the commandment of being holy is evident. Becoming a holy, G-dly person is one of the most fundamental responsibilities of a Jew. Therefore, it is difficult to comprehend why these concepts seem to fall by the wayside even amongst scrupulously observant Jews.
The Rebbe explained this enigma by citing a Medrash[8]. The Medrash relates a parable about a king who wanted to determine the extent of the allegiance his many servants and sons had to him. He wanted to ascertain who truly loved and feared him and accepted his monarchy with reverence. In order to do so, the king ordered an architect to construct a palace with an eccentric entranceway. To enter the palace one had to pass through a narrow room, which led into an even narrower room, which led to a third even narrower room. One would literally have to squeeze his body, slowly pulling and pushing himself through the little room, limb by limb. Beyond the small room was the majestic and opulent throne of the king in a vast beautiful royal chamber.
When the palace was completed, the king summoned his servants and sons. He sat on his throne and waited. He watched as each individual approached walked through the increasingly narrower rooms. He watched as some plunged on into the increasingly narrow constraints, while others just walked away. Only those who were willing to suffer the pain of the struggle were his true servants and loyalists.
The Rebbe explained that the narrow rooms symbolize the obligation of a Jew to transform himself into a receptacle of holiness. The responsibility of becoming a holy person is arduous. It encompasses every aspect of a person - body, soul, thoughts, emotions, desires, and even the things he yearns for. Only one who truly loves his King and wants to be in His embrace would accept on himself such a herculean undertaking.
It is for this reason that the obligation to be holy is not counted among the 613 mitzvos (commandments). Prior to giving the Torah at Sinai, G-d declared to Klal Yisroel, “You shall be for Me a kingdom of ministers and a holy nation.”[9] Those words were not stated as an obligatory commandment, but rather as a revelation of G-d’s Will. G-d was expressing His newfound expectation that the nation receiving the Torah strive for holiness and devoutness.
So too, the Torah’s instruction, “You shall be holy, for holy am I, Hashem your G-d”, is a statement of G-d’s expectation of His Nation. One’s yearning and striving for holiness is a testament to his love and devotion to his Creator. It demonstrates his willingness to undergo the travails and self-abnegation necessary to live an elevated spiritual Torah life. The statement that one must be holy is an exhortation, not an actual commandment!

One can be completely Torah observant, meticulous in his performance of the mitzvos, and pray with fervor and concentration, yet be spiritually loathsome. In the timeless words of Ramban, one can be a “naval b’reshus haTorah- a repulsive person with the permission of Torah[10].” Such a person may keep the letter of the law but has completely misunderstood the spirit of the law.
My Rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, explains that the Torah wants us to realize that mitzvos are the building blocks - the stepping stones to achieving the goal of being holy. However, the mitzvos therefore are not an end in themselves.
The true and intended end and goal is kedoshim – to be holy! The mitzvos are the Torah’s description of the means available to achieve that end goal. We must pay great attention to the details, halachos, and minutiae of every mitzvah.
But many times people become bogged down in the mitzvos without realizing the goal of kedoshim that lies at the heart and purpose of mitzvos. The Gemara compares mitzvos to silver, money, and wealth. Just as wealth is only a means to do good and achieve a better life and should never be viewed as the end and final goal itself, so too the mitzvos are the beginning of the process of human elevation and not the end goal all in itself.
All of Jewish history has shown that those who attempted to attain holiness without the means of mitzvos have failed. But even punctilious observance of mitzvos does not always guarantee holiness.

It is not enough to observe the laws of Torah but one must internalize its message. The Torah must be a lodestar, not just a book of guidelines and restrictions.
In a sense, the true test of one’s devotion and love for G-d can be judged by viewing the extent of one’s efforts to achieve holiness[11].Therefore, the Torah’s instruction that one be holy is not a commandment per se, but a rudimentary prerequisite for performance of all mitzvos.

“You shall be holy, for holy am I, Hashem, your G-d”
“You shall be for Me a kingdom of ministers and a holy nation”

[1] Rabbi Haber was also the former Rabbi of Congregation Bais Torah in Monsey. He is currently the Rav of Kehillat Shivtei Yeshurun in Ramat Bait Shemesh.
[2] In the shul where my in-laws daven in Lakewood, NJ, Kehillas Kol Chaim, there is a weekly group that studies Nesivos Shalom, the classic works of the late Slonimer Rebbe, Rabbi Shalom Noach Berezovsky zt’l. The Rebbe’s discourses are beloved due to their encouragement and inspiration. He constantly spoke of spiritual renewal and a person’s ability to continually develop his personal relationship with his Creator.
Rabbi Yisroel Meir Shapiro, who initiated the group, related to me the following story that he heard at a lecture given by Rabbi Avrohom Chaim Feuer.

[3] letter of approbation
[4] Rabbi Avrohom Chaim Feuer added that he heard the story from a chassid of the Slonimer Rebbe, who is one of the biggest charity collectors for Slonim institutions. When the chossid arrived in Melbourne to solicit funds and told Rabbi Haber what he was collecting for, Rabbi Haber related to him his uncanny ‘connection’ with the Slonimer Rebbe.
When the chossid returned to the Rebbe in Jerusalem and asked the Rebbe about the story the Rebbe replied that he was glad that G-d had chosen to use his sefer to promote the study of Torah.
[5] Shemos 19:2
[6] 20:7
[7] 20:26
[8] Tanna D’vei Eliyahu 16:9
[9] Shemos 19:6
[10] i.e. within the confines of actual Torah law, although not within the Torah’s ‘spirit’
[11] holiness as the Torah defines it

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Pesach Divrei Torah

"והגדת לבנך"

During the cold European winter the water in the mikva was freezing. There was one appointed fellow whose job it was to take hot water from the samovar (urn) on the fire and periodically pour some of the boiling water into the freezing waters of the mikva to warm the water.
One morning the Chofetz Chaim entered the shul and asked the gabbai if the mikvah was warm. The man replied that it was. But when the Chofetz Chaim touched the water he found that it was cold as ice. The man replied that he had just poured water from the urn into the mikvah. The Chofetz Chaim touched the side of the urn and realized that it was cold. The fire under the urn had gone out.
The Chofetz Chaim mused that if the source from where the water is drawn is hot then it can heat up whatever it is poured into. But if the source is itself cold then it will not be able to warm anything else.
If a father/rebbe (mother/morah) is excited and passionate about serving Hashem then he can convey those feelings to his children as well. But if he himself is unemotional then the child will hardly be ‘turned on’ to Avodas Hashem.

The night of the Seder is integral part of chinuch. Our children will remember the Seder for their entire lives. We don’t want them to just remember the food, but also the lessons and excitement, the foundation for Avodas Hashem all year.
Haggadas Chasan Sofer makes this point as well (paragraph – Chayav adam liros es atzmo): “It is known that it is extremely important that on this night one must relate to his family and young children all of the miracles and wonders, in order that faith should take root in their hearts through telling over about the exodus from Egypt, which contains the fundamental ideas of our holy Torah.
If a person wants to relate something to his friend in a profound manner so that it will become rooted in his friend’s heart, it is only possible if he himself believes it completely. Words that emanate from the heart penetrate the heart! The same is true in regards to the Seder. If a father wants to ingrain in his children the fundamentals of Yetzias Mitzrayim, he must ensure that it is deeply rooted in his own heart, and that he himself can relate to the feeling of leaving Egypt.

“Zecher L’Yetzias Mitzrayim”

How many times throughout the year do we ‘remember’ Yetzias Mitzrayim?
Twice every day during shachris, titzis, tefillin, every time we touch the mezuzah, Kiddush on Shabbos and Yom Tov… Approximately 2,000 times!
Why so many remembrances?

It wasn’t just a company, it was a massive corporation. Grant and Co., as it was known, took up about three city blocks of space. There were many different branches within the corporation, and it basically ran the entire city. There was an energy department; electricity, phone, production, and all of the city’s official offices including City Hall were located there as well.
The corporation was owned by its overseer, the elderly Mr. Grant. He had been running the city as long as anyone could remember. In fact he had practically built it from scratch. Despite the fact that he was the wealthiest and most powerful person in the city, he was loved by everyone. He was dedicated, efficient, and extremely fair. He always had time for people, and he got things done. Every department of the corporation had its own CEO with hundred of employees working in each department. Most of the CEOs were Grant’s own nephews and grandchildren. But he insisted that they have the same wok ethic and dedication to their constituents that he had. Sluggishness or arrogance was never tolerated.
Very frequently one of the CEOs would suggest that they change something. Why don’t we use a different type of gas? Why don’t we change the days of production? Why are we replacing the old electric servers? Why are we building that here and not on the other side of town.
Mr. Grant always listened to their suggestions and tried to explain to them why he disagreed. But they didn’t always understand or agree.
One Monday morning every CEO and department head was summoned into Mr. Grant’s stately office. “Gentlemen”, he began. “This week we are going to do something very different. I am altering production lines from each department each day this week. Then I will have engineers taking apart the machinery and sources for each department. I will demonstrate to you how each one works, and why I decided what I did. I will show what will happen if we follow any one of your suggestions, and then you will understand why we don’t change.
“I want you all to understand that this will be costing Grant & Co., particularly me, millions of dollars, not to mention lost revenue and profit. But I feel it’s worth it so that you all realize that nothing I do is for myself, but rather for the good of the city. Pay close attention because this is a one time event, and I will never do it again.”
For the duration of that week, Mr. Grant led all of his corporation leaders around the corporation. They went from department to department and saw clearly the raw makeup of each one. They soon understood the extent of Mr. Grant’s wisdom and vision.
At the end of the week Mr. Grant addressed them again: “Now you all have a keen understanding of why we do what we do. Explain it to your employees and make sure they all understand it as well. Long after I’m gone and my successors have assumed the leadership of this company, when suggestions are made to change things, they will use this week as a point of reference to understand why it cannot be changed.”

In His infinite wisdom Hashem created the world and set it on a course of natural laws. But for one stretch in history, Hashem suspended all of natural law in order to demonstrate how He runs the world. During the process of Yetzias Mitzrayim, throughout the makkos, the actual yetziah, and culminating with k’rias Yam Suf, Hashem took apart the world, as it were, and showed how He alone dominates land, heaven, sea, animals, people, food, etc.
Rav Shimshon Pinkus zt’l explained that each of the Makkos was a course in emunah, in how Hashem runs the world. Hashem altered all of nature to demonstrate His love for us, and that He chose us to be His people.
Hashem’s message to us is that for the sake of maintaining our Free Choice this will never happen again. But from then on we have a point of reference for us to reflect back on and remind ourselves of the many truths which were proven to us at that time. Throughout our days we remind ourselves of Yetzias Mitzrayim to strengthen our resolve and awareness that this world – and everything and everyone in it – is all dictated and orchestrated by Hashem alone.   


Rabbi Chaim Zev Levitan related that he was teaching his class about the Seder and related that there is a minhag that the men wear a kittel during the Seder. One boy announced that his grandfather doesn’t wear a kittel at the Seder. Rabbi Levitan countered that perhaps he doesn’t have that custom. The boy replied that every year his grandfather dons his striped shirt that he has from when he was a prisoner in the concentration camps and that’s what he wears during the Seder.
Rabbi Levitan told the boys that his grandfather wears the ultimate kittel during the Seder.  

Why is it the ‘ultimate kittel’?
Rama (610:4) offers two reasons for wearing a kittel at the Seder. The first reason is to ‘resemble the ministering angels’ who are clothed in pure white linen. The second reason is because dead people are dressed in a kittel. Therefore wearing a kittel helps a person maintain a sense of humility and seriousness.
Accordingly, the clothing worn by concentration camp inmates, who didn’t die al Kiddush Hashem, but were forced to live and suffer al Kiddush Hashem (i.e. just because they were Jews) is surely tantamount to the clothing of angels. As far as a sense of seriousness and humility, there is nothing more humility-inducing than the shirt worn by a concentration camp inmate.

Karpas – Yachatz

The Gemara in Pesachim (65b) describes the manner in which the Jewish people would carry their Korban Pesach back home with them. Rashi tells us that this was the same way that Ishmaelite merchants carry their goods when they travel. 
What is the significance of this description of how the Jews returned home on the eve of Pesach; and more specifically – what is Rashi telling us by the comparison to the Ishmaelite merchants?
Rav Shlomo Kluger zt”l, Yerios Shlomo (Rav Shlomo Kluger Haggadah), explains that at our Pesach Seder we talk at great length about the evils of Pharaoh, the hardships forced upon us by the Egyptians, and the glorious redemption by G-d. Although we do review the pre-Egyptian history of our people, we never seem to address the fundamental cause of our enslavement. Why did Hashem subject us to such brutal slavery in Egypt?
We were made slaves because we sold our brother, Yosef, into slavery to the socharim yishmaelim. When we take our Korban Pesach home in the very same manner as Ishmaelite merchants, we are inaugurating the entire Yom Tov of Pesach triggering the connection to those same Ishmaelite merchants to whom we sold our brother Yosef.
What triggers this memory nowadays, in the absence of the Korban Pesach?
After Kiddush, we wash our hands before eating a vegetable, which is referred to as Karpas. Why do we call it Karpas when it would seem that Yerek - vegetable - would be a more appropriate and accurate name for what we are doing? What does Karpas mean, and do we use this term to refer to our eating of a vegetable dipped in salt water?
In the beginning of Parshas Vayeishev, the Torah records (Bereishis 37:3) that Yaakov made for Yosef a tunic made of "passim." Rashi explains that the word "passim" means fine wool, adding that it is similar to the term Karpas which is used in Megillas Esther (1:6) to describe the opulent decor at Achashverosh's royal party. Achashverosh certainly wasn't hanging vegetables from his walls; he was hanging decorations made of fine wool, which is what Karpas means.
What does fine wool have to do with dipping a vegetable into saltwater at the beginning of the Seder? In his commentary on Mishneh Torah (Hilchos Chometz U'Matzah 8:2), Rabbeinu Manoach writes: “V’anu nohagin b’karpas zecher l’kesones passim she’asah Yakov Avinu l’Yosef asher b’sibasa nisgalgel hadavar v’yeirdu avoseinu l’mitzrayim”. The word Karpas hintes to the words ‘Kesunes Pasim’ the extra cloak Yaakov Avinu gave Yosef, which was the basis for the brother’s enmity of Yosef, which subsequently drove them to sell him down to Egypt.
Ben Ish Chai adds that the dipping of the Karpas in saltwater symbolizes that the brother’s dipped Yosef's tunic into goat’s blood (Bereishis 37:31). In light of this, we now understand that Karpas means fine wool, not vegetables, but we use the term to remind us of the sale of Yosef into slavery by his brothers.
Why bring this up now? Because as we ponder leaving Egypt, we must remember how/why we descended there in the first place. It is a question we don’t enjoy discussing, because the shameful answer is that we descended there because of  disunity and enmity among the holy tribes. 
In order to commemorate this, we dip a vegetable in salt water and call it Karpas.
We then break the matzah, a rupture symbolizing unity torn asunder. We then hide the bigger piece for afikoman and look for it at the at the end of the seder. At some point, we find the afikoman. The ultimate way to redemption, both personal and national is through the search for a way towards unity. The geulah will beckon the ten tribes. After the afikoman we call in Eliyahu, the ultimate unifier of the generations – present at bris, seder and redemption.

In halacha there is no reason for Karpas except that the children should ask. According to Rabbeinu Manoach that Karpas hints to a very significant event, in fact the very root cause of our descent into exile (selling Yosef).
Rabbi Chaim Zev Levitan explained that the two ideas are interconnected. Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky zt’l explained that because of his dreams/prophecies and preferential treatment and extra learning with Yaakov Avinu, the shevatim were convinced that Yosef was seeking to become the fourth patriarch. That would mean that they would become ousted from Klal Yisroel, much like their father Yaakov had become the bearer of the heritage to the exclusion of Eisav, and had happened with Yitzchok to the exclusion of Yishamel. Therefore they deemed Yosef a pursuant (rodef). Halacha unequivocally states that if one comes to kill you, you may kill him first.
Their mistake was that they didn’t clarify their view with their father. They acted on their own accord, convinced of the veracity of their comprehension of the situation.
Seder night is to be a night of questioning. Particularly it is a night when a son inquires from his father about the foundations and fundamental ideas behind Judaism and living as a Jew.
The Egyptian exile is rooted in a cataclysmic event in which our righteous forbearers acted without seeking the advice and opinion of their saintly father. Had they done so the course of history could have been different. This cements in our souls the importance of our mission tonight, sons need to look to their fathers, and fathers need to be prepared to convey to their children, the very essence of our greatness as a people.


One of the fascinating symbols at the Seder is charoses.  It is made from apples, almonds, cinnamon, red wine and, depending upon one’s custom, a variety of other fruits. 
The Gemara (Pesachim 114) states that the texture is reminiscent of the mortar used to make the bricks in Egypt.  The Medrash (Shemos Rabbah) notes that the work with mortar was the harshest labor.  The Gemora adds that the rods of cinnamon added to the charoses are reminiscent of the infamous last decree of Pharaoh not to give the Jews the straw they needed to make the bricks.  Shulchan Orech adds that we add red wine in memory of the blood.  Korban HaEidah elaborates that this refers to the blood of the Jewish babies who were buried alive within the mortar when the Jewish slaves did not fulfill their daily quota of bricks - which was 600 bricks per day.
Shulchan Aruch (473:5 - based on Tosafos in Pesachim 116a) adds that there is a custom to add to the charoses all the varieties of fruits which Klal Yisroel is compared to in Shir Hashirim – apples, figs, walnuts, and pomegranates. Tosafos adds that one should also add almonds because G-d ‘shakad’ weighed the end, i.e. He released them from bondage before the allotted time.
If the charoses is symbolic of painful events, how come the charoses tastes sweet? Also, why do we add to the charoses ingredients which symbolize the uniqueness and greatness of Klal Yisroel? Why should we add an ingredient which alludes to our leaving early, which is cause for gratitude and celebration?

Danny was really excited. It was a dream come true. He had wanted to go to this Basketball camp for years. Now it was finally a possibility. The camp worked on scholarships and Danny could receive a full scholarship if he completed all course requirements for school by June 15. The scholarship committee would review all entries on June 17, and inform the winners by June 18. Camp began July 1.
In January Danny approached his teacher Mrs. Smith and asked her to help him take care of what he needed so he can get in to camp. She promised she would speak to the principal, Mr. Raymond, and would help him in any way she could.
Mr. Raymond was well respected by the students and staff of the school. He was a disciplinarian and didn’t accept nonsense, but all of the students knew he cared about them and was interested in their success. When Mrs. Smith mentioned Danny’s request he assured her that he would make it happen.
Danny was doing decently with his studies, but he was still very nervous about receiving the scholarship. On June 3, while Danny was daydreaming about camp, he was summoned to Mr. Raymond’s office. When he walked in to Mr. Raymond’s office, Mr. Raymond seemed agitated and overly stern. He didn’t ask Danny how he was doing in his usual pleasant manner. He motioned for Danny to sit down. As Danny nervously did so, Mr. Raymond placed a large folder on his desk. “Listen well Danny!” he began. “I have been looking through your work and you are not producing as well as you can be. In these folders there is a list of requirements that you will need to complete in order to pass your classes. If the work is not done fully, and done well, you will be here for summer school, every day this summer. Good day!”
Danny was stunned. Forget about scholarships and camp; he was staring at the possibility of being forced to attend summer school. He opened the folder and was shocked. There were worksheets, essays, and lengthy assignments. How was he going to do all that work in two weeks?
Danny went straight to Mrs. Smith. He poured out his heart as tears unabashedly trickled down his cheek. Not only had Mr. Raymond callously shattered his dream, he was threatening him with the most miserable summer of his life. Mrs. Smith shook her head dolefully. She couldn’t understand it either. She told Danny she would give him as much time as she could to help him.
Later that day Mrs. Smith met Mr. Raymond in his office. “Why did you do this to Danny? Don’t you think you’re being overly harsh?” Mr. Raymond gently replied that there was nothing he could do. Danny had to do the work and there was nothing to discuss. As Mrs. Smith began to leave dejectedly, Mr. Raymond curtly said “Just wait; you’ll see it will all work out.”
The next two weeks were the most miserable days of Danny’s life. He didn’t sleep, hardly ate, and didn’t play ball with his friends, despite the fact that he was a great athlete. When he finally finished one assignment he immediately continued with the next one.
On June 14, a bleary-eyed, overly-fatigued, and burnt out Danny walked in to Mr. Raymond’s office. He handed the bulging folder to his principal, a man he know detested. Mr. Raymond said nothing more than “I’ll take a look at it.”
On June 18, Mr. Raymond summoned Danny to his office. Danny was literally trembling as he walked in. Would he have to stay for summer school? When he walked in Mr. Raymond stood up and with a big smile on his face, he handed Danny an official looking letter. Danny began reading: “Dear Danny, after careful review of your academic progress, we are excited to inform you that you are one of five young men in the United States chosen to receive a full scholarship at Camp Hoops this summer. You’re incredible work ethic and the extra hours you invested in your schoolwork demonstrate how dedicated you are to academic growth. We are looking forward to greeting you on July 1.”
Mr. Raymond walked over to Danny and gave him a hug. “Danny, with so much fierce competition, and a mere five slots available, I knew you had little chance of getting the scholarship with your present grades. I also knew that if I assigned to you extra work in February you would keep pushing it off, and it would never get done. I decided that the only way you could have a fighting chance was if I forced you to do a tremendous amount of work in a very short time, and subjected you to two weeks of ‘academic purgatory’. Believe me, it wasn’t easy for me to be so harsh, especially with you. But now with that letter in your hand, you tell me if I made a mistake!”    
Danny looked up at Mr. Raymond. There were tears in his eyes, as he said something he never thought he would say: “Thank you so much. Thank you for forcing me to kill myself for those two weeks. It’s the best thing that could have happened to me!”

The Torah relates that Moshe did not want to be G-d’s emissary. He was not confident that he could persuade the hapless Jews, and he feared that because of his speaking impediment he was the wrong person to be G-d’s representative before Pharaoh. Hashem insisted and Moshe instructed to Pharaoh to free the Jews.
Pharaoh’s response was swift and harsh. He ordered that the Jews no longer receive straw to make the bricks. They would have to collect the straw they needed and yet produce the same quota of bricks. The elders of the Jewish people spoke harshly to Moshe for meddling and making the situation worse. They said that “G-d should see and judge” for giving the Egyptian’s further excuse to attack and berate the Jewish slaves. Moshe turned to G-d and asked why G-d had sent him. What was the purpose of his mission if things only became worse and the Jews became even more hopeless? G-d’s response was that there was no place for questioning G-d. The final verse in Parshas Shemos is G-d’s response to Moshe: “Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh, for with a strong hand he will send them, and with a strong hand he will chase them from his land.”
The Rishonim explain that the increased brutal and oppressive servitude was actually what allowed the Jews to leave Egypt 190 years earlier than they were supposed to. G-d promised Abraham that his progeny would be enslaved for 400 years. However, they were only in Egypt for 210 years.  The commentators explain that if they would have stayed even one moment longer they would have descended to the fiftieth level of impurity – a point of spiritual condemnation and ‘no return’.
G-d therefore had to take them out precisely when He did, otherwise they could never have accepted the Torah and become Klal Yisroel. How could G-d take them out early if the 400 years were not completed? Because the Jews had been subject to such overly harsh servitude they completed the work of 400 years in a mere 210 years.
Thus, it was the extreme harshness of the mortar that saved us from an extra two centuries of additional labor.  It was therefore a bitterness that had a sweet result.
Vilna Gaon illustrated this with the following gematria:  He points out that on the words “Vayimoreru es chaiyehem – The Egyptians embittered our life,” the tropp, the musical cantellation is ‘kadma v’azla’, which literally means to come earlier.  Thus the musical notes point to the fact that because of the bitterness the redemption came earlier.  The numerical value of kadma v’azla is 190 - the exact number of years that the redemption came earlier than the forecasted 400 years.
The charoses symbolizes this dichotomy. On the one hand it reminds us of the harsh and overbearing servitude, particularly their working with mortar and making bricks. But therein lies the hidden blessing, because if they would not have been overworked they would have never been able to overcome the spiritual abyss of the Egyptian exile. All of those lofty titles mentioned by Shlomo Hamleceh in Shir Hashirim only came to be because the nation left, and transcended, Egyptian exile.
Once it was over the Jews looked back at the bitter servitude and thanked G-d, acknowledging that it was the best thing that could have happened to them. 

What does the word charoses mean? The Mordechai, in Masechtas Pesachim, says that it has as its root cheres which means earthenware for the charoses symbolizes the mortar of the bricks, the work of the earth. The Sefer HaPardes states that the definition of charoses is a dip or a relish.  It is interesting to note that the Rambam’s custom was to continue to dip the cuisine of shulchan oraich into the charoses during the Seder.
Rav Moshe Meir Weiss suggested the following:
The commentaries explain that when we dip the karpas into the saltwater at the beginning of the Seder, the name karpas represents samech-perech (a rearrangement of the Hebrew letters in the word karpas).  Samech equals sixty, and thus samech-perech represents the sixty myriads of the Bnei Yisroel who suffered the backbreaking labor, which is perech.  In a similar vein, I would like to suggest that charoses, when we rearrange the letters, spells samech-cheirus, the sixty myriads of Bnei Yisroel who were freed from Egypt.  For, as we explained last week, the sweetness of the charoses symbolizes the fact that we exited from Egypt 190 years early due to the harshness of the mortar and bricks.  Thus, the charoses is the celebration of samech-cheirus.
It is also interesting to note that the samech-perech of karpas is not an exact number for, when we were suffering the horrible servitude, we were much more than sixty myriads.  After all, it was only during the plague of darkness that four-fifths of Klal Yisroel died.  Thus, during the time of perech, there were another 240 myriads who were engaged in perech.  The samech-cheirus however is a precise number.  For, when we were emancipated, we were sixty myriads of men from the ages of 20 to 60.

רָשָׁע מַה הוּא אוֹמֵר? מָה הָעֲבֹדָה הַזֹּאת לָכֶם?
לָכֶם ולֹא לוֹ. וּלְפִי שֶׁהוֹצִיא אֶת־עַצְמוֹ מִן הַכְּלָל, כָּפַר בָּעִקָּר.
וְאַף אַתָּה הַקְהֵה אֶת־שִׁנָּיו, וֶאֱמָר־לוֹ:
"בַּעֲבוּר זֶה, עָשָׂה ה' לִי, בְּצֵאתִי מִמִּצְרָֽיִם" - לִי וְלֹא־לוֹ.
אִלּוּ הָיָה שָׁם, לֹא הָיָה נִגְאָל:

Washington D.C.
State of the Union address
The House Chamber is packed. Every member of congress is in attendance. Exclusive members of the press are there as well. The assemblage, including political foes and dissidents of the president, sit in respectful silence as the president reviews the accomplishments of the past year as well as his vision for the future. At some points there are those who applaud, while those in disagreement maintain their silence.
Suddenly, there is a loud noise. One of the members of the senate stood up and banged on the floor with his foot. “Mr. President, this is a load of rubbish. We all know that you have done nothing to bolster the fledgling economy, our international relations have only worsened, your immigration reform has been a disaster, and unemployment has reached an all time high. In a word Mr. President, you’re a waste of space! Let’s just admit to the truth and move on!”
We can only imagine how swift and punitive the reaction would be. By morning, not only will the former senator be out of a job, he may even be facing worse charges. Either way his political career will be over, and he will have to deal with fierce censure and condemnation for his blatant disrespect for the highest office in this country.
It is no secret that the members of congress from the opposing political party, and perhaps even dissenting members of his own party will critique and debate the president’s accomplishments during the following days. But no one would dare ridicule the president in such an egregiously insolent manner.

If a child (not necessarily a young child, perhaps even an adult) approaches his father and asks him why we observe Shabbos, what the point of davening is, or how do we know Torah is real, the father has a responsibility to gently explain to his son the answer to his legitimate inquiries.
But if the father is about to daven Shemone Esrei and he shows his son the place and his son replies “What do I need to do this for?” the son is not asking because he wants an answer. The same would apply if a rebbe tells his class it’s time to begin learning, and one student blurts out “Why do we need to learn for? This is a waste!” It’s more likely that he doesn’t have patience to learn and wants to derail the lesson. If he really wanted an answer there’s other times and ways to ask.
The Torah relates the question of the wicked son in midst of its discussion of Korbon Pesach. Erev Pesach was the busiest and most exciting day in the Bais Hamikdash. Every Jew was in Yerushalayim and almost all men were at the Bais Hamikdash awaiting the slaughtering of their korbon. The excitement of the upcoming Yom Tov, and especially the Seder was palpable in the air, and the frenzied activities, and Kohanim reciting hallel just added to the atmosphere. And right then and there, while his father is impatiently waiting to get back his korbon so he can rush back to Yerushalyim to roast it before Yom Tov, his son blurts out “Why are YOU doing all this work?!”

How should the father reply?
Returning to our parable, how would a wise and patient President respond to such an overtly blatant outburst by a Senator?
The President looked out at the crowd with calmness and confidence. He looked everywhere except at the brazen senator and he began to gently layout and reiterate how much has been accomplished during his tenure. He discussed where international relations have improved and how it can be seen, he noted in which areas the economy has grown, and his continuing plans for immigration reform.
In other words, he replied to every point of attack, but he did not reply to the aggressor. He understood that the outburst wasn’t merely about individual points but about a deep-rooted enmity towards him. There was therefore no point in addressing him directly. But for all those who heard his virulent words, the President made clear that his arguments had no merit.

The wise father doesn’t directly reply to his brazen son. He understands that his son doesn’t really want a reply. Perhaps at some later point when his father is able to inspire him he will return to address his questions. But for now the bigger concern is for those who heard his disdainful comments. To them the father gently replies – as the pasuk instructs him to do - “This is a Korbon Pesach for Hashem, because Hashem saved us during the final plague when He passed over our homes…”[1] 
But in regards to the questioner himself, the father’s response is very different.

Meshech Chochma (Beha’aloscha) explains that the Korbon Pesach served to engrain within the hearts and psyches of every Jew that their sole allegiance is to Hashem. Living in an idolatrous society, and being quite influenced by their polytheistic beliefs for over two centuries, the Jews needed to bring the Korbon Pesach prior to the exodus. By slaughtering a sheep, which represents the constellation which the Egyptians worshipped, the Jews demonstrated their faith in G-d alone.[2]   
When the wicked son questions, or rather scoffs, at the bringing of the Korbon Pesach, it isn’t merely this isolated mitzvah that he seeks to undermine. If he is challenging the Korbon Pesach, which symbolizes a Jew’s complete faith and allegiance in G-d alone, then he is insinuating that he does not wish to be included in the Jewish people. This is indeed what the haggadah states: “And since he has removed himself from the general public” i.e. by demonstrating that he does not wish to believe in G-d alone, he has denied the most fundamental underpinning of Judaism. 
The first step is to answer the challenge he posed, albeit directed at the others who heard his scornful words. “And also you shall blunt his teeth”. In other words, after relating the Torah’s response to the other children, then we deal with our recalcitrant son. We do not knock out his teeth, but we seek to ‘unsharpen him’. He is not yet ready to hear a full response, but at least we want to leave him with ‘food for thought’ which will sweeten some of his bitterness. A person uses his teeth to bite and chew something.
The pasuk (Tehillim 112:10) states: “The wicked man shall see and be angered, he will gnash his teeth and melt away, the ambition of the wicked shall perish.” Commentaries explain that the wicked man is infuriated when he sees the lofty life of the righteous. He grids his teeth in anger and hopes to uproot all of the ways of the righteous.
At the Seder we want to convey to the wicked son how meaningful and endearing what we are doing is. Without answering his verbal attacks, we want him to see that whatever it is that we are doing grants us meaning and a sense of fulfillment.
“It was because of this – i.e. so that I will be able to fulfill His mitzvos[3] that G-d did for me[4] when I left Egypt. As a slave I could not have any feeling of spiritual accomplishment, but now that I have the ability to observe mitzvos and feel connected to G-d, there is no greater spiritual bliss that I could feel.”
But the wicked son would not have been redeemed. Note that the father does not say that the wicked son would not have left, but that he would not have been redeemed.
There is an important difference between redemption and exodus. In fact they transpired at different times. The redemption occurred on the night of the fifteenth of Nissan. As the Jews remained sealed off in their homes eating their Seder, Pharaoh ran through the streets shouting in a voice that all of Egypt miraculously heard “Yesterday you were my salves; now you are slaves of Hashem!” At that moment the Jews achieved spiritual redemption. The physical exodus however, only took place the following day.
The redemption came about because they were free to serve Hashem. They had discovered the spiritual bliss of being connected to G-d and there could be no greater joy. But the wicked son has renounced all of those feelings and conveyed his desire to be excluded from it all. If he had lived then with such an attitude, he may have participated in the exodus, but he would not have been redeemed. He may have physically left Egypt, but he would remain a prisoner to the Egyptian mindset and ideologies.
Thus the father gently tries to demonstrate to his wayward son that the mitzvos he performs, including the Korbon Pesach, are for his own personal benefit. They are not merely ‘work’ that must be performed, but they are the essence of life itself. At this point that son is not interested in hearing rebuttals to his challenges. The most his father can do is to try to make his son feel that his belligerent attitude is hurting himself.
We wordlessly invite him to taste the spiritual bliss of redemption. Our goal is that when the Seder is over the wicked son is left with a whetted appetite to return to the ways of Torah.[5]

[1] The Vilna Gaon notes that the pasuk writes a totally different response to the question of “What is this work for you!” than the Haggadah writes. But the pasuk’s response begins with the word “And you will say”. It does not say “And you will say to him” only that you should say. Vilna Gaon derives from there that the father does not directly address his brazen son, but rather responds aloud for everyone else to hear, particularly for the ‘Son who doesn’t ask”, because we are most concerned about him. How can he sit at a Seder and not be motivated to ask at all? He apparently feels similar to the wicked son but just isn’t as brazen and so does not verbalize it. Therefore, the Haggadah’s response to the Wicked Son is actually the verse the Torah states in reference to the Son who doesn’t ask, because he is the one we are addressing after the Wicked Son asks his question.  
[2] Meshech Chochma notes that throughout the forty years in the desert the nation did not offer a Korbon Pesach, except for the first year after the exodus. He explains that in truth they were exempt from the Korbon Pesach, as the obligation only began once they completed conquering and dividing Eretz Yisroel. However, after they had committed the Sin of the Golden Calf, which appeared to be a form of idolatry (even if it wasn’t genuine idolatry) they needed the spiritual effect of the Korbon Pesach to reconfirm their complete dedication to Hashem.
They also offered the Koron Pesach immediately after entering Eretz Yisroel with Yehoshua. Even though the land was not yet conquered, because much of the nation had sinned with the idol Ba’al Peor, during their final year in the desert, they again needed the Korbon Pesach to reaffirm their faith in Hashem.
[3] Rashi
[4] Ma’aseh Nisim notes that the verse uses the word ‘asah’ which literally means did, but also connotes an acquisition. In order that I perform His mitzvos, G-d acquired me as His people, when I left Egypt.
[5] Medrash (Shir Hashirim 1:59) relates that the blood of the Korbon Pesach in Mitzrayim had an unpleasent odor, so G-d blew, as it were, a secnt of Gan Eden, “ והיתה נפשם קוהא לאכול – and the (Jews’) souls were longing to eat it”. Rav Tevele Bondi in his haggadah (published by Feldheim) explained that from the vernacular of the Medrash it seems that the word ‘koheh’ connotes yearning to ingest and partake of something. When a person is enticed with an aromatic food and then deprived of the food, he begins to salivate so much that his teeth begin to hurt.
That is our goal with the wicked son. We want to leave him yearning to be part of what he has rejected. That is what the Haggadah means that we are ‘hakheh’ the teeth of the rasha.