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CALL TO ALMS

by Ben Prero    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

Unleavened bread. Lots of wine. Bitter herbs and more - yum! Once again, the time of year has come when families gather together to retell the story of our exodus from Egypt.

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Unleavened bread. Lots of wine. Bitter herbs and more - yum! Once again, the time of year has come when families gather together to retell the story of our exodus from Egypt. We begin the Passover seder with the preliminary steps by reciting the blessings of kiddush, eating an herb, and breaking the middle matzah. Before we begin retelling the story, we recite the paragraph of "Ha Lachma Anya," in which we extend an invitation to all those who need food to come and join us. Beginning the seder with an invitation to the poor is surely a very charitable act, but is this really the place for it? The mitzvah of charity applies all year long. Why begin the Passover Haggadah with an idea that is not even in the storyline? Furthermore, this is not the first time this season we are dealing with charity. In the days before the festival, we have a custom to give maot chittin charity for the poor to buy Passover food. The Beis HaLevi, one of the most brilliant Talmudists of the 19th century, asks why there is such an emphasis on charity at this time of year, to the extent where we both donate to charity before the festival, and even begin the Haggadah itself with a call to alms?

He answers that the Jews were lacking the necessary merits to be deemed worthy of redemption from Egypt. Therefore, instead of looking at the Jews' merits, Hashem judged the Egyptians' lack of merit. When they were judged for their misdeeds, the Jews, by default, were let free. The first area for which they were judged was their treatment of the poor, an area in which the Egyptians were gravely deficient. For the evils they perpetrated in this area alone, they merited destruction. As such, the Jewish people were freed from their captivity.

Charity has a lot to do with Passover, for it is what enabled the miraculous chain of events to transpire. For this reason, it makes sense to begin the seder with inviting in the poor. Just as we were redeemed from Egypt many years ago, so will we be redeemed from our present exile. As such, we try to exemplify this attribute, by ensuring that everyone's seder needs are fulfilled.

Right after reciting "all who need should come and eat," we say "next year we should be a redeemed nation in Jerusalem." We thereby hope to merit being redeemed because we, unlike the Egyptians, have fulfilled this mitzvah of charity. The invitation to the guests said at the beginning of the seder includes the statement, "all who need should come and eat the Paschal lamb." The Paschal lamb was generally too large an animal for a single family to eat. Therefore, a few families would group together and share a single sacrifice. However, anyone who had not joined the group by the time it was brought to the Temple for slaughtering, could not join later. If so, asks Rabbi Moshe Sternbuch, a well-known Torah figure in Israel today, why do we invite the poor to come join us in the Paschal lamb? They were not included as part of the original group, and so they cannot participate. What good are we doing by inviting them now?

Rabbi Sternbuch asks another question. The Mah Nishtanah section of the Haggadah originally contained the question why on other nights we eat both roasted and non-roasted meats, while on this night we only eat the roasted meat of the Paschal lamb. This question was removed after the destruction of the Temple because it no longer applied. We see from Mah Nishtanah that the sages could have changed the text of the Haggadah to reflect the change in the times that the Paschal lamb was no longer eaten. In that case, why didn't they also change the text of the Ha Lachma Anya section and delete the reference to the Paschal lamb?

Rabbi Sternbuch answers that the poor would in fact have had to make prior arrangements for their Paschal lamb. The invitation we extend now is for them to eat their lamb in our homes. Remember that one cannot eat from someone else's Paschal lamb. This meant that the host would have had to assure that the guests' meat did not touch or get mixed up with the host's own meat and the meat belonging to the other guests when they were being roasted. This would require separate roasting facilities for each lamb. In addition, each lamb also required separate place settings to assure they would not mix. For each guest, this would require significant extra effort.

With this idea, we can understand why the sages left this invitation for guests despite its lack of application. There is a tremendous lesson from this statement, in terms of one's obligation for charity and kindness to others. These traits were expected to the extent where the host had to cheerily accommodate as many people as needed, despite the great effort involved. The lesson to be learned from this statement was so great that it was worthwhile to leave it in just for us to learn from it.

Charity is obviously important. Anybody would tell you so. But would anyone have said that a lack of charity could cause an entire nation's downfall? Charity has the ability to cause great good, and is a factor in bringing about redemption; our obligation for charity is also great. This Passover, as we lean back and enjoy our matzah and wine, let us answer Ha Lachma Anya's call to alms, and may we merit the Haggadah's prayer that we should experience next year's Passover seder in Jerusalem.

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Ben Prero does not hail from, live in, attend school in, or have any form of relationship with the city of Atlanta. However, he did learn with Mendel Starkman (a Torah from Dixie writer), who hails from Atlanta, and so he has had much exposure to Torah from Dixie. Both learn in Yeshivas Choftez Chaim, in Forest Hills, New York.

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