RECIPE FOR SUCCESS
We are fondly familiar with the palate-pleasing practice of dipping our matzah and maror (bitter herbs) in charoset, an interesting concoction comprised of nuts, apples, and other ingredients, all mashed up into something akin in appearance to oatmeal.
We are fondly familiar with the palate-pleasing practice of dipping our matzah and maror (bitter herbs) in charoset, an interesting concoction comprised of nuts, apples, and other ingredients, all mashed up into something akin in appearance to oatmeal. The accepted opinion is that charoset is utilized simply to ease the taste of the maror, and that there is no inherent mitzvah-aspect to its use (Mishnah Pesachim 10:3). There is a position, however, that it is indeed a mitzvah. Some commentators explain that it is in memory of the mortar that the Jewish people had to work with in Egypt, and it also reminds us of another item of great importance. It recalls the righteous action taken by the Jewish women in Egypt.
The women beautified themselves, went out to their tired husbands in the fields to give them food and drink, and right there engaged in relations with them (Rashi, in his classic commentary to the Talmud, notes that this took place in a modest, hidden ditch-like area [Talmud Tractate Sotah 11b]).
Notwithstanding the dire straits, difficulties, and degradations facing the Jewish people in Egypt and the apparent pointlessness of raising families there the women nonetheless continued having children. The place of these unions is referred to as "under an apple tree" (Rashi on Exodus 38:8). Whether taken literally or figuratively, the question remains, what is the significance of the apple tree?
The "apple tree" episode is mentioned in the book of Shir Hashirim (Song of Songs 8:5), authored by King Solomon and read on the Sabbath of Passover. According to the Midrash, the term alludes to Mt. Sinai, where Hashem held the mountain over the Jews like an apple tree pending and obviously influencing the people's acceptance of G-d's precepts. Why such a comparison? One explanation is that just as the apple bears its fruit during the Hebrew month of Sivan, so too was the Torah given in that month.
Another reason is found in the Talmud (Tractate Shabbat 88a), where it is related that the apple bears its fruit before it blossoms leaves. Similarly, the Jewish people, in uttering the famous dictum, "Na'aseh v'nishma" (we will do and then hear) at Mt. Sinai, committed themselves to first and foremost carrying out G-d's will, and only afterwards did they seek to understand the reasoning of the laws. The Jewish people did not undertake an exhaustive appraisal, dissection, and questioning of the commandments before agreeing to take them on. They did just the opposite, assenting to do what is proper fulfilling G-d's word. Along the way they would come to understand the underpinnings of these obligations. If our attitude is that we will only act after we have thoroughly assessed everything, we may wind up never acting.
Now it is apparent why the action taken by the women is referred to as being "under the apple tree." In Egypt, our foremothers did not engage in a full-scale accounting over the futility or prudence of bringing more children into a slave-ridden world. These righteous women recognized that there was a commandment to have children, so they did what needed to be done. They assured the existence of the Jewish people, and through their actions, a clan of seventy became a nation of millions.
Granted, a certain degree of thought must be engaged in before any contemplated action, but we must not over-analyze, nor think too much of what people will say. Old habits are tough to break, and certainly adjusting our behavior to accord with Torah living is demanding. The bottom line is that as Jews we have an obligation just do it. As we sit down at our Passover seder, let us recall that those tiny bits of apple have meaning (as does everything we do). This custom testifies to the majesty of the Jewish woman and the willingness of the Jewish persona to do what the moment calls for. As we dip the maror in the charoset, we should pause to think how fortunate we are to be where we are. Think how privileged we are to be who we are, and let us resolve to properly fulfill the Divine will of Hashem.
Daniel Lasar, an alumnus of Emory Law School in Atlanta, is an attorney in Washington, DC.
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