WHY IS THIS NIGHT LONGER THAN ALL OTHER NIGHTS?
As the seder night quickly approaches, we hurriedly begin to focus on its many laws and details.
As the seder night quickly approaches, we hurriedly begin to focus on its many laws and details. Many thoughts flash through our minds: How can we make this year's seder more meaningful, which child would best be suited to read the passage about the simple son, what is the proper measurement of matzah which we must eat to fulfill the mitzvah, and of course which wine will go best with the meal being served. Not far into our studies, we come to the conclusion that the primary purpose of the seder night lies in the fulfillment of the commandment to retell the story of the exodus from Egypt. If this is so, we may wonder, why must we dedicate so much time and attention to the many details and practices which are a part of the Haggadah? Why can't we simply close our eyes for a few minutes, tell the story, quickly imagine ourselves being a part of the mass departure from Egypt, and cut straight to the matzah ball soup?
While reviewing the Haggadah, another perplexing question may also come to mind. Upon hearing about the many fantastic miracles of the exodus, we cannot help but be overwhelmed by the enormity of the miracles which Hashem performed for our people. To actually live through those remarkable wonders must have been the experience of a lifetime, something which would really transform a person. How then are we to understand that just after the flight from Egypt and Hashem's awesome revelation at Mt. Sinai, the Jewish people could worship the golden calf? How could they have fallen so far so fast?
Perhaps both of these questions can be answered based upon the famous Talmudic dictum known as Tafasta: "If you grab for a lot you'll come up with nothing, but if you grab for a little you'll gain a lot." How could they have sinned so soon after witnessing so many miracles? The Jewish people in the desert could not truly appreciate Hashem's revelation because of the intensity and frequency of their spiritual experiences. They were bombarded with miracles. From the ten plagues in Egypt to the splitting of the Red Sea to the giving of the Torah, they witnessed the most remarkable miracles in history, and all in an extremely short span of time. Because they did not have a chance to take a step back and digest the enormity of each miracle on its own, incorporating its message within themselves, they remained virtually unaffected by them. Miracles became every day occurrences 'nothing special. When something went wrong and Moses did not return as planned, they were primed for a quick spiritual descent.
With this we can answer the first question as well. Why must we pay so much attention to the details and specific order of the Haggadah on the seder night? Once again, the maxim of Tafasta answers the question. We relate best to historical events through studying their gradual developments and experiencing their minute details. On the seder night, we cannot simply think about the entire exodus experience in the abstract and expect to gain an accurate sense of what happened. We must follow a detailed script, digesting each point on its own in a particular order, so that we can connect to the event. Closing our eyes and meditating would not be enough. We need the step-by-step process of the Passover seder to properly fulfill this mitzvah. If we grab for too much at once and don't allow ourselves the requisite time to achieve a proper understanding, we are liable to come out with nothing at all.
Ezra Cohen, a native Atlantan and graduate of Yeshiva Atlanta, is completing his rabbinic ordination at Yeshiva University in New York.
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