097 Pesach and Matzah – How Humility can Set You Free
The Torah Podcast Transcript
097 – The Torah Podcast Pesach and Matzah – How Humility can Set You Free
One of the first things we have in the Haggada which we read on Pesach is the four sons. It says like this. “Blessed be He. Blessed is the all-present One. Blessed is He. Blessed is He who gave the Torah to His people Yisroel, blessed is He. The Torah speaks of four sons, one wise, one wicked, one simple, and one who is clueless. The wise son, what does he say? ‘What are these testimonies, decrees, and ordinances which You Hashem our God, has commanded you?’ Therefore, we explain to him the laws of the Pesach offering, that one may not eat dessert after the final taste of the Pesach offering. The wicked son, what does he say? ‘Of what purpose is this work to you?’ he says. ‘To you,’ thereby excluding himself. By excluding himself from the community of believers, he denies the basic principle of Judaism. Therefore, blunt his teeth and tell him, ‘It is because of this that Hashem did so for me when I went out of Egypt.’ For me, but not for him. Had he been there, he would not have been redeemed.”
Rav Leib Chasman explains that the four sons are really inside of us. We have four different aspects to ourselves. Sometimes we’re wise, and sometimes we’re wicked. Sometimes we’re simple, and sometimes we’re clueless. These are different aspects inside of ourselves. And Rashi explains that the four sons that we’re speaking about in the Haggada which says “the Torah speaks of four sons” is talking about the four different times that the Torah commanded us to tell over the story of the Exodus to our children.
Now, the question arises as to why did we change the order of the four sons here in the Haggadah from they way they were written in the Torah? In the Haggadah, first you have the wise son and then you have the wicked son but that’s not the order in the Torah. The Lubavitcher Rebbe wants to explain, which I believe is based on the Maharal, like this. He wants to say that the reason why we put the wicked son after the wise son is that the wise son has to be careful not to become the wicked son, because both the wise son and the wicked son are extremely intelligent. The problem is that the wicked son makes a mistake. He says like this, “While Judaism does not encourage intellectual conformity,” in other words we want to be free thinking, but on the other hand we don’t endorse critical rationality either.” Why? Because we have to temper ourselves with humility, intellectual humility. It’s true, we have to be totally intellectual and really dig in and ask the questions we need to ask, in order to understand what the Torah is saying. And we learn to do that in a rational way, but at the same time we have to be humble. We have to know that the Torah is way, way beyond us.
So, even though we should challenge everything that we learn at the end of the day, we have to know that the Torah is correct and it means that we don’t understand. Even if we have a question, it doesn’t mean therefore the Torah is wrong. It means we don’t understand. And it’s only through diligent and patient study that we will come to understand, so we have to have a humble approach. What do we see in the wise son’s question? He makes a chilek, he makes a split between chukim u’mishpatim. In general, chukim means laws that have no reasoning, we can’t understand them. For example, you can’t eat milk and meat, and you can’t wear shaatnez, you can’t wear together linen and wool, and all the other things that we don’t understand what the Torah is saying, we don’t understand the reasoning behind them. And mishpatim are things that we can understand — not to kill, not to murder, not to steal. So, he made this chilek. The problem is that if you take this differentiation to an extreme, you can go off the way. Why? Because he would assume that you understand all the rational laws of the Torah. In other words, it’s in your understanding and therefore you don’t have to be obedient to a higher source. If it’s chukkim, so what are you going to say? You can’t eat milk and meat, there’s no reasoning behind it. So of course, I have to listen to what Hashem says. But if on the other hand I say, “Listen, I understand these mishpatim. I understand how legal things should be. I have good sevaros, good ideas. So, then who says I have to listen to Hashem? I can make up my own laws. And maybe this chilek, this differentiation is going to take me off the way.” And that’s why he puts the wise son next to the evil son. He says, “All commandments, even intellectual, powerful ones, must be primarily observed out a sense of the fallibility of human knowledge, which is obedience to a higher authority. The fact that a certain law makes more sense should not color the religious perception of it.”
In other words, just because you understand it doesn’t mean it’s out of the box of religion. There’s another aspect to it. The aspect is that God commanded you to do it. It’s a religion. It’s not just a law. The Torah is a religion, it’s not just laws. Okay, if we have laws, then let’s forget about God. No, God has to be in the picture at every step along the way. And this is what we answered him. We said, “You should instruct him in the laws of the Pascal lamb.” We do not deserve any dessert after the Pascal lamb. You can’t eat anything after the afikomen, the last piece of matza that we eat at the Pesach seder, you’re not allowed to eat things. You’re not allowed to have sweet drinks. All you could have is water or tea. Why is that? So we should remember like it says in the verse, “It is a Pesach offering to God because he saved our houses.” God saved us. God redeemed us. We have to keep God in the picture. Do not eat anything after the afikomen. You should have the afikomen, that taste in your mouth which is the remembrance of God, that God is the one who commanded us the commandments. It’s not just our rationale. And even the most intellectual conviction could be leaning off. We know intellectually that God took us out of Mitzrayim. But if we eat after the afikomen and we have cakes and sweets, and all kinds of sweet drinks which represent this world, so even our intellectual convictions could be eroded. We can go off the derech and we can wind up like the rasha. And therefore, he wants to explain, that’s why we put the rasha right after the wise son.
And Rav Avraham Grodzinsky of Slobodka wants to explain, why is it that we don’t realize that the mishpatim, the intellectual mitzvos also are beyond our comprehension? It’s because we don’t work hard enough. When you work hard in learning and you read Rishonim and Acharonim, you start to understand that even the most simple concepts we don’t grasp. We get to a point in the sugya in the intellectual investigation, we get to the point where we realize we don’t understand. It’s the talmidei chachamim, when they go forward and forward in their learning, they understand. They get a fear of God because even the most simple things, we don’t understand.
And the Maharal also explains this. The Maharal was fighting against the shita in learning that was totally according to Aristotle, which means pure logic, and muchrak, something is forced, logically it’s true. So, that goes to a certain point. It’s true that all the basis of all of our learning is based on that. But there are certain things that we can’t understand and the way the Rabbis spoke, the Maharal explains, that they took us to a higher place, than just the rational. They took us to a place where we realized that we need God to understand. It’s not just an intellectual pursuit, it’s a Godly pursuit. So, I now want to apply this idea that our intellect is limited to the beginning of the Haggada.
The Haggada starts like this. “Ha’lachma’anya,” this is the bread of affliction, the bread of poverty. The Maharal has a question. We know that chazal tells us, not only is it the bread of poverty, but it’s also the bread of redemption. So, he has a question, how can it be that the same matza which represents poverty and affliction be the matzah that represents redemption? Aren’t those two things opposites? So, the Maharal wants to explain, “No, hino hach, they are the same.” Why? Because someone who does not run after this world but his whole focus is spirituality, that’s the person who’s free. Like it says in the Pirkei Avos, “Marbei nechasim, marbei daarga,” the more possessions you have, the more you worry. So, it’s the person who focuses on spirituality and doesn’t care about this world, and he leaves this world hefker, and he’s not interested in it. He’s interested only in serving God, that’s the person who’s free. Also, it says in Pirkei Avos, “Who is free? A person who learns Torah, a person who’s dedicated to Torah. That’s the person who’s free. His mind is free, because he doesn’t have the worries of this world. He’s focused on spirituality.” And this is what the matza represents. It’s the essential part of the seder. Matza zu, this matza is teaching us to focus on spirituality.
I like to add onto this another aspect which we can learn from the matza. It says, “Halach m’anya,” which means the bread of affliction, or the bread of poverty. The Gemara in Pesachim says it could also mean the bread halach m’onya, the bread that we tell stories over. Which stories do we tell over it? In this case, we tell the story of the Haggada. But it’s also our personal story. We know for example, that the bread is made of four elements. It has flour, which is earth. It has fire, it has water, and it has air which means that it’s machmis. It has air, and matza is missing that aspect of the air. The air represents the ruach, what comes out of your mouth. The breath, the breath of life. What comes out of your mouth? What story do you tell over the matza? Do you tell the story, the way the Maharal explains, that it’s nivdal and it’s simple, pshut, the story of life which the Torah wants us to live. Or do we tell our own stories over the matza about what life is about? And this relates back to the idea of intellectual humility. We should understand that we don’t understand all of reality. We see what we see. But the story that we say about reality, that’s where we’re trapped. That’s where we’re enslaved. It’s our stories that enslave us. For example, a person gets a flat tire. Now, life is full of flat tires. Things are happening every day. What story do we tell over that flat tyre? Do we say, “Oy, we have a whole history. What does it mean that I’ve got a flat tire? You see I’m no good, and bad things are happening, and all these things always happen to me. That’s our history.” Then we tell a story about the future. “Oy, I’m going to lose my job. I’m going to get divorced. Who knows what’s going to happen because of this flat tire?” We have a whole story, and that’s the thing that enslaves us. It’s the story that enslaves us.
So now, this relates back to the concept of intellectual humility. Why don’t we have humility? Why do we have this whole story that we think we know exactly what it means. I’ve got a flat tire, and I’m sure that my whole history is true. And I’m sure I’m no good, and these bad things are happening to me. And I’m very sure what’s going to be in the future. I know my life is ruined. I’m going to be late now, and I’m going to be all aggravated. And you’re not free, you’re enslaved. You’re enslaved to your emotions. But if you have intellectual humility, you know what happened? You had a flat tire. What does that mean? It means that you had a flat tire. Are you going to make up a whole story about what it means? No. Be here now. A person who is in reality, he sees that the reality is exactly what it is. And this is the concept of matza. Just look at things the way they are. Without the whole expanded story, like bread, which expands. Without all the meaning that you put onto the story. That’s where our freedom exists. Our freedom exists if we can take away the meanings that we put on things, and have a little bit of intellectual humility, and look at things the way the way they are in reality, at that point we become free.
There was a famous book written by a mathematician called Flatlands. It was about people who live in three dimensional space, trying to explain to people who live in two dimensional space about the third dimension. What’s one dimension? A point. Two dimensions is a line. A third dimension means mass. So, here you are, the people who are living in the world of mass, and they’re trying to explain to the people who have no mass and only have two dimensions. The matza also only has two dimensions. It’s flat, which means it has a point and it has a line, but it doesn’t have any mass to it. That’s where the story comes in. That’s where the mashmaout comes in, the meaning of things. Why add meaning that isn’t there? Most of the learning that a person does when he learns Gemara for example, is taking away things that he’s pushing on to reality. Why are we pushing our trip on reality? Why can’t we just accept the reality the way it is, the way that God gave it to us? And that’s the direction of freedom. So, it’s not only a question of being attached materialistically, like the Pirkei Avos says, that someone who has a lot of possessions has a lot of worry, but it’s an emotional aspect also. Why are we so connected to everything? Why can’t we accept the way things are, the way that God made them, which has to do with intellectual humility. Intellectual humility means seeing exactly what happened? I got a flat tire. Who gave me a flat tire? God gave me a flat tire. What’s the story? It’s not my story, it’s God’s story. I don’t know why. I know that God gave me a flat tire, that’s it. And if I could stop pushing my trip into things, I could become free.
And this is what the Gevorus Avraham explains by the four sons. How do the four sons start out? Blessed is the Omniprescent, Blessed is He. Blessed is the Omnipresent represents the wise son, and Blessed is He represents the wicked son. What’s the difference? He says, both of them recognize that there’s a God. Blessed is the Omnipresent. Blessed is He. But still, only the wise son realized that everything is hashgacha pratis. He understands that every little detail that occurs in his life, God is sending it to him. If God is sending it to him, he has to accept it. He has to be in reality. He has to let go, and let God run the world. And that’s what’s going to give us our freedom.
We know in the famous perush of the Vilna Gaon on Chad Gadya he explains like this. It starts out with a kid, chad gadya, a baby lamb. Who is that talking about? That’s talking about the birthright of the firstborn, Yaakov. And who came along and knocked out Yaakov? Well, it was the cat. The cat came and ate the kid. Who is that? That was jealousy, the cat’s jealous. That was the brothers, the other brothers wanted to knock out Yosef because he received the tradition of being the firstborn. And after the cat came, who came? The dog. Who is the dog? The Mitzrim, Egyptians. We know in Mitzrayim if you look in the history books, you’ll see all their idols, a lot of them were dogs. What’s the quality of a dog? A dog runs around all day, he has no rest. He has no peace, he has no menuchas hanefesh. He’s all day running after his taivas, his desires, running here, and running there. So, if a person is like a dog, he’s not focused. He’s not relaxed. He doesn’t accept what God gives him. He doesn’t live in the present, to be completely focused on the now, reality is what it is. There’s no future, there’s no past. There’s only now. Let God control your life. Don’t be like the dog, who’s running all over the place.
What happens with the dog came along? Came along the stick and killed the dog. Who’s the stick? It’s the staff of Moshe Rabbeinu. Came along Moses and he killed the dog. In other words, he said, “Listen here, there’s a Torah. There’s a God. What are you worried about? Why are you running after all of these taivas? You think you can fulfill yourself with Olam Hazeh? You think you’re going to fulfill yourself with all of your desires?” It’s not going to work. You have to get the stick. You have to go according to the Torah. And really it’s a vicious cycle. Why? Because since we don’t accept reality, we become all frustrated. Because of our story, we’re all frustrated. And since we’re frustrated, we have to act out. We have to do averas. We have to drink, we have to smoke, we have to do something to release that pressure. This is the nature of man, he has to release that pressure. But the pressure only came because of the story that he told over the reality. If the story would change, the pressure would go away. If we would accept God’s decrees, if we know that God loves us, and everything that happens is min HaShemayim, and that we can create a relationship with God, that’s the difference between the wise son and the wicked son. The wise son has a relationship with God. He understands that everything that’s happening is min HaShemayim. And the wicked son, he doesn’t know what’s happening, so he has a whole story. This happened to me, and that happened to me. He has his own personal story. But your own personal story leads to nothing but frustration, and then you’re all frustrated. Then you have to act out, and you have to go do averas.
And also, this is what it means by Pharaoh. What’s Pharaoh? It comes from the word peruah, open. Pharaoh opened everything up, spread, dissipated. He wanted everybody to spread their energy all over the place, and they were running around like dogs, who knows what, after our taivas, all of our things. That’s not the way to peace of mind. The Torah is the way to peace of mind. The stick has to come and kill the dog. But this could only happen when we have intellectual humility. We have to know that we totally don’t understand what things mean, and what things are.
I just want to end off with the Shem Mi Shmuel who brings down that the 10 maamaros, the world was created in 10 sayings. What happened? Came along the 10 plagues and it broke the 10 maamaros. In other words, we know reality is solid, in the sense that God created it. Came along the 10 plagues and showed us that reality is not solid. Everything we thought was real could be broken. Water turns to blood, frogs all over the place, dever, if you go through the 10 plagues you’ll see every aspect of reality is broken. It was revealed to us that God is behind this reality. God is the underpinning of reality. And after the 10 plagues came, the 10 commandments. The Torah, the Torah is along with the understanding that God runs the world, and that is the way to peace of mind. And that is the way to freedom. If we follow the Torah, if we’re bnai Torah, if we go after ruchnius, so then we’ll be free.