Soaring at the Seder

If we would only be able to see it! If our eyes would only be able to perceive all that we accomplish with Pesach cleaning! The Yesod Yosef and others explain that as Jewish women strain to scrub chairs and tables, as they painstakingly seek out every tiny crumb, they are not only ridding the house of chametz, but also demolishing the powers of impurity that seek to harm our souls. For as Hashem watches our efforts, He responds by erasing the stains of evil that afflict our lives in this bitter exile.

The Berdichever Rav, zy”a, teaches that the Yiddish words for scrubbing and cleaning have the same acronym as the sounds of the shofar, and much like the sounds of the shofar, this too shatters the elements of evil.

But since we are unable to perceive all that we accomplish as we clean and cook for Pesach, a certain weariness inevitably sets in. Many if not most Jews, especially the mothers, arrive at the Seder exhausted and drained. Their eyes close, their heads nod and their minds drift off during the reading of the Haggadah, until at Shulchan Aruch they have to drag themselves into the kitchen to serve.

All too often, guilt and despondency follow. This is meant to be a night of spiritual elevation! This is a night when I am supposed to be feeling enormous inspiration! Yet I feel nothing!

However, as Harav Shaul Yehudah Prizant, shlita, points out in a talk, nowhere in Shulchan Aruch — not even in Shulchan Aruch Harav of the Baal HaTanya — does it state that someone is required to “feel” something special during the Seder. Our obligation is to recite the Haggadah, to eat the matzos and maror and to drink the four cups; we are not obligated nor need we expect to “feel” something.

In fact, since we know that emunah pshutah, believing, is greater than seeing, those who do not “feel,” yet nevertheless push themselves to perform the mitzvos to the best of their ability may very well be on a higher level than those who feel “spiritual elevation.”

Consider this:

Harav Shmuel Karover was a disciple of the Chozeh of Lublin. Rich in Torah and avodah, in material things he was a pauper. One year as Pesach approached he found himself without funds for basic necessities. Since he was determined not to ask for help from others, only days before Pesach his house was still literally bare. But his Rebbe, the Chozeh, had not forgotten him; on Erev Pesach a messenger arrived with matzos, wine, fish, meat and all the other items necessary for the Yom Tov.

Rav Shmuel sat down to the Seder with harchavas hadaas. The sudden appearance of the fulfillment of his pressing needs infused him with joy, and as he led the Seder and performed the mitzvos, he felt his soul soaring to the very heavens. It was the most uplifting Seder he had ever experienced.

The next evening, as he was about to begin the second Seder, Rav Shmuel felt exhausted and decided to take a short nap. But he fell into a deep sleep, awaking with only minutes left before chatzos. Distraught, he rapidly recited the Haggadah and quickly drank the kossos and ate the k’zeisim of matzos. In contrast to the previous night, he felt utterly dejected; never in his life had he had such a disappointing Seder.

When he later visited his Rebbe, before he even had a chance to describe his experiences, the Chozeh declared, “So how were Rav Shmuel’s Sedarim this year? Relative to his madreigos the first Seder was a low level, as he sensed himself soaring to the heavens. The second Seder — ah, that was on the highest level possible, for it was accompanied with humility and a broken heart, and as it says, “zivchei Elokim ruach nishbarah — the sacrifices Hashem desires are a broken spirit…”

This dichotomy isn’t unique to Pesach. There are other times in the year when a Jew feels distanced from his Creator, causing him dejection and depression. The Pieceszna Rebbe teaches us that these feelings themselves are actually a call from Shamayim. The very fact that the person is feeling this way reveals a closeness to Hashem. The Jew may be heartbroken that he isn’t feeling nearness to his Father in Heaven, yet this broken heart is proof of how close he really is.

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On the Seder night, as we all reach sublime levels, may we merit to recognize and fully appreciate them.