Pesach and the Sale of Yosef

U’lkachtem agudas eizov u’tvaltem ba’dam asher ba’saf (Shemos 12:22)

Toward the beginning of the Pesach Seder, the children ask about a number of practices that we do differently on this night than on all other nights. One of them is that on all other nights, we aren’t accustomed to dipping even a single time, yet at the Seder we dip not once, but twice. What is the answer to this question?

The Ben Ish Chai explains that the reason we dip two times is because the Seder represents both slavery and redemption. To express the dual nature of the night, we dip twice. Still, what do slavery and redemption have to do with dipping, as opposed to some other activity that we can perform twice? The specific connection to dipping is that the redemption began when they dipped agudas eizov — a bundle of hyssop — in blood. Because it is bundled together, it symbolizes the concept of unity, which is the key to redemption.

However, it wasn’t just the redemption that began through dipping, but the enslavement itself also began when Yosef’s brothers dipped his coat in blood. Rabbeinu Bechaye writes that although Hashem had already promised Avraham Avinu that his descendants would be slaves in a foreign land, it was only at the time of Yosef’s sale that it was established where and how painful the enslavement would be as a punishment for the brothers’ hatred of Yosef, so this was considered the beginning of exile.

Still, why should this sin affect us for all time? The Meshech Chochmah explains this phenomenon by noting that on Yom Kippur, we ask Hashem to forgive us for our sins by saying “Ki atah salchan l’Yisrael u’machalan l’Shivtei Yeshurun b’chol dor va’dor — for You are the forgiver of the Jewish people and of the tribes of Yeshurun in every generation.” What is the significance of the repeated expression, and what is the meaning of the phrase “the tribes of Yeshurun,” an expression that we don’t find anywhere else?

Harav Meir Simchah explains that the sin of the golden calf is the root of all sins between man and Hashem and we are punished for it in all generations whenever we sin against Hashem (Rashi, Shemos 32:34), so we first say “for You are the forgiver of the Jewish people.” The sale of Yosef by his brothers is the root of all sins between man and his fellow man, and we are punished for this in all generations whenever we sin against another person. So we ask Hashem to forgive these sins as well, by praying that He should forgive the tribes of Yeshurun (who sold Yosef) in every generation.

In light of this insight, Harav Mattisyahu Salomon, shlita, explains that as long as there is baseless hatred among us, we still have the roots of the sin of selling Yosef, and we are still punished with blood libels. Still, this begs another question. Why are we specifically punished for this sin on Pesach more than at any other time of the year?

Harav Salomon notes that the Rema writes that many people have the custom to eat an egg at the Seder as a symbol of mourning, as Tishah B’Av falls on the same night of the week as the first night of Pesach. At the Seder we remember the Exodus from Egypt and yearn for the future redemption, but we also remind ourselves of the reason that we are still in exile. This is symbolized by first dipping the karpas in salt water to recall the sin of the sale of Yosef and then dipping maror in charoses, which can sweeten our bitter exile through unity and togetherness.

If Tishah B’Av still comes on that night later that year, it is an indication that we didn’t sufficiently internalize these lessons and rectify these sins. As our children ask us about the twofold dipping, let us resolve to properly understand its message so that this year we may follow up our commemoration of the Exodus from Egypt on Pesach with a celebration on Tishah B’Av of our redemption from our current exile.

Parashah Q & A

Q: Moshe and Aharon rebuked Pharaoh in the name of Hashem (10:3): “How much longer will you refuse to be humbled by Me and send out My people to serve Me?” What complaint could be lodged against Pharaoh for refusing to be humbled by the recent plagues when Hashem Himself had hardened his heart so that he couldn’t be affected by them?

Q: At the conclusion of most of the plagues, the source of the plague simply disappeared. Why did Hashem cause a strong west wind to carry the locusts into the Red Sea (10:19) instead of simply eliminating them completely?

A: From the fact that Hashem told Moshe and Aharon to admonish Pharaoh for his ongoing refusal to free the Jewish slaves, Harav Shmaryahu Arieli derives that Pharaoh never truly lost his free will. Even though Hashem hardened his heart, this was only intended to make it more difficult for him to be influenced by the plagues to change course and allow the Jews to go free; ultimately, he still had the ability to do so and was therefore held accountable for continuing to enslave them.

A: The Paneiach Raza explains that Hashem specifically sent the locusts into the Red Sea so that when Pharaoh and the Egyptians pursued the Jews there, the locusts emerged to attack them once again.


Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his divrei Torah weekly, please email